The Doctor is one of the most unusual leading characters on television. An alien who travels in time and space in a police box is an interesting idea already, but its really his ability to regenerate that makes him stand out more than anything else.
The Doctor can change in every single way, not just his face, but his entire personality and way of doing things
At first glance there is no similarity between any of the Doctors, but when you look at it more closely you can see that all of the different Doctors are all linked by a number of subtle, yet defining traits.
They all do follow on from each other in some ways, and the Doctors character is also shaped as much by what happens to him, as it is by regeneration.
For instance the Third Doctor had a more rebellious streak to him after being forced to remain on earth by the time lords, whilst 9, 10 and even 11 were all more emotional and at times unstable due to the Time War.
I personally think you can group all of the Doctors into 4 different categories, with each category representing a defining trait of his personality.
There are the darker Doctors, the fun eccentric Doctors, the dashing hero Doctors and finally the more vulnerable Doctor.
This is not to say that any actor who has played the Doctors performance has been derivative of any other. Personally I think all of them have been excellent, though my 3 favourites are definitely Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker and William Hartnell. Still I do think by and large you can group certain Doctors together as being more of a type than others, and that’s what I am going to be doing here in my analysis of the Doctors character.
The Darker Doctors/ 1st Doctor, 6th Doctor, 9th Doctor
These Doctors all represent the darker side of the Doctors personality that has been brought to the fore. These Doctors all have a real anger and ruthless streak about them.
All other Doctors can be ruthless like 10 killing the leader of the Sycrocrax, 7 destroying the Daleks and Skaro, but these Doctors will happily dispatch all or most of their enemies in nasty and gruesome ways.
Examples include the first Doctor trying to bludgeon a caveman to death whilst he is wounded and unconscious in “An Unearthly Child”, 6 casually tossing two men into an acid bath in “Vengeance on Varos”, and 9 burning Lady Cassandra to death in “The End of the World”.
These Doctors also are far more arrogant than the others. Peri once commented to 6 that by the time he had finished congratulating himself, they’ll probably all be dead, 1’s arrogance meanwhile always got him into trouble, such as in the first Dalek story when he does literally spend too long congratulating himself (on something that didn’t even work), and as a result he and Susan are captured. 9 meanwhile refuses to listen to Rose in “The Unquiet Dead” and as a result not only does this cost a young woman her life, but very nearly causes humanity to be wiped out too.
These Doctors have a somewhat more strained relationship with their companions as a result. Examples include 1 electrocuting Ian and Barbara, and poisoning them at one point, and 6 strangling Peri.
Even 9 and Rose have a some what more strained relationship at times than 10 and Rose ever did.
At the same time however these Doctors also have arguably much closer relationships to their companions too, as their companions are the ones who hold them back and ultimately make them better people. Ian literally stops 1 from murdering the caveman, whilst Rose also stops 9 from gunning the confused and helpless Metaltron down in cold blood.
All of these Doctors also go through the same development too where they start out alien, grumpy, even downright unpleasant and callous in some ways, but the influence of their human companions makes them a better person. By the end of 1’s time he has changed considerably.
Gone is the callous wanderer who was happy to let the Thals wander into the Daleks trap (that was all his fault to start with) and in his place is the hero from “The Daleks Masterplan”, who is willing to give his life to save his companions and the earth from their plans.
Similarly by the end of the 9th Doctors brief tenure, he had become a more merciful character who gives the Slitheen a second chance, and who proves he is no longer capable of slaughtering innocents in order to stop the Daleks like he seemingly did in the Time War.
The 6th Doctor was also to have gone down a similar development, sadly however “Trial of a Time Lord” as well as Colin’s abrupt and unprofessional sacking from the role (on account of a certain vindictive shit) ruined these plans. Still if you listen to the Big Finish Audios you can see how Colin would have finished his Doctors story arc, with the 6th Doctor much like the 1st, and the 9th, thanks to the influence of Evelyn and Peri becoming a much happier, friendlier and likable character than the arrogant blowhard we saw in the first few stories.
All of these Doctors are darker, not simply because the Doctor changes when he regenerates, but more because of the circumstances around them, which help bring their darker side to the fore.
The 1st Doctor is on the run from his people. He has broken their laws, he knows if they catch him the punishment will be severe for he and for Susan. He is also exploring a universe he knows nothing about, that is dangerous and hostile, and he is also scared that his grand daughter is slowly slipping away from him.
Unlike the Doctor, Susan wants to find one place she can feel at home. This is obvious even from the start of an Unearthly Child where she grows attached to Coal Hill School a bit too much. The first Doctor is shaped by this into a more frightened, angry character who is actually scared of everything around him, but covers it up with his unbelievable arrogance.
