Ages of Doctor Who actors on their debuts

[A revised and improved version of this essay appears in my book The Eleventh Doctor: a critical ramble through Matt Smith’s tenure in Doctor Who.]

I mentioned in passing in my review of The Eleventh Hour that there seems to be definite downward trend in the ages of the actors playing the title role in Doctor Who, with the new incumbent Matt Smith illustrating the trend particularly well.  I said that I’d not done the analysis, but the idea tickled me, so here it is.

First, the raw data: the eleven doctors to date with their birth dates, debut dates in the role, and age at that time:

  • Actor                             Birth date             Debut date                Age
  1. William Hartnell        8 January 1908       23 November 1963    55
  2. Patrick Troughton      25 March 1920        29 October 1966         46
  3. Jon Pertwee                  7 July 1919               3 January 1970          50
  4. Tom Baker                    20 January 1934     8 June 1974                40
  5. Peter Davison              13 April 1951            21 March 1981           29
  6. Colin Baker                  8 June 1943              16 March 1984           40
  7. Sylvester McCoy         20 August 1943         7 September 1987     44
  8. Paul McGann             14 November 1959    27 May 1996              36
  9. Chris Eccleston          16 February 1964      26 March 2005         41
  10. David Tennant           18 April 1971             18 June 2005             34
  11. Matt Smith                  28 October 1982       1 January 2010         27

(Sorry about the formatting — I can’t find a way to get WordPress to display a table.)

Then I plotted those debut ages against Doctor Number and fitted a linear regression line:

You see the equation up there — the age of each new Doctor on his debut is approximated as 51.53 years minus 1.89 times the Doctor Number.  The banner finding is that each new Doctor is, on average 1.89 years younger than his predecessor was.

On one level I was surprised by how shallow that gradient is; then I realised that across the sequence of ten Doctors to that succeeded William Hartnell, the best-fit gradient of -1.89 means that the age has fallen by 18.9 years, which is fairly hefty — but not so hefty as I’d imagined.

Probably my perception was skewed by the first three Doctors all seeming so old, and the last two seeming so young — and indeed the first three were indeed the oldest, though nowhere near as old as I’d thought, or as you would guess watching them now.  And the two most recent Doctors are indeed the youngest and third youngest.  But in the middle part of the sequence (Doctors 4-9) there is no real pattern, and indeed the overall trend is upwards.

But some of those ages take a bit of believing.  Check out this montage (in chronological order from top to bottom, and from left to right within each line):

Can Patrick Troughton (#2, with the recorder on the top line) really have been only two years older than Sylvester McCoy (#7 with the hat in the middle row)?  And could William Hartnell (#1 to top left) possibly be only fourteen years older than Christopher Eccleston (bottom left)?  Well, that’s what it says in Wikipedia, so I guess it must be true.

What does it all mean?

Maybe the trend in actual ages of the actors is less interesting than the much stronger trend in their apparent ages.  Early in the run of Doctor Who, the actors portrayed the character at the upper end of the ranges that worked for them — William Hartnell played him as a man in his seventies and Patrick Troughton as a man in his sixties.  (I am talking about human years, of course: Time Lord years are seven times as long, just like the opposite of dogs, or something.)  By contrast, the last three Doctors, and especially the last two, have emphasised their youthfulness.  Here I am getting into deeper waters than I can comfortably navigate, but it’s tempting to think that this reflects a more general change in society — that there was a certain amount of reverence for age and experience in the early 1960s, but that youth is idolised now.

Speaking as one who is older than seven of the eleven Doctor were on their debuts (and closing in fast on Sylvester McCoy), I find this disheartening.

That there is still a role for older actors in Doctor Who was rather brilliantly demonstrated by Derek Jacobi, in his compelling role as the amnesiac Master in Utopia; but the weight and substance of his portrayal left me hungry for more, and the series has steadfastly refused to oblige me.  Doesn’t the idea of, say, Ian McKellan as the Doctor, do something for you?

I’d like to see it, anyway.

(Completely irrelevant side-observation to finish: it’s a real shame that they used John Simm, aka. Sam Tyler from the original UK Life on Mars, as the Master in Series 3, because that presumably bars him from ever being the Doctor, and he’d have been great.)


114 responses to “Ages of Doctor Who actors on their debuts

  1. I think one of the reasons the first few actors seemed so much older are the years in which they acted the part, and the goal of the writer/director at the time. Keep in mind the clothing styles of the 60’s and early 70’s plus the generational gaps between the earlier and latter generations. In a number of writings there are mentions of William Hartnell’s portrayal purposely being written and directed as the “old codger” and the “dotty old man” playing against Susan and the subsequent companion younger ages so as to present the changes in society during the times.

    Personally I think it was also done as an attempt at a generation joiner – the thought of a older more mature adult having fun galavanting around the Universe exploring, interfering, changing, and advancing stoic and oppressive cultures and races correlates, albiet slightly, to the changing winds of the time frame of society in the UK and Europe – in America as well but we didn’t have the show yet. :-)

  2. Since the show was originally targeted to a much younger audience, it makes sense to have the Doctor as a grandfather or batty uncle type.

