Doctor Who first came on the air back in 1963 and the show’s gone through a lot of lead actors, producers, script editors, you name it. It’s even changed direction more than a few times, along with the length of episodes. Of all the actors to play the Doctor over the decades, many of them had stuck around for different lengths of time but some had to deal with very different runs as far as season length went. So the number of years a person spent in the role was not exactly the most precise indicator of how much time that person was actually at the helm of the TARDIS.
For instance, First Doctor William Hartnell was in the lead role for only a little more than three seasons, departing near the beginning of Season 4 due to ill health. Yet back in the 1960s, both he and Patrick Troughton were filming the show almost all year ‘round. Thus, Hartnell has more episodes in the can than any other Doctor except Tom Baker, who starred in the show for seven seasons!
So, to give credit where credit is due when it comes to just how much service time these folks put into traveling through time and space, I was curious, and thus, made a list. I originally put it together during the Matt Smith era and I just continued to update it after every season. Now first things first, I’ll list in order who played the Doctor in what years and in how many seasons:
William Hartnell: 1963 – 66, 3 seasons; 1973- The Three Doctors
Patrick Troughton: 1966 – 69, 3 seasons; ’73 Three Doctors; ’83, The Five Doctors; ’85, The Two Doctors
Jon Pertwee: 1970 – 74, 5 seasons; ’83, The Five Doctors
Tom Baker: 1974 – 81, 7 seasons
Peter Davison: 1981 – 84, 3 seasons
Colin Baker: 1984 – 86, 2 seasons
Sylvester McCoy: 1987- 89, 3 seasons
Paul McGann: 1996 TV Movie; 2013 The Night of the Doctor
John Hurt: 2013, The Name of the Doctor, The Day of the Doctor
Christopher Eccleston: 2005, 1 season
David Tennant: 2005 -10, 3 seasons, 8 specials
Matt Smith: 2010 – 13, 3 seasons, 5 specials
Peter Capaldi: 2013 – 17, 3 seasons, 4 specials
Jodie Whitaker: 2017 – present, 2 seasons, 1 special
Side notes — to provide a more or less even playing field in the count, since the vast majority of Doctor Who was usually in half-hour installments, really about 23 minutes or so per episode and the new era consists of 44 minutes episodes on average, I’ll be counting each new era episode as if they were two, 22 minute episodes. Fair’s fair. I’ll do the same for classic seasons like 22 with that format, since the whole point here is to see just how many episodes they appeared in, or how just how much story was packed into the era.
So any classic episode of Doctor Who gets credited as one episode. Any new era, 44 minute one gets credited as two episodes. An hour-long Christmas special will get credited as three episodes. A full 90 minute or 100 minute movie gets credited as 4. And in certain situations, an extra long new era episode that exceeds its 44 minutes by a substantial margin, like a series finale, etc. might get credited as 3 episodes. Got it? Excellent.
Also, I’m only counting the TV show, not audio. That’s a whole different list. Here we go:
- Tom Baker: 172 eps
- William Hartnell: 134
- Patrick Troughton: 132
- Jon Pertwee: 131
- David Tennant: 113
- Matt Smith: 101
- Peter Capaldi: 89
- Peter Davison: 75
- Colin Baker: 44
- Sylvester McCoy: 43
- Christopher Eccleston: 26
- Paul McGann: 4+
- John Hurt: 4
As of the time of writing, Jodie Whitaker is at 46 but she’s projected to go up to 69 with all three seasons and 3 specials, but we’ll see. That would place her under Davison and over Colin Baker.
The other interesting bit is Sarah Jane Smith. Although not a Doctor, here’s someone who appeared throughout all of Pertwee’s last season, two and half more in Tom Baker’s era, The Five Doctors, in a few episodes during the Tennant era, and had her own show for several seasons. Her tally would actually be 138 and would put her in second place, below Tom Baker — which is kind of amazing.
In any case, there you have it. A slightly different look at just “how long” some of these Doctors were actually in action.