(Doctor) Who's best? All 13 Doctors, ranked

Morgan Jeffery
Photo credit: BBC



From Digital Spy

If you ignore the timey-wimey of it all, the central premise of Doctor Who an alien who can travel anywhere – is deceptively simple, and welcomes many different interpretations.

The show's visual style, tone and atmosphere have changed many times in the last 50+ years, often radically so, and that's a big reason why it's endured as long as it has.

But every era has its positives and negatives – everyone's got an opinion and here's ours.

We've ranked all 13 Doctors (from 1963 to 2016) in order of our personal preference. Come at us, Whovians.

13. John Hurt

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Yes, the late, great John Hurt was an acting legend. But terrific as he might have been, the War Doctor isn't a proper Doctor, is he? Even by his own admission.

On that logic alone, he lands bottom of our list.

12. Sylvester McCoy

Photo credit: BBC

Most actors to play The Doctor grew into the role, but none more than Sylvester McCoy – his superb, disquieting performance in 1989's 'Ghost Light' is worlds away from the clownish Seventh Doctor taking comedy pratfalls in 'Time and the Rani' two years before.

For that shaky start, McCoy ends up as unlucky 12.

11. Colin Baker

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No other Doctor has been so poorly served by his creative team. A fine actor dealt more than his fair share of dodgy scripts, Colin's ludicrous costume was just one example of the show's awful aesthetics in the mid-to-late '80s.

These days, he soars in the Big Finish audio plays, but his TV era was sadly tainted by forces beyond his control.

10. Christopher Eccleston

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"I think I over-pitched the comedy," Eccleston said in 2015. "If I had my time again, I would do the comedy very differently. But I think where I did possibly succeed was in the tortured stuff – surprise, surprise!"

It's hard to disagree. He's superb in the scenes that require the Ninth Doctor to be haunted, but Chris is visibly uncomfortable playing some of the Time Lord's more eccentric antics. We still wish he'd stuck around, though.

9. Peter Davison

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Accepted wisdom has it that Davison saved the best till last – and his 1984 swan-song 'The Caves of Androzani' certainly features one of his best ever performances.

But he wasn't exactly slumming it before. Something of a tragic hero – breathless, endearing, honest – his Time Lord was a big departure from what had come before . That's no easy task when you're the fifth guy holding the baton.

8. William Hartnell

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He's not quite the Doctor we're now familiar with – at least in the early going – but there's something fascinating about this first stab at capturing the character.

The first Doctor could be difficult, harsh, gruff. But there was always a twinkle in the eye, a charm, a wit, a cheeky sense of humour. It's a tough balance to pull off both, often at the same time, but Hartnell nailed it.

7. Peter Capaldi

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It's smart practice for a new Doctor to try and differentiate himself from his immediate predecessor. But early on, the irascibility of Capaldi's incarnation made his take on the Time Lord easy to admire but hard to love.

Since mellowed, our Doctor in situ is emerging as one of the most complex and layered – his rage-filled railing against the futility of war in 'The Zygon Inversion' was one of the show's most affecting moments ever.

6. Paul McGann

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Burning briefly but oh-so-bright, McGann made arguably the most confident Doctor debut. Odd, energetic and hugely charismatic, his performance elevated the otherwise rather patchy 1996 Doctor Who TV movie.

Too bad that for 17 years, at least, a debut was all he had. Though again, his eighth incarnation has benefited hugely from the efforts of Big Finish.

5. Jon Pertwee

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The "action Doctor", the one with the gadgets and the souped-up super-car and the kung-fu skills – we all know the tropes associated with Pertwee's era. But what made his Third Doctor so captivating was the balance between the action hero and the sensitive peacemaker.

Some of his finest moments – his response to the Brigadier's betrayal in 1970's 'Doctor Who and the Silurians', his heartbreak over Jo Grant's departure in 1973's 'The Green Death' – came when he was being vulnerable, not violent.

4. David Tennant

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OH YES. Arguably the most popular (and populist) Doctor of all, Tennant has topped two separate Digital Spy polls in 2013 and 2015.

But why do we love him so? Simple – his Tenth Doctor dared to be more human than any of his nine predecessors (or, indeed, any of his successors) bringing a laddish likeability to the part of a centuries-old alien.

This was the Doctor as romantic hero – smart, funny, dashing and hugely endearing.

3. Matt Smith

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Casting a 26-year-old with zero experience of fronting a TV series, let alone one of the biggest franchises in the world, might sound like a quick way to kill off Doctor Who for good.

But any concerns surrounding Matt Smith were immediately assuaged within seconds of the Eleventh Doctor's debut. With heaps of talent, he ramped the character's alien qualities right back up and was able to project a weight and world-weariness that simply didn't belong to a man of his years.

Even before he donned that old-man make-up in 'The Time of the Doctor', you utterly believed that this was an ancient being in the body of an exuberant young man.

2. Tom Baker

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It's been suggested that while some actors play the Doctor, others become the Doctor – and if that's true, you can be sure that Tom Baker was part of the latter set.

"It was just heaven – I didn't have to reach for it," he told Digital Spy in 2014. "It was just me – saying those lines, in those situations!"

Baker brought his natural charisma and eccentricity to the screen as the show's longest-serving lead, piloting the TARDIS for an incredible seven years and 172 episodes.

Perhaps because of that lengthy tenure, maybe because of the sheer power of that towering performance, he's become the go-to Doctor in the public's imagination.

The hair. The eyes. The scarf. That voice. Baker created an indelible, dare we say iconic, image.

1. Patrick Troughton

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There's a very simple reason that Patrick Troughton tops this list. He's the one who set the template: the Doctor to beat.

Every actor who's followed him, from Peter to Colin to David to Matt, has cited Troughton as one of their biggest inspirations.

It's no slight on Hartnell to say that Troughton created the Doctor as we've come to know him. The First Doctor was a fascinating figure, but he's never been imitated.

The Second Doctor, though, has been aped to some degree by each of his successors, because it was Pat who first established that balance between the ancient alien and the loveable, warm, gallant adventurer. The man who could be your best friend or most formidable enemy.

Funny. Scary. Caring. Cruel. Troughton could – and did – do it all.

Speaking in 2013, Steven Moffat said it best: "Patrick lays down the central rules for the character [and] Doctor Who doesn't change much afterwards. You don't tamper with perfection."

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