William Hartnell (1963-1966)
William Hartnell, the first Doctor, was an old man. In the early days of Doctor Who, episodes were recorded "live" because of the technical difficulty of editing television programs back then. (Not to mention Doctor Who never really had a big budget, which was part of its charm.) As a result of taping it "live," actors occasionally forgot their lines. According to IMDB, Hartnell forgot his lines in "The Web Planet," causing co-star William Russell to have to help him out in remembering them.
As I said, the show, especially in the early years, wasn't about special effects, which was strange for a science-fiction program (even today.) What made Doctor Who a hit was the dialogue and acting. The characters really stood out, became "human" to the point where you cared week to week what happened to them.
The very first episode was called An Unearthly Child and is about a female pupil and her grandfather who take two teachers back to the prehistoric age. There they discover cavemen who have lost the ability to make fire. Something to note here is that the originals were aired on the BBC as 25 minute serials. When PBS picked them up, they usually showed a complete 'story arc' in one night, some lasting a couple hours.
Another highlight in the first year of Doctor Who was the appearance of the Daleks. The Daleks are metal creatures (look closely and you can see the toilet plungers) who roll around. In this episode their city is composed of ramps instead of stairs. This would become an in joke with Doctor Who geeks - one of the most terrifying races in the universe stopped by a staircase. Heh. This 'problem' was fixed in later years as it became easier to give Daleks the power of levitation. It has to be hard to maintain the storyline over 20+ years of a television show, though.
The first Doctor's run ended in 1966 with The Tenth Planet episode.
This story arc introduced the Cybermen, who would appear in lots of later episodes as one of the Doctor's main enemies. The original fourth episode in this story arc went missing except for the transformation sequence where the Doctor changed from Hartnell to Patrick Troughton. The rest of the episode was reconstructed somehow, though, which is what you see on the videotape if you buy it. The script to the missing episode is available online. According to The Dr. Who Guide, "Fifteen clips from Episode 4 are known to exist. With the exception of the regeneration sequence, they are all from a reel of 8mm film shot at a TV screen." Those have to be worth a lot on eBay, no?
Patrick Troughton (1966-1969)
Patrick Troughton, the second Doctor, always reminded me of The Three Stooges. Not because he was funny (although he was a little), but more because of his haircut looked like Moe's. He was, how to put it ... foppish? Clownish? In his premiere episode (The Power of the Daleks), he is still disoriented after regenerating (not to mention dealing with the confusion of his companions.) The Doctor takes the TARDIS to the Earth colony Vulcan, where the natives have found two disabled Daleks. Not knowing better, they revive them. Once revived, the Daleks claim that they were created to help humanity. Can you guess how it ends? Most of the video for this story arc is also missing.
Most of the Doctors had an item they became known for having or using. In Troughton's case, it was a recorder that he played. He played the Doctor a lot differently than Hartnell did, which was a struggle, no doubt, for the audience. The new Doctor was like a hobo clown, although he retained all the knowledge of his last incarnation.
Troughton's run as the Doctor ended in 1969 with The War Games episode, a 10 episode story arc. The story has the Doctor on Earth during World War I. Instead of the normal World War I we're all familiar with, though, sinister aliens have brought warriors from a lot of different time periods in Earth's history together to do battle.
To stop the madness, the Doctor must call on the Time Lords to help him. However, as we've learned over the years, the problem is that he's on the run from them for stealing a TARDIS and not obeying their laws against interfering with other races. Even though he knows it's dangerous for him, the Doctor asks for the Time Lords' help. The aliens behind the War Games are brought to trial and sentenced to dematerialisation. After they're gone, the Doctor is brought to trial for interfering in the affairs of others.
He's found guilty of interference. As punishment, the Time Lords disable a lot of the capabilities of his stolen TARDIS and send him to 20th Century Earth to help the planet. He's also forced to use one of his regenerations. They initially give him a choice as to his new appearance, but when he won't choose, they choose one for him. Enter Jon Pertwee and the U.N.I.T. (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) years. (I have to wonder now if their budget was cut, so being stuck on Earth in the 20th Century was written into the script.)
Jon Pertwee (1970-1974)
Jon Pertwee played the third Doctor as a very physical person, using kung-fu-esque moves to battle aliens. His stint as the Doctor (banished to 20th Century Earth) begins with Spearhead from Space in 1970. The Doctor had worked with U.N.I.T. before as the second Doctor. In the opening episode, he's found unconscious, lying outside of the TARDIS.
Whereas the last incarnation of the Doctor was clownish, Jon Pertwee was the perfect British dandy. His outfit reflected this. His identifying item was the sonic screwdriver, a device that looked like a tire pressure gauge but had a wide variety of uses.
Pertwee's last episode was Planet of the Spiders in 1974. In this seven episode story arc, the Doctor becomes involved in a psychic battle with space alien spiders. He manages to kill off the queen spider in the end, but the battle takes a toll on him. He arrives on Earth a little while later, saying he'd been lost in the vortex for a while. Another Time Lord stops by to let the Brigadier and Sarah, his latest companion, know that he'd be changing. Soon, the Doctor is surrounded by a glow. When it clears, they see Tom Baker. "Well - here we go again," the Brigadier says, sighing.
