DOCTOR WHO has long been my 2nd favorite TV series (after The Twilight Zone, from 1959-64) and lately has been vying for first place. Of the classic Doctor Who series that ran from 1963 to 1989, I've watched several of the 1960s stories and all of the ones from 1970 (when it began airing in color) to 1989 (when it was cancelled). Hulu has many (though not all) of the stories available to watch, as does the over-the-air TV network Retro TV, in addition to the officially-released DVDs that can be purchased from various sources. (One piece of advice when buying Doctor Who DVDs is to make sure you purchase those which are compatible with your player. For example, viewers in the U.S. should buy Region 1 DVDs.) Complete episodes can also be found on some video sites such as Dailymotion.
When I first started watching Doctor Who regularly in 1989, it took me awhile to figure out how many Doctors there were -- how many actors had played the role. There was no Google or Wikipedia back then to learn the answer; I had to find out by reading books which explained the series, and program guides which listed the episodes (including air dates). Now much of this info is just a click away -- not something that you have to spend days or weeks wondering about, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
There were seven Doctors from 1963 to 1989 (not including Peter Cushing, who played the part in two 1960s motion pictures). The video below shows the opening sequences to every Doctor from its debut in 1963 to its 50th anniversary year, 2013 -- as well as a look (at the end of the video) at every actor who played the Doctor.
The first Doctor was William Hartnell, who played the part from 1963 to 1966. The first episode of Doctor Who, titled "An Unearthly Child," was broadcast on November 23, 1963. The "unearthly child" of the title was the Doctor's granddaughter Susan. Two teachers from her school, named Ian and Barbara, decided to visit her at home, only to find that she lived inside a police box located in a junk yard. The police box was larger on the inside than on the outside, and was actually a ship that could travel through time and space. This ship was called the TARDIS. Susan lived on this ship with her grandfather, a white-haired old man known simply as The Doctor. Susan and the Doctor claimed to be travelers from another time, from another planet, and took Ian and Barbara on trips through both time and space in episodes that aired for the rest of the year or more. You can view a scene from the beginning of the first Doctor Who episode below:
The broadcast version was actually the second version to be recorded. A pilot was filmed of the episode (not aired), but it was deemed unsatisfactory and was re-done. You can watch a sample comparison between the two versions below:
At the time that Doctor Who debuted, police boxes were a familiar sight in the U.K., but had begun to disappear by the end of the 1960s. The short video below (narrated by the Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker) shows the history of police boxes, and begins with a scene from the 1960s Peter Cushing movie and contains vintage footage of actual police boxes in use:
In 2013, as part of the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, a docudrama titled "An Adventure in Space and Time" aired on BBC television, about the program's early days, specifically about actor William Hartnell and the show's producer Verity Lambert. You can watch a scene from this drama below, where Hartnell (played by David Bradley) meets his replacement, Patrick Troughton (played by Reece Shearsmith) as well as glimpsing a vision of his future "self," the then-current Doctor, Matt Smith.
Each episode of Doctor Who was around 25 minutes long. In the beginning, each episode had its own title, even if it was part of a larger story (or serial). For example, "An Unearthly Child" was simply the first episode in a larger (unnamed) four-part story. The story as a whole is sometimes referred to as "An Unearthly Child," but is also referred to by most Doctor Who historians as "100,000 B.C." (or, more rarely, by some older fans as "The Tribe of Gum"). It wasn't until 1966 (during William Hartnell's last four stories) that each episode would reference the larger story title (e.g., "The War Machines," episode one, episode two, etc.) instead of having an individual title.
The popularity of Doctor Who was fueled by the series' first "monster" -- The Daleks, which debuted in the second Doctor Who serial in late 1963. These robot menaces which resembled salt-and-pepper shakers inspired a "Dalek mania" in the U.K. in the mid-1960s, nearly overshadowing the Doctor himself. Originally intended to be a one-off foe, the Daleks have returned again and again, becoming the Doctor's most persistent and longest-lasting enemy. You can view a fan-made trailer for that very first Dalek serial below:
In 1966, William Hartnell left the series and was replaced in the lead role by Patrick Troughton. In the newspapers at the time, this change was referred to as a rejuvenation of the character (from an older man to a younger one), but eventually it would be established that the Doctor was a Time Lord who had a finite number of lives. Each time that an actor decided to leave the role, the Doctor would suffer a kind of death that would cause his body to regenerate into another form (i.e., another actor). Between 1963 and 1989 (which is often called "classic Doctor Who" to distinguish it from the modern revival) seven actors played the role of the Doctor on TV. But it was that first transition, from Hartnell to Troughton, which showed that the concept of regeneration would be accepted by the audience. Below is that first regeneration scene, from episode 4 of "The Tenth Planet," William Hartnell's final episode, which originally aired on October 29, 1966.
