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It’s Doctor Who‘s 50th Anniversary! Get to Know the First 12 Doctors

The 50th Anniversary Special of Doctor Who airs this weekend. In 50 years, there have been 11 doctors in the title role because of the ingenious idea that time lords such as the Doctor don’t die, they regenerate. Actors regenerate into new versions of the Doctor, and that’s how the TV series has endured for 50 years.

I’ve been watching Doctor Who since its reboot in 2005 when my son got into it. (Read more about him calling me a bandwagon Doctor Who fan, here.) It can be a little frightening, but it’s a great show to watch with the whole family. The campy effects belie the deeper themes of friendship, exploration, and tolerance. You think it’s just going to be goofy and fun, and it is. But it’s also fantastic storytelling and quite wonderful in every way. I try to talk everyone I know into watching the series. It’s delightful.

The concept of Doctor Who is so good, so brilliant, and so flexible that it has captured the imagination of audiences for 50 years and become a pop culture phenomenon.

If I had to pick one (and — thank goodness — I don’t have to pick one), I’d say David Tennant (#10) is my favorite doctor. Who’s yours?

  • Get to Know the First 12 Doctors 1 of 13
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  • The 1st Doctor: Will Hartnell 2 of 13
    hartnell

    In 1963, Will Hartnell became the first (or at that time, the only — or simply, the) Doctor on the BBC television series Doctor Who. He was a stern and mysterious time traveler, and his granddaughter coined the phrase "T.A.R.D.I.S." — Time and Relative Dimension in Space. The oldest actor, ironically, played our youngest Doctor. Will Hartnell played the Doctor on television for 3 years.

    Photo Source: Wikipedia

  • The 2nd Doctor: Patrick Troughton 3 of 13
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    Doctor Who fans were in for a surprise with the introduction of Patrick Troughton as the 2nd incarnation of the Doctor. He doesn't die, he regenerates. Surprise! With a mop top and baggy clothes, Patrick Troughton brought elements of Charlie Chaplain-like comedy to the role, which he played from 1966-1969, and introduced us to the mad professor who closely resembles today's doctors in contemporary Doctor Who. With Patrick Troughton, viewers learned that the Doctor is an alien — a time lord.

    Photo Source: Wikipedia

  • The 3rd Doctor: Jon Pertwee 4 of 13
    JonPertwee

    John Pertwee stepped into the now established TV role and played it more like James Bond — more of an action hero than the mad professor viewers had seen before. His curly hair and velvet clothes reeked of Tom Jones. Pertwee served as the Doctor from 1970-1974. During this time, viewers finally learned that the Doctor comes from the planet Gallifrey.

    Photo Source: Amazon

  • The 4th Doctor: Tom Baker 5 of 13
    fourthdoctor

    The Doctor's 4th regeneration gave us the iconic Tom Baker. This is the one I remember seeing on PBS when I was a child. Fans and non-fans will recognize Tom Baker's profile, and especially the scarf. Tom Baker had the longest run as the Doctor, playing him for 7 consecutive seasons from 1974-1981. With Tom as our Doctor, we met Sarah Jane Smith and K-9 the robot dog. He kept a pocket full of candy and was the first to utter the phrase, "Jelly, baby?"

    Photo Source: BBC

  • The 5th Doctor: Peter Davison 6 of 13
    peter

    When Tom Baker's tenure was up, the handsome, fresh-faced Peter Davison stepped in as the 5th Doctor from 1981-1985. He wore a cricket uniform and a sprig of celery on his lapel for a touch of whimsy. Davison was the first Doctor who had grown up watching Doctor Who, and he is entrenched in Doctor Who pop culture. His daughter, actress Georgia Moffett, was in a 2008 episode of Doctor Who called The Doctor's Daughter. She starred opposite David Tennant, the 10th Doctor, and played a woman who was propagated from his DNA (hence the clever episode title.) BUT THERE'S MORE. In real life, David Tennant married the 5th Doctor's daughter — his own pretend daughter. The 5th Doctor is the 11th Doctor's father-in-law.

     

    And this is just one way Doctor Who bends the mind.