  3. You see the equation up there — the age of each new Doctor on his debut is approximated as 51.53 years minus 1.89 times the Doctor Number. The banner finding is that each new Doctor is, on average 1.89 years younger than his predecessor was.

    This predicts that the 28th Dr Who will not yet be born at the time of his transformation. Horrors ! The Daleks will surely take over by then.

  4. Andrew Stevens

    I wholly agree with you. I’ve been agitating for an older man to play the Doctor for a very long time, though I may be biased since, in a sense, I grew up on Hartnell because that’s who was playing on public television when I became a fan of the show.

    However, I would like to point out that Companion ages, which dropped dramatically after Ian and Barbara and stayed down for the entire classic show (unless you count Lethbridge-Stewart as a Companion), have gone up dramatically in the new iteration of the show. William Russell, who played Ian and debuted at the age of 39 and left at 41, remained the oldest Companion ever for a very long time (at least 40 years), again unless you count Nicholas Courtney in which case he clearly wins. However, John Barrowman and Catherine Tate are pretty much William Russell’s age and one or the other of them probably holds the record now. (If you count Barrowman as a Companion in Utopia through Last of the Time Lords, he was the first Companion to be played by an actor older than the actor playing the Doctor. If you don’t, then Catherine Tate unequivocally got that distinction in 2008.)

    Having said all that, Matt Smith has not been as big a disappointment as I was expecting. Peter Davison’s youth kept him from being a great Doctor – he was too passive and simply could not project the gravitas and authority the Doctor needs, despite Davison’s unquestionable acting chops. (To Davison’s credit, every time I watch Caves of Androzani he becomes, for 90 minutes, my favorite Doctor.) I do not detect the same problem with Smith so far. Of course, it was brilliant of Moffat to introduce such a young Doctor by having him spend the first fifteen minutes with a 10 year old child. He survived even the goofy jokes in the script with his dignity more or less intact since there were no adults present to roll their eyes.

  5. I haven’t seen enough of Dr Who to make a definitive comment but it might be that the newer episodes are more action oriented, which in turn necessitates a younger actor as well.

    Also having only seen episodes in the new series, I liked Tennant much more than I liked Eccelston. The zaniness was a definite attraction for me.

  6. James Campbell Andrew

    I think John Simm *could* have played the Doctor. Imagine the comic effect of his first line (looking in a mirror):”You have *got* to be kidding me!”

  7. AG wrote: “I liked Tennant much more than I liked Eccelston. The zaniness was a definite attraction for me.”

    I know that most people do seem to prefer Tennant over Eccleston, but I always felt that Eccleston’s portrayal hinted consistently at greater depths than Tennant’s did. I suppose trying to compare them right now is pointless, given that Tennant is still so very fresh in people’s minds. When Smith has completed his own first series, maybe we’ll be better able to look back on his two predecessors with a clearer eye.

    (But to be fair to Tennant, his performance in Human Nature/Family of Blood is the best I’ve seen from any Doctor.)

  8. Expect the trend to continue downwards for the twelfth and thirteenth Doctors, and then a _much_ older actor for Fourteen as a way of getting around the no-more-regenerations problem. 8)

  9. Chris Davis

    After watching several Doctor’s I still think Tom Baker is the best Doctor, (but then again he was my first Doctor so maybe in my mind I compare others to him).

    My list goes as:
    1. Tom Baker
    2. Paul McGann (really a shame we did get more of him)
    3. David Tennant
    4. Chris Eccleston
    5. Peter Davison

    Didn’t watch enough of the others to feel like I should comment on them.

  10. Most all of this speculation is moot. It was stated a long time ago that when the Doctor regenerates, he gets physically younger:

    —-“The role of the Doctor had been played by William Hartnell at the programme’s inception in 1963. However, by 1966, it was increasingly apparent that Hartnell’s health was deteriorating and he was becoming more difficult to work with. By the time the second story of Season 4, The Tenth Planet, was greenlighted, the decision had been made to replace Hartnell. Script editor Gerry Davis proposed that, since the Doctor had already been established as an alien, the character could die and return in a new body. Producer Innes Lloyd further suggested that the Doctor could do this “renewal” regularly, transforming from an older man to a younger one. This would allow for the convenient recasting of the role when necessary”—-

    Also, there should not be a a 28th or 14th Doctor, as there is a limit of 12 regenerations:

    —-“It is first stated in The Deadly Assassin (1976) that a Time Lord can regenerate twelve times before dying (thirteen incarnations in all). There are exceptions to this rule, however; when a renegade Time Lord known as the Master finds himself at the end of his regenerative cycle, he takes possession of the body of another person to continue living (The Keeper of Traken, 1981), although he was using the Source of Traken to bind his mind to the body. It may be that the Time Lords also have the ability to circumvent the limit — in The Five Doctors (1983) the Master is offered a new cycle of regenerations by the High Council in exchange for his help. The fact that the Master is inhabiting a non-Gallifreyan body at the time implies that it is possible to grant them to a non-Gallifreyan, albeit one inhabited by a Time Lord mind. In “The Sound of Drums” (2007) the Master is revealed to have been granted a new body by the Time Lords during the Time War with at least one new regeneration.”—-