This short regeneration scene is all that remains of episode 4 of "The Tenth Planet" (a 4-part story that also introduced Doctor Who's second most famous foe, The Cybermen). Until the late 1970s, the BBC routinely "wiped" (i.e., erased) the original tapes of their transmitted programs after a few years since the material on them was seen as having no future value. As a result, there are 97 half-hour episodes of Doctor Who from the 1960s that no longer exist to be watched. Fortunately, audio recordings exist for every missing episode, which were recorded at home by fans at the time. In addition, "telesnaps" are available of many missing episodes; these were professionally-made photographs of the screen during the original broadcasts that acted as a permanent record of the program for those involved in it. There have been efforts to try and restore lost episodes by combining these still photos with the audio soundtracks.
Unfortunately, the destruction of old episodes especially affects Patrick Troughton's run as the Doctor, with his very first story, "Power of the Daleks," being among the missing episodes. The first story to feature his longest-running companion Jamie McCrimmon ("The Highlanders"), played by Frazer Hines, is also missing. It was during the Troughton era that U.N.I.T. was introduced, a science/military force based in the U.K. that dealt with extraterrestial invasions, headed by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (played by Nicholas Courtney). Shown below is a scene from the 1968 story "The Invasion" which features U.N.I.T. in action.
The purely historical stories that alternated with the science fiction ones during the Hartnell era had been phased out, and the Troughton run has been called "the monster era" due to its focus on such menaces as the Cybermen, the Yeti, and the Ice Warriors. In 1969, Patrick Troughton left the series and had his own regeneration scene at the end of his final story, "The War Games," wherein his own race, The Time Lords, exiled him to Earth as punishment and changed his features. You can watch this scene below.
In the TV series, the Doctor had been exiled to Earth by the Time Lords, but the real reason this happened was financial: the series was now in color and earthbound episodes would be cheaper to produce to offset the added expense that color filming had cost. The Doctor became U.N.I.T.'s scientific advisor, helping them fend off the never-ending tide of alien invasions of England. The regular appearances of U.N.I.T. members like the Brigadier, Sgt. Benton and Captain Yates helped to create a familiar family atmosphere to the program. Most of Jon Pertwee's episodes were produced by Barry Letts, with Terrance Dicks as script editor. (Dicks would later write numerous novelizations of Doctor Who stories for the growing Doctor Who book market.)
The first alien that the earthbound Third Doctor fought was The Nestene Consciousness, the force behind The Autons, in "Spearhead from Space" (1970), a memorable scene from which can be seen here:
The Doctor's arch-enemy The Master, an evil Time Lord, was introduced in the 1971 story "Terror of the Autons," which was a sequel to "Spearhead from Space." In the U.K., both stories were released together on DVD and you can view a trailer for that below:
The relationship between the Doctor and the Master can be seen in this ten-minute clip below from the 1972 story "The Time Monster." (This story is not well-regarded by most Whovians, however I find it highly enjoyable!) The Doctor's companion in this story is Jo Grant (played by Katy Manning) who first appeared in "Terror of the Autons," and was in all of Pertwee's seasons except his first and last season. The Master was played by Roger Delgado, who tragically passed away in 1973. Because of this, the Master was written out of the show for the next several years, until the role was revived by actor Anthony Ainley in 1981.
