If you ask most anyone outside of Great Britain who The Doctor from Doctor Who is, they’ll tell you it’s that tall guy with the curly hair, big grin and super-long scarf. They’re referring to Tom Baker, the actor who portrayed the Fourth Doctor for most of the 1970s and is on the top of most fans’ Top Doctor lists. The current Doctor, the manic and friendly yet dangerous (to his enemies) Tenth as played by David Tennant, has become hugely popular over the last few years as the star of the revived Doctor Who. Time will tell if he is remembered as fondly as Tom Baker.
While Docs Ten and Four currently seem to be the most popular, eight other Doctors have captained the TARDIS on television screens and they’ve all brought something unique and great to the hexagonal table. Compared to the the Fourth and Tenth Doctors, the Time Lord’s other eight lives tend to be overlooked. In order, here are the most underrated.
8) The Seventh Doctor
Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor is a bit of an enigma, wrapped up in a question-mark vest and Panama hat and brandishing an umbrella. He started out as a clownish character that revived some of the light-hearted fun in Doctor Who. But he really came into his own when he took a darker turn and proved to be a brooding mastermind playing a game of cosmic chess with everyone he came across. While it’s too bad that his story wasn’t completed on screen due to the original show’s cancellation, the intensity McCoy brought to the character remains a highlight of the whole series. The Seventh Doctor’s adventures continued in series of well-regarded (but more adult) New Adventures novels from Virgin Books.
7) The First Doctor
Viewers who have only seen the new Doctor Who series, especially those who will tune in for the first time during the tenure of the upcoming, youthful 11th Doctor played by Matt Smith, might be shocked to go back to the very beginning and see that the Doctor at his chronological youngest was a cantankerous old man. Not only that, but the Doctor had a granddaughter, Susan! (Some Whovians like to think that Susan wasn’t really related to him, but recent episodes have suggested the Doctor indeed married and had children a long time ago.) William Hartnell’s First Doctor started off as a very cranky, intolerant character, but soon displayed a warmer, grandfatherly side. This was most evident in the heartbreaking scene in which he locked Susan out of the TARDIS, ensuring that she would have her own life with a man she loved instead of doting on him. The First Doctor was a bit of a school teacher to his companions and a bit of a maverick, having fled his homeworld in a stolen TARDIS. More than any other Doctor, he proved that you didn’t have to be an action hero to be a hero, although he kept on saving planets until his bodily literally wore out and he regenerated.
6) The Ninth Doctor
Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor is still pretty recent, as he was the first Doctor viewers saw in the revived series in 2005, so he hasn’t quite fallen into obscurity. By he has been overshadowed by his successor and it remains to be seen how much presence he will hold in viewers’ memory as the years go by. It’s a shame Eccleston only stuck around for one year, as he was probably the best actor to ever play the Doctor. He gave the Time Lord great depth as a man who had been traumatized not only by being the last of his race, but by having been forced to annihilate his own people along with the Daleks in the Last Great Time War. Eccleston began his tenure with the Doctor having lost some of his natural compassion but the character had regained it by the season finale thanks to his companion Rose. The Ninth Doctor may have only had one short season, but it was a near-perfect story arc.
5) The Fifth Doctor
Peter Davison had the unenviable job of following Tom Baker in the role of the Doctor. Fans still think of his younger, more sensitive Fifth Doctor fondly, but some of the disappointment viewers had with Tom Baker’s departure was unloaded on poor Peter and still follows his Doctor to this day. But Davison did an excellent job of creating a Doctor unlike any other, certainly the most human the character has ever been. He was soft-spoken and often exasperated. Yet, in moments that required him to stand up loudly to his foes, he would channel a stern indignation reminiscent of the much older (at least in appearance) First Doctor. He was brave, yet could flee just as well as the Second Doctor when danger arose. And he somehow managed to make a cricket uniform and celery look good! So far, the Fifth Doc haas been the only classic Doctor to appear in the new series. Sadly, it was but a brief cameo. But we did get the touching moment where both the Tenth Doctor AND David Tennant told his predecessor, “You were MY Doctor!”