    That is not to say that we can count on the current and future writers and producers to stay consistent with what came in the past, but there are already explanations/rules, and to speculate on them when they are known is pointless. Speculating what may be done for a 14th doctor to exist might be valid…. Since the ruling council, and all timelords, died during the time war, it seems there wouldn’t be a way to grant more regenerations to the Doctor. However, the Doctor was President of Gallifrey in the past, so perhaps he already has the authority/knowledge/whatever to grant it to himself…

  11. Um, just a couple thoughts from a ‘yank’ across the pond who used to see Doctor Who on Public Telly here — since everyone else has tackled the non-fiction angle I thought I’d take a stab at the fiction one:

    1/ Um, they’re called *TIME* Lords. It’s all about non-linearity of *time* including concepts of ‘age’. And along that line,

    2/ What if ‘youth’ is their version of ‘growing old’? Seems to me the symptoms are much the same coming from one end and going to the other. Maybe the Time Lords (who live in and out of time in a non-linear fashion) would see this paradox more as a rite of passage or something even less.

    3/ Why do I suspect that this was *planned* from the very beginning?? I predict that the next Doctor will be even younger, and by 2050 Doctor Who will *really* be a chidrens’ show.

    I think the only thing that would really distress me is if they made Doctor Who some type of ‘hipster’ or trendoid. But that’s just me.

  12. Eccleston is currently my favorite doctor. Though I also wonder what I’ll think over time.
    Aside from providing a fine performance (and my fondness for “The North”) I think he was greatly aided by an extreme air of mystery of the series reboot started with… what had happened to the Timelords? Why was he darker? Where did he come from? Etc.
    Like in an old Pertwee/Baker episode where the monster is terrifying when it’s in the shadows but laughable when you see the rubber suit, one of the issues I had with the new series as a whole is that the mystery faded over time to be replaced by the effects, culminating in finally revealing the whole backstory leaving no direction to go but towards special effects. I’m holding my breath more on the series writing than Smith to see how it develops next.

  13. Squidfood, I think you have hit on it — this is about the most insightful comment I’ve read on New Who. Like the alien in Alien and the shark in Jaws, the Time Lords work better when off the screen, or glimpsed only in passing.

  14. Rusty Bias

    First, it’s nice to see someone else as picky on the points about both the Time Lords and The Doctor. :-)

    Second, I agree mostly on your point about 12 regenerations. If we remember back to The Deadly Assassin again there are points made regarding the Eye of Rassilon and The Master attempting to use it’s power to gain additional regenerations. Couple that with the Time Lords granting him an additional regeneration for the Time War I begin to wonder if the power granted the Time Lords via Rassilon and Omega may be focused and intensified on The Doctor as the only Time Lord – especially now that The Master is either disintegrated by the glove worn by the Lord President (he’s called Rassilon but I very much doubt it’s the “real” one) or trapped in the Time Lock – granting him the ability to either additional or unlimited (more likely in the scenario) regenerations.

    On a side note to everyone in general, I am a bit put off by the mentions of Doctor Who being a “children’s” program. Yes, that was the original intent of it’s development but it quickly moved into an adult fan base and subsequently written toward a mixed audience. While some of the scenes, characters, and lines were and are geared toward younger viewers, I can’t help but think the references to technology, science, and, unfortunately, war and death are a bit over the head of a “child”. If we go back to the original series, most recognized during the Tom Baker years, I would have been horrified allowing my children to watch a show where people were killed by removing the space between their molecules (Tissue Compression Eliminator) by The Master, or by the terrifying cry of “EXTERMINATE!” and a blast of radiation. This is even more true if you consider the decades in which these episodes ran on television. Now, in the 21st century, we see death and destruction all over TV and in the theater, but – and I’ll ask to be corrected if wrong as I was born in 1970 and can’t speak to the 60’s or early 70’s – I doubt portrayals of this type of action was as wide spread.

  15. PharaohMD

    I’m a Yank married to a Brit, both of us born near ’70 and not crossing cultures until much older.

    For my wife in the ’70s, the show was a “children’s” show watched every week, but what she remembers most was “hiding terrified behind the couch at the age of 4(!) when the Daleks or Autons showed up.” So it was terrifying (many of her contemporaries I know have similarly fond memories), but still on as a children’s show that her parents let her watch, or watched with her.

    But then again, “children’s” does not have to be a mark of unsophistication. There were some fine, fine shows for children in Britain at the time, if not as frightening, at least witty for adults (within the last year my wife introduced me to the pleasures and humor of a DVD of Ivor the Engine; “children” does not, nor should it, equate with “dumbed down” and the great writers/producers seem to get this). Saying something is a “children’s” show is not automatically a badge of shame.

