Here's how many actors have played the Doctor in the sci-fi series Doctor Who (Can you guess?)

As Doctor Who makes its return, you may be amazed at just how many actors have played the Doctor!
The Doctor ((Ncuti Gatwa) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special 2023.
The Doctor ((Ncuti Gatwa) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special 2023. /

Doctor Who is back with its premiere on Disney+ and is set for a new era of excitement. Some newbies may be confused as to the title character’s changing appearance, so how many actors have played the Doctor? The answer may surprise you!

In 1966, the producers of Doctor Who had a problem. The show about the time-traveling alien in a police box-shaped craft was a major hit, but William Hartnell, the lead actor, was becoming ill and missing shows. Canceling the show wasn’t an option, but it just couldn’t continue with Hartnell.

It’s not sure who came up with the idea, but someone had a wild thought: Since the Doctor was an alien, his race had the ability to “regenerate” a new body at death. It was a daring idea, but it worked, giving the show new life. 

Since then, this regeneration has been the key to Doctor Who’s longevity, with each new Doctor creating a fresh feel for the series and a new energy. It’s also fun to see how the show evolves with each Doctor. So, how many have played the part?

William Hartnell, Jacqueline Hill
Doctor Who / Moore/GettyImages

First Doctor: William Hartnell/Richard Hurndall/David Bradley, 1963-66, 1983, 2017/2022

The show began with William Hartnell as the Doctor, playing the role of an abrasive older man at first disdainful of humans. He softened as the show went on, becoming more of a grandfather figure. Hartnell was popular in the role even when his health forced him to leave. Fittingly, his final appearance was a cameo in “The Three Doctors,” a 10th anniversary special that had him meeting his two successors with Hartnell passing away in 1973.

When “The Five Doctors” 20th anniversary special aired in 1983, Richard Hurndall did a good impression of Hartnell for the role. David Bradley played Hartnell in 2017’s An Adventure in Time and Space, dramatizing the beginning of the series. He did such a great job that he was brought back as the First Doctor for the 2022 Christmas special, a nice full-circle bit for the character.

DW_CL_0266_Second Doctor in Power of The Daleks
Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor in The Power of the Daleks, Doctor Who. Image Courtesy BBC Studios, BritBox /

Second Doctor: Patrick Troughton, 1966-69

As the first new actor in the part, Troughton set the tradition of each Doctor playing the role much differently than his immediate predecessor. This Doctor was scruffy, a bit cowardly at times but using that to manipulate others. He had touches like playing a flute and was nicknamed “the Cosmic Hobo” by fans. 

Troughton was adamant he would only play the role a couple of years. He went out with “The War Games,” a 10-episode epic revealing the Doctor’s origins as a runaway Time Lord. It ended with him put on trial and exiled to 20th century Earth with a new face. Troughton would return in a few special episodes to remain a fan-favorite Doctor. 

Jon Pertwee
Jon Pertwee As Doctor Who / Evening Standard/GettyImages

Third Doctor: Jon Pertwee, 1970-74

Jon Pertwee’s tenure began with the show shifting to color and expanding to an international audience. Due to budget cuts, his Doctor spent most of his time on Earth in the 1970s, working with the UNIT organization and taking on threats, including the Doctor’s Time Lord foe The Master. This Doctor was a bit of a dandy with nice outfits while a man of action, using judo and a James Bond feel to his adventures before finally getting back into space. 

Pertwee finished his run while returning for “The Five Doctors” special. He was an important stepping stone to the show finding its global audience. 

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Photo: Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor in The Hand Of Fear. Image Courtesy BBC Studios, BritBox /

Fourth Doctor: Tom Baker, 1974-81

Mention Doctor Who and Tom Baker was who most folks thought of. He played the role for seven years, the longest tenure of any actor, standing out with that wild outfit of Bohemian clothing, floppy hat and long scarf. His Doctor was a marvelous mix of eccentric humor, bumbling, clever turns and a bright grin to spark things up.

Baker’s run was a creative high point for the series, packed with some of the best episodes in the show’s run. He set a bar that was hard to follow yet emulated in many ways. Baker made a cameo in the 50th anniversary special, hinting he might be a future Doctor with an older face, with many fans seeing him as the face of the franchise. 

