The Doctor is such a phenomenally complicated character that it would be tough to select just one moment from each of his recent incarnations that fully illustrated what kind of a man he is (or was at that point in time, at any rate). And some of his behavior is so extreme that it’s hard for any actor to make it look like he knows what he is doing without alienating (no pun intended) onlookers on either side of the TV screen. It’s a role that requires great versatility.
Here are five performances, one per Doctor, that reveal not just the range and talent of the actors playing the part, they also reveal more about the Doctor’s personality than he usually likes to show.
Note: these clips are not necessarily in the order in which events occurred to the Doctor himself, what with all the timey and the wimey:
The Ninth Doctor: “Everybody Lives!”
The more we know about what happened to the Doctor in the aftermath of the Time War, the more we realize how his experiences changed his personality, the more moving this moment from “The Doctor Dances” becomes. This is the flip side to the angry, bitter exchange between the Doctor and the last Dalek in existence in “Dalek”; it’s a chance for him to feel the way he used to feel, back when he saved lives instead of being forced to take them. You can see hope blossom across his face, then relief, then giddiness and joy. And it’s made all the more powerful because Christopher Eccleston‘s Doctor was not a man given to many giddy moments.
The Tenth Doctor: “Time Lord Victorious”
There are sadder moments—River Song and Rose Tyler’s final goodbyes, the emotional exchange between the Tenth Doctor and Wilfred in “The End of Time,” any time Ten had to say “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry”—but this tiny clip delivers everything that makes the Doctor such an enigmatic figure in one magic bullet: He’s friendly, he’s cocksure, he’s meddling, he’s haughty, he’s cold, he’s bitter, he’s sure, he gets shaken to the core and finally he’s scared. Watch David Tennant‘s face for the changes, one after the other, each one a minor regeneration.
The Eleventh Doctor: “Take It All, Baby!”
The Eleventh Doctor’s tenure is a time of speeches and slapstick, of youthful hijinks and aged wisdom. One minute, he’s eating fish fingers and custard; the next, his face has collapsed in on itself because Amy and Rory have been zapped into the past by a Weeping Angel. And then there are the speeches, the moments when this most reflective of Doctors looks back on his long and eventful life with all the wonder and regret of an old and haunted man. This, from “The Rings of Akhaten,” is the most celebrated and rightly so.
The Eighth Doctor: “It’s Not My War”
“The Night of the Doctor” was not just a great performance from Paul McGann, whose time in the TARDIS pre-dated the reborn Doctor Who and was awfully short, but a complete surprise to fans of Doctor Who. We got to see the Doctor change from being the meddling outsider in the middle of a war zone to an active participant, to throw off his own mantle of “Doctor” in order to try and bring an interstellar atrocity to an end. And it also cemented several of the Eighth Doctor’s companions into Doctor Who canon and gave everyone the chance to see how we got from foppish Victorian Eight to the leather-jacketed hardnut Nine. It was a longer journey than we’d thought, judging by the youthful face of the War Doctor at the beginning of his incarnation.
The Twelfth Doctor: “Never Trust A Hug”
The Twelfth Doctor is a flinty man, a curmudgeon and a grump. But beneath that crusty exterior lies quite a scared individual who needs the reassurance of his closest friends rather more than he is prepared to admit. This moment from “Death in Heaven” shows both extremes, as the Doctor and Clara lie to one another, just to facilitate a happier farewell than either really wanted. We also get to see the Doctor lose his cool, taking his frustration out on the TARDIS console when it becomes clear that Missy was lying about the location of Gallifrey. There will be more emotive moments from Peter Capaldi to come, of course, but this shows that the Doctor is still just as capable of emotional extremes as ever.
And because we’re allowed to bend the rules a bit, let’s round this off with a clip of the War Doctor at his crabby best:
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