    For myself in the U.S., the show was an obscure British import watched by the adult geek set but not the general public, considered adult alongside Blakes’ 7, and definitely (when I discovered it in the early 1980s) a ticket to being considered a “true sci-fi geek” among tape-traders at a convention or other geek gathering. There was no childrens’ association at all that I can remember (since the first character I saw on screen when I happened on the show was Leela, it was in fact a bit “adult” to the 12-year old me in a different way :) ).

    I have to say, the revival has been the rare show pleasing to both the very geeky and non-geeky in our family based on common but very different associations. If it wasn’t for the “children’s” billing it had, we wouldn’t have that!

  16. Thank you, squidfood. Points taken!

    I came across as “children’s” meaning “dumbed down” but not the intent, more as a playful, toyish type show (see Teletubbies).

    US television has usually been behind UK – I now watch more BBC/ITV online and BBC America than US stations – so I will defer to others who have more experience with that time.

    Thankfully I was able to catch Monty Python, The Prisoner, Fawlty Towers, Blake’s 7, Yes, Minister, Yes, Prime Minister, I, Claudius!, etc. through the blessing of publicly funded television! :-)


  17. I seem to recall a decision was made between Doctors 3 and 4 to start casting younger actors for the Doctor so that they could do more in the way of action sequences themselves. (This is why that UNIT physician disappeared after so few episodes—he’d originally been meant to be the action surrogate for an older Doctor; when they cast a younger Doctor he was no longer needed.)

  18. PharaohMD — speaking as a Brit, I am delighted that you found, and have enjoyed, classics like Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, and Yes (Prime) Minister, all of which I know and love and quote endlessly. (By the way, if you’re not familiar with Blackadder, then I strongly suggest you add it to that list.)

    But, still speaking as Brit, it shames that all of these at twenty years old or more. When I look at more recent shows that I’ve love they are nearly all American: Veronica Mars, Buffy/Angel, Firefly, The Simpsons, Frasier and (I may as well admit it) Friends. In that company, Doctor Who is the lone Brit.

    We may as well face it: intelligent TV has packed up and left the UK, and moved to America. (Where, yes, I fully realise it forms only a tiny, tiny proportion of all the TV that’s broadcast.)

  19. I’m not sure on that point. I’d quote some of the more recent shows – albiet some of the remakes of old favorites – Torchwood (of course), Primeval, Sanctuary, Being Human, Survivors, Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes, Dead Set, Paradox, and The Day of the Triffids just to name a few.

    I bow to the references you made as I loved all (except Friends but *shrug*) but don’t forget the majority of those you mentioned started 5-10 years ago.

    It’s becoming a mix-mash of both sides of the Atlantic and I think that would be the best if it can continue. I attribute the flow to the Sci Fi channel (sorry, I can’t STAND the rebrand) and BBC America. I hope it keeps going!

  20. I suspect the idea early on was to have the companions be the “audience identification characters” – the character the viewer sees themselves as taking the place of.

    With younger Doctors, the Doctor himself becomes more available for audience identification.

    They’re pretty lucky, actually, that they’ve been heading this way all along, and whomp, 2010 comes along, with wider distribution and merchandising, and what do you know, they’ve got characters of a good age to capitalize on the huge youth market.

    I’ll also add that it’s interesting that Peter Davison apparently started just two years older than the newest guy, but appeared considerably older (mid-30s at least) and the new guy is very youthful looking for his age.

  21. There’s still gems on both sides… IMO the filter of the Atlantic does wonders for dropping out the dross in both directions. Right now, when you’re tired about arguing on merits of various Doctors (hmm, though that never gets old), you can always switch to arguing about the various Robin Hoods.

  22. Jon H, yes, it’s well established that the companions were the viewer-identification characters early on in Doctor Who. I suppose it’s harder for most viewers to identify in these days when the companions are all so glamorous (with the honourable exception of Donna), but I certainly don’t see that it’s become correspondingly easier to identify with the Doctor himself: if anything, he seems more remote than ever, with his ever-growing list of gadgets, superpowers and action heroics, not to mention all the You Will Fear Me heroics. Despite the age difference, I think it would have been less of a stretch to identify with Jon Pertwee’s or Tom Baker’s relatively limited and fallible Doctors.

    Good point about Peter Davison, though: yes, he seemed much more then two years older than Matt Smith does — just as (say) William Hartnell appeared much more than 14 years older than Christopher Eccleston. Although it’s too subjective to quantify, there is definitely a strong trend here.

  23. Moff himself postulated a bit of a theory on this in the “Time Crash” Children in Need sketch: he essentially implied that when one is actually a young adult, one has a need to appear older than one actually is, whereas at some later point (usually middle age and older) one tries to appear younger than one really is.

