back to article Doctor Who returns to our screens next week – so, WHO is the worst Time Lord of them all?

Perhaps 13 is unlucky for some. That is, if you decide that the current Time Lord played by Peter Capaldi – the man who became a household name as shouty, potty-mouthed Malcolm Tucker – is the worst Doctor of all time. And anyway, should one describe the bovver-booted Scot as number 13? After all, John Hurt was known as the …


  1. linicks

    Having met two of them...

    Being old enough to remember all the Who's, I met Jon Pertwee many years ago (see and he was a pretty good Doctor. Tom Baker is the best though.

    As to my vote. A few years ago I would have voted for Sylvester McCoy as the worst Doctor, but I bumped into him at Gatwick airport and then on arrival in Malta airport. We had a brief chat, me starting it off with "What's up, TARDIS broke?" - he replied something like "Nah, some Scottish bloke took it off me". Hah! We had a great chat waiting for the luggage. He went up a lot in my estimate as a being a great guy.

    Peter Davidson is/was the worst.

    1. Graham Marsden

      Re: Having met two of them...

      McCoy wasn't the worst, he was just saddled with the worst assistant, Bonnie Langford. He actually got some very good (and very dark) storylines, but with lousy scripts.

      It was a shame The Happiness Patrol was spoiled by the ridiculous Bertie Bassett-alike when there were nice references to the Paranoia RPG in it :-(

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: Having met two of them...

        but with lousy scripts.

        Not just lousy, he's admitted in interviews that they intentionally changed things to be as anti-establishment as possible, very much in the lefty-BBC-hates-Thatcher mould. By trying to make it a personal political crusade they just made themselves look stupid. Worst doctor by a mile.

      2. VinceH Silver badge

        Re: Having met two of them...

        Indeed. When I saw his episodes the first time around as a much younger person, I thought McCoy was awful - but watching them again some years later, I found I was able to appreciate his performance as the Doctor a lot better. He actually played him very well, and was definitely let down by other aspects.

      3. damworker

        Re: Having met two of them...

        I quite liked bonnie although I always thought she was about to sing a song from Annie.

        I hated sylvester at the time but caught a rerun a few months ago and he was quite good. He had a side kick IIRC called Ace who I detested. A right on girl hoodlum turned good with name to match who sounded like she was reading the news. Red Dwarf even used the same name for the good Rimmer a few years later.

        And I thought Corbyn was the latest Doctor. Feel free to add your own jokes about time travel to the 1970s.

        1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

          Re: Having met two of them...

          I HATED ACE. She reeked of something a coked up medja luvvie dreamed up to be down wiv da kids.

          1. Andrew Moore Silver badge

            Re: Having met two of them...

            We used to call her 'Arse'

          2. Tom 13

            Re: I HATED ACE.

            I loved her. She made a perfect counterpoint to the Doctor. One of the things I liked about her was that she stopped with constant screaming girl in distress syndrome that plagued the show. Yes, I like Sarah Jane too, but she screamed way too often. More in fact than many of the earlier companions. Once she started it lasted through Perry. So Ace was a very nice change.

      4. psychonaut

        Re: Having met two of them...


        you press the button.....CLANG!

        it sounds like something big fell off...

        great game.

    2. David 45

      Re: Having met two of them...

      Tom Baker I vote the best but can't decide the worst, being a toss-up between Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Peter Davidson. Thinks.........Probably Sylvester McCoy, methinks, again.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Having met two of them...

      I grew up with Tom Baker then PBS here stopped carrying the program. For years I thought the show ended and that he WAS the only Doctor.

      1. Phuq Witt

        Re: Having met two of them...

        "...I grew up with Tom Baker then PBS here stopped carrying the program. For years I thought the show ended and that he WAS the only Doctor..."

        In my view he WAS the only Doctor. Which is why I can't participate in the poll. Outside of Tom Baker [and Jon Pertwee], they were all the worst.

