Who is the best Doctor Who? Well, it turns out that’s quite a question as the series celebrates its 60th birthday with the Doctor Who 60th-anniversary specials. We've put together our list, but first of all a couple of ground rules.
We've only covered the 13 Doctors who had their own era. So, no John Hurt, no Jo Martin, and no movie Doc Peter Cushing. Sorry folks.
This is our opinion based on impact, critical reaction, and a big dollop of personal taste. As Doctor Who fans ourselves, we know different fans have different tastes and different takes when it comes to their favorite show, and this is ours for you to agree or disagree with.
After all, the great thing about Doctor Who is that there truly is something for everyone — and that’s what makes it so rich, joyous, and basically wonderful.
So, who is the best Doctor Who? You can find our ranking of every single Doctor (so far!) below. Don't agree with our top picks? Have your say with our readers' poll below:
13. Colin Baker (The Sixth Doctor, 1984-1986)
Poor Colin. Thrown into the role with a questionable character brief and an even more questionable costume — just at the moment the show has fallen out of favour at the BBC. He really didn’t stand a chance. His Doctor’s caustic nature and antagonistic relationship with original companion Peri come in for much criticism.
Meanwhile, his tenure only lasted two full series, with an 18-month hiatus in the middle, during which most of the general public thought the show had been axed for good. But in Baker’s defence, the audio plays produced by Big Finish have allowed his Sixth Doctor to truly blossom, presenting a milder, more upbeat version and winning him a whole legion of new fans. But based on TV alone… sorry Colin.
Best story: Trial of a Time Lord, episodes 9-12
Terror of The Vervoids, as this section of Baker's second series is also known, is a light, fun and really quite silly Doctor Who story. But with a great Doctor/companion dynamic and plenty of hero moments for the Doc, this is what Colin could have been.
12. Paul McGann (The Eighth Doctor,1996, 2013)
McGann hasn’t had much of an outing as a screen Doctor. Apart from the single US-produced TV movie, his only other screen appearance is online short The Night of The Doctor, which delighted fans as a bonus "easter egg" during the show’s 50th birthday celebrations. But while the TV Movie came in for criticism, McGann’s performance was almost universally praised. His romantic take on the Doctor also pre-empted the new series characterization. Like Baker, McGann has come into his own in a series of Big Finish adventures, however based on TV, it always feels like he never quite got started.
Best story: The Night of the Doctor
It might be short, but it’s very sweet, and gives us a great taste of what this swashbuckling doc may have been like if he had been granted a full series.
11. Sylvester McCoy (The Seventh Doctor, 1986-89)
The last of the "classic" Doctors, Sylvester’s three-year era breathed new life into the show — faster and slicker and with a more character-led companion in angsty London teenager, Ace. His performance, however, received mixed reviews, from too light to begin with, to lacking in gravitas in his darker later series. McCoy returned for the TV Movie in 1996, but was given little do but potter around the Tardis making tea before being shot dead.
Best Story: Remembrance of the Daleks
A rollicking adventure, its fast-moving energy really suits this Doctor, and it contains one of McCoy’s most famous moments, the "unlimited rice pudding" speech. Plus, a Dalek goes upstairs!
10. Peter Capaldi (The Twelfth Doctor, 2013-17)
The second Doctor of showrunner Steven Moffatt’s Era, Capaldi’s version was the other end of the scale from Matt Smith’s mad professor persona. But as with Colin Baker three decades before, the decision to make this Doctor grumpy and antagonistic wasn’t a hit with everyone. Meanwhile, some of the stories from Moffatt’s vivid imagination veered from what many considered to be Doctor Who. His final season, opposite new companion Bill Potts and Matt Lucas’ Nardole seemed to finally strike the right balance for his Doctor.
Best Story: World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls
Capaldi’s penultimate story is a dark and thrilling two-parter as we face the true horror of the Cybermen, as well as two versions of the Master.