    One COULD postulate that the Doctor’s outward appearance is to some degree determined by how he thinks of himself, so he’s clearly finished with trying to “appear” older and now wishes to “appear” younger. But that’s just applying a fanwanky cover-up to the truth of the situation: people are more youth-focused today and so our heroes have to be more youthful.

  24. I think part of this is that the age of good actors willing to take on a multi-year series with only 13 annual episodes has dropped. The profession has changed, society has changed, and the supply of quality actors interested in such a part is certainly better than it was for early doctors. Cable has increased the demand for actors with more experience in adult roles.

    This doctor isn’t a bust, beyond that I can’t guess.

  25. Society has changed, but rather than the respect for age, which I am sure holds merit, there is also the average attitude towards age gap in relationships. While the doctor only has flirtatious relationships with his female companions, society today would frown on an elderly man with a young woman, and the majority of male fans, and I suspect that Dr Who is aimed at a predominantly male demographic, prefer younger, prettier, female companions, thus, the Dr, regardless of his timelord age, needs to appear younger. Also, many of the older Dr Who fans probably quite like the idea, when identifying with the Dr, of regenerating as a young man attractive to younger women. Also, this helps appeal to the younger demographic, as they can relate better, so all round they’re upping the pool of possible viewers. I think that this trend will stick until society changes, however Dr who will not get significantly younger, unless a spinoff is created to appeal to young teens, and I doubt that would work with Dr Who. (If it did, it would be a travesty.)

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  27. I don’t know if anyone’s asked yet, but has anyone plotted the relative ages of the Doctor’s companions? At first glance I think it’d be relatively steady, but I’m not sure.

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  30. Being (within several months), the same age as the show, it is somewhat disconcerting to be already old enough to be the father of the actor playing the Doctor.

  31. Calli Arcale

    “Doesn’t the idea of, say, Ian McKellan as the Doctor, do something for you?”

    Oh, that’d be awesome! Though I think I might rather see him as a baddie. I’ve seen him as both good guys and bad guys, and he seems to have much more fun when he’s being evil. ;-)

    Others I’d love to see on the series:
    * Jonathon Pryce (him as the Master in “Curse of Fatal Death” just made me hungry for more)
    * Judi Dench (could make a very distinguished third Romana)
    * Patrick Stewart as anything (though the resulting geekgasm could possibly rend the fabric of space-time)

  32. id like to give an opinion based on my citizenship in the united states :D personally, i really think there is something to be said about sex appeal. here in the united states, the older doctors would never have been as mainstream popular as the show is now. In fact, the show didnt really take off on SyFy and BBC America untill tennant took the part.
    For example, Americans like Obi Won Konobi and Dumbledor, but we are in it for the cute Harry and the sexy Han Solo.

    I think as the show becomes more and more internationally popular, writers and producers saw a need to make the main character more appealing, and younger with more action, more quirks and such really seems to work.

    hugh laurie as house seems to be an exception to this rule . . .

  33. Carrie wrote “I think as the show becomes more and more internationally popular, writers and producers saw a need to make the main character more appealing,”

    You mean change the things that made the show so internationally appealing, and allowed it to endure for 45 years?

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  35. Chris Purcell

    I want them to cast Alan Rickman as the next Doctor, complete with his trademark sarcasm. A radical shift, perhaps, but he _is_ awesome, and at 64 would be the oldest Doctor by a clear margin.

  36. Perhaps it’s an allusion to Merlin. Merlin is a wizard who gets younger the longer he lives. The Doctor is a wizardy type of character who gets younger with each regeneration.

  37. If the Doctor keeps getting younger with each regeneration, that is why he only gets 12 regenerations…. unless he takes over someone else’s body, like the Master did.
    Visit my blogs about the Naked Doctor and the Doctor and Vincent at:
    I have the Jon Pertwee shower video posted there !

  38. Brilliant blog! I’ve been pondering this for a while now and you just summed it all up! :)

  39. I’ve noted your theory in my blog about the Regeneration of the Doctor.
    Meanwhile, the news is that he actually has an unlimited amount of regenerations. So, we’ll have to wait and see !

  40. I would like to point out that somewhere in Tennants reign, it was established that The Doctor was different and would not be subject to the 12 regenerations rule.

    I can’t remember where.. I’ll find it later.

  41. Chris, I am pretty sure you’re mistaken. I know the Tennant run well, I’ve seen all the episodes three times each or more, and I don’t recall anything about cancelling the 12 regenerations rule. Are you maybe thinking of the recent Sarah Jane Adventures episode Death of the Doctor in which Matt Smith’s incarnation told Clyde that he had 507 regenerations? (Russell T. Davies, who wrote that episode, says the line was intended as a throwaway joke.)

  42. If ever there’s a need for an older, 12th Doctor, I’d like to suggest this guy

    You might consider him the middle brother of Jon Pertwee and David Tennant. You get glimpses of the later in SPJ’s presentations.