        As with everyone else though, I'm sure my viewpoint is coloured by which Doctor[s] were current when I served my apprenticeship behind the sofa, on a Saturday evening.

    4. asdf Silver badge

      Re: Having met two of them...

      >Tom Baker is the best though.

      Yep especially to us Yanks as mentioned above many don't even know any other doctor. And to the 30+ twits who voted for him as I write this, the question who was the worst not best, door knobs.

    5. Just Enough

      Re: Having met two of them...

      Well you can't judge the actor by the portrayal, and you can't take the portrayal on its own without the surrounding show. Sylvester McCoy was the worst Doctor. Totally not his fault, as the BBC were in the middle of flushing the programme down the toilet as cheaply as possible. But definitely the worst.

      Colin Baker was a close run next worst. Again, not his fault. For some bizarre reason they decided to make his persona as obnoxious as possible. So everyone hated him from the start. Poor guy didn't have a chance.

      1. Cthonus

        Re: Having met two of them...

        Interesting poll if you take into consideration the mellowing of Colin Baker's Doctor in the Big Finish audio plays. I agree that his television performance bordered on the horrendous but he's a decent enough actor not to blame the performer but the direction and the scripts.

        He's very good in the BF stories if anyone cares to listen.

      2. Tom 13

        Re: decided to make his persona as obnoxious as possible.

        Yes, that was a mistake. Which if you skip a year and come back they sanded down quite a bit. Oddly enough they seem to have repeated the mistake with Capaldi. It will be interesting to see if they sand him down a bit this season.

    6. Andrew Moore Silver badge

      Re: Having met two of them...

      To me, McCoy was always the clown from Vision On...

    7. Michael Strorm

      Re: Having met two of them...

      For a long time there seemed to be a media consensus that Peter Davison's portrayal was a disappointing, lightweight followup to Tom Baker that started the show's slow decline in the 80s. It's interesting that this seems to have changed in the past few years, with far more people taking a positive view.

      It's probably fair to say that whatever one thinks of Baker, the length of his reign and the strong character of his portrayal defined the Doctor for large swathes of people- *anyone* following him was going to have a hard time. I think the change is down to those of us not old enough to remember Baker well- if at all (and thus not having judged Davison in his shadow to the same extent) now being established adults, as well as many of those who watched the shows later being in a similar position.

      I started watching Doctor Who at the tail end of Tom Baker's reign. (#) But- sacriligeous as it is to say this (##)- I preferred Peter Davison and he's probably "my" Doctor. In some respects I can understand why those who grew up with Baker felt that way- but Davison was an intentionally different Doctor.

      Colin Baker I didn't like at all in the beginning. IIRC that improved slightly, to the point I was slightly sorry to see him go. I've seen bits of his stories since, and I'm still not sure to be honest, but it's hard to judge him given the ultimately misjudged character development he was given, along with the then-state of the show in general. In hindsight, it's clear some of the problems I associated with the McCoy era (pantomime tackiness) started here.

      Sylvester McCoy- maybe lacked a bit of gravitas for my taste, but again, hard to judge fairly- the majority of the dislike aimed at him probably had more to do with the scripts and the state of the show itself. I remember being unhappy about the increasingly pantomime-like direction it was taking during his era, but in hindsight it had actually started to improve in its final season. (###)

      (#) I have vague memories of the "new" starry title sequence replacing the "classic" tunnel one just before I turned five, which implies I- barely- remember the former too, but Baker's final "starry" season is the only one I really remember. IIRC I think I first watched it for the Daleks.

      (###) I remember thinking Survival was the best story in a long time, though I didn't realise it was the final one until years later, as the show hadn't been publicly cancelled at that point.

      1. chr0m4t1c

        Re: Having met two of them...

        >For a long time there seemed to be a media consensus that Peter Davison's portrayal was a >disappointing, lightweight followup to Tom Baker that started the show's slow decline in the 80s. It's >interesting that this seems to have changed in the past few years, with far more people taking a >positive view.

