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Who has played Doctor Who? 13 previous Time Lord actors remembered - as Ncuti Gatwa announced as new Dr Who

Ncuti Gatwa is the 14th Doctor - but who played Doctor Who before him?

Ncuti Gatwa is the Doctor. It was announced yesterday, just ahead of the 2022 Baftas, that the actor best known for his role in Netflix’s Sex Education would be taking the TARDIS keys from Jodie Whittaker – making him the fourteenth actor to play the Time Lord.

Well, in a manner of speaking. Ncuti Gatwa is set to be the fourteenth Doctor, but he’s not exactly the fourteenth actor to play the Doctor – in the nearly sixty years since the show began, it’s not so much been a case of strict linear progression from one incarnation of the Time Lord to the next, but instead something a little bit more complicated than that. (Let’s not get into the Time Lord thing, it’ll take too long and no one reading this wants a thousand words on what Looms are and how they relate to Tecteun.)

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Here’s everything you need to know about how many Doctors there have been, with lots of information you also absolutely definitely do not need to know as well.

William Hartnell as the First Doctor

William Hartnell as the first Doctor in 1963 (Credit: BBC)

When were they the Doctor? William Hartnell played the Doctor from ‘An Unearthly Child’ in November 1963 to ‘The Tenth Planet’ in 1966.

What else might I have seen them in? Hartnell was best-known for a number of different ‘hard man’ roles prior to appearing in Doctor Who, from ITV sitcom The Army Game (1957 – 1961) to Brighton Rock (1948). He also played the Sergeant in the first Carry On film, Carry On Sergeant.

Peter Cushing as Dr. Who

Peter Cushing as Dr Who in the 1960s (Credit: BBC Studios)

When were they the Doctor? Immediately, it’s complicated, see? Off the back of the success of the series – in particular the rise of ‘Dalekmania’ – two Doctor Who stories were remade as movies in the 1960s. Peter Cushing took on the role of Dr. Who in those movies, a gifted human scientist rather than an alien in exile.

What else might I have seen them in? Cushing is arguably the most famous actor to have played the part across the last sixty years, well known for a series of Hammer Horror movies alongside Vincent Price and Christopher Lee, as well as his appearance in the 1977 Star Wars movie.

Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor

Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor in 1967 (Credit: BBC)

When were they the Doctor? Patrick Troughton took over from William Hartnell in 1966 when Hartnell’s health started to fail; Hartnell recommended Troughton personally, saying “there’s only one man in England who can take over”. Troughton played the Doctor from 1966’s ‘The Power of the Daleks’ until 1969’s ‘The War Games’.

What else might I have seen them in? Outside of Doctor Who, Troughton is probably best known for film roles in The Omen (1976) and Sinbad and the Eyes of the Tiger (1977). He also appeared in the first episode of Inspector Morse.

Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor

Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor in 1974 (Credit: BBC)

When were they the Doctor? Pertwee played the Doctor from ‘Spearhead in Space’ in 1970 until ‘Planet of the Spiders’ in 1974. He was the first Doctor to face the Master, then played by Roger Delgado.

What else might I have seen them in? Alongside Doctor Who, Pertwee is probably best known for playing the scarecrow Worzel Gummidge on and off between 1979 and 1989. During World War II, he was involved in the Naval Intelligence, reporting directly to Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee, and worked closely with author Ian Fleming – some have suggested that Pertwee might have been an early inspiration for James Bond.

Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor

Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor in 1974 (Credit: BBC)

When were they the Doctor? Tom Baker played the Doctor for seven years, from ‘Robot’ in 1974 up to ‘Logopolis’ in 1981. Baker remains the actor to have played the role for the longest.

What else might I have seen them in? Baker is still mainly associated with Doctor Who, but he’s also played Sherlock Holmes and Rasputin, and was also the voice of Little Britain.

Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor

Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor in 1981 (Credit: BBC)

When were they the Doctor? Davison played the Doctor for three years. His first story, ‘Castrovalva’, aired in 1981, and his final story, ‘The Caves of Androzani’, aired in 1984. When he was cast, Davison was 29 years old, then the youngest Doctor.

