Fugitive Doctor (Jo Martin), Tenth Doctor (David Tennant), Fifteenth Doctor (Ncuti Gatwa), Thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker)
(BBC)

Counting Up All the Doctors in ‘Doctor Who’ Is a Complicated and Very Timey-Wimey Undertaking

Once upon a time, it was easy to list all the Doctors in Doctor Who. One would “regenerate” into another, a new actor would take the part, and that was that.

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Before the 2005 reboot of the series, that’s how regeneration went, one after the other, perfectly simple:

  • The First Doctor – played by William Hartnell
  • The Second Doctor – played by Patrick Troughton
  • The Third Doctor – played by Jon Pertwee
  • The Fourth Doctor – played by Tom Baker
  • The Fifth Doctor – played by Peter Davison
  • The Sixth Doctor – played by Colin Baker
  • The Seventh Doctor – played by Sylvester McCoy
  • The Eighth Doctor (star of a TV movie rather than a series) – played by Paul McGann

Wait, or was it that simple? In amongst that crowd there was also the Valeyard (Michael Jayston) who was supposedly a dark future incarnation of the Doctor. He first showed himself in 1986’s “The Trial of a Time Lord.” And there was also the mystery of the Morbius Doctors. (Don’t worry, this has nothing to do with the terrible movie Morbius, which starred Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith.) These guys appeared in the 1976 Tom Baker episode “The Brain of Morbius,” written by Terrance Dicks and Robert Holmes. A machine displayed all the Doctor’s previous faces, and in addition to the First Doctor, Second Doctor, and Third Doctor, there were seemingly eight (!) more Doctors in there, played by members of the Doctor Who crew. Producer Philip Hinchcliffe would later say that he intended for these faces to be old, pre-First Doctor incarnations of the Doctor.

Complicated, right? Well, buckle up, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

New Who

The new millennium rolled around and the show rebooted for a new generation of kids. We then had:

  • The Ninth Doctor – played by Christopher Eccleston
  • The Tenth Doctor – played by David Tennant
  • The Eleventh Doctor – played by Matt Smith

… And then the show’s 50th anniversary came, and everything changed again. Turned out that the Ninth Doctor wasn’t technically the Ninth Doctor, because there had been a hidden, secret regeneration between Eight and Nine. This was the War Doctor, played by British acting legend John Hurt. He appeared in the special 50th-anniversary episode “The Day of the Doctor” alongside Tennant and Smith, and there was a little minisode also released which starred Paul McGann as Eight and finally showed his regeneration, which had never been depicted on screen before.

But there was more! In the last minutes of “The Day of the Doctor,” the Eleventh Doctor was visited by a mysterious extra incarnation called The Curator, played by none other than Tom Baker. He was revisiting a few of his “old favorite” faces, it seemed. (Pay attention, this will be important later.) “Perhaps I was you … or perhaps you are me,” he told Eleven.

So that was the 50th anniversary, but what came after that? Well, the Eleventh Doctor shortly regenerated and things seemed to proceed as normal. We got:

  • The Twelfth Doctor – Peter Capaldi
  • The Thirteenth Doctor – Jodie Whittaker (the first woman to take the role!)

And then things got REALLY complicated!

The Timeless Child

In the season 12 episode “Fugitive of the Judoon” we were suddenly and unexpectedly introduced to another “secret” incarnation of the Doctor, a woman calling herself Ruth. A Chameleon Arch (a piece of technology we’d been introduced to many seasons ago) hid her true identity. But where was she in the regeneration cycle? Which number Doctor could she be? Well, she never actually got a number, and instead she’s known as “the Fugitive Doctor.”

The appearance of the Fugitive Doctor kicked off the story arc of “The Timeless Child.” It’s very controversial because it retconned the Doctor’s origins. Once, they had been an alien from the planet Gallifrey, but no more. It turned out that the Doctor had simply been discovered as a lost child, their origins incomprehensible, and adopted by a Gallifreyan. Regeneration was also not a trait of all Gallifreyans but had originated with the Doctor.

So the child, the Timeless Child, was then officially the very first incarnation of the Doctor. (The Child seemingly went uncredited, so I cannot tell you who played her. She’s set for life on the Doctor Who convention circuit though.) The Child regenerates during the events of “The Timeless Children,” many times in fact, and we see multiple different kids playing the role.

And “The Timeless Children” also finally explained the Morbius Doctors. Yep, they really were past faces of the Doctor we know and love. Well.

… Oh sorry, did you think we were done? Nope, there’s more!

Even Newer Who

At the end of the episode “The Power of the Doctor” the Thirteenth Doctor regenerated into the—wait, what the heck is going on here?

  • The Fourteenth Doctor – David Tennant again

WHAT?

Yep, remember what Tom Baker’s Curator said about revisiting favorite faces from time to time? That happened sooner than anyone expected and David Tennant became the first person to play more than one mainline Doctor. However, then something else dramatic happened. When it came time for the Fourteenth Doctor to regenerate, he did so in a way that changed the entire course of the show. He “bi-generated” and essentially split into two people, himself and …

  • The Fifteenth Doctor – Ncuti Gatwa

And that’s how we got to the point we are now. The Fourteenth Doctor is still out there somewhere, chilling with Donna Noble and her family—and may become the Curator one day?—while the Fifteenth Doctor has adventures with his new companion Ruby Sunday.

And that’s very nearly the end of this timey-wimey explanation. One last thing to bear in mind, though, is that just because a Doctor’s actor passes away doesn’t mean that that particular Doctor will never appear on the show again. William Hartnell died in 1975, so in the 1983 special “The Five Doctors” he was played by Richard Hurndall. And Hurndall died in 1984, so when the time came to have the First Doctor appear in the show again, he was played by David Bradley (who also played Hartnell himself in the TV movie about the making of Doctor Who, An Adventure in Space and Time.)

That’s all the Doctors … for now. There will be many more to come.


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Sarah Barrett
Sarah Barrett (she/her) is a freelance writer with The Mary Sue who has been working in journalism since 2014. She loves to write about movies, even the bad ones. (Especially the bad ones.) The Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and the Star Wars prequels changed her life in many interesting ways. She lives in one of the very, very few good parts of England.