A couple of nights ago I was relaxing by half watching the cricket from New Zealand while reading my book, the excellent Running Through Corridors: Vol. 2 by Robert Shearman and Toby Hadoke. In their diary of watching all the Doctor Who serials in order they had now passed the rightly lauded Holmes/Hinchcliffe era and had delved into the less consistent Tom Baker period. After putting the book down with every intention of heading off to bed instead a question crossed my mind. Which of the Doctor’s full run of serials is most consistently liked by fandom? We know that Baker or sometimes David Tennant usually top the favourite Doctor polls and we know that they also have a number of very highly rated serials. Overall though are their whole runs the most loved? Does Fear Her negate Blink or Underworld do the same for Genesis of the Dalek?
To try and find out I dug out my copy of Doctor Who Magazine, issue 474, which ran the results of their 50th anniversary poll of all broadcast serials up to that point. I then simply added up the placing for all the stories from each individual Doctor’s run and divided that total by the number of serials they appeared in to give me an average score. It isn’t the most foolproof way of satisfying my curiosity, but I nonetheless found the results quite interesting and on the off chance you may too I will present them to you here.
*As my aim was to discover, which of the Doctors is most consistently enjoyed across the stories they appear in I have included scores for multi-Doctor adventures provided they have played a significant part. For example, The first, second, third and firth Doctor all score for The Five Doctors, but the fourth Doctor does not as he doesn’t play a significant role.
Unplaced: Paul McGann, John Hurt and Peter Capaldi
With both Paul McGann and John Hurt only appearing in one full length serial each (technically Hurt appears in 2 as we see him introduced at the end of Name of the Doctor, but not for long enough for him to share Matt Smith’s score for that story) I can’t really add them to the list that follows. The poll was published before Peter Capaldi had officially begun his time as the Doctor with just his eyebrows having appeared on screen up to that point so he also misses out.
10. Sixth Doctor era
Top Placed Story: Revelation of the Daleks (#70/241)
Lowest Placed Story: The Twin Dilemma (#241)
Average Story Rating: 169.88
You have to feel sorry for Colin whenever a poll takes place. Anyone who reads DWM or spends much time on Twitter will know that he isn’t a fan of them and you can kind of see why too. I’ve never been a fan of the basic ‘Who is your favourite Doctor’ question. I genuinely like them all and though I fall into the camp of people for whom the sixth Doctor era can be a struggle that is never down to Colin himself. Unfortunately the overall standard of story never quite gives him what he needs and that is reflected in this result. His highest placed story (and my favourite of his run) is Revelation of the Daleks, but placed at number 70 it is the lowest of any Doctor’s most popular story (TV Movie excepted) and with two of the four poorest rated stories it leads to this high average. Fortunately for fans of the wider Doctor Who universe Colin has been much better treated and one of the many great triumphs of Big Finish has been to give him the stories his Doctor deserved.
9. Seventh Doctor era
Top Placed Story: Remembrance of the Daleks (#10)
Lowest Placed Story: Time and the Rani (#239)
Average Story Rating: 145.08
Having grown up in the so-called ‘wilderness years’ of Doctor Who in the nineties I never really had an answer as to who was “my Doctor.” My introduction to the show came from my brother’s VHS collection and the occasional repeat on TV so each face was as familiar to me as the next. As the most recent Doctor I did feel a connection with McCoy though and I have a particular affection for this era, which leaves me a little disappointed to see it still score so low. For me their is a remarkably consistent run of serials once Andrew Cartmel as script editor really manages to take hold of the show, but clearly fandom still retains a different view. As well as Time and the Rani, Paradise Towers, Delta, Dragonfire and Silver Nemesis all feature in the nether regions of the poll, negating the better placings for the excellent Remembrance and Curse of Fenric. Despite that I will remain a fully paid up member of the McCoy-era fan club.
8. First Doctor era
Top Placed Story: The Five Doctors (#25)/The Daleks (#46)
Lowest Placed Story: The Space Museum (#232)
Average Story Rating: 141.10
It’s probably not too much of a surprise that William Hartnell (and Richard Hurndall’s) Doctor doesn’t score as highly here. Not only may some newer fans not be as familiar with his stories, but there are also (as with Patrick Troughton) a significant number that we cannot see. This was also a time when the show was really discovering what it was and as a result there is an incredible variety of tone and genre to those first few series that would lessen in later years when individual script editors and producers would put their stamp on the series for their period on the show. That variety is one of the great charms of the first Doctor era, but it doesn’t promote a consistency and hence the relatively low placing for the man who helped forge the show that we all love.
