Now before I start I want to make one thing clear. I do not hate either the 9th or the 10th Doctors. Indeed I love the entire Russell T Davies era, and David Tennant and Christopher Eccelston where every bit as good in the role of the Doctor as any of their predecessors or successors.
However I feel that overall the 11th and 12th incarnations of the Doctor have been better realized than either the 9th or the 10th Doctors because of how they were written and more importantly because the actors playing them were given considerably more freedom in the role.
I’d say that the first four Doctors and 11 and 12 are the best realized Doctors. 5, 6, 7 and 9 and 10 meanwhile all suffer from similar problems which I will explore in this article.
Of course I don’t expect everyone to agree with me on this as 9 and 10 are both deservedly very popular. However this is what I feel was wrong with these two incarnations of the Doctor despite their many great qualities which obviously overshadow the negative ones.
1/ The 9th and 10th Doctors were too much like other heroes
Now when Russell T Davies brought Doctor Who back to our screens in 2005 American sci fi and fantasy had pretty much cornered the market. Russell even says so in the leaflet for the 2005 series box set.
Thus Russell decided to make the new Doctor Who more like these American series in order for it catch on.
You can see a lot of series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena the Warrior Princess and even Smallville in Russell’s era of Doctor Who. It should be noted that Russell T Davies was also a huge fan of these series anyway.
“Joss Whedon raised the bar for every writer not just genre/niche writers, but every one of us.”
Russell T Davies on Joss Whedon and Buffy’s influence on his career.
I don’t mind Russell taking inspiration from these series. Its no worse than Hinchcliff taking inspiration from old Hammer movies.
However I think Russell went a bit too far in taking inspiration from these series in that he actually made the Doctor a bit too similar to heroes like Angel and Xena.
Barry Letts for instance made the third Doctor a bit of a pastiche of heroes like James Bond and Jason King. However he didn’t go too far. The third Doctor still seemed like the Doctor. He didn’t go around seducing all of his female companions like Bond or shooting people all the time (the Ogron in Day of the Daleks whom he gunned down aside of course).
Sadly however like I said Russell I feel just simply went too far in making the Doctor like heroes such as Xena and Angel.
Xena, Angel and The Ninth Doctor are all characters who have done horrible things in the past and are now in some ways trying to make up for them. All are conflicted, dark, moody, angsty heroes who end up falling in love with a little blonde, inappropriately young teenager, Buffy, Gabrielle and Rose who holds back their dark side and makes them into better people.
This story arc of course continues on into the Tenth Doctors era.
The ending of Journeys End where we see the Doctor tell Rose that she made him a better man is total Xena/Gabrielle Buffy/Angel crap.
As is the ending of Doomsday where we see Rose and the Doctor trapped in different universe. Its not to dissimilar to Buffy and Angel being trapped in different universes at the end of Buffy’s second season finale.
The 11th and the 12th Doctors meanwhile I felt where closer to the Doctors from the classic era. Whilst there were moments where 11 was written out of character such as his constant flirting, by and large he seemed more alien and unconventional than either 9 and 10. You certainly couldn’t say he was an angsty 90’s anti hero like Angel or Xena.
Even the romance they gave him with River was more unconventional. 10 and Rose’s romance is very Buffy and Angel or even god forbid Bella and Edward. Obviously its better written and acted than Bella and Edward, but it is along the same lines. An ancient immortal with a dark nature falls in love with a teenage girl and their relationship has bad consequences for both, whilst at the same time she helps to temper his bad side. That description fits more or less Buffy and Angel, Bella and Edward, Xena and Gabrielle and The Doctor and Rose.
Thus 11 and 12 I felt were superior as unlike 9 and 10 they were the Doctor. They didn’t feel like the Doctor doing an impression of other characters. Now you might think that all of the other Doctors are different so what does it matter. However whilst all of the Doctors are different I think there are certain qualities that help link them all together. Sadly 9 and 10 I feel are just too different because they are actually modelled on other characters.
2/ The 11th and 12th Doctors costumes and look were more in tune with the older Doctors
Again you might say all of the Doctors costumes and appearances were different anyway. However again I would say that whilst they are all unique all of the Doctors costumes and appearances all have similar qualities to them that help link them all together.
All of their costumes have a certain Victorian and Edwardian feel to them, or are at the very least old fashioned. They are all somewhat over the top and completely unconventional too.
Also the Doctor I feel should have somewhat longer or at the very least bigger hair. That’s one of the more unusual things about his look. He takes so much care about his clothes but he often just lets his hair grow out. The 1st Doctor, 5th Doctor, 6th Doctor, 7th Doctor and 8th Doctors all had long flowing hair, whilst the 4th and 3 Doctors had a big mop of curly hair. Even the second Doctor had big unmanagable hair.
Now as you can see the 9th and the 10th Doctors don’t look like the Doctor at all. I mean they really don’t.
The 9th Doctor has an ordinary leather jacket, the Tenth Doctor wears sand shoes. And look at their hair! The 9th Doctors is shaved whilst Ten’s is gelled up like Jedward.
They just don’t look like the Doctors. They stand out like sore thumbs when you put all of the Doctors together.
The ninth Doctors costume I think is very like Angel or Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which again fits in with the Buffy influence.
The Tenth Doctors costume meanwhile I think looks more like one of the guys from the dickhead song video on youtube here.
I think both cases represent Russell T Davies trying to make the Doctor modern and trendy. Hence why he makes the ninth Doctor look like Spike and the Tenth Doctor look like in Colin Bakers own words “someone Kate Moss would date”.
The 11th and the 12th Doctors meanwhile are dressed much more like the older Doctors.
11’s costume is much more old fashioned, unconventional and is a bit Holmesian. I think I preferred his second costume the most.