DW_CL_0584_Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Turlough in Resurrection of the Daleks 1
Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor, Janet Fielding as Tegan and Mark Strickson as Turlough in Resurrection of the Daleks, Doctor Who. Image Courtesy BBC Studios, BritBox /

Fifth Doctor: Peter Davison, 1981-84

Given the unenviable task of following Baker, Peter Davison did a fine job as the then-youngest actor in the role. His Doctor, in a nice cricket uniform-inspired outfit, could seem ill at ease and unsure of himself but still had the smarts and humor for the role. Davison would reprise the part in audio dramas and a few cameos in the newer series as he settled into being the Doctor well.

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Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor in Revelation Of The Dalek, Doctor Who. Image Courtesy BBC Studios, BritBox /

Sixth Doctor: Colin Baker, 1984-86

No relation to Tom, Colin Baker got a bit of a raw deal with the series. First was the atrocious outfit of a bright quilt-like coat that was too bizarre even for the Doctor. Then there was the bad writing and the Doctor becoming more arrogant and dismissive of others that hampered his run.

There were also serious behind the scenes issues at the BBC, including the show close to cancellation. Baker was so upset about being dismissed after two seasons that he didn’t come back for the regeneration scene. However, he would reprise the role in audio dramas and recent cameos as he wasn’t a bad choice for the role, just hurt by the poor production around him.

DW_CL_0788_Seventh Doctor and Ace in Remembrance Of The Daleks 3
Photo: Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace in Silver Nemesis/Doctor Who.. Image Courtesy BBC Studios, BritBox /

Seventh Doctor: Sylvester McCoy, 1987-89, 1996

The final Doctor of the original run, Sylvester McCoy returned the character to his quirky roots, notable for a fun outfit with a Panama hat and an umbrella. Whimsical at first, this Doctor became darker and more manipulative as time went on, something built on by later incarnations. 

The show finally ended in 1989, with McCoy briefly reprising the role in the 1996 Fox movie to send off the character. He’s likewise returned for audio dramas and cameos to nicely showcase a fan-favorite Doctor.

Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited: Episode 08
Picture Shows: Paul McGann as Doctor Who in the entrance to the TARDIS. Image Courtesy Aaron Rappaport/BBC /

Eighth Doctor: Paul McGann, 1996, 2013

In 1996, Fox attempted to reboot the series with a TV movie that had McCoy shot and regenerated into Paul McGann. His Doctor was fun with the usual mix of humor and some darkness even with ideas like saying the Doctor was half-human. The movie never led to a revival with McGann starring in audio dramas. He finally played the role again in a 2013 mini-movie that allowed closure to make this an official Doctor after all.

Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited: Episode 09
Picture Shows: The Doctor (CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON). Courtesy BBC /

Ninth Doctor: Christopher Eccleston, 2005

When Doctor Who was finally revived in 2005, Christopher Eccleston was a Doctor for a new era. His laid-back look of leather jacket and jeans with buzz-cut hair showed a more excitable Doctor, more pragmatic, protecting others and carrying the wounds of the Time War. He did a fine job making the character more relatable for this generation.

The producers always planned for Eccleston to only last this one year, with the season ending with the Doctor regenerating to show that nothing was off-limits. While he resisted attempts to get him to return, Eccleston is vital in getting the series back on track.

The Doctor (David Tennant) /

10th/14th Doctor: David Tennant, 2005-2010, 2023

David Tennant became the first new Doctor of the revived series and he was an intriguing contrast. This Doctor could be friendly, packed with humor, caring and charming. But tick him off and he could unleash a righteous fury capable of burning worlds and darker aspects. 

Tennant had a grand send-off in 2010 but made a shocking return in 2023, not as the 10th Doctor but the 14th, the same old face but a slightly different attitude. His brief adventures ended with a “bi-generation” that allowed him to split, letting the 14th Doctor live his own life and Tennant the unique distinction of being the only actor to play two different Doctors. 

The Doctor's Finest, From the episode Doctor Who: The Time of the Doctor, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith). Courtesy Adrian Rogers, BBC /

11th Doctor: Matt Smith, 2010-13

The youngest actor to play the role, Matt Smith made this Doctor a proud “madman with a box,” with his bow tie and boyish charm adding to a frenetic performance. At the same time, he could show a world-weary temperament, the weight of centuries of life weighing on him and darker aspects as his run went on. 

