How Long Should A Doctor Last?

Recently I displayed a video on the regenerations of the Doctor and said it came about as I watched the last episodes of the ninth and tenth Doctor. Watching it as well got me thinking about the duration an actor should spend in the lead role.

William Hartnell left because of failing health among other things and was the first actor in the role. It’s really to Patrick Troughton that we go for the first instance of an actor choosing to leave the programme for reasons other than health. His tenure lasted for roughly three years as well and he in fact advised the fifth Doctor to spend that length of time in the role to among other things avoid typecasting.

I don't think Pertwee was typecast - what do you think, Worzel?

Having said that his successor in the role, Jon Pertwee spent almost five years in the role and it can’t be said that he suffered from being typecast in the role afterwards. Indeed he was fortunate to have a track record before of a certain type of actor for which being the Doctor was a departure. Afterwards he went on to make another imprint in popular culture through his role as Worzel Gummidge.

Tom Baker, however, remains the actor closest related to the role following his seven years in the role where he became the archetypal Doctor. In an interview he did suggest that it perhaps stopped him broadening his range when he left, but as with a lot of pronouncements by the man Tom Baker in public, it has to be taken with a pinch of salt. Admittedly however, he hasn’t done anything since playing his own smiling, curly-haired, long-scarfed incarnation of the Doctor to match it, though he has been able to get a cult following with his voice-over work on Little Britain.

Following Davison sticking to the three year advice, Colin Baker was actually looking to stay in the role for a lot longer not just in a bid to beat Tom’s record, but because of his desire to establish his own stamp on the role. Sadly he was hampered by poor stories, shifting times on the schedule, lacking support by production and the corporation as a whole and that meant he played the role for the least time of those who played the Doctor in the first stretch.

Sylvester McCoy was the last actor to play the part regularly and it’s generally regarded as a crying shame that his run ended when they removed the programme from the schedules. As he reached the latter stages there was a lot of interest in how he was developing the character and the stories seemed to be coming together to advance that. Apparently the audio material since then has fleshed that out. Yet he never had a significant run in the role.

Paul McGann had a TV Movie and little else to go by. Christopher Eccleston made the deliberate decision to only do one season, which in so many ways is a sad and rather bizarre decision. As a result David Tennant’s decision to do four years essentially worked in his favour establishing him as the Doctor for the new era and the decision to have a year of specials didn’t harm his credibility either. The amount of work he’s done around that and since then, suggests that he won’t be suffering from the typecasting concern that Troughton suggested.

It’s clear from Tom Baker’s epic run to David Tennant’s recent go that there has to be judgement in deciding how long an actor spends in a role. It cannot be down to just how fans view the actor whether he’s popular or not. There is the inevitable consideration as to whether the actor himself is comfortable in the role. Tennant more than any other actor has perhaps had the best run in the role getting the timing just about right.

This all brings us to the current incumbent – Matt Smith. Just because one guy had a good innings before him, it is no indication that he will necessarily have the latitude and flexibility that the predecessor had in how long he lasts. Yet there is still a lot of good feeling for the guy at the moment, he’s passed the one season decision of Tennant and he’s finished filming the second season. He’s now in a position to decide how much he wants to do. He could, as with Troughton and Davison, say that he’ll do one more season and that will be it. Few would begrudge him that and for the performances and stories in the first season in itself he would leave with the best wishes of others behind him.

Were he to take that decision, however, his successor would be an interesting position. If the series continues the successor’s first season would coincide with the 50th anniversary of the programme and with three actors already having played the role in the new era and the others from the original – that would be quite a burden to carry – or quite a challenge to enjoy depending on how the actor takes it.

Hey that’s all in the future, right. For the time being we do get a complete second Smith season to hopefully enjoy. Then decisions can be made about what happens in 2012 and beyond. It’s still a good time to consider – how long should a Doctor last?




2 thoughts on “How Long Should A Doctor Last?

  1. I just adore Matt Smith so much that I’d like him to stay forever. I am very grateful that Christopher Eccleston left after only one season, because I feel that his portrayal of the Doctor is the weakest. I have to say that I think Tom Baker did go on a bit long, though. I feel like maybe a five year run a la Pertwee is the ideal length of time. Really wish there was more Seventh Doctor stuff– three years is solid but the fact that each season was only 14 episodes of 25 minutes a piece is all too brief a stay.

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