Specter Who 6: A Retrospective

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It’s time to revitalize Specter Who and start numbering this bad boy. The most recent Capaldi season is over and I have decided to start pushing forward with some content and looking at what it is we all love… in a new way.

We all have our favorites: stories, Doctors, companions, episodes… but when I looked at the number of stories for each Doctor, I discovered something I hadn’t realized before. I don’t want to spoil the column, so let’s move to the first part.

William Hartnell was the Doctor from 1963-1966 and has 134 episodes to his run. When I say it like that, you think “damn, that was a lot of episodes.” What I realized was that those 134 episodes are actually only 29 stories (serials, as the BBC calls it). Hartnell’s era was almost non-stop filming, which is a credit to how bad ass production was back then, and he’s set a foundation for the future with only 29 stories.

Patrick Troughton was the Doctor from 1966-1969, taking over for Hartnell after only 8 episodes in Hartnell’s 4th “year.” Troughton only has 127 episodes (nearly filming as often as Hartnell), but that is only 21 stories. Less than Hartnell in every way (years, stories, and episodes). Troughton’s era was the last to have the hefty filming schedule, so things do a bit of changing at this point.

Jon Pertwee was the Doctor from 1970-1974. There was no direct “regeneration” scene filmed with the two of them because when Troughton left, they weren’t sure who was replacing him. Pertwee had 5 seasons and 128 episodes. That equates to 24 stories. He outlasted both of his predecessors as far as years go but didn’t eclipse the episodes nor the stories of Hartnell.

Tom Baker was the Doctor from 1974-1981, setting the stage (in most fans’ minds) for the pinnacle of Doctor Who (classic era) greatness. While I enjoyed the Tom Baker stuff, he’s not my favorite. Baker had 144 episodes (setting the record), as well as 41 stories (also record setting). The reason most people favor Tom Baker is that he’s got the largest body of work to look at… and he is genuinely entertaining in the role.

Peter Davison was the Doctor from 1982-1984, having the only other “shared season” as the outgoing Doctor with Hartnell’s earlier run. Davison ran for almost 3 full years and had 68 episodes (the smallest run yet), which was only 21 stories. This is my first Doctor and I’d happened to start pretty early in his run, so this is the era I remember best.

Colin Baker was the Doctor from 1984-1986, having the shortest run to date with only 31 episodes (the format of these changed from 30 minutes to 45 minutes each), equating to only 14 episodes. There was turmoil at the BBC during this time and Baker was sacked, so he may have lasted longer but never got the opportunity on screen.

Sylvester McCoy was the Doctor from 1987-1989, having 3 seasons and 42 episodes, but that’s only 12 stories. McCoy also has the dubious distinction of being the longest reigning Doctor (despite only having the 12 stories, he didn’t regenerate until 1996) at 9 years. The only mark I have against McCoy’s run is the hokey looking graphics they were using during that era, making it seem like every other late 80s, early 90s TV show that looks odd when watching them now.

Paul McGann was the Doctor for 1996’s telemovie “Doctor Who,” also known as the Enemy Within. His only appearance in a full-length story was this one episode, leaving him as a “take him or leave him” Doctor for many fans. Some could claim that he’s the longest reigning Doctor, he also has about 9 years, but he didn’t regenerate on screen until just before the 50th Anniversary. The added distinction of not really having “a run” and not truly considered one of the Doctors by some fans leaves the “few months” McCoy has on him in length firmly placed.

Christopher Eccleston was the Doctor for a single season in 2005. We switch from “episodes and stories” being separated to them being combined into (most of the time) single episodes at 1 hour a piece. Eccleston has 13 episodes under him, and since there were technically a couple of “two parter” episodes, the stories can technically be dropped down to only 10 stories.

David Tennant was the Doctor from 2006-2010, having 3 years (and a 4th “specials” year) and 41 episodes. That makes 33 stories (which is actually impressive because of the filming format). Tennant was voted by fans as the best Doctor, knocking Tom Baker out of that spot.

Matt Smith was the Doctor from 2010-2013, having the same 3 years and a “specials” 4th year. Smith had 41 episodes and 36 stories, but was the reigning Doctor for the 50th Anniversary episode. As far as “New Who” goes, there are a lot of Matt Smith fans out there and though I didn’t find him completely appealing (as far as his characterization), there are bright points in his run that I enjoy.

Peter Capaldi is the Doctor (from 2014-present) and so far has had 2 full seasons, with 24 episodes making up his 17 stories. Rumors swirl that his third season might be his final season and he’s the most “connected to the original series” (i.e. the Hartnell through McCoy years) than any of the other modern Doctors. His era can’t really be evaluated, yet, but without having an end so far, I’d like to say that I’m enjoying his run.

Some may point at my list above and ask about the “War Doctor,” John Hurt. Hurt’s only on screen appearance was in “The Day of the Doctor,” the 50th Anniversary special. He’s the missing link between McGann and Eccleston, which is another reason McGann loses on the “9 year reign” to McCoy. Hurt would be an interesting Doctor to see for a few episodes, but his “fleshing out” will come with what I’m about to touch on next.

Each of the Doctor’s above has at least one “adventure in audio” from Big Finish. The actors who are still alive to play their parts (Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, and David Tennant) are all producing further adventures of their Doctor. John Hurt is also having some dramas produced, giving some depth to his character and giving a little background into what went on during the Time War. Steven Moffat, the current “show runner” for Doctor Who, canonized the Big Finish audio dramas when Paul McGann regenerated in a mini-episode “The Night of the Doctor” by reciting thanks for all his audio drama companions. While this is nice to include in the catalogue of stories, the Big Finish audios aren’t included in my list here because they aren’t the video productions that Doctor Who was founded upon.

The stats for Big Finish are too numerous and scattered for me to calculate. There are extenuating circumstances to these, too, as some of them are simply read in the third person, some are “short trips” (short stories told in the third person), specials for one reason or another, and multi-Doctor stories that don’t neatly fit into a time line. The audio dramas are good (the ones with a full cast), and there is merit to the third person reads, but as far as Doctor Who goes I’m more interested in the TV version.

As far as multi-Doctor stories go, I also wanted to touch on the fact that these are rare occurrences. The Three Doctors (Hartnell, Troughton, and Pertwee) for the 10th Anniversary, the Five Doctors (Richard Hurndall as Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, an appearance by Tom Baker’s Doctor, and Davison) for the 20th Anniversary, The Two Doctors (Troughton and Colin Baker) for no particular reason, and the Day of the Doctor (John Hurt as the War Doctor, Tennant, and Smith… with glimpses of Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, Tom Baker, Davison, Colin Baker, McCoy, McGann, and Eccleston) for the 50th Anniversary. That’s only four times and only one of those didn’t coincide with an anniversary of some kind.

So, when you look at what I have above, seeing that there aren’t as many “stories” as you thought there were puts some perspective on things. Some Doctors are famous for extremely short runs, some are famous for longer ones, but in all, no one has been the Doctor (actively playing the role) so long that we have been unable to get past their characterization as the Doctor. I suppose we’ll see if things keep moving along as is or if something changes the status quo enough to really get someone energized to do something big.