How many Doctors have there been? Well, Peter Capaldi’s playing the Twelfth Doctor so, twelve? Wait, no, there was the War Doctor, and that whole thing where the Tenth Doctor kept his old face when regenerating by siphoning regeneration energy into his severed hand, make that fourteen. Except for the fact that The Doctor has worn at least thirty five faces on our screens, and due to the timey wimey nature of Doctor Who and the show’s complete lack of an official canon, they all may or may not have actually happened…at some point…in some way… (And, yes, if we included the audios, novels, comics and more there’d be even more Doctors on this list).
So here’s a quick guide to my almost certainly incomplete list of on-screen Doctors (with a few of my personal head canons thrown in for good measure).
1-8: Pre-First Doctor incarnations of the Time Lord we know as The Doctor, as seen in the Classic Who serial, The Brain of Morbius. During his psychic battle with Morbius we see visions of the Doctor’s past incarnations, not just the ones we’d previously seen on TV, but also these eight mysterious faces. While the show later went on to confirm that William Hartnell’s Doctor was, indeed, the first Doctor, we’ve also had more recent confirmation that there are incarnations of this Time Lord who didn’t take the name of The Doctor, who he doesn’t consider to be The Doctor. It is, therefore, conceivable that the Time Lord we know as The Doctor had a full set of regenerations before he took the name Doctor, and that these eight faces are amongst those presumably thirteen previous lives. One thing that I, personally, feel lends weight to this idea is that the Time Lords who would eventually take the names Master and Doctor supposedly grew up together, and yet when we first meet The Master he has blown through a full set of regenerations, and yet The Doctor has only regenerated twice. Now, I don’t doubt that The Master would get through lives more quickly than The Doctor, but this seems a little extreme to me. So, while this is purely headcanon on my part, I believe that The Doctor went through at least one full regeneration cycle before ultimately taking the name The Doctor for the first incarnation of this new cycle of thirteen lives.
9: The First Doctor. As played by William Hartnell, and later Richard Hurndall. Most certainly the first incarnation of this Time Lord to call himself The Doctor, certainly the first incarnation in this regeneration cycle. Possibly not the first incarnation of this Time Lord (see above).
10: Alternative First Doctor. As played by Peter Cushing and appearing in two motion pictures, Dr Who and The Daleks and Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD. Living in 1960s Earth, this incarnation of The Doctor was seemingly a human scientist who went by the name Doctor Who and built himself a TARDIS. One can merely speculate that he might be the result of an alternate timeline in which, after accepting a new regeneration cycle and taking the name Doctor, he chose to retire to Earth without a TARDIS and disguise himself as a human scientist. However, at some point, he felt the need to build his own TARDIS. Or maybe this is the final incarnation of the regeneration cycle before Hartnell’s Doctor and he chose to reject the offer of a new regeneration cycle, still took the name Doctor and settled on Earth. To be honest, making Cushing!Doctor work in continuity is a tough one, but the idea that he’s an alternative version of One that was subsequently erased works for me. He was probably lying about being human.
11: The Second Doctor. As played by Patrick Troughton.
12: The Third Doctor. As played by Jon Pertwee.
13: The Fourth Doctor. As played by Tom Baker.
14: The Watcher. As played by Adrian Gibbs. The Watcher is a transitional form, existing between The Doctor’s Fourth and Fifth incarnations.
15: The Fifth Doctor. As played by Peter Davison.
16: The Sixth Doctor. As played by Colin Baker.
17: The Seventh Doctor. As played by Sylvester McCoy.
18: The Eighth Doctor. As played by Paul McGann. Note: Paul McGann also played an alternative version of the Eighth Doctor who used the pseudonym Johann Schmidt (John Smith) during the Big Finish audio drama, Klein’s Story. His actions ultimately led to the Seventh Doctor no longer regenerating into him, thus erasing that incarnation of the Eighth Doctor from existence.
19: The War Doctor. As played by John Hurt. The ninth incarnation of the Time Lord known as The Doctor since he took that name. This incarnation did not, however, use the name Doctor, and so is not generally considered to be an incarnation of The Doctor, but is an incarnation of that Time Lord. However, due to the events of The Day of The Doctor it is arguable that he was ultimately redeemed and took the name Doctor shortly before his regeneration, and so could be considered an incarnation of The Doctor. However, that means renumbering Doctors and nobody wants to do that, it would be confusing.
20: Alternate Ninth Doctor. As played by Rowan Atkinson in The Curse of Fatal Death. In an alternate timeline, under circumstances we have never seen, the Eighth Doctor regenerated into this incarnation of the Ninth Doctor, and the War Doctor never happened. This version of the ninth incarnation of the Time Lord we know as The Doctor did identify as The Doctor. Ultimately, and under circumstances unknown, the timeline presented in The Curse of Fatal Death was negated before the Eighth Doctor regenerated into this particular incarnation, probably as a result of the Time War.
