Let me start this off right by saying that not a single actor has been bad in the role of The Doctor. They all have their own personal style and interpretation of the character and some are very different from others, but every actor brought something more to the role and showed a different side to this multi-faceted character. That being said, we all have our favorite Doctor, our first Doctor and those that we prefer over others. There is no right or wrong ranking of the Doctors, there is just who you personally think exemplified the character better or whose performance you preferred. That being said, this ranking of the Doctors is based on a few different criteria: who seemed to “get” the character the most and acted in accordance with how I perceive him to be, who had the greatest nuances in their performance and whose stories reflected the development of the characters, and finally whose story arcs I overall preferred. With all that being said, here’s my opinion on the Best to Worst Doctors (and why).
David Tennant is at the top of this list because not only was he the Doctor with the most range, but he was also one of the longest running Doctors, with the best story arcs and the greatest character development.
David Tennant seemed to possess everything that was good about all the previous Doctors, and yet added just a bit more humanity to it. His Doctor could be fierce, protective, touching, and turn on a dime and be fragile or hurt, and without question always funny and clever.
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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 with 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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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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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, and 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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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, as he faced The Last Great Time War for the protection of the universe and time itself. 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’ve so come to love. Easily one of the best Doctors despite only a very limited amount of screen time.
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 whimsical about his performances that frequently resonates with the off kilter humor of Tom Baker. He is a good 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.
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 gravity and more of the sage back to the Doctor again.
Patrick Troughton was the first Doctor actor 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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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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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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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 some of 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 seemingly more humanity in his portrayal than had been seen in this strange alien in a very long time.
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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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