With Ian and Barbara’s help he becomes much braver however and eventually lets Susan go and becomes the hero we all know.
6 meanwhile is darker because of the traumatic regeneration from 5. 5’s death was worse than any other Doctors before him. He wasn’t even sure if he was going to regenerate commenting as he lay, dying in agony “it feels different this time”. It is even hinted that 5’s regeneration to 6 didn’t go right and thus 6’s mind was completely unstable to begin with. 9 meanwhile had more reason than any other as he had incorrectly believed that he had slaughtered billions of people in the time war. He was obviously still traumatised by this atrocity and it took Rose’s help for him to get through it.
All of these Doctors form much closer attachments to their companions by the end of their time.. Shades of these Doctors can be found in all of the others. Like I said every Doctor can have a ruthless streak, and every Doctor can be arrogant, but in this type of Doctor those characteristics are dominant.
The Fun, Eccentric Doctor/ 2nd Doctor, 4th Doctor, 7th Doctor, 11th Doctor
These Doctors represent the more fun loving, cool, funny side of the character. This is what I think the Doctor is naturally like. All of the other types are caused by specific events, but this is kind of the Doctors default position. I think naturally the Doctor is very eccentric, even on Gallifrey and he is also somewhat childish too.
He is someone who hates being told what to do and just wants to have fun. That’s really the reason he left Gallifrey in the first place. He left because he wanted to live every day, like he was on holiday, just cruising the universe, hanging out with all the best people throughout history, and having fun with his friends like Amy Pond, Rose Tyler and Martha Jones, rather than get a dreary, low paying 9-5 job on Gallifrey.
I’d say these are the Doctors that the pubic most thinks of when thinking of the character. The funny, clown like, childish alien with weird clothes like a bow tie and a long scarf. I think all of these Doctors emerge at happy points in the Doctors life.
2 emerges when the Doctor feels more content. He has now found a planet, Earth that he has a fondness for. He has also now faced the worst the universe has to offer. He knows Susan has gone off and found somewhere she belongs, and he feels confident that the time lords will not find him as he has been on the run so long. Indeed had it not been for his need to summon them in “The War Games” they probably never would have found him.
4 meanwhile comes at probably the happiest point in his life. The Doctor is now finally free to roam the galaxy as he wishes. The time lords have given him free permission to do so forever, so he is completely free from their shackles. On top of that he also has a family of people, metaphorically speaking of course on earth, The Brigadier, Sarah Jane, Benton.
7 also emerges in a more stable period of his life when the Doctor has shaken off all of the issues he had from his sixth incarnation.
11 meanwhile similarly had more distance from the time war than his immediate predecessors. 9 had just come from it and was still horrified, 10 meanwhile was still trying to figure out what his place was in a post time lord universe. 11 however knew it and could put the war behind him. Therefore he was a much happier person. 11 also discovered that he had saved Gallifrey later in his life too.
However whilst these Doctors are definitely much happier characters they can also be more sneaky and manipulative at the same time. They can often use their seemingly bumbling, clownish exterior to mask their true motives. 2 and 7 did this all of the time, but 11 and 4 were also more than capable too such as in “City of Death”. These Doctors also could be ruthless if need be.
They weren’t like 1, 6 and 9 whose first option was often to kill, but still if provoked then yes they could be every bit as ruthless. 4 poisons Professor Solon when he refuses to halt his experiments to revive Morbius, the worst villain the Time Lord race has ever produced. 11 condemns Solomon the trader to death, when he feels he has gone too far, 2 effectively wipes out the Daleks in Evil of the Daleks, whilst 7 also attempts to exterminate the Daleks and murder Davros in Remembrance.
In these moments you can see how Doctors like 1, 6 and 9 would emerge. 2, 4, 7 and 11 have that side to them as well, they just keep it in check.
The More Sensitive, Vulnerable and Fallable Doctor/ 5th Doctor, 8th Doctor
These Doctors I feel represent the Doctors compassion and empathy more than any other. They are Doctors who feel a need to save everybody. All of the other Doctors can be callous at certain times such as 4’s reaction to Lawrence Scarman being tortured to death by his own possessed brother in “Pyramids of Mars”. 5 and 8 however would never have that reaction.
8 famously in “The Night of the Doctor” refuses to abandon a complete stranger who despises him to die and ends up losing his life as a result. Ironically because these Doctors care however that makes them somewhat more fallable to the events surrounding them.
They tend to fail more than other Doctors, with 5 being the first to lose a companion since 1. I think its partly down to the failures that they suffer that they end up becoming more conflicted characters who in contrast to the somewhat bombastic and egotistical other Doctors are constantly doubting their actions and decisions.