12’s costume meanwhile also is I feel more old fashioned and though it is toned down, its still a bit Byronesque.
Also even their hair is more Doctorish. 11 has the quiff and whilst 12’s is short its not shaved or gelled up like one of the dickheads.
11 and 12 despite 11’s youthful appearance both just look like the Doctor. They don’t stand out from the others the way 9 and 10 do.
3/ The 10th and 9th Doctors were too inept
Now this is a bit of a problem I have with the Russell T Davies era is that the Doctor is too weak in it. I am not saying that the companion should be a damsel in distress. Far from it, but the Doctor is the central character and therefore should not be a passenger in his own series.
The ninth Doctor saves the day twice in his only series. The tenth Doctor meanwhile starts out with a much better record, but as time goes on he does become a bit more ineffective. The worst is in Journey’s End where Donna gets his powers and uses them much better than he does and even tells him he is useless compared to her!
In contrast the 11th Doctor is a much more useful Doctor all around. He only fails to save the day in two stories of his first season and his second season. However in his third year he does get pushed to the side I will admit a bit too much in favor of Clara such as in The Name of the Doctor. I also feel the 12th Doctor has been pushed to the side a bit too much such as in Death in Heaven where he does literally nothing!
Still I think sadly 9 has to take the prize for the most inept Doctor of them all. In fact not only does he fail to save people a lot of the time, but he actually makes things worse. Like look at The Unquiet Dead 9 does nothing but get a young woman killed!
4/ The 9th and 10th Doctors were too human
Now this is a problem I have with these two Doctors is that they didn’t seem alien enough. The Doctor is supposed to be an alien remember. In the classic era as different as the many Doctors were they all seemed alien. You’d never see the Doctor express overt human emotion. He never broke down in tears, screamed hysterically or blew up. The only time you saw him react that way was in The Twin Dilemma when he was insane. Other than that the Doctor was never someone who you would expect to react like a human being. That’s not to say he showed no emotion whatsoever, but it was often understated.
The 9th and the 10th Doctors meanwhile I feel always reacted like a human being would. We always saw 10 break down in tears, lose his temper, scream all over the place. 9 whilst not quite as human as 10 was still a bit too much of a conventional hero.
Now 11 could be quite emotional too, such as his speech in The Rings of Akhatan or his break down over losing Amy and Rory. Again compare 11’s reaction to losing Amy and Rory and 10’s to losing Rose to 5’s reaction Adric’s death.
However I still found 11 to be more convincing as an alien than either 9 and 10. Other than the odd emotional outburst 11 generally tended to react to things much like the 4th Doctor, in that he would often have an over the top reaction to something completely mundane, yet be quite cold to something important to us.
In Lets Kill Hitler he gets excited when he is dying at the thought of Fish Fingers and Custard, whilst in The Girl Who Waited he ruthlessly left the older version of Amy to die. Thus 11 was a much more unpredictable character.
12 meanwhile is definitely the most alien and cold too. Like 11 he is also a very unpredictable character. Whilst I do not like Kill the Moon I do feel it offers quite an interesting insight into the Doctors character by showing him react to a situation in a completely different way to his human companion. In 12’s mind he does nothing wrong by leaving Clara to make her own decision. Ironically he thinks he wasn’t pandering to her, whilst Clara saw it the exact opposite way and felt he was treating her like a child.
11 and 12 are overall much more alien characters.
5/ The actors who play the 11th and 12th Doctors are given more freedom
Now this I think could be the most important factor in why I prefer these two Doctors. I think the Doctor is a role where the actor should be given more freedom.
Thats why the first 4 Doctors are better realized than the last 3 for this very reason. I feel that the actors were allowed to really become the Doctors.
The first Doctor is essentially William Hartnell. Director Waris Hussein even said this remarking that Hartnell often wasn’t acting when playing the first Doctor. Similarly the 4th Doctor is just Tom Baker. Hell if anything he is a restrained Tom Baker.
Now obviously I am not saying that the actor should be allowed to take over the show. I think that happened a bit too much towards the end of Tom’s time.
However the actor should have a lot of say so in how his character is portrayed.
This was a problem with all 3 80’s Doctors. I don’t think any of them were given as much say in how their Doctors were portrayed. Colin for instance famously wasn’t allowed to pick his costume. Neither in fact were Sylvester McCoy or Peter Davison all of whom wished to have those annoying question marks removed.
Now Eccelston and Tennant I feel were similarly not given as much freedom. Russell T Davies picked out both of their costumes and according to Eccelston virtually everything about the 9th Doctor was decided by Russell. Even 9’s use of the word Fantastic was apparently something Russell used to say all the time.
Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi however were both given considerably more freedom. When you look at an interview of Matt Smith, whilst he’s not entirely like his Doctor obviously, you can tell there is more of him in the role. Also Matt and Peter were allowed to pick their own costumes too. The famous Bowtie came from Matt not Moffat.
Thus whilst I think every actor in the role has been great 1, 2, 3, 4, 11 and 12 I think are the better realized on screen, In the Big Finish Audios I think Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann are given the freedom that the first four actors were given and I hope one day Tennant and Eccelston will be too if Big Finish ever gets the rights to produce Big Finish audios based on the new series, though its doubtful Eccelston will ever return to the role.
Hopefully you can see that 11 and 12 were closer to the original Doctors than 9 and 10 were. I think the person to thank for this is really Steven Moffat.
I think Moffat understands the character of the Doctor better than Russell T Davies. This is not to say that Russell is a bad Doctor Who writer, but I think that Moffat ultimately just gets what it is that makes the Doctor unique.
He understands that the Doctor is alien, old fashioned, unpredictable, and best of all that the actor playing the role should really be allowed to throw himself into the part and thus he stood back when he had to.