  43. Damn Quilty

    Okay. Im new, really new at Doctor Who. But here is a, maybe really stupid theory, —yes, the main reason to cast younger actors is to attract more audiences—, but lets thinks of a reason with in the show plot..-well, looking at the ages in the chart, this theory doesnt hold back-, either way I will expose it: there a limited number of regenerations, as the audience we dont know how many the Doctor has left, but with every time he regenerates he becomes younger until he dissapears…Yes I know is a total rip-off Benjamin Buttom; to be honest is the only reason, apart from targeting younger audiences to watch the show…that I could came with. Even if is it a total rip off, wich is it, I think is lame to got such a great character to just dissapear in the thin air— so the idea is stupid…

  44. If we’re going with the assumption that the Doctor is stuck to the 12 regenerations rule, then it would make sense. Each regeneration can be seen as a “reset button,” so the Doctor would go to a younger form. [SPOILER] But with the events in “The Impossible Astronaut”, we have to question if the Doctor will make it to that 12th regeneration at all.

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  46. Richard Fennah

    Gregg Sulkin will be next.

  47. Tom Baker is the best Doctor.

    But you forget one Dr Who actor who simply MUST be included; Peter Cushing. Co-star in two DALEKS movies (from 1965 and 1966) (yeah co-star, the Daleks wwere the stars, DUH!)

  48. I don’t count Peter Cushing because he was not so much another Doctor as a different actor playing (a strange version of) the First Doctor. Remember that both his films are remakes of TV series from the First Doctor’s run. (For what it’s worth, neither does the BBC, even though it does count Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor.)

    Oh, and Matt Smith is the best Doctor. By a long way. Which is high praise.

  49. I’m not sure I agree with you on this, it seems to me that the Doctor is usually played by a man between his mid 30s and mid 40s with the 5th and the 11th being exceptions. It seems like they usually just pick the actor that they think is best suited to the role without regard for age and that actor just sometimes happens to be younger than the others. I’d also like to point out that a lot of fans had difficulty warming up to the 11th Doctor at first, partly because they felt he was too young and I’d imagine the 5th probably had similar difficulties.
    I know a lot of people didn’t like him, but Eccleston will always hold a special place in my heart.

  50. Well, you can’t disagree with the regression line. No bout that producers thought they were “just picking the actor that they think is best suited to the role without regard for age”. But their perception of what actor is best suited to the role is profoundly affected by the societies they lived in; and the society of the 60s had more respect for age and less infatuation with youth than the one we live in now. Take Five and Eleven out of the graph and there’s still a strong trend.

    Agreed on Eccleston, though. I think he’s probably my second favourite, after Matt Smith.

  51. I thought I would mention, on that second collage Hartnell is over 60. That’s why he looks over 60. Troughton’s picture is from later time as well IIRC. Both from “the Three Doctors” era, I think.

  52. Good point, Kalontas, thanks for that.

  53. Dr Riversong is also a Timelord, and she doesn’t turn younger thru her regenerations. (at the begging she’s a child, regenerate in an alley, then turn into Amy’s bestfriend as a teenager and then turn 40-looking,as the final Riversong we know).
    So, arguments about timelords getting younger is invalid. This is just about making the show more attractive to the (youngest) audience. And I admit that I looooove it :)

  54. Well, no; River is not a Time Lord — she is human, the daughter of human parents. Having been conceived and gestated on board the TARDIS has resulted in her having some timey-wimey qualities, most notably a (limited) ability to regenerate, but it doesn’t make her a Time Lord.

  55. Just wanted to throw in my two cents but what if as Time lords age they get younger again. That would be very cool. I wouldn’t put it past them to possibly throwing that in and becoming part of a plot of some sort.

  56. Anjali Pasupathy

    I think it’s important to note that for your regression, the r^2 value is about .5465; this means that only about 54.65% of the change in the Doctor’s age when he premiered can be accounted for by your regression. But this doesn’t matter– you can’t use the numbers 1-11 for your x variable, because 1-11 are categories (WHICH Doctor), not quantities, and you can’t use a categorical variable in a linear regression; only quantitative variables. To improve on this, I decided to run a regression in which the YEAR in which the actor premiered as the Doctor is on the x-axis (making 0=1963, 1=1964, etc. to simplify things). This gives the points (0,55), (3,46), (7,50), (11,40), (19,29), (21,40), (24,44), (33,36), (42,41), (42,34), and (47,27); the regression is as follows:
    y = -.373x + 48.615
    r^2 = .5298
    The accompanying scatterplot looks pretty trustworthy, though the Fifth Doctor is an outlier. Eliminating his point results in this regression:
    y = -.391x + 50.291
    r^2 = .7172
    The scatterplot and line look like they fit a bit better than they did before (which is why outliers are eliminated and regressions rerun without them). And the r^2 value is MUCH higher than it was before: about 71.72% (not just 52.98%) of the variation in the Doctor’s age when he first premiered can be explained by the equation above. Not nearly high enough to market a drug, but pretty good for your average psychological study, and certainly good enough for an examination of the ages of the actors playing the Doctor.
    Conclusion: On average, the Doctor has been getting a younger body when a new actor premieres, but the regression predicts that for each additional 10 years, the premiere actor’s age is expected to decrease by about 4 years. But it’s important to note that this only applies to the 49 years of data we have right now; come another Doctor or two, the whole model may change.

