Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Doctor rankings

In anticipation of Doctor Who's Fiftieth Anniversary (the event, not the New Who special episode, which will inevitably suck) I thought I'd provide my personal rankings, as people often do, for the eleven official, canon Doctors which have so far graced our screens. In the spirit of making this balanced, I have also sorted the Doctors into tiers, to better distinguish groups of Doctors from each other in terms of their quality. As such, tier ranking holds greater significance than individual ranking. There is a larger distinction between tiers. Do you understand? It will make sense. I have ranked the Doctors in ascending order of preference Let's go!

Tier 5
The Tenth Doctor - David Tennant
"I don't get a picture to myself?"
A true bell end in the noble tradition of bell ends throughout history, the Tenth Doctor is in my opinion the least watchable of the Doctors by a significant margin. Alternating between cringe-inducing facetiousness that isn't remotely funny and periods of laboured maudlin sorrow, the Tenth Doctor has absolutely zero subtlety and is utterly painful to behold. He also has some pretty atrocious catchphrases. It's not helped by the fact that most of his episodes are appalling hogwash with rarely anything approaching a plot, containing nothing but constant manipulation of the audience's emotions to no particular purpose beyond pleasing the easily-pleased. David Tennant is a very talented actor, but the teeth-clenchingly unbearable way he was made to portray the Doctor is a complete waste of his skills, probably the biggest waste in the programme's history. I cannot think of a Tenth Doctor episode I would voluntarily watch at my leisure.

"I am outta here in eleven episodes' time..."
Tier 4
The Ninth Doctor - Christopher Eccleston
Much like his successor, the Ninth Doctor can often be very embarrassing to watch with his over-the-top grinning and cries of "Fantastic!" Despite being the Doctor for only one series of New Who, Eccleston already feels like he is seriously phoning it in by the conclusion of the series, appearing increasingly bored in the role in several later episodes. He is more bearable than the Tenth Doctor, but his limited run of episodes also means that there are very, very few decent ones to compensate for the rubbish that has afflicted the majority of New Who's existence. Another instance of wasting the actor, not allowing Christopher Eccleston to play a more serious, subtle character was a spectacular failure of the production, and if the rumours that he left the show due to dissatisfaction with things behind the scenes are true then he really is evidence of how readily opportunities were being wasted.

Tier 3
The Eleventh Doctor - Matt Smith
"You won't write me like a knob, will you?"
Had you asked me at the end of 2010 I would have had the Eleventh Doctor much higher on my list. In his first run of episodes he was a funny, quirky, charming interpretation of the character who was, in his eccentricity, a radical departure from the all-too-human Doctor who preceded him. This all fell apart with Series 6, however, when they forgot how to write good stories and started playing up to the eccentricities with which Matt Smith had endowed his original performance until the Eleventh Doctor had become a ridiculous caricature made up of catchphrases and frantic body language which was originally the purview of the much more theatrical Tenth Doctor. Whether this was playing up to the audience by making the Eleventh more like the popular Tenth I don't know, but it was still a mistake and a waste. The fact that we got one series where the Eleventh Doctor was good to watch and two where he was rather unpalatable seriously shafts him down the list, and the fact that his third series was disrupted, evidently due to production problems, makes him the hat trick for New Who's wasted opportunities with their lead actors.

"Oh god, another convention?"
The Fifth Doctor - Peter Davison
The lowest Classic Doctor on my list, please understand that Tier 3 is still above average despite the fact that Davison is, mathematically, below the median line in these rankings. I don't particularly have anything against the Fifth Doctor, but don't have a great deal for him, either. I don't find him particularly memorable in the role and I think he's let down by some fairly irritating companions, especially Tegan. I can't believe she's in all but two Fifth Doctor stories - it's mind-bogglingly ridiculous that such a fundamentally unpleasant character was kept in the show for so long. I still think that Davison did a good job following on from Tom Baker, and that he possibly left the role earlier than he should have, but I certainly appreciate the sentiment that it would have required more stories like "The Caves of Androzani" to make things worthwhile, and they just weren't coming. Many of his stories aren't great, but at the same time I don't feel like he was wasted in the role.

The Seventh Doctor - Sylvester McCoy
"I think I may have used this anecdote before."
It was hard to choose whether McCoy or Davison should occupy the seventh and eighth slots on my list, but in the end I have decided that this spot shall be allocated to the Seventh Doctor. I don't watch Seventh Doctor stories a great deal, and don't have especially fond memories of many, apart from, perhaps, "Survival", but contrary to some opinions online I find the Seventh Doctor quite engaging to watch even if he is a little silly at times. I enjoy the relatively serious portrayal of his character in his latter two series and I find him very believable in the role, albeit somewhat unusual. Perhaps if his portrayal had been possessed of a little more flair he might have been higher, but some rather weak stories and a relatively standard performance in the role prevent the Seventh Doctor from ascending the loftier heights of my esteem.

