So its official, David Tennant will only be doing next year’s specials and after that he’s handing over the keys to the Tardis to someone else. Just who that may be isn’t known yet, and may not be for some time, but there’s a long history of Doctors regenerating into another.
The show keeps going and going and here we take a look back at the previous actors to play the Doctor and why they decided to leave the series.
The very first Doctor was played by William Hartnell who was mainly known as a film actor, playing tough Sergeant Major characters in army films. William Hartnell’s portrayal of the Doctor in those early years was key to the show’s success but the character was notably toned down after Hartnell left the series.
The first Doctor was grumpy and prone to be selfish and rude at times, something that wasn’t continued as strongly as it was under Hartnell. Hartnell played the role for three years between 1963 and 1966 and worked alongside several co-stars as his companions came and went. Hartnell was reportedly upset when Carole Anne Ford decided to leave the series in 1964 and then when Jacqueline Hill and William Russell left the following year.
Also in 1965 Verity Lambert, the show’s producer, decided to leave the series and move onto new projects. With the original cast and crew on the show departing, and a new set coming on, Hartnell wasn’t always easy to work with. In 1966 he reluctantly decided to quit the role, due to illness and not necessarily getting along with the new production team. However, despite his reluctance to leave the series, and not agreeing with the direction the series was going, he was happy with Patrick Troughton’s casting in the role.
In 1966 Patrick Troughton took over the role of the Doctor in the first ever regeneration of the character, it was certainly a bold and risky move by the series but it paid off. Troughton was already a familiar face to audiences thanks to his film and television work.
Troughton’s portrayal of the Doctor was completely different to that of Hartnell’s, Troughton’s Doctor was more softer and more like a father figure to his companions, especially to Victoria [Deborah Watling] and to Zoe [Wendy Padbury]. Shortly after Troughton took over the role Frazer Hines joined the series as companion Jamie and a great double act was created. Hines and Troughton worked well together and their chemistry on screen came across in an excellent pair of characterisations.
In 1969 Troughton decided to leave the series partly due to the heavy production schedule, filming 40 episodes a year, and also partly due to fears of being typed cast. At the same time as Troughton announced his departure Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury confirmed they too would leave the series.
In 1970 Jon Pertwee took over the role as the format of the show went under a radical revamp. The series moved into colour and in order to keep costs down the show was now firmly rooted on Earth.
Pertwee’s Doctor was the dashing hero and very suave and camp, reflective of the James Bond series at the time. As Patrick Troughton had formed a good strong friendship with Frazer Hines, so too did Pertwee with the team around him, affectionately dubbed the ‘UNIT’ family. However, in 1973 tragedy struck when Roger Delgado, who played The Master, was killed in a motoring accident.
The whole team were saddened by Delgado’s death and Pertwee especially so as the two actors had been good friends. Later that year Katy Manning, who played Jo Grant, announced her departure from the show. Slowly the ‘UNIT’ family was breaking up and producer Barry Letts and script writer Terrence Dicks also announced their departures. With the breakup of such a close team and also fearing being typed cast, Pertwee announced his departure from the series in 1974.
Tom Baker took over the role in 1974 and his early years of the show were well liked by fans. His paring with Lis Sladen, as Sarah-Jane Smith, was a hit with fans and the so-called ‘gothic’ style of the produce some of the series best stories.
The combination of script editor Bob Holmes scripts and Baker’s acting created some of the best stories of the era and they are still fondly remembered today. Following the departure of Sladen in 1976 Louise Jameson joined the series as Leela and another good, well received Tardis team was created. Baker stayed in the role for an incredible seven years and is the longest serving Doctor to date. By the end of his time however, big changes were being made to the series.
New producer John Nathan-Turner wanted to inject new life into the series and was planning a revamp. With the announced departures of Lalla Ward, who played Romana, and John Leeson, voice of K-9, Baker decided to quit the series. He wasn’t keen on the changes that the new producer was going to make and so decided to leave the series in 1981.
Tom Baker was a hard act to follow and Peter Davison’s Doctor was completely different to Baker’s. Davison’s Doctor was, like Troughton’s, a softer Doctor who acted as a father figure to those who travelled with him.
Davison was the youngest actor to play the Doctor when he took over the role in 1981 and still holds that honour today. Davison was contracted to the series for three years and when that contract ran out Davison did not renew it. Davison felt that three years in the show was long enough and like several of his predecessors did not wish to get typed cast. Davison left the series in 1984.
Colin Baker was hired as the 6th Doctor, no auditioned required. But Baker joined the series as it was going to go through its most difficult period in its history and many would blame Baker for that. However, the behind the scenes problems were not Baker’s fault and were, instead, higher up than even John Nathan-Turner. Baker’s time with the series came under criticism fire for being too violent and no longer being suitable for children.
After Baker’s first full season in 1985, he first appeared in 1984 in a single story, the series was cancelled by Michael Grade. The cancellation caused outcry and Grade had to backtrack and claim the series was merely taking an extended break. All the planned stories for the 1986 season were scrapped and when the series did return in 1986 it didn’t perform strongly. This was blamed on Baker, rather than poor writing or bad decisions by the production team, and Baker was told he wouldn’t be returning to the series.
In 1987 Sylvester McCoy took on the role of the Doctor in the series dying days. No longer in its traditional slot, Saturday evenings, Doctor Who was now up against Crossroads and Coronation Street and its ratings never went above six million. However, the show did enjoy something of a creative revival during this time with McCoy’s Doctor being darker and more manipulative, the stories becoming deeper and complex.
The series was trying to re-introduce some of the mystery that had long since left the series and hark back to Hartnell’s days in the role. However, the poor ratings for the series meant the writing was on the wall and in 1989 Doctor Who finished its original run on television.
But that wasn’t the end for Sylvester McCoy in 1996 he reprised the role in the opening segment of the 1996 TV Movie.
Paul McGann played the Doctor in the 1996 television movie which was designed as a pilot episode for a possible series. The movie was heavily criticised for its Americanisation, it was funded partly by an American network, and bad plotting and continuity mistakes.
Despite this the movie pulled in an impressive nine million viewers in the UK but did not rate well in America and so not series was commissioned. The movie was Paul McGann’s only television outing as the Doctor although he has reprised the role for audio adventures.
When the series returned in 2005 television, and film, actor Christopher Eccleston was the 10th Doctor. Eccleston’s portrayal of the Doctor was widely praised by the media and credited, along with Billie Piper’s Rose, and making the revived series a ratings success.
However, it was quickly leaked that Eccleston would be doing just the one series of the show and the BBC claimed this was due to the heavy production schedule. However, it later became apparent that Eccleston was only ever going to do a series before handing over to David Tennant.
And that brings us right up to David Tennant who took over the role in 2005 and has played the Doctor since then. By the time he leaves next year Tennant will have appeared in three full seasons and eight specials.
[images copyright of the BBC]