William Hartnell had what could be considered the hardest job as he was the first Doctor to grace the small screen.
Early on in the role, he was at times belligerent and difficult, often contrary and was far from how we view the current incarnation of the Doctor, but over the years he mellowed and in the end of his run we loved the Doctor for the wise old sage that he was.
Without his classic and dynamic performance, The Doctor would not have lasted for 50 years.
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Patrick Troughton was the first Doctor to take over the role from a previous actor and make it his own. If he had failed to win over already established audiences with his performance, or to convince them that he really was the Doctor, the show would have never made it.
Fortunately Patrick Troughton was more than up to the challenge.
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Jon Pertwee had the distinction of being the first Doctor to be aired in color and (due to BBC budget cuts) stuck on planet earth for many of his stories. Despite this, the show had some terrific writing during this era and his Doctor (who was a much more serious Doctor) became a man of action for the first time.
Jon Pertwee brought a lot of gravitas and more of the sage back to the Doctor again, and yet was not afraid to play things silly.
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Tom Baker’s Doctor was for many years both the most popular Doctor and the most well recognized. Having the longest run as the Doctor to date, his season’s were also blessed with some of the best writing and creativity of the series.
Tom Baker brought back a lightheartedness to the Doctor again, with his offbeat sense of humor and quick wit, and yet he often would turn on a dime and be the most capable of adversaries against his enemies.
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Peter Davison had the difficult task of following on the heels of one of the most popular Doctors of all time. His run was shorter than any of the previous Doctors and yet he made his mark for being the most down to earth Doctor yet.
Often competing for screen time, against a cavalcade of companions , Peter Davison still managed to have terrific performances and some very strong story arcs.
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Possibly one of the most difficult Doctors to love, when Colin Baker took over the role, his Doctor had extreme and manic behavior, which was written with the explanation that it was caused by his regeneration.
Despite this, Colin Baker brought back some of the arrogance of the early Doctors and had a very strong, showy performance. He had a short run as the Doctor, and his arcs contained some of the darkest themes of the show to date, yet he handled them splendidly.
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Sylvester McCoy brought a lot of the careless humor back with his turn as the Doctor, and so much of his performance was physical as well. Much as Patrick Troughton before him, Sylvester McCoy befuddled his adversaries with his seeming incompetence, and yet his mind was razor sharp.
He also had a short run as the Doctor, and his story arcs were some of the most bizarre and frequently the weakest of the series, but yet his performance rates among the best.
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Paul McGann had only one story arc as the Doctor, the American produced TV movie that was intended to be a pilot for a resurrection of the series, and while the movie may not have been everything it was intended to be, there is no doubt that Paul McGann made an excellent Doctor with his portrayal.
He took the role very seriously and gave the Doctor more humanity in his portrayal than had been seen in this strange alien in a very long time.
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John Hurt is one of Britain’s greatest actors. Period. So it was perfectly fitting that he was cast to play the war weary Doctor, who no longer even called himself The Doctor. With John Hurt in the role of The War Doctor, we get the perfect transition between classic Who and new Who with a face and manner that seems completely out of touch with each, and yet has that little spark of life and vitality to the character that we have come to love.
Easily one of the best Doctor’s despite only a very limited amount of screen time, it just proves again how fantastic he is.
Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor was both damaged and as happy-go-lucky as the Doctor has ever been. He’s often unduly criticized for his performance, but he will always have the distinction of being the first Doctor of the new series, successfully bringing the series back into the hearts and homes of viewers after a very long hiatus.
His Doctor was the first of the new breed of Doctor, with a haunted past, a fragile soul, and a need to connect with humanity.
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David Tennant is by most accounts, the most popular Doctor to date, he had another one of the longest runs as the Doctor (slightly less than Tom Baker, slightly more than Matt Smith), and he successfully increased the international viewership of Doctor Who exponentially with his performance.
Seemingly the best parts of all the Doctors that came before him, David Tennant has helped to cement the Doctor into the pop culture consciousness.
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Like Peter Davison, Matt Smith had the difficult task of following one of the most popular actors of the series, but by making the Doctor quirky and awkward while maintaining the humor and quick wit of his predecessors, Matt Smith has managed to make his performance just as strong and intelligent as David Tennant before him.
As one of the youngest Doctors, his performance is often a Peter Pan act, but, in the quiet moments, his Doctor, while being the youngest, still seems the oldest.
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Peter Capaldi has taken over as the oldest actor in the role since the new version of the show began, and that has been a big transition for younger viewers unfamiliar with this long-standing tradition.
Whereas Matt Smith was an old Doctor in a young body, in many ways Peter Capaldi is a young Doctor in an older body. There is something very whimsical about most of his performances that frequently resonates with the off kilter humor of Tom Baker. He is another great Doctor, but his episodes don’t always resonate with the emotions of some of his predecessors’ episodes. Hopefully with his third season he will get a chance to show greater emotional range.