"This scene! It's the best bit in the whole film!"
Tier 2
The Eighth Doctor - Paul McGann
Despite appearing in only one televised adventure, I find the Eighth Doctor very appealling. Perhaps it's because of his rarity: he's like the holy grail of Doctors, something of a curiosity with his limited screentime. The TV Movie is very far away from perfect, but he is without a doubt one of the best parts of it. What is perhaps most noteworthy about the Eighth Doctor is that he sells very well the idea that the Doctor could appear relatively young and yet still have the sense of alien eccentricity which is so integral to the character. Having carried on the role in numerous Big Finish audios I think it's only fair to applaud Paul McGann for giving his Doctor a greater presence in performance than would otherwise be possible, although sometimes I find his voice work can be a little staid at times. Nonetheless, you can't go past the shoes bit in the TV Movie, can you?

The Sixth Doctor - Colin Baker
"More Big Finish you say?!?"
Widely derided in some circles for various reasons, the only reason the Sixth Doctor is in Tier 2 and not Tier 1 in my books is because of the lack of quality TV stories from his unfortunately brief tenure. Hampered by weak scripts and an unpopular costume, the Sixth Doctor brings a very engaging blend of blatant arrogance and tender compassion to the role, blending the more extreme traits of the Doctors in an intriguing mix. I can perfectly appreciate why he was voted the best audio Doctor, as well, because Colin Baker's performance in the Big Finish audio dramas is of a very high standard and really gives his Doctor the opportunities he deserved on television. Tier 2 is a Tier of Doctors who managed to rise above the limitations of their original situations, and in this regard the premium spot must go to the Sixth Doctor.

"Just keep out of the eye-line
and we'll all be happy."
Tier 1
The Third Doctor - Jon Pertwee
It must be understood that in Tier 1 there's very little to separate the Doctors at all. Each of these Doctors had a good long run in the role and many noteworthy stories of quality. Undoubtedly the most suave of the Doctor's many incarnations, the Third Doctor's dry sense of humour and short temper for fools make him a rather unique experience as a commanding and dashing figure. While Pertwee is very good at the Doctor, bringing a presence of leadership and a very sharp sense of humour, the seriousness with which he sometimes endows the character occasionally occurs at the expense of some of the Doctor's funnier characteristics. Arguably, and fittingly given his situation, one of the more human-like Doctors, he must also be applauded for his dress sense, which set the standard that the Doctor could wear something other than a frock coat and big trousers. 

The Second Doctor - Patrick Troughton
"How many got wiped?"
Sadly all too little of Troughton's stories as the Doctor have survived, but he is nonetheless in his limited existing experiences a masterful performer as the Doctor. The combination of his curiosity, compassion and indignation make him consistently watchable, and his concluding appearance in "The War Games" is one of sheer mastery. Managing to sell the idea before anyone else that the show could continue despite recasting its lead actor, Troughton is also the definitive follow-up Doctor establishing that some of the superficialities could change but the fundamental sense of justice and wanderlust could remain. His eccentric mannerisms also paved the way for many Doctors who came after.

"I can taste it already!"
The Fourth Doctor - Tom Baker
Despite the fact that I only have him in the number two spot, Tom Baker is the Doctor: one of the actors who has simply 'got it' in the role. No matter how weak the script, shonky the supporting performances or how many pints he had down the pub at lunch Tom is almost consistently believable in the role, bringing the right balance of an alien nature, limitless passion, good humour and a desire to put things right. Never outstaying his welcome in his unsurpassed seven-year tenure in the role, there is never a dull moment with the Fourth Doctor on the screen, and he perfectly captures the Doctor in a way which virtually encompasses any incarnation past, present or future.

The First Doctor - William Hartnell
"They kept it running for how long?"
The original and the best, what Hartnell brings to his original presentation of the character that just elevates him above Tom in my personal preference is sheer class, a level of both charm and power that establishes the character of the Doctor from the very beginning. Wise, cunning, sometimes harsh, endlessly curious and consistently ingenious, the First Doctor brings a particular sense of conviction and spirit of adventure which almost makes him unique among the character's many incarnations. Capable of being both a dignified, unruffled gentleman and a humorous, almost impish figure of fun, there is a certain integrity to Hartnell's definitive performance in the role which furnishes the First Doctor with a particularly satisfying air. At the end of the day he is the one who set the standard, and still holds that crown position at the top where he began.

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