Doctor Who: all of The Doctor’s incarnations ranked

Doctor Who is one of the longest running TV series in the world and this means there's plenty of versions to look at in our Doctor's incarnations ranked list

Doctor Who incarnations ranked: The First Doctor and The 12th Doctor in Twice Upon a Time

All of The Doctor’s incarnations ranked. One of the reasons why British TV series Doctor Who has been able to run for 60 years is because, every time a Doctor dies, the character regenerates into a new version of themselves.

This has kept the sci-fi series fresh and fun throughout its run, and it’s allowed the audience to see many, many different sides to The Doctor, who always remains the same fundamental character after their regeneration, just with the elements of their personality reorganised. Because there have been so many iterations of the character, there has always been a heated debate about which version of the character is the best.

Of course, it’s entirely down to personal preference. Many Doctor Who fans prefer the more serious takes on the character, provided by the likes of Jon Pertwee, Christopher Ecclestone, and Peter Capaldi. Others prefer the quirkiness dialled up to 11, as with Matt Smith and Jodie Whittaker. There’s plenty to get through, so let’s get stuck in. Here’s all of The Doctor’s incarnations ranked from worst to best.

The 13th Doctor: Jodie Whittaker

Let’s make this clear right from the off. Jodie Whittaker could have been a great Doctor. The issue has nothing to do with the fact that the Doctor became a woman. In fact, the change was one we were especially excited about and one that opened up a world of possibilities. But someone had to be at the bottom of the list.

Doctor Who incarnations ranked: The 13th Doctor

The problem with the 13th Doctor has been the quality of the stories she’s been given, as well as her characterisation. Chris Chibnall turned Whittaker’s Doctor into something the character had never previously been: childish.

Chibnall’s made the Doctor into an immature, awkward, emotionally-stunted character. It’s a fundamental misunderstanding, and it isn’t helped by the fact that the companions are so depressingly underwhelming. She is also burdened with some of the worst episodes of all time, including Kerblam!, Spyfall Part Two, and Legend of the Sea Devils.

We’re looking forward to the next time the Doctor is a woman because if the 13th Doctor did anything positive, it proved that the change in the character’s gender is no big deal. While we’re on the topic, may we politely suggest that T’Nia Miller of Flanaverse fame is born for the role?

Doctor Who incarnations ranked: The 6th Doctor

The 6th Doctor: Colin Baker

The 6th Doctor isn’t particularly likeable. In fact, he is patronising, arrogant, and dismissive. This is a pretty big departure from what had come before, and while the character had always had an arrogant side to his personality, it had rarely been so central or prominent.

The idea that The Doctor isn’t necessarily a pleasant person to spend time with is a really interesting one and is something that has been picked up on by subsequent Doctors. The 10th, 11th, and 12th Doctors all have moments of arrogance that can be traced back to the 6th Doctor. However, as a standalone version of the character, the sixth Doctor feels unbalanced.

Doctor Who incarnations ranked: The First Doctor and The 12th Doctor in Twice Upon a Time

The 1st Doctor: William Hartnell and David Bradley

William Hartnell has to receive some credit for the fact that he was the first pioneering Doctor. He had no template to follow, and while this is impressive, it also shows that the character lacks the depth that he would find in later incarnations. Of course, it’s also worth mentioning that for modern audiences, Hartnell’s stories have accessibility issues, and some episodes from his run remain lost forever.

In the modern era, David Bradley has shown up as the 1st Doctor, in place of Hartnell, twice. In both instances, he gave a hint of who the 1st Doctor was (straight-laced and very proper) while also teasing that there may be more under the surface. If Bradley were, for example, to get his own mini-series as the 1st Doctor, we’re sure he’d soon become a fan favourite.

Doctor Who incarnations ranked: The 5th Doctor

The 5th Doctor: Peter Davison

Davison proved that the character could be young and vulnerable and didn’t necessarily have to have the overt confidence and authority of Doctors of the past. This has been huge for the character’s subsequent regenerations, and you can draw a direct line from the 5th Doctor to later Doctors like 10 and 11.

The downside is that because the 5th Doctor is doing something almost entirely new, he can be hit and miss. He isn’t a hugely memorable Doctor and won’t be at the top of the list of many people’s favourite Doctor.

Doctor Who incarnations ranked: The 7th Doctor

The 7th Doctor: Sylvester McCoy

McCoy’s stint as The Doctor was poorly received at the time (and, partly, this hastened the show’s cancellation), but since then his reputation has greatly improved. McCoy worked particularly well as The Doctor when he was paired up with Ace, and he was able to be almost simultaneously foolish and clown-like, and threatening. His outfit is also one of the better ones too, with his cosy-looking V-neck jumper and iconic umbrella.