        I think that is because Tom Baker has such a huge presence, anyone following him (apart from perhaps Brian Blessed) was always going to look really flat in comparisson.

        Like many here, I think McCoy was probably one of the better doctors, but had both the worst scripts and production values so was always going to be in trouble.

        1. Michael Strorm

          Re: Having met two of them...

          @chr0m4t1c; Yes, essentially that's what I was trying to say when I said "strong character". I guess maybe if you'd grown up with 7 years of Baker, Davison might have seemed bland.

          I've heard it said that Baker was grumpier and more downbeat during his final season (#)- apparently this reflected changes behind the camera- so maybe that's why I didn't take to him as much. But as I said, it's also the fact that I didn't have the 7 years worth of Baker memories that older viewers would have that probably lent a less biased gloss to my viewing of his successor.

          They obviously wanted to Davison's successor to contrast again- but that obviously deliberate attempt at a "huge presence" Doctor (i.e. Baker #2's portrayal (##)) was quite clearly misjudged in hindsight.

          (#) The only one season I really remember. As I said, I remember the "tunnel" titles changing to the "starry" ones, so I must have already been watching when the former were still in use, but I don't really remember anything about those episodes beyond vague memories of wanting to see Daleks.

          (##) I just thought... they did "The Three/Five/Two/Sixteen-and-a-half Doctors", why not "The Two Bakers"? ;-)

  2. sawatts

    Sorry Colin, but if I have to choose... but the problem there was the lack of quality and commitment that the Beeb was putting into the show, not the actor.

    The "best" use to be easier - but Matt Smith threw a sonic spanner into that mix. When he and Tom appeared together - well, fortunately no one was present at the time to see a grown man go "squee!".

    Peter Capaldi is quite capable of filling the Time Lords shoes. Given how good Matt was in the role, he has to make *his* Doctor very different. I did get the impression his first season was still largely being written for Matt's character, and adapted. Hopefully the writers will be more in sync with the new character this year.

  3. Ol'Peculier

    I voted for Eccleston, not because he was the worse (and for those slating 6 & 7, that was more down to the writing and the declining budgets than acting style) but his continued reluctance to do anything connected with Who.

    Highly recommend finding "The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot" - one of the best things to have come out of the 50th birthday celebrations.

    1. PCar
      Thumb Up

      Re: "The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot"

      I have an x264 mp4 of that show.

      Amusing programme.

      Don't know if there is a PM mechanism here.

      If not some searching may uncover the show or similar.


      1. Ol'Peculier

        Re: "The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot"

        Actually don't need to do anything nefarious: it's still available on the BBC website:

    2. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Imagine the anniversary ep with Eccleston instead of Hurt. Everything would have been perfect. Even as Hurt was saying the lines I could hear Eccleston in my head. The grump should have put aside his concerns and tied it all up.

  4. graeme leggett

    Team effort

    What got onto the screen was a team effort.

    It included the actor's performance with what he had in the way of a script, aided and abeted by the producers, director, designer, special effects, what remained of the budget at that time during production, BBC staff strikes, personnel interactions, the alignment of the planets, uncle Tom Cobbley and all. (I've probably missed one or two factors out) .

    All compounded by BBC senior management who where for the most part happy to put the programme on the box, but didn't care to give it the resources it needed. The show flagged towards the end under a producer (JNT) who had served his time, was arguably out of ideas, and wanted out but found he couldn't leave because there was no-one to replace him.

    I think even if you don't like the programme's material at all (either before or after its rebirth), you would find the complexities and drama of the production an interesting tale. While on-screen it may have appeared like a undying national institution from 1963 for many years, behind the camera it lurched from problem to problem.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: Team effort

      You forgot the owner of the Quarry that serves at the Dr Who backlot especially when UNIT (and the Brigadeer) was involved.