    Also, for fun, I decided to run a regression in which I included the actor’s age each year, as well as their premiering age. These are the results:
    y = -.410x + 51.385
    r^2 = .5762
    One look at the scatterplot shows that this particular regression can’t be trusted, but it was fun to do. (:

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  58. Aaron from Oz

    After seeing some stories from the classic series and the movie with Paul McGann as well as all of new Who, I have to admit that Eccleston (#9) was my favourite doctor as he had a certain flair for the dramatic. Other than that, Matt Smith (#11) is awesome in the role as he is able to be broody and hide his true motivation as Chris could. By the way, I have to agree with Mike Taylor, Professor River Song was human, hr parents were Matt’s companions, Amy and Rory. Finally, the Doctor is definitely NOT a rip off of Benjamin Button, the Doctor is an alien Time Lord from the planet Galifrey.

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  60. Pamela Butler

    The Dr is not only becoming younger but also thinner!

  61. Okay. You’re regenerating. Do you want an old new body or a young new body? I think it’s been said they aim for 30s to early 40s when casting.
    That being said, Matt Smith is wrestling with Tom Baker for the top spot on my list. The depth of his portrayal is going to be hard to match. He plays the old soul with a young face SO well.

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  63. I think “Time Crash” offers the best explanation: (10th to 5th Doctor) “You know, I loved being you. Back when I first started, at the very beginning, I was always trying to be old and grumpy and important—like you do, when you’re young. And then I was you, and it was all dashing about and playing cricket and my voice going all squeaky when I shouted. I still do that, the voice thing, I got that from you. Oh, and the trainers. And… [putting his glasses on] snap! ‘Cos you know what, Doctor? You were my Doctor.”

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  65. William Roentgen

    Well. The most recently revealed Doctor, John Hurt, is 73 – but we don’t know where he lies in the regeneration sequence yet (#1,#9, or > #11 seem most likely). It’ll be interesting to see what that does to the fit.

  66. time to update your chart again with Capaldi belng the same age as Hartnell! and thanks for this page by the way, first site I found when I wanted to check out all the ages together and saved me the research

  67. Stuart Fenton

    Peter Capaldi at 55 + 8 months will be the 2nd oldest, missing out on the oldest spot by only a couple of months when he appears at the end of the Christmas show, and older when he takes on the role properly next year.

  68. Great piece! I’m guessing this is going to get quite a few more hits thanks to the announcement today. It’s interesting to see that Capaldi is as old as Hartnell was when the show first aired.

  69. New Doctor, Peter Capaldi, at 55, is the same age as William Hartnell when he played The part. Still not ginger though!

  70. Your prayers seem to have been answered as Peter Capaldi is only slightly younger than Hartnell on his debut … formula blown out of the water though :)

  71. Danica Edwards

    THe newly revealed twelth doctor is joint oldest with William Hartnell. I wonder how that effects the figures?

  72. It seems that Peter Capaldi will be approx. 55-56 when he debuts as the 12 Doctor next season. That’s about the oldest since William Hartnell…taking over directly from the youngest actor to accept the role, Matt Smith (who was 27 when he debuted.

    How does fit into your analysis?

  73. So, new Doctor is 55. What do you all say to that then?!

  74. Well 12th Doctor, Peter Capaldi, at 55 is the same age as William Hartnell (well give or take six months). Finally, an older Doctor again!

    Maybe you could do an update as there’s bound to be more people stumbling on this article as they ask themselves where the new Doctor fits in age-wise.

  75. I quite like your take on this. Stumbled onto this article looking for the ages of the Doctors when they started – Peter Capaldi is in 55, I believe.
    That presents an interesting question – now that the trend has been shot, are we looking at a younger or older 13th Doctor?
    … That’s years away, however. :P

  76. Now that Doctor #12 is officially Peter Capaldi, age 55, the tenor of the series will of necessity shift toward a more intellectual plane, since the action aspect must be reduced to accommodate a man of his age. Series 8 should be fascinating.

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  78. And the just announced 12th Doctor will be the oldest actor to tackle the role since Harntell originated it. I’m pretty happy to see a return to an older Doctor. I’ve quite enjoyed the last couple actors, but the trend of having Companions having romantic entanglements with the Doctor has gotten tiresome.

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  80. Morten Andersen

    And then we have come full circle back to 55 with the latest incarnation.

  81. It must be said though that 55 years old today is often different than it was 50 years ago, as people tend to be more active now (though paradoxically our societies are more obese now). No disrespect to William Hartnell who was great, but Peter Capaldi doesn’t seem as old even though he’s the same age. So wouldn’t assume that we’ll see a less frenetic Doctor Who, though I’d be quite happy if we do.