Although all of Jon Pertwee's Doctor Who episodes still survive, the original color broadcasts were not always saved. As a result, several episodes existed only in B&W copies. The Doctor Who Restoration Team has worked to restore the episodes to their original color form by combining the BBC's high-quality B&W film copies with the color videotape copies that were recorded off-the-air by fans at the time. You can watch a video about this process below:
Jon Pertwee left the series in 1974, to be replaced by a younger actor named Tom Baker. Some of the finest Doctor Who stories ever made appeared during Tom Baker's first three seasons (Seasons 12 through 14 of the series, from 1975 to 1977), mostly during producer Philip Hinchcliffe's and script editor Robert Holmes' reign. One of the best of these stories was "Genesis of the Daleks," written by the Daleks' creator Terry Nation. The story introduced an evil scientist called Davros (played by Michael Wisher) that was responsible for the creation of the Daleks; the Time Lords sent the Doctor back in time to prevent their creation. Davros would go on to appear in many subsequent Dalek stories. A scene from "Genesis" can be viewed below:
The Fourth Doctor's first companion (inherited from the Third Doctor's final season) was journalist Sarah Jane Smith, played by actress Elisabeth Sladen. In most fan surveys, Sarah Jane ranks as the most popular companion of all, who even spawned her own spin-off series (The Sarah Jane Adventures, which ran from 2007 to 2011). Perhaps the most moving parting scene between the Doctor and one of his companions was this one from the end of "The Hand of Fear" (October 1976) where Sarah Jane left the TARDIS for the final time:
One of the Fourth Doctor's later companions was a Time Lord (or rather, a Time Lady) named Romana, originally played by actress Mary Tamm. When Tamm decided to leave the show after one season, Romana regenerated into a new form at the beginning of the next season, played by actress Lalla Ward. (Ward would eventually marry Tom Baker shortly after both left the series, although the marriage was short-lived, lasting only 16 months.) The writer Douglas Adams, who would later gain worldwide fame as author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, was script editor on Tom Baker's penultimate season, which tended to play up the humorous aspects, as can be seen in this scene showing Romana's regeneration in "Destiny of the Daleks" (first aired in September 1979):
One of the most popular and enduring of the Doctor's companions was a robot dog named K9, who was introduced in the story "The Invisible Enemy" (October 1977) in the wake of the popularity of the movie Star Wars and its amusing robots. A profile of K9, and the problems that he presented to the show, can be seen below:
Tom Baker (the 4th Doctor), with his curly dark hair, long scarf, and unpredictable and humorous approach, brought an unprecedented popularity to the show, especially in the United States where the series finally began to make an impact. Doctor Who first aired in the U.S. in 1972, but didn't pick up steam until Baker's episodes began to be aired there in 1978. The first Doctor Who convention in America was held in 1979 and for the next few years there was a peak of interest in the show, as can be seen by this appearance by Baker at a 1980s U.S. convention:
Tom Baker was the longest-serving Doctor, playing the role from 1974 to 1981. His final season had been produced by John Nathan-Turner, who was determined to keep the show going despite the departure of the most popular Doctor yet. Baker was replaced by a very different actor, the young, blond Peter Davison, whose Doctor displayed an affection for the game of cricket (as shown in the below scene from the 1982 historical story "Black Orchid") and was accompanied during his first season (Season 19 of the series) by a trio of younger companions: Adric, Nyssa, and Tegan.
My favorite Davison story is "Kinda," which is also one of my all-time favorite Doctor Who stories, well-directed by Peter Grimwade (who also directed Tom Baker's final story, "Logopolis"). You can view a scene from "Kinda" below:
In 1983, the series celebrated its 20th anniversary with a 90-minute episode titled "The Five Doctors", written by Terrance Dicks, which featured appearances by several former companions and the previous four Doctors. In the case of the First Doctor, William Hartnell (who passed away in 1975), this meant that another actor, Richard Hurndall (who himself passed away five months after this episode aired), took on the role. In the case of the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, who declined to appear (claiming it was "too soon" since his departure), he was shown through unseen footage from a Douglas Adams-scripted episode that had not been finished and never aired, titled "Shada". You can view two scenes from "The Five Doctors" below. The first shows the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) with the Brigadier being captured by the "time scoop," followed by the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) suffering the same fate:
In this scene from "The Five Doctors," the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison), accompanied by his companion Tegan Jovanka and the First Doctor's original companion Susan, encounters The Master (played by Anthony Ainley) and a group of Cybermen:
Peter Davison was eventually replaced by the Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, in 1984 during a period of uncertainty about the program's future due to lack of support by BBC leadership. The show's ratings were in decline and there was dissension in the ranks, as script editor Eric Saward later publicly complained about producer John Nathan-Turner's approach to the program. The show's budget had always been poor and this became more evident in comparison to slickly-produced American science fiction programs. An American companion was introduced: Peri, played by Nicola Bryant, who was actually British. The Doctor's clothing took on more of a "costumey" look, with Colin Baker wearing (at Nathan-Turner's insistence) a multi-colored outfit deliberately designed to look tasteless (but which has since become a staple of cosplaying fans of the show). Baker's Doctor adopted a prickly personality, one that delighted in using uncommon words, and occasionally bickered with his irritated companion.