  5. Chris King Silver badge

    Another vote for Smith

    Why ? Too young, too smug, and needed rescuing by Clara far too often.

    Capaldi could be great, if only they would give him some decent scripts to work with.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Another vote for Smith

      I couldn't agree more with your second point; Capaldi has all the ingredients to be truly brilliant except for the script. It's a crying shame because exactly the same could have been said for Matt Smith (in my opinion).

      I found the last series was very hit and miss (there were some spectacular eps mixed in with some that were utterly dire - the series finale was terrible!). I can't stand Clara (too smug, too pretty), and her own love interest side story was just crap.

      I hope they've got some different writers in this year!!

    2. CanadianMacFan

      Re: Another vote for Smith

      For me it wasn't the age or the smugness (though this didn't help). And at times it did seem like he was the assistant to Clara being the Time Lord.

      What really made him the worst for me, through no fault of his own, was that his Doctor gave up on what it meant to be the Doctor too easily. I know that they were trying to make him dark, going through a tough time, and having him be in some sort of inner struggle. But I felt that his first response to a situation was to blow up the bad guys. This really turned me off the show. I'd watch it but I stopped buying the box sets. One of the core items of being the Doctor for me is that he always gives the bad guys at least one chance at redemption. That seemed to disappear during the Matt Smith era.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Another vote for Smith

        Yes!! Another good point! The novelty Clara bailing out the Doctor wore off extremely quickly especially as it got used nearly every episode...

        I liked that they weren't going to do yet another Doctor/Assistant love story (no hugs!), but the assistant love story they put in its place was awful! The only feeling I experienced was that of apathy - I just didn't care. And what the hell happened to the Master!? They could have done so much more with this...

        But hey ho, I'm sure it'll be entirely different this time around :D

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Another vote for Smith

      And yet, when I mentioned the fact that I had stopped watching Doctor Who due to Smith's flat Doctor, I was flamed right here on this website's very forum.

      At least I am no longer alone...??

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Another vote for Smith

        You Are Not Alone :D


  6. ingie

    Difficult poll wording...

    When I look at questions for polls, I'm picky.

    With this one, the problem lies in the distinction between the question "Who played the worst Doctor Who?" and "Who was responsible for the worst Doctor Who?"

    The latter question is answered by name "Michael Grade".

    The former question [which was how our vulturazzi led us in] is Sylvester McCoy in my own thoughts, but not due to his portrayal or his skills, I really liked what he was trying to do. Colin, with his portrayal, was able to throw the production's bitterness at the executive into the character, and for me that worked. Sylvester's base character didn't really have the personality traits to allow him to shine, except in a slapstick corny way. He was desperately polishing Michael Grade's steaming turd.

    Oh, and Corbyn.

    because multi pass. chick-en. big badda boom. supreme being.

    1. graeme leggett

      Re: Difficult poll wording...

      For those who need their 6th and 7th Doctors redeemed from what the Beeb did for them, I can suggest the Big Finish audio productions where both Colin and Sylvester have had a chance to improve on what the 80s dealt them. Much as Paul McGann was able to move beyond his single on-screen appearance during the interregnum.

      Not just new original material but also with what scripts/scriptwriters available for the stories never made.

      1. CanadianMacFan

        Re: Difficult poll wording...

        I've come late to the Doctor Who universe and snot having seen the earlier TV shows I don't understand the reason why the earlier Doctors are so disliked. I've listened to their Big Finish audio dramas and have found them to be great. Colin and Sylvester are right near the top of my favourites. Perhaps it is a good thing that I haven't seen the older episodes.

      2. Chris King Silver badge

        Re: Difficult poll wording...

        I'll second that recommendation for Big Finish, their spin-off series and other ranges are pretty good too. Plenty of stuff free or for a fiver, and you get DRM-free downloads at no extra cost if you purchase CD's.

