Doctor Who has been a popular television show since 1963. Even during hiatus years or low points, it has retained a loyal fanbase and gains new fans all the time. This year, at Lock City Anime and Comic-Con, CT Whovian Club founder and president Jeff Baryla as well as members Catarina Themyscira, Steven Cosgrove, Kurt Boucher, and Chana Odom, hosted the panel “Oh Doctor, My Doctor! The Evolution of Doctor Who” to give both new and old fans a rundown of the doctors and the show through the ages.
The panel began with introductions, which included some tidbits about favorite or least favorite Doctors or eras from each panel member. However, if you missed the introductions, you probably could have figured it out–most of the panel members were cosplaying as their favorite Doctors or companions! As for the panel itself, it went chronologically from Doctor (and era) to Doctor, making it a good guide to the main series.
So, obviously, things kicked off William Hartnell, who played the very first Doctor from 1963 to 1966. At this time, iconic pieces of the show didn’t exist yet: rather than the sonic screwdriver, the first doctor had a ring with a blue stone to help him out. Themyscira named him her favorite “classic Doctor.” The term “classic Doctor” refers to the first seven out of the current thirteen doctors. Hartnell’s Doctor was regenerated because his body was getting “worn out.”
Hartnell was followed by Patrick Troughton, who acted as the second Doctor from fall 1966 to 1969. His “memorable gadget” was his recorder. The host made no secret of her dislike of the recorder. Baryla said Troughton brought more energy to the show, which helped it grow. Troughton’s doctor was forced to regenerate by his fellow time lords–essentially, he was executed by his peers. Of course, because the doctor can regenerate, that’s executed in quotation marks.
The third Doctor was played by Jon Pertwee from 1970 to 1974. Pertwee spent much of his time as the Doctor stuck on Earth, so he did a lot of traveling in “Bessie,” his roadster. His velvet and bowties help him stick in fans’ minds, as did the fact that Pertwee’s doctor made the jump from black and white film to color. This time period also marked the appearance of Roger DelGado as The Master, a recurring villain throughout the series to this day. The general feeling from the panel seemed to be that the tone of the Master was really set during this era with DelGado. Pertwee’s Doctor was more of a man of action than his two predecessor and had more pizzazz as well–but eventually, he too regenerated due to a lethal dose of regeneration.
Next came Tom Baker, probably the most recognizable classic Doctor if not the most recognizable Doctor, period. Part of this is due to the fact that he holds the record for playing the Doctor, exploring time and space from 1974 through 1981. Another reason for this is that PBS picked up the show from this point onward and began airing it in the United States. Poor Baker had to regenerate because he fell from a radar tower. Because Baker’s Doctor’s iconic item was a very lengthy scarf, Themyscira joked that he probably fell because he tripped over the edge of it.
Peter Davidson took up the reins as Doctor number five next. He acted in the role from 1981 to 1984. The conversation here did not focus on him very much, rather it focused on his companion Adric. Adric was actually killed while acting as one of the Doctor’s companions, marking the first instance in the show where a companion was killed.
Next was the somewhat unpopular sixth Doctor, played by Colin Baker from 1984 to 1986. He was something of an arrogant and combative fellow, which gained him a lot of ire from fans. Baker didn’t necessarily leave the show–he was, more or less, canned. In the show, hitting his head was enough to trigger regeneration, but it was said that in other Doctor Who media the moment is expanded on more.
Colin Baker was followed up with the more well-received Sylvestor McCoy, who served as the Doctor from 1987 to 1989. He is easily recognizable by his question mark motif and his “goofy” behavior. He and his companion worked well together because of this, though: while he might be off messing around, she was getting things done, with force if necessary. Themyscira described McCoy’s companion beating a Dalek with a baseball bat, and I have no idea whether she was joking or not. The show was actually canceled in 1989, but it wouldn’t be the last time we saw McCoy as the Seventh Doctor.
In 1996, the Fox network produced a made-for-TV Doctor Who movie, aptly named Doctor Who: The Movie, in an attempt to attract an American audience. Sylvestor McCoy briefly reprised his role as the seventh Doctor. Unfortunately, he was shot in a gunfight, and a human EMT accidentally triggered his regeneration because she assumed he was human and her help did him more harm than good. So, we got doctor number eight, Paul McGann, who was pretty much only the Doctor for this singular movie. McGann didn’t spark American interest in the show, but his movie did mark the very instance of romance between a Doctor and his companion.
The group briefly touched upon the War Doctor, who was played by John Hurt in three episodes in 2013. Hurt’s Doctor is not officially numbered, but lore online suggests that he is meant to be an aged, tired version of the eighth doctor. Nonetheless, he’s apparently a somewhat controversial fellow. The panel recommended the Titan comics because they expand upon the War Doctor’s backstory.
“New Who” began in 2005, with Christopher Eccleston, who did hit it off with both British and American audiences, both old and new alike. The panel agreed that the attempt to bring Doctor Who back without Eccleston could have very well failed, and even if it had succeeded, modern Doctor Who would be very different. The host said that Eccleston is her favorite modern Doctor. The ninth Doctor brought back romance with a companion again, developing a relationship with his companion Rose that would last to the Tenth Doctor’s years. His regeneration was triggered when he absorbed energy from a time vortex in order to protect Rose.
If Christopher Eccleston hadn’t grabbed enough fans, David Tennant as the tenth Doctor picked up plenty more during his run from 2005 to 2010. The panel named him as probably the best well-known modern Doctor, and definitely the most likely to see as a cosplay. He “kept the series going” successfully after Eccleston’s strong start, and many fans were sad to see him go when a lethal dose of radiation also forced him to regenerate.
Matt Smith then took up the reigns for the rest of 2010 until 2013. Although he brought in more new fans, it was clear from how the panel discussed him that feelings on him were mixed. Writing problems were cited, as the Sonic Screwdriver became something of a “magic wand” for the character. He was also very hyper compared to other Doctors, which left some fans cold. Early in the original series, it had been established that time lords only had a limited amount of regenerations, but the eleventh Doctor received more during Smith’s run, ensuring many more years of Doctor Who to come.
The Twelfth Doctor was played by Peter Capaldi from 2014 to 2018, and also marked a temporary rest for the sonic screwdriver in favor of sonic sunglasses. Although Capaldi had a rough start, most of the panel agreed that the writing for his episodes improved after his first season. The companion Clara was named as a weak point for Capaldi (and even with Matt Smith), though the host said she really liked Clara before Clara became a companion. She liked it when romantic tension was snipped from the show.
Finally, we have our current Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, our first female Doctor. Themyscira likes her a lot–but doesn’t think she’s been done enough justice yet. To her, Whittaker’s Doctor has definitely shown her ability and potential in certain episodes, but the writing has not let viewers see it all the time. For an example of that ability and Whittaker’s acting prowess, the Themyscira suggested attendees watch the episode “Rosa.” The panel rubbed right up against end time as the topic of the controversy over a female Doctor came up.
If you feel you’re now ready to tackle nearly 60 years of Doctor Who, you can catch almost all of the original series on Britbox and the “New Who” series can be found on Amazon Prime.
Lock City Anime and Comic-Con 2019 was held on July 27 in North Haven, Connecticut. For more coverage on the convention, please continue checking N3rdabl3 throughout the week.