The Dashing, Heroic, Charismatic, Human Doctor/ 3rd Doctor, 10th Doctor
These Doctors are the two who set out to be heroes. All the other Doctors merely have a strong sense of justice and morality and stumble their way into situations.
3 and 10 are far more virtuous than other Doctors and will often spare even their vilest enemies such as Dalek Caan. 10 even goes to the extent of sparing the man who seemingly murdered his daughter. (Though even then they are still not above murdering their enemies if they have too such as 10 killing the leader of the Sycrocrax, and 3 trying to murder the Master in The Mind of Evil.)
Both set out to be heroes because of the unusual situations they find themselves in. 3 is exiled to earth and for the first time he see’s how vulnerable earth is. Before he has always just flitted in and out of the planet, but now he has been forced to live there and can see the danger it is in, not just from aliens, but also even from humanity itself who very nearly destroy the planet in “Inferno”.
The Third Doctor therefore feels it is his duty whilst he is exiled there to protect the earth, and set an example to the humans around him, hence why he might go out of his way to be merciful to even the worst villains he encounters.
Similarly 10 finds that he is the last of the Time Lords. 9 was still too horrified to take that in, but 10 who has managed to bury some of the trauma can, and he now see’s it as his job to carry on their legacy and protect all of time and space. More than any other Doctor 10 has the weight of all of time on his weary shoulders, and much like 3 he feels he needs to be a hero rather than merely a traveller with a strong moral sense, and also like 3 he feels he needs to set an example to all those around him.
Both 10 and 3 are also somewhat more human than other Doctors. Despite 3’s flamboyant dress sense, he and 10 are probably the least eccentric Doctors.
Both are very honest trustworthy heroes (this was why 3 was always my favourite as a kid as I always felt safest with him, and I don’t doubt many people felt the same way about 10 growing up)
Both I feel are more human because they spend more time on earth than the other Doctors do. 3 is exiled there and 10 came to see earth as a replacement for Gallifrey in some ways.
Whilst 3 and 10 may in some ways be the most heroic and likable at the same time they both also come to believe their own image of themselves and just like 1, 6 and 9 their arrogance can lead to their downfall.
3 often tries to reason with every enemy he comes into contact with regardless of how evil they may be. He assumes that he can still get through to them. 10 similarly often tries this as seen with Dalek Caan, which allows the Dalek to escape and leads to more chaos when Caan saves Davros. 10’s arrogance also goes to his head in “The Waters of Mars” when he believes that rather than simply uphold the Time Lords laws he can defy them and declares himself “Time Lord Victorious!”.
Now as for the current Doctor 12 I am not sure where exactly to group him quite yet. It is early days remember in his era and to be honest I don’t really like to say what type of Doctor someone is until after their era is done and I can watch their full development. Still I’d say that 12 is perhaps more of a darker Doctor which would make sense after all that 11 went through on Trenzalore. 12 has already proven to me more ruthless than 11 ever was, however I also feel there may be shades of the more heroic and dashing Doctor in this incarnation as well. Only time will tell, but those are definitely the two I’d say 12 follows.
As for the War Doctor well he is the only one I would say doesn’t follow any model, but that’s because he was meant to be an anamoly in the Doctors life. War was created to be a warrior, someone who would kill without mercy or compassion to fight in the war, thus he was not like the Doctor at all, even physically he looked different with his more dishevelled and unshaven look.
However I quite liked the fact that through the War Doctor, we saw what a hero the Doctor truly was as even when he was created to be ruthless, he still could not bring himself to slaughter the innocents on Gallifrey. In the end he did what he would always do and found another way out. One that completely eluded everyone else, even the other time lords, that cheats and breaks all the rules.
I know a lot of people weren’t happy with the War Doctor and I can understand why. They wanted to see Paul McGann again, and they felt it messed with the numbering system, and finally they felt it also undid the idea of the doctor destroying his own people.
Personally however I loved the War Doctor. I felt he summed up why we all love the character of the Doctor, by showing us that ultimately though he does have a dark side, he can never be truly corrupted, even by the Sisterhood of Karn’s magic.
He will always remain the same man underneath and always do the right thing. He will never be someone who slaughters innocents on Gallifrey, or anywhere else for the greater good. He will always find a way out.
The fact that its not just the War Doctor but all of them that join in, and save Gallifrey including the then future 12th Doctor reinforces all the Doctors would have reacted the same way in this situation. Much like Captain Kirk, the Doctor does not believe in a no win scenario.
Its important to always remember that the many different Doctors are the same character underneath. Even if you don’t agree with my analysis in particular I still think it is important to remember that all of the different Doctors are merely different aspects of the same character, rather than 13 different characters.