4) The Third Doctor
Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor has always been a fan favorite, eclipsed in the classic series only by his immediate successor. He was both a man of science and of action, not afraid to fab it up in a velvet suits and capes as he toyed with his many gadgets and knocked out alien villains with Venusian Akido. He didn’t suffer fools gladly and was certainly restless during his Time Lord-imposed banishment to Earth and his time as a scientific advisor to UNIT, the Unified Intelligence Taskforce. Yet, this tall, white-haired Doctor could also be a fatherly figure to his companions, and both a friend and pain in the rear to his “boss” at UNIT, the Brigadier. The Third Doctor forged real friendships during his time with UNIT, and stuck around even after regaining the use of his TARDIS. Jon Pertwee had the second longest reign as the Doctor, and the amiable actor with the glistening eyes often appeared in character and costume as the Doctor for different interviews and appearances long after his tenure was over. In a way, he was an ambassador for the show. The only thing that has diminished his popularity is, strangely enough, time. However, the Third Doctor’s legacy lives on in the pre-existing, complete reverence members of UNIT and the British government have for the Doctor in the new series.
3) The Second Doctor
The Second Doctor, as portrayed by Patrick Troughton, had something simply magical about him. He looked like a cross between a hobo and Moe from The Three Stooges, with baggy clothes and a mop-top haircut. And he was prone to dancing a jig and playing a tune on his recorder. On the surface, he seemed joyous and carefr
ee, although danger could set him into a fit of panic, yelling something like, “Oh, my giddy aunt!” and hyperventilating. But the comical demeanor was really just a way to make his foes underestimate him. When it came down to it, this Doctor hid wisdom behind the twinkle in his eyes, was heroic and was skilled at manipulating people toward a positive outcome. He could be contemplative, whimsical and was affectionate toward his companions. He was probably the most likable Doctor and the case can strongly be made that he was the best. The great tragedy is that a huge percentage of his episodes no longer exist, the film wiped decades ago by a non-forward-thinking BBC. Enough of his stories exist to experience how great the Second Doctor was, but the lack of most of his tenure and the fact that his episodes are in black-and-white make his stories a hard sell to a modern audience. Most Doctor Who fans love the Second Doctor, but he’s been lost to the haze of time for the general public.
2) The Eighth Doctor
The Eighth Doctor appeared in one TV movie, so you can’t begrudge viewers who don’t know him from Adam. And a good portion of fans hated that movie, complaining that it was too Hollywood with all its car chases and and fast pace and the like. Of course, those fans sound a bit silly in those criticisms since the new TV series had adopted all the traits of the TV movie that were so hated, even the kissing! What often gets lost in the backlash is what promise Paul McGann showed as the Doctor. Looking a bit like Oscar Wilde in hairstyle and dress, the Eighth Doctor had a childish enthusiasm and an infectious love of adventure and all the little things. And he balanced that with a courageous, commanding side and was not afraid to spring into action when the Earth was in danger. It was a perfect fit for the Doctor – plain, fresh, exhilarating fun — yet that combination of traits was unique to McGann’s Doctor. And he had the best TARDIS console room in Doctor Who history! It’s simply a crime that the Eighth Doctor never got to star in a full series of episodes. There is some consolation in that McGann has continued to the role in many audio adventures produced by Big Finish.
1) The Sixth Doctor
Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor proved to be the most controversial. Fans never seemed to forgive the Sixth Doctor’s homicidal outburst caused by his regeneration instability, in which he tried unsuccessfully to strangle his companion Peri. Once he regained his mind, he announced that he was the Doctor… whether we liked it or not! Indeed! His clashing outfit also appears to have gone unforgiven, although it certainly made him feel like an alien being who was above caring if others didn’t like how he looked. He liked how he looked, and that was all that mattered. The sadly closed minds that recoil at the thought of the Sixth Doctor just don’t appreciate the most passionate, animated, dominating and often the most humorous Doctor the show ever had. The Sixth Doctor stood up for what was right loudly and clearly and could physically take care of himself, too. He was brash and egotistical, but also could be warm to his companions and occasionally self-effacing. Simply put, he was the most dynamic Doctor. But sadly his time on the program was cut a bit short. Like Paul McGann (and also Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy), Baker has gone on to revive the character in many audio adventures, and even (at times) softened up the character a little more than he was on the original show.
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.