     

    Photo Source: Amazon

  • The 6th Doctor: Colin Baker 7 of 13
    colin

    The 6th Doctor was the antithesis to Peter Davison's charming, lovable Doctor. Colin Baker's 1984-1986 incarnation was unpredictable and moody. He had been traumatized by his regeneration and wore vibrant, clashing colors that epitomized the '80s. He temporarily "fixed" the TARDIS's chameleon circuit, allowing its exterior appearance to change from a police call box to an organ or a cupboard. With this erratic Doctor, the series reinvented itself yet again.

    Photo Source: Amazon

  • The 7th Doctor: Sylvester McCoy 8 of 13
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    From 1987-1989, Sylvester McCoy played the Doctor. He played it comically from the start, clowning around with physical comedy. But he became more complex through time, adding nuances of emotion, mystery, and sadness. By now, the Doctor has lived 900 years or so. He's seen a lot of tragedy and death. The concept of the lonely Time Lord that plays out so poignantly in contemporary Who was introduced with #7.

     

    Does he look familiar? Sylvester McCoy plays Radagast the Brown, Gandalf's earthy compadre, in The Hobbit.

     

    Photo Source: BBC

  • The 8th Doctor: Paul McGann 9 of 13
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    Paul McGann played the 8th Doctor in a 1996 TV movie. He played him with eccentricity and passion. Although he was the Doctor for only one night, Paul McGann is a very important Doctor. The show had been off the air for 7 years. Paul McGann played the comeback doctor, bridging the gap between classic Who and modern Who.

     

    In anticipation of the anniversary special, The Night of the Doctor was released, starring Paul McGann. THIS IS AWESOME. The 6-minute mini-episode fills in the gap between Paul McGann's 1996 Doctor and the 2005 reboot. THIS IS HUGE. There's another regeneration in there. Played by John Hurt, The War Doctor (Doctor #8.5?) still has a story to tell.

     

    Photo Source: Amazon

  • The 9th Doctor: Christopher Eccleston 10 of 13
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    In 2006, the series was rebooted and reinvented with Christopher Eccleston as the 9th Doctor. In toned down clothing, including a cool black leather coat, Eccleston was the first of the "modern" doctors. He showed up in his police box on the streets of London and swept everyone but Rose Tyler's mother off their feet. He's back!

     

    But he's got some baggage — double genocide-sized baggage. The last of the Time Lords has a very compelling back story.

     

    Photo Source: Amazon

  • The 10th Doctor: David Tennant 11 of 13
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    For me, David Tennant will always be the quintessential Doctor. In his pinstriped suit and Converse sneakers, Tennant played the Doctor from 2005-2010. He goes through several memorable companions: Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, and Donna Noble. He faces the iconic Daleks and the Cybermen, and he does battle with the only other living Time Lord, The Master. He gets cloned, becomes human, and travels by himself for a while. His regeneration is one of the most heart-breaking ever.

     Photo Source: Amazon

    Not to fear! Tennant's back in the 50th Anniversary special.

     

  • The 11th Doctor: Matt Smith 12 of 13
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    But Who fans weren't sad for long with Matt Smith in the house. The cute young Doctor brought in legions of new fans in 2010. He managed to win over every last David Tennant hold-out like myself with his charm, depth, and whimsy. Genius show runner Steven Moffat keeps the show fresh and relevant while imbuing the youngest (oldest) Doctor with gravitas through his interaction with previous plotlines. For example, the 11th Doctor goes back in time and sabotages the TARDIS's chameleon circuit, fixing the iconic blue police box in humanity's memory forever. So genius. So great.

    Photo Source: Amazon

  • The 12th Doctor: Peter Capaldi 13 of 13
    Peter Capaldi arrives at the Arqiva British Academy Television Awards 2013 at the Royal Festival Hall in London

    We don't know when, exactly, Matt Smith will regenerate into a new doctor, but it will happen sometime in 2014. Peter Capaldi will play the 12th Doctor. It's hard to see the old Doctor go, but the show has yet to disappoint in its choice of Doctors. Peter Capaldi will bring his acting chops and vibrancy to the show. I'll miss Matt Smith, but I'm excited to meet my new Doctor!

    Photo Source: Pacific Coast News

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