Doctor Who incarnations ranked: The 2nd Doctor

The 2nd Doctor: Patrick Troughton

Troughton’s Doctor was the first time that The Doctor had regenerated, so there was a lot riding on his success. Thankfully, he managed to reinvent the character in a positive way, adding more life and depth to The Doctor. He brought a swashbuckling spirit while also making the character much more manipulative. Troughton’s Doctor was a big step forward and showed that The Doctor had many more aspects to his personality than had previously been revealed.

Doctor Who incarnations ranked: The 3rd Doctor

The 3rd Doctor: Jon Pertwee

A capable martial artist, the 3rd Doctor was a huge pivot away from the 2nd Doctor. He was a much more serious, scientifically minded character, with a magnetic charisma and charm. You can see echoes of the 3rd Doctor still present in later versions, like the 10th and 12th Doctors, and the essence of the 3rd Doctor has remained present in the character ever since his regeneration, bubbling underneath the character’s surface to varying degrees.

Doctor Who incarnations ranked: Matt Smith

The 11th Doctor: Matt Smith

Matt Smith was a good Doctor, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. His version of The Doctor was one that was full of unbridled curiosity, charisma, enthusiasm, and eccentricities. Sometimes, those eccentricities became The Doctor’s overriding personality trait, and that is when the character could feel a bit one-note and too much of a departure from what had come before. However, more often than not, Smith’s 11th Doctor was an endearing, engaging version of the timelord who worked especially well with the supporting cast around him.

Doctor Who incarnations ranked: The 12th Doctor

The 12th Doctor: Peter Capaldi

Capaldi is perhaps the biggest known name to take on the role of The Doctor. Before his run, he established himself in the political comedy series The Thick of It and had appearances in big blockbusters too, like zombie movie World War Z. Peter Capaldi’s era came at a time when the modern era of the series was beginning to feel like it was running out of steam. Steven Moffat’s writing had grown somewhat tired, and the sci-fi drama series had lost a lot of momentum.

But, you have to separate the quality of the show from the character of The Doctor, and in moments, Capaldi is the perfect Doctor. I’m specifically thinking of the episodes in which the character has his velvet jacket, waistcoat, and long hair. That aesthetic, coupled with his portrayal, seems to be exactly as The Doctor should be. But, that perfection is fleeting. His characterisation in series 10, as the tired but laid-back rock and roll professor, doesn’t work nearly half as well. Capaldi has the highest highs, such as with Heaven Sent, but also some pretty low lows: that makes ranking him incredibly difficult, but it’s impossible to ignore that when he’s at his best, he is the best.

Doctor Who incarnations ranked: The 9th Doctor

The 9th Doctor: Christopher Eccleston

Eccleston brought a toughness and grit to the character, which was a significant departure from what we’d seen before – but in a good and very necessary way. Eccleston’s Doctor was raw and angry, but learnt that he still had space for hope.

That character arc, even though it only takes place over the course of a single season, is enough. It cements him as one of the great Doctors, and his chemistry with Rose was the foundation for the success of the rebooted TV series.

The 4th Doctor

The 4th Doctor: Tom Baker

Tom Baker is the definitive classic Who Doctor. With his suave hat and exceptionally long scarf, the 4th Doctor is the embodiment of The Doctor’s most recognisable character traits: a sense of fun, inquisitiveness, and the ability to be threatening when pushed. He is enigmatic, unpredictable, and completely unforgettable.

Doctor Who incarnations ranked: Paul McGann as the 8th Doctor

The 8th Doctor: Paul McGann

Paul McGann is Doctor Who’s secret weapon. Despite his tiny amount of time in the role of the 8th Doctor in the science fiction movie for TV, McGann cemented himself as one of the great Doctors.

His gothic TARDIS is the greatest of all time and is complimented by the 8th Doctor’s effortless charm. Underneath that lies a simmering weariness, and like all the best Doctors, McGann’s version is a deep and complex character. Please, Doctor Who, find some way to give him more screen time.

Doctor Who incarnations ranked: The 10th Doctor David Tennant

The 10th Doctor: David Tennant

David Tennant is one of the more obvious picks for the greatest incarnation of The Doctor, and for good reason. He brings the youthful energy of the character to the fore, combining it with that deep, ancient wisdom. This makes the character feel fresh and new while also retaining the fundamental aspects of The Doctor’s personality.

This ability to touch on different emotions and traits, and flick between them with ease, is what makes Tennant so popular. His character is nuanced and real in the way that a 900-year-old alien should be.

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Now, Tennant is the 14th Doctor as well as the 10th Doctor and will get one last shot at the role in the Doctor Who 60th-anniversary specials before handing the baton over to Ncuti Gatwa, who will officially take on the role of the 15th Doctor in Doctor Who series 14. That’s a lot of Doctors! We wouldn’t have it any other way.

For more time-travelling fun, check out our guide to the scariest Doctor Who episodes.