This year marks the 60th anniversary of the iconic British sci-fi TV series Doctor Who. An insane achievement that few other media franchises can match at this point in time. A testament to the surprising longevity of this goofy show about an alien genius wandering around the universe in a big blue box.
Growing up, I loved Doctor Who more than just about anything. Every Halloween, when other kids were dressing up as Iron Man or Indiana Jones, I put on a tweed jacket, suspenders, and a bow tie. While other kids wanted a lightsaber, I wanted a sonic screwdriver. This show captivated my young mind and invigorated my imagination. It’s no exaggeration to say it’s a large part of what made me who I am today.
What I loved the most about this show wasn’t the aliens or the adventure or the sci-fi action. It was the show’s titular character: the Doctor. A bizarre, mysterious alien with a dark history and a spring in their step, a nigh immortal being capable of rising from death like a phoenix with a brand new face. They were, and still are, one of my favorite fictional characters of all time.
Which is kind of weird. Given that they are simultaneously one character and fourteen.
Over the last sixty years, many actors have put their unique stamp upon the Doctor. While each one maintains the core principles that make the Doctor the Doctor – for the most part – each individual is a distinctly different character. So much so that it’s become a fan-favorite tradition for the Doctors to meet themselves!
It’s a show about time travel, okay, things are gonna get weird.
Fittingly, for a show so bizarre, the Doctor themselves are highly strange. Their fashion sense ranges from simple and cool to a cacophony of colors depending on the iteration (inspirations for many a cosplayer of the years). More than that, the Doctor often spouts nonsense or acts childish or otherwise strange.
Does this embarrass the character? Hardly. They take being awkward and weird and roll with it. If you were to call them out on it, they would more than likely simply smile and tell you that life is more fun that way.
That confidence is one of the coolest aspects of the character. Whether they’re acting bizarre and childish and shrugging it off or they’re messing with a guy holding them at gunpoint, the Doctor approaches life with an unflinching belief in themselves. They’re the only fictional character I’ve ever seen who could tell their enemies that they’re completely unarmed and defenseless and still sound badass and in control.
Speaking of unarmed and defenseless, let’s talk about my favorite aspect of the Doctor: their pacifistic nature. Unlike other sci-fi heroes, the Doctor is not one to solve their problems with bombs, lasers, laser swords, or whatever else. Their approach is to outsmart their enemies. To trick them or outsmart them. You could hand them a box of scraps and a piece of pen and paper and they’d find a way to overthrow gods with it! All without killing anyone.
Most of the time. The Doctor isn’t perfect in any incarnation. There are a good number of stories where they fail to uphold their own morals. Sometimes it’s by accident. Other times it’s a mistake. And sometimes, very rarely, they’ll break their own rules on purpose. As fun and whimsical as they can be, the Doctor can also be quite terrifying.
If done well, this can lead to some fantastic stories. Or it could lead to some of the series’ worst. Show’s been around for sixty years, they’re not all gonna be bangers.
Cough cough Hell Bent.
The Doctor is a wonderfully fun and interesting character. A truly weird, confident, smart, and kind person burdened by age and a dark side. They’ve captivated me ever since I was a kid and they still kind of do even to this day. I’ve loved practically every version of this character we’ve ever gotten.
Which makes it really sad whenever they die. Unlike other characters, the Doctor frequently dies and is subsequently reborn. In doing so, the actor playing the part steps down and a new one takes their place, bringing with them a whole new take on the character.
Again: Doctor Who is a really weird show.
You’d think the nigh immortality of the character would suck away all the emotional weight from their deaths. But that isn’t the case. Rather, it’s the opposite. Somehow, the passing of each Doctor manages to be just as sad as the last! It’s sad to watch a version of the character you’ve come to love leave! Especially since every actor to ever play the part has managed to deliver a truly devastating farewell scene.
Except for Colin Baker. But that wasn’t his fault, the producers shafted him. Thankfully, he got the justice he deserved in the audio dramas.
But each Doctor’s farewell also comes with a brand new hello. A brand new Doctor played by a new actor with a new personality for our old hero. Each sad goodbye comes with an exciting new beginning. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions that only this show and this character can elicit.
There have been so many great versions of this character. Over the last sixty years, over a dozen actors have put their mark on the character. Each one has been so varied and different that they each deserve articles of their own!
So that’s exactly what I’m gonna do. Leading up to the 60th anniversary specials, I’m gonna have a look back at each and every version of the Doctor. What better way to celebrate the show than to celebrate it’s lead character?
Only in Doctor Who can I do that over a dozen times and get away with it.