7. Fifth Doctor era
Top Placed Story: The Caves of Androzani (#4)
Lowest Placed Story: Time-Flight (#237)
Average Story Rating: 131.53
Peter Davison’s era as the Fifth Doctor climbs ahead of the First Doctor by virtue of having three stories, The Caves of Androzani, Earthshock and The Five Doctors all placed in the top 25. That he still falls well behind the Doctor in sixth place is because he also has five stories in the bottom 25, Time-Flight, The King’s Demons, Warriors of the Deep, Arc of Infinity and Four to Doomsday. Whether those stories all deserve to be where they place (I have a real soft spot for Four to Doomsday and have never quite been able to find the love for Earthshock that many do) it nevertheless demonstrates that the struggle for consistent storytelling that frustrated Davison himself is reflected in fan opinion of the era.
6. Eleventh Doctor era
Top Placed Story: The Day of the Doctor (#1)
Lowest Placed Story: The Rings of Akhaten (#233)
Average Story Rating: 121.65
When DWM published their poll Matt Smith was just ending his time as the Doctor and his stories were fresh in the mind of fans, but without the sense of nostalgia around older Doctor’s adventures. With that in mind it will be interesting to see how his era rates in future polls. Here he scores well, but is the lowest placed of the new series Doctor eras.
5. Fourth Doctor era
Top Placed Story: Genesis of the Daleks (#3)
Lowest Placed Story: Underworld (#236)
Average Story Rating: 114.73
So here we have the biggest surprise of the results. For many Tom Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor is definitive, but with such a long time in the Tardis and with such a different tone between his early and later adventures we get a very different result. The top 25 of the poll feature nine Baker era serials, eight of which come from the Hinchcliffe/Holmes producer/script editor partnership. His later stories are less well-loved though and as a result his average placing goes up and the Doctor’s with a shorter run at the part come out ahead.
4. Ninth Doctor era
Top Placed Story: The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (#7)
Lowest Placed Story: The Long Game (#205)
Average Story Rating: 108.89
Such has been the success of the show since he re-emerged on our screens in 2005 that it’s easy to forget how much of a gamble bringing Doctor Who back to television was. Had it failed then it is hard to see how it would have ever re-emerged. Fortunately everything went according to plan and the poll showed how well thought of the revamp still is. With only one series to his name there is a smaller sample size for the Eccleston Doctor, but his poorest rated story, The Long Game is far higher than every other Doctor’s lowest scorer demonstrating a consistent quality that set the foundations for the show to go from strength to strength.
3. Second Doctor era
Top Placed Story: The War Games (#12)
Lowest Placed Story: The Space Pirates (#235)
Average Story Rating: 106.29
Patrick Troughton is often seen as ‘the Doctor’s Doctor’ and his era is still looked on incredibly fondly. The poll also gave a great indication of how the loss of stories from the first two Doctor’s era effects their popularity. Both The Web of Fear (#16) and The Enemy of the World (#56) went up in the poll after they were rediscovered and help to lift the era up this list. With the animation of Power of the Daleks proving a great success and the possibility of more stories being recreated in the future it’s likely that this era may become even more popular over the coming years.
2. Tenth Doctor era
Top Placed Story: The Day of the Doctor (#1)/Blink (#2)
Lowest Placed Story: Fear Her (#240)
Average Story Rating: 101.47
In much the same way as Tom Baker is the iconic Doctor of the classic era David Tennant seems to fulfill that role for the new series. His appearance in The Day of the Doctor only added to that and ensured he had a hand in both the top two in the poll. In total the Tennant Doctor has three stories in the top 10 with his era benefiting from excellent scripts from the likes of Steven Moffat and Paul Cornell.
1. Third Doctor era
Top Placed Story: Inferno (#18)
Lowest Placed Story: The Time Monster (#222)
Average Story Rating: 96.31
So there we have it. The most consistently enjoyed era of Doctor Who according to the DWM poll results was the Third Doctor’s. In many ways that isn’t a surprise. Pertwee’s first season in the role sees four stories quite unlike anything Doctor Who had done before or would do again, but they are very highly thought of. From that period on the consistent partnership of Barry Letts and Terrence Dicks, coupled with a regular group of talented writers, Malcolm Hulke, Robert Holmes, Bob Baker and Dave Martin among them makes for a very consistent quality.