9. Jodie Whittaker (The Thirteenth Doctor, 2017-2022)
Whittaker's incarnation gets kudos for being the first female Doctor. Her bright, lively, quizzical Doctor had boundless enthusiasm for the universe she was exploring. However, the show’s change of style under Chris Chibnall hasn’t gone down well with everyone, meanwhile, Whittaker has struggled to be centre stage in her own show, with three companions sharing her stories, including the ever-charismatic Bradley Walsh. There was a big twist of course when she regenerated into David Tennat's 14th Doctor.
Best Story: The Haunting of Villa Diodati
A fantastically spooky story with a great villain and some real moments for Whittaker to shine, including a speech where she asserts her place as head of the Tardis crew.
8. Christopher Eccleston (The Ninth Doctor, 2005)
Lauded as man who saved Doctor Who, when the show returned in 2005 after a 16-year gap. The tabloid rumours for the role at the time for the role included TV magician Paul Daniels, so Christopher was a real coup — as well as a blessed relief to fans!
Meanwhile, the casting of this well-known actor made the new series the feel the real deal to the general public. His Doctor has boundless energy, but behind the broad grin sits a steely core of the man scarred by the most terrible war. Eccleston only starred in one series, and fans would love to see more — but despite Moffatt’s best efforts, Eccleston couldn’t be tempted back for the 50th anniversary.
Best Story: Parting of the Ways/Bad Wolf
His action-packed finale has it all. What stars as a fun spoof on the TV of the time soon morphs into a dark story of universal dominations — with Daleks flying through space in the show’s most spectacular scenes to date, and Eccleston dialling his Doctor right up to 11.
7. Peter Davison (The Fifth Doctor, 1981-84)
Davison had one of the toughest jobs of all the Doctors, taking over after Tom Baker’s massively popular run. Already a star at the time, Davison was a familiar TV face. His affable Doctor, with a great a sideline in sarcastic quips and quiet frustration, brought a fresh and youthful feel to the show.
Saddled with a mixed bag of stories over his era, Davison’s performance was always spot-on, often being the glue that held things together. His dissatisfaction with the scripts saw him turn down a fourth year in the role, however.
Best story: The Caves of Androzani
Davison was sent out on a high in this gutsy and stylish thriller, which saw the Doctor sacrifice his own life to save his companion, Peri. This is story tops many Doctor Who fan’s list of all-time favourites.
6. William Hartnell (The First Doctor, 1963-66)
The man who started it all, Hartnell was a well-known film actor when he took on the lead role in Doctor Who. The passing of time has seen his Doctor branded crotchety, and although early episodes do see him clashing with companions Ian and Barbara.
However, Hartnell was at his finest is when the Doc was being mischievous, impish and chuckling to himself as he encounters that week’s problem — his performance often bringing some sparkle to the sometimes slow episodes of the early black and white eras. Hartnell’s health saw him give up the role after three years, but he always predicted the show would be a long runner.
Best story: The Daleks’ Master Plan
Sadly much of this missing from the archive, but reconstructions let us see this epic 12-part tale, where the Doctor must use all his wits to save the universe from the Daleks. From shocking deaths to some great comedy, this one is the ultimate showcase for Hartnell’s Doctor.
5. Jon Pertwee (The Third Doctor, 1970-74)
The first to be seen in colour, Pertwee took on the role of Doctor for what these days we call we’d call a "reboot" of the show. His adventures would see the Time Lord exiled to earth and working for a military organisation fighting aliens.
Pertwee’s Doctor was much more an action man than those before, with an uppity manner that saw him giving a good telling off to both his enemies and his friends. Known mainly for comedy before this, Pertwee decided to play it straight for his Doctor, and he brings us one of the show’s first tearjerkers in The Green Death, as his companion Jo leaves and the Doctor tries to mask his sadness.
Best Story: The Green Death
This the one with the giant maggots that gave you nightmares as a kid. There are thrills and spills aplenty, meanwhile Pertwee gets to use his comedy chops as he disguises himself as a cleaning lady, and that ending will break your heart.