What else might I have seen them in? Davison is perhaps the actor who’s had the most varied career since leaving Doctor Who, from At Home with the Braithwaites to Law and Order: UK to Gentleman Jack. He’s also, of course, the vet Tristan Farnon from the original All Creatures Great and Small.

Richard Hurndall as the First Doctor, sort of

Richard Hurndall as the First Doctor in 20th anniversary special The Five Doctors (Credit: BBC)

When were they the Doctor? Hurndall appeared as the first Doctor in the 1983 20th anniversary special ‘The Five Doctors’, playing the Doctor in place of Hartnell (who had died in 1973). In a sense, Hurndall is actually the first actor to have played ‘the first Doctor’ – when Hartnell was in the role, there was no need to number them, and he was just playing ‘the Doctor’.

What else might I have seen them in? Hurndall had a number of guest roles in classic television series of the era, such as The Avengers, Callan, and Steptoe and Son.

Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor

Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor in the mid 1980s (Credit: BBC)

When were they the Doctor? Colin Baker played the Sixth Doctor in two series spread out across three years, from 1984’s ‘The Twin Dilemma’ to ‘The Ultimate Foe’ in 1986.

What else might I have seen them in? Baker is best-known otherwise for playing the villainous Paul Merroney in the BBC sitcom The Brothers (1974 – 1976). More recently, he was a contestant on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! in 2015.

Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor

Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor in the late 1980s (Credit: BBC)

When were they the Doctor? Sylvester McCoy played the Doctor from ‘Time and the Rani’ in 1987 until ‘Survival’ in 1989. McCoy was the last actor to play the Time Lord in the series’ original run – Doctor Who was cancelled in 1989 after 26 years.

What else might I have seen them in? You’re most likely to have seen McCoy recently as Radaghast the Brown in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy.

Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor

Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor in 1996 (Credit: BBC/Fox/Disney)

When were they the Doctor? Paul McGann played the Doctor once in 1996, appearing in an American television movie that wasn’t successful enough to lead into a full series. He reprised the role onscreen again in 2013, appearing in an online prequel to the 50th anniversary special.

What else might I have seen them in? McGann is probably best known for appearing in Withnail and I alongside Richard E. Grant, but in more recent years he’s also had supporting roles in Luther, Annika, and Casualty.

Rowan Atkinson as a Ninth Doctor

Rowan Atkinson as Doctor Who, tied to the only chair on Skaro (Credit: BBC)

When were they the Doctor? Rowan Atkinson – alongside Jim Broadbent, Richard E Grant, Hugh Grant, and Joanna Lumley – played the Doctor in a Comic Relief sketch called ‘The Curse of Fatal Death’ in 1999. It was the first piece of television Doctor Who from Steven Moffat, the Sherlock writer who later ran Doctor Who from 2010 – 2017.

Richard E. Grant as a Ninth Doctor

Richard E Grant as the answer to a trivia question (Credit: BBC/Cosgrove Hall)

When were they the Doctor? Another trivia answer here. Richard E Grant played the Doctor in ‘The Scream of the Shalka’, a 2003 attempt to revive Doctor Who as an online cartoon – one that was pretty much immediately undercut by the announcement of…

Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor

Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor in 2005 (Credit: BBC)

When were they the Doctor? Christopher Eccleston played the Doctor for one series in 2005, the first actor to play the lead role when the show returned. He first appeared in ‘Rose’, and regenerated just thirteen episodes later in ‘The Parting of the Ways’.

What else might I have seen them in? You probably recognise Eccleston from roles in The Second Coming and Our Friends in the North, or more recently television series like The A Word and Come Home.

David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor

David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor in 2006 (Credit: BBC)

When were they the Doctor? David Tennant played the Doctor from ‘The Christmas Invasion’ in 2005, right up until regenerating in ‘The End of Time Part Two’ in 2010.

