Doctor Who, the British television program about an eccentric time-traveling alien, has been around for more than fifty years. That’s a long time for a TV show to exist. The sci-fi shenanigans of Doctor Who have delighted audiences (and occasionally caused them to hide behind the sofa) for five decades. For perspective: Star Wars, another enduring classic of science fiction, hasn’t even hit the forty-year mark.
When a series becomes as old as Doctor Who, it runs into the problem of its actors aging. Actors are only human, after all. They sometimes tire of roles, get sick, move to faraway places, retire from acting, or simply expire.
Most long-running film or television series find ways around this problem. Some, like many James Bond films, cast new actors as the same character, ignoring changes of appearance. Some series retire old characters to make way for new ones. Many series are rebooted, telling updated versions of their stories with new actors in familiar roles.
Then there’s Doctor Who. Its hero, the eponymous Doctor, has been portrayed by more than a dozen actors. The show never pretends not to notice the Doctor’s changing face, but instead offers a suitably ridiculous explanation: the Doctor is a space alien, and changing his appearance every so often is part of his life cycle.
This silly explanation become a brilliant and integral part of the show’s story. Every time he changes his face, or “regenerates,” the Doctor’s personality changes, but he retains his values, knowledge, memories, and sense of self. This storytelling trick allows the role to be passed from actor to actor, and keeps the character from becoming stale.
Which Doctor is the best? This is the sort of Kirk-versus-Picard question that fans never tire of arguing. In the end, like so many petty conflicts between fans, it doesn’t really matter. Every version of the Doctor has strengths and weaknesses, and is valuable in his own way.
That said, the Tenth Doctor is the best.