4. Matt Smith (The Eleventh Doctor, 2010-13)
A frantic mad professor trapped in a young man’s body was the vibe for Smith’s Doctor, a great decision after Tennant’s laddy "go-get-‘em" persona. From the moment Smith’s Doctor popped his head out of the crashed Tardis to greet a young Amelia Pond, he was just perfect. Able to jump from zany exuberance to deadly seriousness with ease, Smith could carry anything. Meanwhile, his relationship with couple Amy and Rory really helped sell the alienness of the Doctor.
Best story: The Lodger
The Doctor becomes the flatmate of an ordinary fella, as he investigates mysterious going on upstairs. The plot is thin, but as a fish-out-of-water bromance comedy it’s great fun, with some sterling backup from rising stars of the time James Corden and Daisy Haggard.
3. Patrick Troughton (The Second Doctor, 1966-69)
The actor other Doctors most admit to admiring, Troughton had the tricky job of taking over as the Second Doctor. It was a big gamble replacing the lead (this was the time before phrases like Time Lords and regeneration were commonplace), but his lighter, brighter Doctor became a hit.
He could turn from jokey to serious on a sixpence, blindsiding his enemies in the process. The stories got rather threadbare towards the end of his run, becoming a tired production in need of a refresh, but Troughton never anything less than brilliant.
Best story: Tomb of the Cybermen
This Classic does what it says in the tin as the Doctor explores the spooky tomb of his second-best enemy. There are some good scares alongside some fantastic moments for Troughton here, including as lovely heart-to-heart with new companion Victoria.
2. David Tennant (The Tenth Doctor, 2005-2010, The Fourteenth Doctor 2023-)
The peak of the new series, we saw Doctor Who fly towards the top of the ratings as Tennant piloted the Tardis to new heights. Debuting in the show’s first modern-day Christmas special, David emerged from the Tardis for the final showdown, still in his pyjamas, but every inch the Doctor.
His love for Rose Tyler gripped the nation, then tore its heart out when the two were separated forever (well, not forever, but we didn’t know that at the time!). Later, Tennant’s partnership with Catherine Tate’s Donna brought the expected comedy heights, but also an unexpected emotional depth to both characters. If you’re under 30, then this is your Doctor. And now he's back for the three specials. The Doctor Who Christmas special 2023 will then be the first full adventure for our 15th Doctor, Ncuti Gatwa.
Best story: The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End
A grand finale of Tennant’s third series, and a reunion of previous friends and companion, this is a big, bold blockbuster with a big, bold Doctor at its heart. But might one of his new adventures top this?
1. Tom Baker (The Fourth Doctor, 1974-81)
Hartnell was the original, Tennant was a sensation, and Whittaker broke the mould. But if we’re honest, Tom Baker will always be THE Doctor. To the point that these days it’s sometimes not clear where The Doctor stops and Tom Baker begins.
A mammoth seven-season run saw the show hit some of its highest ratings with Baker starring in a run of the most-beloved stories. He had his share of stinkers as well, but Baker would always find a way to rise above the material.
That rich, fruity voice is unmistakable, with his hat and scarf combo have become the ultimate visual shorthand for the Doctor, whatever era we’re in. He was the only one of the old guard to appear in the 50th birthday story, The Day of the Doctor, and quite right too.
Best story: City of Death
The Doctor and Romana skip through Paris to investigate some dangerous time experiments. With a fun plot and Baker perfectly suited to the witty dialogue of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy writer Douglas Adams, this takes some beating.
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Steven is a writer, editor, and commentator with a passion for popular TV and soap operas. He spent 20 years as the editor of Inside Soap magazine, documenting every punch-up and pucker-up in the Street, the Square and the village. As a feature writer, he’s covered TV crime dramas, period dramas and even some real-life star dramas. He’s been seen as a talking head on more TV clip shows than he cares to remember, has a life-long passion for TV sci-fi – the older and creakier the better – and is a slight obsessive about any reality show featuring hotels.