  82. I do agree — speaking as a 45-year-old man, I am sure I feel and behave much younger than my parents’ contemporaries when I was 15. I think that generally, the tendency towards longer lives is playing out not just in extension of old age, but in its postponement. Capaldi look much less aged than Hartnell, and that reflects a general trend in society.

  83. Probably to be more accurate, you should have used the age of the previous actors FINAL appearance to the incoming actor’s debut. Example, Colin Baker’s outgoing age was 43, compared to Sylvester McCoy’s incoming age which was 44. True, McCoy is still older, but only by 1 year rather than 3.

    By doing it this way, then Eccleston’s incoming age of 41 would be YOUNGER than McGann’s outgoing age of 45 (since, McGann was the “sitting” Doctor from 96-2005).

    The data would still show a “getting younger” trend, but I think it would be more accurate to compare the outgoing age to the incoming age, rather than just incoming age to incoming age.

  84. Ok, I did the math, and the average age of the actor portraying the Doctor at first appearance is converging on 42. (Douglas Adams fans will appreciate that.) Here’s my data:

    Click to access DoctorWhoAges.pdf

  85. And then Peter Capaldi blows everything up as he will (by debut dates) be the oldest doctor.

  86. A slightly more aesthetic presentation of your chart…

  87. 42 is the answer! :) Nice chart DevinDerry, adding Peter Capaldi in there with a steep rise in the line would show what an abrupt change of course his casting is. At 27 years, it’s the biggest jump in age yet for the Doctor actors – basically doubling Matt Smith’s age for his successor.

  88. Thanks jabalong 8). I’m working on a Star Trek graphic now, but plan on adding P. Capaldi asap. And yes, should make a dramatic change to the piece!

  89. And here it is ready for the new season. Kudos to Moffat & crew for bucking the trend of ever younger Doctors….

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  93. Why does everyone seem to forego the War Doctor- John Hurt, age 73 at the debut of his Doctor!

  94. @Ian: Because we ourselves don’t have a TARDIS. Check the date on the original blog post: 2010. The War Doctor had not yet been revealed. Heck, we hadn’t even met Clara yet.

  95. @Ian: Actually, I guess you’re referring to the updated chart posted in November last year. Yeah, it’d seem John Hurt could belong on there, but where? He’s between 8 and 9 in the series of doctors, but after Matt Smith at the point he debuted.

    They include McGann, and both Hurt and McGann had the same number of TV episodes… (McGann did way more audio dramas, however.)

  96. While John Hurt could be included for fun (though I wouldn’t), he’s really just a footnote to this graph. What we’re talking about here really is the evolution in thinking (by the BBC and Doctor Who’s producers) as to the appropriate age in casting the lead actor to carry forward the franchise. Since the War Doctor was never going to be more than a one-off guest appearance, beyond that special the age of the actor cast was entirely inconsequential.

  97. Hurt HAS to be taken into consideration as he IS an official Doctor, thus throwing him and Capaldi in to the data skews the results dramatically from what is implied in the article above…

  98. I think I agree that if Paul McGann is included then John Hurt has to be, too. Yes, it changes the graph — I should really do an updated version of this post.

  99. I’m not disputing that Hurt is an official Doctor, but he’s not like the other ones. All the others were cast with the expectation that they would be the lead in an ongoing series. As far as I understand it, this is the same for McGann, as while his appearance was in a TV movie, the hope was that it would be popular and become a series.

    Hurt is a completely different beast, as there was never any expectation that he would be anything but a one-off, guest star. As such, they were much freer as to who they could cast. So the fact that they were willing to cast an old guy for Hurt is meaningless, unlike for Capaldi where it was a bold decision after a long string of younger doctors.

    To my mind that’s what this chart is really about – it’s the evolution over time of what BBC executives were willing to accept in terms of casting the leading role in Doctor Who. As such, Hurt doesn’t fit. But it’s not my chart, so can do as you please. Or maybe I can suggest that if you do update this post, you can post two versions – one with Hurt and one without. ;-)

  100. That is an excellent point, jabalong. When I get around to doing this, I probably will do three versions of the chart: one without Hurt, one with him in between McGann and Eccleston (following in-universe chronology) and one with him in between Smith and Capaldi (following casting chronology).

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  104. Does John Hurt count in this now?

  105. I don’t think so — but Peter Capaldi obviously does.

  106. Old Doctor Who broken down into a mathematical equation, brilliant! Worthy of the great man himself!

  107. Also, keep in mind that John Hurt’s Doctor was much younger when he first appeared in the Night of the Doctor. Surprisingly given how much danger he was in relative to his other regenerations, he was actually around long enough for his regeneration to age a lot as opposed to most of the others.

  108. Shan, how do we know how long the War Doctor lasted?

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  112. as a time lord, isnt the doctor suppose to be getting younger with each passing period? if that be the case the doctor should be about teenager or a tween by now. yes?!

  113. There was never intended to be any consistent trajectory to the Doctor’s apparent age.

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