Smith ended in a big way as it had long been set a Time Lord only had 12 regenerations. However, a loophole allowed the Doctor to get a fresh set with Smith’s farewell ensuring other Doctors could follow him.

Doctor Who (series 8) Ep3
Picture shows: Peter Capaldi as The Doctor.. Image Courtesy Adrian Rogers/BBC /

12th Doctor: Peter Capaldi, 2013-17

From the youngest actor to one of the oldest, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor was striking as he begins contemplative, brusque, and often concealing his emotions as he makes difficult choices. He softens a bit (at one point he plays rock guitar while wearing leather jackets) but always has that unique style and a sharp tongue. His run built a bit more on the Doctor’s past and relationship with the Time Lords for a fun ride. 

Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor - Doctor Who _ Season 13 - Photo Credit: James Pardon/BBC Studios/BBC America /

13th Doctor: Jodie Whittaker, 2017-2022

After years of hopes, at long last, the Doctor regenerated into a woman. Jodie Whittaker was the historic actress in the part and did a fine job channeling the Doctor’s quirky nature into a female perspective (including how being a woman was a drawback in certain time periods). Whitaker returned the Doctor to a light-hearted figure caring for others and a “family” of sorts in the TARDIS.

Whittaker’s run was controversial for rough writing and the highly-debated “Timeless Child” rewriting of the Doctor’s origins. Yet she should be appreciated for this historic turn and hopefully not the last time the Doctor takes on a female form. 

The Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa) and Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson) Credit: James Pardon/Bad Wolf/BBC Studios /

15th Doctor: Ncuti Gatwa

Now we come to the latest Doctor with Ncuti Gatwa, who is likewise making history as the first black actor in the role. He came from a rare “bi-generation” from the 14th Doctor but already shows he has the role in hand with his humor and charm as well as shifting outfit. This should make for a terrific run to keep up the show’s long history.

The Unofficial Doctors

Those are the official Doctors, but there are a few who are considered slightly different.

Peter Cushing, 1972
Peter Cushing, 1972 / Hulton Deutsch/GettyImages

The Movie Doctor: Peter Cushing

The 1960s films Doctor Who vs the Daleks and The Dalek Invasion of Earth are considered non-canon with the Doctor presented as an eccentric inventor who created the TARDIS rather than the Time Lord. However, casting the legendary Peter Cushing in the role was a coup with his terrific talent making this film work better than they should so can be remembered well. 

Doctor Who – 50th Anniversary Special - The Day of the Doctor
Picture shows; JOHN HURT as The Doctor in the 50th Anniversary Special - The Day of the Doctor /

The War Doctor: John Hurt

A big turn to the mythos was in 2013 that revealed that in between the 8th and 9th Doctors came an incarnation who took up arms in the Time War. As such, he disowned the name of the Doctor, becoming older over the combat and more ruthless, culminating in wiping out the Daleks and Time Lords alike. 

Played by esteemed actor John Hurt, this Doctor was rough and bitter but an adventure with his future selves resparked his old drive. He ended by regenerating into the 9th Doctor so while not an official Doctor, does count as part of the mythos. 

Jo Martin as Ruth Clayton - Doctor Who _ Season 12, Episode 5 - Photo Credit: James Pardon/BBC Studios/BBC America /

The Fugitive Doctor: Jo Martin

This…is complicated. In “Fugitive of the Judoon,” the 13th Doctor met Ruth, a seemingly normal teacher. When attacked by aliens, Ruth revealed herself to be the Doctor, using a “chameleon arch” to appear human. Naturally, the Doctor assumed this was a future incarnation of her, only to discover it was some sort of past version she’d forgotten. This was the start of the “Timeless Child” arc.

This Doctor is darker in attitude, even willing to use weapons and a short temper. It’s hinted that she had to change into the more pacifist figure of the future. Right now, her standing is a bit up in the air, but the show considers her a Doctor, perhaps the very first one to show the confusing mythology.

That doesn’t count actors who popped in as child versions of the Doctor in flashbacks, comedy shows or audio dramas. It can be a bit daunting to accept, but it shows how Doctor Who has survived, with each actor putting their own unique stamp onto this complex role. 

Doctor Who seasons 1-26 are available on Tubi. Seasons 1-13 are streaming on Max. And the latest, season 14, premieres on Disney+ this Friday, May 10.

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