In Depth

Doctor Who actors: where are they all now?

Jodie Whittaker becomes the 13th Time Lord in BBC’s long-running sci-fi show

More than eight million viewers tuned in for the first episode of the new series of Doctor Who on Sunday, with Jodie Whittaker winning rave reviews as the first female Time Lord.

The BBC reports that Whittaker’s debut brought the show’s highest ratings since 2013, with fans tweeting that the episode was “a breath of fresh air” and “everything the show was ever meant to be”.

The Daily Mail says that viewers and critics alike were “blown away by the actress, 36, as she took on the iconic role for the first time, with many gushing that she had all the best qualities of her predecessors”.

So who were those Time Lords, and what are they up to now?

William Hartnell (1963-66)

The original Doctor, portrayed by London-born Hartnell, “was a gruff sort of fellow whose self-important, curmudgeonly exterior hid surprising warmth, especially when dealing with his granddaughter, Susan (Carole Ann Ford)”, Entertainment Weekly says.

Hartnell was forced to retire from the show after his health began to decline in the late 1960s, although he returned for a guest appearance in 1973, to mark the show’s tenth anniversary. He died in 1975, at the age of 67.

Patrick Troughton (1966-69)

Troughton completed a three-year stint as The Doctor and then appeared in multiple sci-fi films and TV shows. He died of a heart attack in 1987, two days after his 67th birthday, while attending a science fiction conference in Columbus, Georgia. 

The Daily Mirror reports that Troughton’s “children went on to act, and his grandchildren include Harry Melling (Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter films) as well as Sam Troughton, who was in The Ritual and BBC series Robin Hood”.

Jon Pertwee (1970-74)

One of the most popular Doctors, Pertwee “played the character as an action hero with an almost James Bond flair, wearing opera capes and driving souped-up cars”, Mental Floss says.

“His career didn’t falter afterwards, and in 1979 he found his second children’s TV role in Worzel Gummidge,” the entertainment site continues. “Like Troughton before him, he kept up the convention circuit, meeting with his fans frequently.”

Pertwee died of a heart attack while on holiday in Connecticut in 1996, at the age of 76.

Tom Baker (1974-81)

Baker “enjoyed the longest run in the role and arguably remains the best loved of any of the original series doctors”, according to the British Film Institute (BFI).

Now 85, Tom Baker has mostly retired from acting but makes occasional guest appearances. “Notably, he narrated both Little Britain and Little Britain USA,” says the Mirror.

Peter Davison (1982-84)

At 29, Davison was the youngest actor to play the Time Lord until Matt Smith took on the role a quarter of a century later. Entertainment Weekly describes Davison’s Doctor as “sensitive and well mannered - aside from his decidedly non-upper-class penchant for wearing celery”.

Now 67, he continues to act and has starred in shows including Grantchester, Toast of London and Law & Order: UK.

Colin Baker (1984-86)

Baker (no relation to Tom) had already appeared in Doctor Who, as Commander Maxil in 1983, before he was cast in the lead role. But his tenure as the Doctor was a difficult one, “marred by the battle of the production team with BBC leadership who hoped to see the series die”, says Mental Floss. 

After a troubled season 23, Baker was fired, despite having a full series left in his contract. The actor focused on the stage after leaving Doctor Who

Last year, he wrote an article for The Guardian strongly supporting the casting of a woman in the role of The Doctor.

Sylvester McCoy (1987-89)

The first Scottish Doctor, McCoy “brought humour to the role, but the character became increasingly dark in the second series”, The Sun says.

He remained on the show until 1989, when it was cancelled by the BBC. McCoy went on to appear as the wizard Radagast in The Hobbit movies. He has also acted on stage, and in 2016 appeared in BBC reality TV series The Real Marigold Hotel.

Paul McGann (1996)

Most famous for his role in the film Withnail & I, McGann appeared just once as The Doctor, in a 1996 TV movie following the show’s cancellation.

Since then, McGann has appeared in numerous other films and TV shows including Luther, Holby City and Ripper Street.

Christopher Eccleston (2005)

Eccleston helped create a new generation of Doctor Who fans in the show’s revival in 2005, which saw it become one of the largest TV franchises in the world.

The Emmy Award-winning actor gave the Time Lord a “dashing, though overly serious” persona, says Business Insider, but left the series after just one season.

Eccleston continues to appear in TV shows and films including Thor: The Dark World. He is now starring in a London stage production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth that runs until January.

David Tennant (2005-10)

Scottish actor Tennant was voted the best ever Doctor by Digital Spy readers in in 2013 and 2015.

Following his five-year tenure on the sci-fi show, Tennant has lent his voice to or acted in dozens of TV shows, including the critically acclaimed ITV crime drama Broadchurch.

Matt Smith (2010-13)

At just 26, Smith was the youngest actor ever to be cast as The Doctor, and the role has done wonders for his career.

Since completing his three-year stint as the Time Lord, Smith has gone on to appear in blockbuster films including Terminator Genisys, and is due to star in the upcoming Star Wars: Episode IX. However, he is perhaps best-known for his role as Prince Philip in Netflix original series The Crown.

Peter Capaldi (2014-17)

Prior to his Doctor Who debut, Capaldi was perhaps best known for his role as foul-mouthed spin doctor Malcolm Tucker in political comedy The Thick of It. By contrast, his take on The Doctor was “mellowed”, and became “one of the most complex and layered” in the show’s history, says Digital Spy.

Capaldi has focused on films post-Who, appearing in the 2017 sequel to Paddington and this year’s fantasy-comedy film Christopher Robin.

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