Every Doctor Who, Ranked From Worst To Best

Every Doctor Who, Ranked From Worst To Best
Image: Supplied

This week, Jodie Whittaker made a spectacular debut as the first female Doctor – the 13th official regeneration of everyone’s favourite two-hearted, time-travelling alien.

The regeneration of the Doctor is a tradition that dates back to 1963 and includes 14 men who have played the role over nearly five decades. With the start of Whittaker’s new role on the show, it’s a great time to remind ourselves of the Doctors who won our appreciation – and those who didn’t.

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Here is every Doctor Who ranked from the worst to the best:

AARU Productions, British Lion Films

AARU Productions, British Lion Films

Peter Cushing in the 1966 Doctor Who movie, ‘Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.’

14. Peter Cushing (1965-1966)

As a rule, we can’t let someone who didn’t play the Doctor for an actual TV season outrank those who did. That’s the case for Peter Cushing, who played the doctor in two movies during the show’s William Hartnell years: 1965’s ‘Dr. Who and the Daleks’ and 1966’s ‘Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D.’ He had the misfortune of playing the doctor during the early years, which pulled heavily from the mad-scientist stock character and hadn’t quite revealed his warmer side.



Paul McGann returned to star on the 2013 mini-episode ‘The Night of the Doctor.’

13. Paul McGann (The Eighth Doctor, 1996)

Paul McGann was considered highly unremarkable in the 1996 TV movie ‘Doctor Who.’ That may explain why it took another nine years before BBC brought back the series. He was given a chance to prove himself in the role again in a 2013 mini-episode in which his decision to fight in the Time War gave us John Hurt’s the War Doctor. For that, we owe him our thanks.

BBC America

BBC America

John Hurt on the ‘Doctor Who’ 50th Anniversary special in 2013.

12. John Hurt (The War Doctor, 2013)

Yes, it’s kind of confusing where the late John Hurt’s incarnation of the doctor, the War Doctor, fits into the picture. Though he appears for the first time during 2013’s 50th-anniversary special alongside Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, the War Doctor actually lands after Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor.

Hurt won over fans with his portrayal of the doctor who chose to fight in the show’s epic Time War.

Fun fact: At 74, Hurt was the oldest person to play the Doctor and appeared alongside Smith, who at 26 when signing on was the youngest person to play the role.



Sylvester McCoy of ‘Doctor Who.’

11. Sylvester McCoy (The Seventh Doctor, 1987-1989)

Sylvester McCoy had the terrible luck of playing ‘Doctor Who’ as its original run was losing its steam in the late 1980s. As the show’s producers tried to figure out what the audience wanted, McCoy portrayed a pompous Doctor Who who further tanked the show’s ratings. The show basically got canceled after McCoy’s three-season tenure.



Colin Baker on ‘Doctor Who.’

10. Colin Baker (The Sixth Doctor, 1984-1986)

Maybe it was the excess of the ’80s that was to blame for Colin Baker’s version of Doctor Who (and his colourful style) being, well, pretty nuts, in the clinical way. And like Sylvester McCoy, he was working against the falling popularity of the show.



William Hartnell, the First Doctor, starred in the role from 1963 to 1966.

9. William Hartnell (The First Doctor, 1963-1966)

Although William Hartnell deserves praise for being the first actor to play Doctor Who, his take weighed heavily on the stern outsider alien side and less so on the parts that made Doctor Who more humanlike and caring in the seasons to follow.



Peter Davison on ‘Doctor Who.’

8. Peter Davison (The Fifth Doctor, 1982-1984)

Peter Davison is credited with breaking from the darker portrayals of Doctor Who for a lighter, more heroic version. It was a winning take on the alien and viewers really took to him.



Patrick Troughton played the Second Doctor from 1966 to 1969.

7. Patrick Troughton (The Second Doctor, 1966-1969)

As just the second actor to play the Doctor, Patrick Troughton created a remarkable legacy for himself and the show. He broke from William Hartwell’s stern characterization for a much more effervescent and emotionally rounded take on the Doctor. He also proved that fans would jump aboard the show’s regeneration plot twist that allowed the Doctor to be played by multiple actors. Later producers and directors credited him for creating the mould that would influence all future Doctors.



Jon Pertwee on ‘Doctor Who.’

6. Jon Pertwee (The Third Doctor, 1970-1974)

As a result of pop-culture trends in the 1970s, Jon Pertwee brought an action-star take to Doctor Who. He loved gadgets, cars, cocktails, and practicing a Gallifreyan version of kung fu. In a twist in which the Doctor lost access to his time machine/spaceship, the TARDIS, Pertwee’s version was grounded on earth. His action skills served him greatly and cemented the Doctor’s role as humans’ biggest defender, something that would carry on in following seasons.



Christopher Eccleston on ‘Doctor Who.’