Despite this contentious backdrop, Doctor Who continued to entertain, and during the Sixth Doctor's run, viewers saw the introduction of an evil Time Lady called The Rani (played by Kate O'Mara), the return of the second Doctor and Jamie in "The Two Doctors," and a season-length storyline titled "The Trial of a Time Lord" featuring a mysterious new foe called the Valeyard. Shown here is a montage of clips from the Sixth Doctor's tenure on TV:
While Colin Baker may have been ill-served by some of his Doctor's stories, a few of which rank among the least-favorites in fan surveys, his portrayal has been redeemed in more recent years in his work for Big Finish's audio stories. Here is a snippet of one such audio drama, "Jubilee," that a YouTube user has computer-animated:
Colin Baker was unceremoniously dropped from the role of the Doctor in 1986 and declined to appear for a regeneration scene. His replacement, Sylvester McCoy, began his first episode briefly (seen from behind) wearing a blond wig and Colin's multi-colored outfit, and abruptly regenerating into his new form, that of the Seventh Doctor. McCoy's Doctor had more of a laid-back approach, with touches of a Chaplinesque silent comedian. Initially paired with his predecessor's companion, Mel (played by Bonnie Langford), McCoy's Doctor found its own unique style with the arrival of the young, rebellious Ace (played by Sophie Aldred) in the final story of his first season. For two more seasons, the Seventh Doctor and Ace (who often called the Doctor by the name "Professor") encountered Cybermen, Daleks, the Master; and the return of U.N.I.T. and the Brigadier (for one story, "Battlefield," in 1989). Nicholas Courtney reprised his role as the Brigadier for the final time in "Battlefield," a scene from which can be seen below:
Sylvester McCoy's final story was "Survival," which aired in 1989. After this, the program went "on hiatus" for the next several years, with rumors always floating about its future. Here's a scene with Ace in action from that final TV adventure:
The 1990s is often referred to as "the wilderness years," referring to the fact that Doctor Who was no longer on television and therefore fans occupied themselves with alternatives, such as audio dramas, novels, comic strips, fan-fiction, fanzines, and so on. In 1996, Paul McGann starred as the Doctor in a TV movie that was co-produced by an American studio, which began with Sylvester McCoy reprising his role as the Seventh Doctor so that continuity could be maintained between the old series and the new version. While the TV movie did well in the ratings when shown on the BBC in the U.K., the ratings for its American airing on Fox TV were lower than expected and the film failed to spawn a series as had been hoped. In 2003, during Doctor Who's 40th anniversary, the BBC announced that writer Russell T Davies would be producing a new Doctor Who series, although at that time it was uncertain who would be cast in the role or whether McGann would return. A TV documentary from 2003 gives a sense of that time of transition:
In 2013, during the program's 50th anniversary, McGann returned as the Doctor for a "mini-episode" titled "The Night of the Doctor" (which can be viewed in its entirety below) that finally revealed how his incarnation met an end, regenerating into a hitherto-unmentioned "War Doctor" (played by John Hurt), who fits in the timeline between the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann, 1996) and the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston, 2005).
Christopher Eccleston was the new Doctor of the new revival of Doctor Who that began in 2005, produced by writer Russell T Davies. Eccleston's Doctor had a harder edge than his predecessors, wearing a leather jacket and short hair; it was a fresh break from the cliché of a Victorian-garbed Doctor. In the new series, there was more of an emphasis on characterization, with the role of the companion becoming more significant. Indeed, the title of the first Eccleston story was "Rose," the name of his new female companion, brilliantly played by former pop singer Billie Piper. This first new story featured the Autons as the enemy, the first time that they had been seen in Doctor Who since 1971.
