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Doctor Who: The Doctors and the Actors Who Played Them

National History

Doctor Who: The Doctors and the Actors Who Played Them

To be fair while there is just one Doctor, there are effectively nearly twenty (counting the
War Doctor, the Fugitive Doctor, and the Valeyard), and whilst they are all, to all intents and
purposes one person, and this person is always an eccentric traveller through Time and
Space, who is in many ways a hero and one who is suspicious of authority, such are the
differences of character that we otherwise see, there are in effect, well over a dozen more.

Actors of Doctor Who - Dr Who History

The various actors who have played “The Doctor” – Wikimedia

It all effectively started back in 1966, when William Hartnell was finding playing the lead role
too much of a physical and mental strain. It was a manifestation of the arteriosclerosis that
he was suffering from, the complications of which he would die of nearly nine years later,
after having to give up acting and being permanently hospital bound in his last months. The
series was too successful to ditch, and they looked for another actor, but not one who
would resemble William Hartnell and give a similar performance. No, they took the brave
route and effectively re-wrote key parts of the character. No longer a grumpy, but
compassionate old man, but a clownish, untidy, and slightly clumsy middle aged man with a
mop of dark hair and well played by an already respected actor, Patrick Troughton.

Patrick Troughton
Patrick Troughton, The Second Doctor

It started a trend and made the series easy to continue for as long as the BBC and the public
wanted. If an actor had had enough, or had become too tiresome, or both, then replacing
him would be easy. What was especially incredible is that the early Doctors were all very
different from each other. The clownish Second Doctor was replaced by the action man and
smartly, if over thrilly dressed, Third Doctor. The irony here is that Patrick Troughton was a
well respected character actor of serious roles who played it light, and Jon Pertwee (the
Third Doctor in question), was an actor with vast experience in cabaret and comedy, who
played it more straight and serious than any other actor in the role.

Jon Pertwee
Jon Pertwee, The Third Doctor & His Foe, The Dalek

Then there was Tom Baker, one of the most well known actors in the role and who gave one
of the most unforgettable performances in the series. Baker first came to public attention in
the Hollywood film, Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), and his career sank from then, to the
point where he was making tea on a building site when the call came through to take the
lead role in the series. One of the most charismatic of actors in the role, behind the scenes
Baker could be charming, friendly, outgoing, outspoken, downright difficult, and a bit of a
**** at times. He was good with other actors, but successive producers and script writers
found him tough to work with. Several times Baker threatened to leave, the BBC Execs
panicked because he was so popular in the role, and inducements were made to make him
stay. That is until 1980, when new Producer John Nathan-Turner told Baker that his
resignation was accepted, and then set about casting Peter Davison, whom Nathan-Turner
worked with on All Creatures Great and Small.

Colin Baker
Colin Baker as Doctor Who

There have been some criticisms of the successive casting of Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and
Sylvester McCoy in the lead role by John Nathan-Turner in the 1980s, but all of them
equipped themselves well and helped bring in more fans to the series. I am biased on one
level, because Peter Davison’s Doctor is my favourite and the one I first grew up with (well
technically it was Tom Baker but his last story was the first one I remember seeing), but
while I agree with Tom Baker’s maxim that no one has really failed in the role, I do disagree

that it does not need acting. It does, given the dialogue and that the Doctor is both an action
hero and an eccentric professor, and that needs to be believable with no sense of

jodie whittaker
Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor

Paul McGann gave a great performance in the TV Movie in 1996 and should have had a long
TV run in the role, but since it has permanently returned in 2005, each of the actors in the
role: Eccleston, Tennant (who came back briefly to the role last year), Smith, Capaldi,
Whittaker, and Gatwa, have dominated the series and made their own stamp on the role
and have ensured that the series has continued to develop and entrance successive
generations of viewers. Be the Doctor a grumpy old man, a clown, a dandy, a Bohemian, a
sensitive cricketer, a temperamental multi coloured jacket wearing individual, a canny
middle aged Scotsman, a Victorian romantic, a calculating warrior (as played by John Hurt in
the 50 th anniversary episode), a modern day Northerner, a temp in plimsols, a young man
with a bow tie fetish, a white haired grumpy Scotsman, a young northern woman, a middle
aged fugitive woman with a London accent (as played by Jo Martin as a possible past
Doctor), or totally confident young man, he/she will always be the Doctor

Written By

Paul is Nostalgia Digital's resident TV Nostalgia Expert, with a love of all things SciFi.

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