What else might I have seen them in? You probably know Tennant from television series like Broadchurch, Deadwater Fell, Des, Good Omens, Jessica Jones, The Politician’s Husband, or Staged, amongst a number of other projects.

David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor (again)

When were they the Doctor? In 2008’s ‘Journey’s End’, the Tenth Doctor regenerated… or started to, anyway, and created a second version of himself out of that energy. This means he counts twice! (And possibly, soon, thrice?)

What else might I have seen them in? You probably know Tennant from television series like Broadchurch, Deadwater Fell, Des, Good Omens, Jessica Jones, The Politician’s Husband, or Staged, amongst a number of other projects.

Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor

Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor in 2013 (Credit: BBC)

When were they the Doctor? Matt Smith – still the youngest actor to play the part – was the Doctor from 2010’s ‘The Eleventh Hour’ right up until the end of 2013, when he regenerated in Christmas special ‘The Time of the Doctor’.

What else might I have seen them in? Prior to Doctor Who, Matt Smith was best known for appearances in The Ruby in the Smoke and Christopher and His Kind. Since then, he’s starred in The Crown and Morbius, and soon can be seen in the Game of Thrones spinoff House of the Dragon.

John Hurt as the War Doctor

John Hurt as the War Doctor in Doctor Who (Credit: BBC)

When were they the Doctor? John Hurt appeared as a forgotten incarnation of the Doctor in 2013’s 50th anniversary special ‘The Day of the Doctor’. He slots in between Paul McGann and Christopher Eccleston – the version of the Doctor that existed while the show was off air in the 90s, if you like.

What else might I have seen them in? Hurt was a prolific actor, probably best-known for appearances in dramas like I, Claudius and the sci-fi movie Alien.

Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor

Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor in 2017 (Credit: BBC)

When were they the Doctor? Peter Capaldi played the Twelfth Doctor from 2014, first appearing in ‘Deep Breath’, and playing the part until his regeneration episode ‘Twice Upon a Time’ in 2017.

What else might I have seen them in? Outside of Doctor Who, Capaldi is best known as Malcolm Tucker, the political fixer in Armando Iannucci’s The Thick of It. You might also know him from Skins, or the movie Local Hero.

Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor

Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor Picture: BBC / BBC Studios

When were they the Doctor? Jodie Whittaker – still our current Doctor – first appeared as the Time Lord in the 2018 episode ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’. Her final episode, which I assume will be called ‘Regeneration on Ranskoor Av Kolos’, will air towards the end of this year as part of the BBC Centenary celebrations.

What else might I have seen them in? You probably know Whittaker from Broadchurch, but if you’ve not seen it you should track down the movie Adult Life Skills, which she’s really good in. You might also know her from Attack the Block or Trust Me.

Jo Martin as the Fugitive Doctor

Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor and Jo Martin as the Fugitive Doctor (Credit: BBC/Ben Blackall)

When were they the Doctor? In Jodie Whittaker’s second series, it was revealed that the Doctor’s past was much more complicated than she realised – prior to her life as William Hartnell, she’d had a number of other faces, one of which looked like Jo Martin.

What else might I have seen them in? Jo Martin currently stars in Casualty, but she’s an actor who turns up in all sorts of stuff – from Daisy Haggard’s dark comedy Back to Life to Fleabag to Christopher Nolan’s first Batman movie.

Ncuti Gatwa as the Fourteenth Doctor

Ncuti Gatwa alongside previous Doctors Who (Credit: BBC)

When were they the Doctor? From 2023! As far as we understand at the moment, Ncuti Gatwa’s first episode as the Doctor will air in November 2023, as part of Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary celebrations.

What else might I have seen them in? Gatwa is best known for playing Eric in Netflix’s Sex Education, but you might also know him from the film Last Letter from Your Lover. He can next be seen in the Greta Gerwig Barbie movie.

And not forgetting...

Look, this is past 2000 words already, we’d be here all night if I started getting into the Morbius Doctors and Trevor Martin and everyone else. You’ve got more than you need for most trivia nights by this point!