  7. Phil Endecott Silver badge

    The three following Tom Baker all blend together into a confusion of rubbish in my memory, but I've voted for Peter Davidson because his appearance made me think at the time "but he's Tristan off All Creatures Great And Small". Sylvester McCoy was probably even worse as the Doctor - he just clowned - but at least I could look at him without thinking about him having his arm up a cow.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      You just saved me some typing.

    2. Phuq Witt

      Peter Davison's Appearance.

      "...I've voted for Peter Davidson because his appearance made me think at the time "but he's Tristan off All Creatures Great And Small"...

      When I look at Peter Davison [in whatever he's in], all I can see is beige. I reckon he even bleeds beige. He's like cardboard made flesh.

      And he brought all those qualities to his portrayal of 'the Doc'.

      1. Simon Harris Silver badge

        Re: Peter Davison's Appearance.

        Didn't notice your post before, but I thought exactly the same thing elsewhere!

  8. GitMeMyShootinIrons

    For me, the worst would be Sylvester - but I tend to think it more the fault of the scripts and storylines than the actor. By this point, the series had truely devolved to a children's TV series. If Auntie aren't careful, Peter Capaldi could be heading down a similar path - a good actor hamstrung with poor storylines.

    For me, though, the best would be Tom Baker. It's the hat, scarf and maniacal eyes!

    1. Tom 13

      Re: and maniacal eyes!

      Have you seen him as Rasputin in the 1971 Nicholas and Alexandra?

      He was wonderful.

  9. croaker

    Sylvester McCoy

    His run was appalling but it wasn't his fault - he did his best with shite scripts, shite special effects and shite supporting actors

    1. Steve Crook

      Re: Sylvester McCoy

      I'd agree, except I'm not utterly convinced he'd have been better had the scripts etc. been better. But we'll never know. He certainly did suffer from the concerted effort of the BBC to rid itself of Dr Who by making it so crap no-one would watch. I'd always assumed he was part of the plan...

      Ironic that its become such a big thing for the BBC all over again, despite still having more than its fair share of dodgy stories, scripts and effects.

      For me, the one thing that would improve Dr Who out of all recognition would be to have the sonic screwdriver banned or at least not allowed anywhere near the last 20 minutes of any episode. At least then stories would have to rely on something else for that 'with one bound he was free' moment.

      Keep going back to it, watching a bit, not liking it, and still hoping that one day I will fall in love all over again.

      1. Paul Shirley

        Re: Sylvester McCoy

        The Big Finish audio stories confirmed that given a good script McCoy was a great doctor, much darker than the new series has managed. It surprised me after the shite tv episodes but yes, we can and do know.

        Colin baker has to be the worst, bitterness just isn't interesting and that was about all he brought to the part. Eccleston and Davison are close behind.

      2. Phuq Witt

        Re: Sylvester McCoy

        "...For me, the one thing that would improve Dr Who out of all recognition would be to have the sonic screwdriver banned or at least not allowed anywhere near the last 20 minutes of any episode..."

        There was a similar problem back in the day, when Tom Baker got saddled with the irritating K-9 who, likewise, tended to provide a tension spoiling 'Get out of jail free' card for every cliffhanging situation. I think that's why they got rid of the irritating hound.

      3. Tom 13

        Re: have the sonic screwdriver banned

        I concur that the sonic needs to go back to being the sonic instead of the ex machina Tool. Having watched the episode in which it was introduced, it was cool. I can even buy off on it opening mechanical locks by finding the right frequency. But this tricorder in a round thing with Treknology sensors plus stunner mode has got to go.

      4. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

        Re: Sylvester McCoy

        They deliberately destroyed the sonic screwdriver during one of Davison's episodes, pretty much for that reason..

    2. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Re: Sylvester McCoy

      He was the one who finally had me switching off. It probably wasn't solely his fault, just that it had become a pile of shite and he was mired in it.


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