5. Christopher Eccleston (The Ninth Doctor, 2005)

Imagine having the responsibility of being the first contemporary face of an iconic character like Doctor Who. Sixteen years after the show went off the air, Christopher Eccleston stepped into the role as the Ninth Doctor. He’s almost universally praised for his dashing, though overly serious, take on the role. And his electric chemistry with Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) really set the bar for companions to come. Oh, but the fire can only burn so bright for so long. Eccleston only did one season.



Peter Capaldi on BBC’s ‘Doctor Who.’

4. Peter Capaldi (The Twelfth Doctor, 2014-2017)

Every new Doctor Who actor deals with a certain amount of scepticism from fans and must win them over. Much can be said for what Peter Capaldi has brought to the role, but he may have never fully convinced the fandom. That’s not to say his darker, more urgent take on the character hasn’t been exemplary, but he follows some pretty beloved actors in Matt Smith, David Tennant, and Christopher Eccleston.

He’ll begin his final season as Doctor Who this year, which is sure to bring a lot of interest as to how he’ll be mortally wounded and who will take his place.

YouTube screengrab

YouTube screengrab

Matt Smith as the Doctor and Karen Gillan as his companion, Amy Pond.

3. Matt Smith (The Eleventh Doctor, 2010-2013)

Whereas Peter Capaldi didn’t quite win over the Doctor Who fandom, his predecessor Matt Smith did quite the opposite. Smith’s mix of zaniness, duty, and empathy not only charmed fans, but broadened the show’s audience.

At 26 when he started the role, Smith was the youngest actor to portray the Doctor and surprised viewers with his acting chops. It didn’t hurt that his youth and good looks made for some very potent chemistry between him and his popular female companions, Amy Pond (Karen Gillam) and Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman).



No one has come close to playing the Doctor for longer than Tom Baker’s seven-year tenure.

2. Tom Baker (The Fourth Doctor, 1974-1981)

If there were a quintessential Doctor, then it would be Tom Baker. No one has held the role longer than Baker’s seven years. Fans loved his unpredictable, strange take on the character, a reminder of the Doctor’s alien origins. And more than one reviewer has noted how clear it was that Baker found intense pleasure in doing the role.



David Tennant played the Doctor for five seasons.

1. David Tennant (The Tenth Doctor, 2005-2010)

There’s almost no way around naming David Tennant the top Doctor of all time. Though Christopher Eccleston opened up the modern age of ‘Doctor Who,’ Tennant breathed life into the character. He didn’t shy away from the softer sides of the doctor and also made the character quite the romantic, an extremely likable lead.


  • That’s not bad – certainly closer to my personal rankings than other lists I’ve seen. Having grown up watching first Jon Pertwee and then Tom Baker, I was appalled at the later appointments of Colin Baker and then Sylverster McCoy. I’m still not sure why they replaced Tom Baker at all, to be honest. It took a couple of years, but the producers certainly paid for that decision.

    I recently rediscovered the more recent incarnations of Dr.Who through my kids, and have thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s really hard to go past Tom Baker, but I must say the story lines and companions made Matt Smith’s incarnation the most enjoyable of the lot.

    So I agree with the list for the most part, but would put Matt Smith first, and David Tennant third and maybe swap Jon Pertwee and Christopher Eccleston.

    • Tom Baker left because of where the show was heading – I think he saw the end coming. The BBC changed the tone of the show (which became the main reason it ended), and the producer at the time was doing things Baker didn’t agree with, so overall he felt he needed to leave. And is on record as thinking he went a season too long anyway.

      Having grown up in the same era as you, I think he was right. The last Tom Baker season was his worst for me, and I thought his transition to Peter Davison was one of the worst of them all as well.

      Still my favourite Doctor though, closely followed by David Tennant. I don’t mind the list myself (saw it somewhere else over the weekend), and would really only swap a couple of them around. Namely Pertwee and Capaldi.

  • You say “a tradition that dates back to 1963” then you have the first entry from 1965. And the first canonical regeneration was in 1967, as a way of replacing the actor.

  • Matt Smith was the absolute worst. He was only querky for the sake of it, and the stories were dumbed down for kids and don’t get me started on the companions!

    I only got into Who with ecklson, and Smith put me right off the show. I only started watching again after they killed him off!

    I’m looking forward to the new Doctor though!

  • 1. Tom Baker. I grew up with him. He was the uncle/father figure I wanted.
    2. Chris Eccleston. He is my favourite of the reboot, I enjoyed his serious yet slightly manic take on the doctor and I have to agree, his version of the Doctor and the relationship between him and Rose was electric.
    3. David Tennant. To be honest, David and Chris tie for 2nd. I adore David for the heart and silliness that he brought to the Doctor.
    4. Matt Smith. Controversial, I hated him at first but towards the end of his tenure, he seemed to mature into the role – that, and the writing became much better.
    5. John Hurt. The War Doctor was a bit of brilliance that I actually really enjoyed.

    I’m already in love with Jodie after the first episode – we’ll see what place she takes in my rankings when I get to see more of her take on the Doctor.

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