Who is The Doctor? That is a fantastic question and one with many answers. In short, The Doctor is a Time Lord, a human-like alien from the planet Gallifrey, who helps both individuals and civilizations in need. He travels through space-time in his TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space) and wields a Sonic Screwdriver, an extraordinary multitool, rather than a weapon. Time Lords are also capable of regenerating upon death, though the regenerated Time Lord is rarely the same: just as everyone has their own personality and tastes, so does each incarnation of a Time Lord. This is a brief guide to the twelve Doctors from the long-running British TV series Doctor Who (plus some asides), their idiosyncrasies, and how their personalities and clothing choices often harmonize with each other.
The First Doctor (1963-66)
The First Doctor was played by William Hartnell (Carry on Sergeant, The Mouse That Roared) from 1963 to 1966, and by Richard Hurndall in the 1983 The Five Doctors special episode. He was harsh and strong-willed, and even lied and killed (once) when necessary, though his personality softened throughout his run in the series. This original Doctor appeared elderly and fragile, but had great inner strength. He wore a typical Victorian/Edwardian coat and waistcoat, and sometimes opera garb like a cape and monocle, which reflected his stern British gentleman personality.
Interlude: Dr. Who (1965-66)
In the midst of Hartnell’s tenure as the First Doctor, British filmmakers Amicus Productions licensed the character and made two films: Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965) and Daleks—Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966). Peter Cushing (Star Wars: A New Hope, The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, The Mummy) played “Dr. Who,” the absent-minded and adventurous inventor of TARDIS. Unlike the other Doctors, his last name was actually “Who.” This characterization is not considered a canon appearance of the Doctor.
The Second Doctor (1966-69)
The Second Doctor was played by Patrick Troughton (Hamlet, The Omen) from 1966 to 1969. He was clever and mischievous, though he often played the fool so his opponents would underestimate him. Physically, the Second Doctor was younger with thick, black hair to match his role as a “regenerated” Doctor. His clothes were too large and baggy, which only accentuated his clownishness.
The Third Doctor (1970-74)
The Third Doctor was played by Jon Pertwee (Worzel Gummidge) from 1970 to 1974. He was dashing and diplomatic, though with a haughty authoritarian streak, and a love for automobiles and all things technological. His clothes were eccentric, capes and smoking jackets, in colors that often changed, which speoke to his dandy-like personality.
The Fourth Doctor (1974-81)
The Fourth Doctor was played by Tom Baker (Nicholas and Alexandra, Little Britain) from 1974 to 1981. He had a wide emotional range, from distant to warm and engaging, whimsical to dark and melancholic. He was known for his iconic multicolored scarf, a wide-brimmed hat, and a range of coats which depended on the particular story. Overall, his clothing reflected a gentlemanly timelessness.
The Fifth Doctor (1981-84)
The Fifth Doctor was played by Peter Davison (All Creatures Great and Small, At Home with the Braithwaites) from 1981 to 1984. He was unlike any of his predecessors, boyish and sensitive, even hesitant. His clothing was also youthful, based on a cricket-player’s outfit with a cricket bat and ball.
The Sixth Doctor (1984-86)
The Sixth Doctor was played by Colin Baker (The Brothers) from 1984 to 1986. His personality was another change from the earlier Doctors, moody and unstable, and prone to be violent towards his enemies and arrogant even to his companions. His clothing was contrasting and clashing to the extreme - tartans and polka-dots and pinstripes - another sign of his instability.
Interlude: The Valeyard (1986)
The Valeyard was played by Michael Jayston (Nicholas and Alexandra, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) in the 1986 Season 23 The Trial of a Time Lord. He isn’t a full Doctor, but is instead composed of the darker parts of the Twelfth Doctor through his final incarnation, though the 2013 episode "The Name of the Doctor" reveals that the Doctor will eventually be known as “Valeyard” before his death. He is introduced as the (unsuccessful) prosecutor of the Sixth Doctor, which is why he appears here in this chronology.
The Seventh Doctor (1987-89)
The Seventh Doctor was played by Sylvester McCoy (The Hobbit) from 1987 to the series finale in 1989, and again in the 1996 film Doctor Who, an unsuccessful attempt to reboot the series with the Eight Doctor. The Seventh Doctor was another abrupt change: he was clownish and fond of magic tricks, though as the series progressed he became more scheming and manipulative. His clothes were also unusual, a mixture of red and blue and white and neutral tones, as if he had picked them randomly from his closet.
The Eighth Doctor (1996)
The Eighth Doctor was played by Paul McGann (The Monocled Mutineer, Withnail and I) in the 1996 television film Doctor Who, which was intended to - and failed to - reboot the series. The Eighth Doctor was therefore alive at the end of the film, which led to his extensive appearance in spin-off audio dramas and books, until his eventual death and transformation in the 2013 mini-episode “The Night of the Doctor.” He was sympathetic and romantic, which extended to his outfit: classy blacks and whites and greys befitting of a British gentleman. This most likely probably played a part in how prolific the character became throughout a variety of media.
Interlude: The War Doctor (2013)
The War Doctor was played by John Hurt (A Man for All Seasons, Alien, Nineteen Eighty-Four, V for Vendetta, Harry Potter) in three 2013 episodes: “The Name of the Doctor,” “The Night of the Doctor,” and “The Day of the Doctor.” “The Night of the Doctor” reveals the War Doctor to be the regeneration of the Eighth Doctor, though he quickly renounces his Doctor-ship. He is exhausted from war, and his distressed leather overcoat is said to foreshadow the Ninth Doctor.
The Ninth Doctor (2005)
The Ninth Doctor was played by Christopher Eccleston (Elizabeth, The Others, 28 Days Later, Thor: The Dark World) in the successfully rebooted 2005 series. He was more serious, and less outlandish than earlier Doctors, and wore a leather jacket and jeans, an altogether modern approach to the character.
The Tenth Doctor (2005-08)
The Tenth Doctor was played by David Tennant (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, How to Train Your Dragon) from 2005 to 2008 and special episodes through 2010. He is cheerful and witty, polite but firm with his enemies, and prone to loneliness. His hair is unkempt, and his clothing consists of modern but fashionable pin-striped suits with Converse All-Stars.
The Eleventh Doctor (2010-13)
The Eleventh Doctor was played by Matt Smith (Lost River) from 2010 to 2013. He is earnest but awkward, and obsessed with everything quirky and cool—except near the end of the series, when he rejects coolness - though he is also prone to rage. This is mirrored in his clothing: bowties, a red fez, and tweed jackets sometimes swapped out for a military coat.
The Twelfth Doctor (2013-now)
The Twelfth Doctor has been played by Peter Capaldi (Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life, The Thick of It, In the Loop) since 2013. He is detached from humanity, more acerbic and rude, though capable of empathy. His clothing is similarly dark - blacks, blues, and purples - and lacking frills like ties.
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Do you agree with these characterizations of the Doctors? Which is your favorite? (Doctor, not characterization!) Let us know in the comments below! And check out our wide variety of Doctor Who shirts to go with the wide variety of Doctor personalities.