The second episode, "The End of the World" (which originally aired on April 2, 2005), showed the Doctor taking Rose in his TARDIS to the final moment of existence for the planet Earth, which was to be engulfed by the sun. The emotional impact of time travel was finally dealt with seriously in the program, as well as the ethical question of the Doctor's bringing along companions into potentially dangerous situations. You can watch a scene from the ending of this terrific episode below:
To the surprise of nearly everyone, Christopher Eccleston announced that he was leaving the show shortly after his first episode aired. The new series was airing now in hourlong episodes (instead of the traditional half-hour slot of the classic series) and Eccleston would appear in a total of only 13 episodes. At the end of his first season (which was being called "Series One," instead of using the word "season," which helps to distinguish the new series from the old one), Eccleston was replaced by the Tenth Doctor, David Tennant. Eccleston was invited to appear in the 50th anniversary story, "The Day of the Doctor," in 2013, but declined. In a radio interview in 2015, Eccleston was asked about why he left the show, and you can listen to his response below:
The Tenth Doctor, David Tennant, played the role from 2005 to 2010, and became the most popular Doctor since Tom Baker in the 1970s. I wasn't originally sold on this new Doctor, until seeing the two-part story "Human Nature / Family of Blood" (2007). In this story, the Doctor takes on human form to hide from an alien force that is chasing him, and becomes a teacher at a boys school on the eve of World War One. The Doctor confronts his enemies in this scene near the end of the story, which shows Tennant's range from lovably quirky to coldly meting out justice:
The most popular episode of Tennant's tenure, and perhaps of all modern Doctor Who stories, is "Blink," which originally aired on June 9, 2007 (only a week after the aforementioned "Family of Blood"). The story was written by Steven Moffat, who would take over from Russell T Davies as the series' showrunner in 2010. "Blink" introduced the "weeping angels" -- statues that can only move when they aren't being watched by a person. The statues are never seen moving in the episode, but whenever a person has looked away (or blinked), the statues are then shown to be in a different position, sometimes with a menacing expression as they get closer to their victim. When the angels make contact with a person, the person is thrown backwards into time, and this is what has happened to the Doctor, who is trying to contact the present from the past through an old film. You can watch a scene from this amazing episode below (and then, by all means, watch the entire episode somewhere!):
Tennant met his successor, Matt Smith, the Eleventh Doctor, in the 50th anniversary story "The Day of the Doctor," which also featured John Hurt as "The War Doctor" and archival footage of previous Doctors in the climactic scene where the combined powers of their TARDISes help to save Gallifrey, the home world of the Time Lords. Matt Smith played the part of the Doctor from 2010 to 2013 and equalled (or surpassed) Tennant in popularity. During the Smith era, the series' profile in the United States reached its peak, landing on the cover of TV Guide for the first time.
For most of his run, Matt Smith's Doctor was paired with a young couple called Amy and Rory (played by Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill respectively). You can watch an entire mini-episode from 2012 titled "Pond Life" at the link below, which shows how the Doctor's unique presence contrasts with the mundane existence of ordinary Earthlings.
In late 2013, Peter Capaldi was announced as the Twelfth Doctor, replacing the departing Matt Smith. Unusually, Capaldi's first appearance as the Doctor took place prior to the regeneration, in a brief cameo during the aforementioned climactic scene in "The Day of the Doctor." You can watch that scene below:
Another Doctor had a cameo at the end of "The Day of the Doctor," in a surprise scene where Tom Baker appeared as a character known as the Curator to give advice to the Eleventh Doctor. It was left deliberately ambiguous as to whether the Curator is the Doctor himself (well, of course he is -- he's Tom Baker!) or not. You can watch the scene below and judge for yourself:
Like all the previous Doctors, Tom Baker has kept playing the Doctor in audio dramas produced by Big Finish. Tom recently talked about the audios in the video below:
Like David Tennant, the current Doctor, Peter Capaldi was a longtime fan of Doctor Who before being cast to play the part. In the video below, Capaldi talked recently about his favorite Doctor Who stories:
Peter Capaldi's second season as the Doctor (which is Series Nine of the modern series that began in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston) debuts on September 19, 2015. You can watch an official trailer for the new season below:
Finally, here is an animated video showing highlights of all the Doctors from William Hartnell to the then-current Doctor, Matt Smith:
There's more, much more, that could be written and shown here about Doctor Who, particularly of the modern series (which I'm less well-versed in than the classic series), but this should suffice as an introduction to the program. For the record, my "top 10" favorite Doctor Who stories are as follows (in chronological order):
1.) "Spearhead from Space" (1970)
2.) "Terror of the Autons" (1971)
3.) "Robot" (1974-75)
4.) "Genesis of the Daleks" (1975)
5.) "The Seeds of Doom" (1976)
6.) "Kinda" (1982)
7.) "The End of the World" (2005)
8.) "Human Nature / Family of Blood" (2007)
9.) "Blink" (2007)
10.) "The Day of the Doctor" (2013)