Tom Baker (1974-1981)
I should really do a whole article on Tom Baker. (Maybe I'll go back in time and do that.) Baker played the Doctor longer than anyone else for a reason - he was good. His look was Bohemian, like somebody out of the 60s. His favorite item (or one of them) was a long, 42 foot scarf. (Well, ok, I'm not sure it was actually 42 feet long, but it was huge!) He also carried around a crumpled paper bag filled with Jelly Babies. When encountering aliens, he usually offered them one (think Gummi Bears) as a sort of distraction.
Baker's first show was a four episode story arc called "Robot." Right off the bat, this Doctor acted goofy. People weren't sure if it was because he had just regenerated or because he was crazy all the time. From the get-go, though, I could tell that he was going to be a great actor for the role of the Doctor.
The fourth Doctor's run comes to an end in the four episode story arc Logopolis in 1981. In this episode, the Doctor travels to Logopolis in search of a chameleon circuit for the TARDIS. His is broke, which is why the TARDIS always looks like a 1950s London Police Box. (Or, in the real world, another way to save money on sets and props.) While there, he runs into his arch-enemy, the Master. The Doctor saves the day again, but in the process he falls from a catwalk and loses another life.
Peter Davison (1981-1984)
Peter Davison as the Doctor begins with Castrovalva, a four episode story arc in 1982. Althought the other regenerations never went smoothly, this one is the worst yet. The Master is in this story arc, still trying to kill the Doctor. His plan is thwarted, though, and by the end of the fourth episode, the Doctor's regeneration is complete and stable.
Davison's item was a piece of celery sticking out of his front sport jacket pocket. He looked how one would imagine a cricketer to look. His run playing the Doctor didn't last long. It wasn't because he was horrible as the Doctor, but going against Tom Baker as the Doctor, I don't think he had much of a chance of becoming popular. His run ended with the four episode story arc The Caves of Androzani in 1984. As usual, the Doctor loses one of his lives saving someone else.
Colin Baker (1984-1986)
Colin Baker was the first attempt to recapture the magic that was Tom Baker playing the Doctor. It didn't work too well, though. Baker's item was a small lapel pin of a cat. His personality was more brash than Tom Baker, although some of the Bohemian style was noticable. It went a little too far, though, resulting in his costume looking like it was designed by someone taking a lot of LSD.
His first show was a four episode story arc called The Twin Dilemna. In it, it appears as if the Doctor has completely lost his mind after the last regeneration. He lands the TARDIS on the asteroid Titan 3, wanting to become a hermit. He's soon caught up in an adventure, though. Peri, his companion, thinks the new Doctor is rude, but he reminds her that he's an alien, not British.
It was during Baker's tenure that Doctor Who's ratings finally began to dive enough for BBC to take action. They cut the number of shows per year, at one point going 18 months without airing any new shows. The BBC tried to blame the bad ratings on Baker, and got rid of him in 1986. For me any other fans, though, the show's popularity declining was more about bad writing and the BBC messing with the formula in an attempt to make the show more 'popular.'
Baker's last television appearance was in the Trial of a Timelord story arc that ran a whopping 14 episodes. After getting fired by the BBC, he refused to come back to film a regeneration scene. He still does a lot of charity work with appearances as the Doctor, though, and fans think if he had been given a chance by the BBC, he could've been as popular as Tom Baker.
Sylvester McCoy (1987-1989)
Sylvester McCoy was another attempt to emulate the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker. He kept, for the most part, the wacky appearance of Colin Baker's Doctor, but wasn't nearly as mean spirited or unstable as the BBC made Colin Baker play the Doctor. After the last run, fans of the series were expecting more garbage from the BBC. After a slow start, though, Doctor Who began to regain the magic that made it the longest running drama series on television. In 1989, though, at the peak of this revival, the show was cancelled in 1989.
Sure, the series continued as radio plays and in novels, but it wasn't the Doctor Who fans knew and loved. It really was a shame too, because the show was finally starting to go in the direction that made it great, namely great story writing.
Paul McGann (1996)
By this time, fans were hungering for another video production of Doctor Who. Unfortunately, the project was a joint US/UK venture. The UK ratings were decent, but the American ratings were terrible. So, stupidly, reviving the series was stopped. That said, there's no honest to way to say how well Paul McGann would have done as the Doctor, especially if the scripts weren't trying to appeal to an American audience. Again, audio adventures took place, but it's not as good as actually watching Doctor Who on the telly.
Christopher Eccleston (2004-2005)
Well, it's about bloody time. In late 2003, it was leaked that Doctor Who would be returning. Over the next year, details were leaked. Since seeing the new episodes, I am ... very, very happy. They've managed to recapture the magic that is Doctor Who. While the special effects are a lot better, the series manages to maintain the 'campy' feel that is part of its charm. I'd never heard of Christopher Eccleston before, but to me he's been able to combine all the best traits of the previous Doctor incarnations into one person. The writing is top notch as well.
David Tennant (2005 - ????)
Last month it was announced that David Tennant will play the tenth Doctor starting this Christmas season. Not knowing Tennant very well, I'm not sure how he will play the part of the Doctor. I do know that Russell T Davies is a brilliant writer and will work to make the tenth Doctor a success.
What does the future hold? Who knows. After Tennant, The Doctor will have two regenerations and three lives left. I can't imagine the series not being able to write their way out of the corner, though. (The Master, for example, has had more than 12 lives during the history of the series.) Whatever it holds, I look forward to watching more of the best sci-fi television show of all time. (Star Trek? Gimme a break, mate. ;)
Official BBC Site
Dr Who (Tom Baker) on the Simpsons
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A Brief History of Time (Travel) - A fan site.
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