21: Second Alternate Ninth Doctor. As played by Richard E. Grant in Scream of the Shalka. Often referred to as Shalka!Doctor or REG Doctor. Much like the previous Alternate Ninth Doctor, Shalka!Doctor is from an alternate timeline that was most likely negated as a result of the Time War. Again, under circumstances unknown, the Eighth Doctor at some point regenerated into this incarnation of the Doctor who, also, unlike the War Doctor, identified as The Doctor. Unlike the previous Alternate Ninth Doctor this incarnation of The Doctor was intended to be “official” at the time of creation. To complicate matters further, The Eleventh Doctor’s claim to have created a robot boyfriend for himself in the past during The Time of the Doctor suggests strongly that he can remember his time as Shalka!Doctor. How this is possible is anybody’s guess, but it would suggest that a Time Lord can, under certain circumstances, retain memories from alternate versions of himself that have been negated due to earlier meddling with his own timeline. Or, alternatively, he may simply have encountered this alternate version of himself at some point during his travels.
22: The Ninth Doctor. As played by Christopher Eccleston. The tenth incarnation of this Time Lord within the primary timeline since he took that name, but the ninth to identify as The Doctor. While the War Doctor identified as The Doctor in the final moments of his incarnation, this incarnation of The Doctor would have had no recollection of that fact and no recollection that his timeline had been changed so that he did not destroy Gallifrey, so it makes perfect sense that he would have thought of himself as the Ninth Doctor, as his memory was that his previous incarnation had regenerated without ever accepting the name of The Doctor.
23: Alternate Tenth Doctor. As played by Richard E. Grant in The Curse of Fatal Death. We’ve already dealt with the timeline from The Curse of Fatal Death, so I won’t go over it again. Note: Richard E Grant is the only actor to have played two different incarnations of The Doctor on screen (this is not strictly true…).
24: The Tenth Doctor. As played by David Tennant. The Tenth Doctor is, in fact, both the Eleventh and Twelfth incarnations of the Time Lord we know as The Doctor since he first took that name. Yep, two incarnations for the price of one. Ten chose to siphon off the regeneration energy released during his regeneration from the eleventh incarnation to the twelfth incarnation into his own severed hand, which allowed him to keep the same appearance and personality from one incarnation to the next. It’s possible that he didn’t understand the full ramifications of his actions at the time and may not have become fully aware of the fact that he’d used up one of his incarnations until sometime after he’d regenerated into the Eleventh Doctor. It’s also possible that he did understand what he’d done and that’s why he saw his impending regeneration as such a big deal, because he knew that it would be his last.
25: Alternate Eleventh Doctor. As played by Jim Broadbent in The Curse of Fatal Death. Again, I’ve already discussed this timeline, so I’ll leave it at that.
26: The Meta-Crisis Doctor. As played by David Tenant. The Meta-Crisis Doctor was a Time Lord/human hybrid and a human incarnation of the Doctor, who possessed one heart, aged as humans did and had no regenerative ability to avoid death (although we only have The Doctor’s word for that). He was created by an instantaneous biological meta crisis and was the final result of the Tenth Doctor siphoning off the regeneration energy released during his regeneration from the eleventh incarnation to the twelfth incarnation into his own severed hand. He is, from a certain point of view, an alternate twelfth incarnation of the Time Lord we know as The Doctor. This will become relevant later on.
27: Alternate Twelfth Doctor. As played by Hugh Grant in The Curse of Fatal Death. Once more, we’ve dealt with this timeline already, but it is amusing to note that Hugh Grant played The Doctor.
28: The Valeyard. As played by Michael Jayston in the season long story, Trial of a Time Lord. The Valeyard is, presumably, a transitional form of The Doctor, existing between his twelfth and final incarnations. One can either interpret “final” as meaning his thirteenth (which was certainly the intention at the time Trial of a Time Lord was written) or, since The Doctor recently gained a new regeneration cycle, it could mean his true final incarnation (possibly The Curator, seen in The Day of the Doctor). The Master describes The Valeyard as being an amalgamation of the darker sides of The Doctor’s nature. One possible explanation for The Valeyard is that the Meta-Crisis Doctor was not, in fact, human, but retained the ability to regenerate one last time, but that regeneration was twisted by his grief at having to watch Rose grow old and die and ultimately drove him to return to our universe and try to destroy himself in his own past. Well, actually, that’s just a bit of personal headcanon I wanted to share with you all to make you feel sad.
29: Mr Popplewick. As played by Geoffrey Hughes in The Ultimate Foe. Mr Popplewick was a disguise used by The Valeyard.
30: The Eleventh Doctor. As played by Matt Smith. The thirteenth incarnation of the Time Lord we know as The Doctor during the regeneration cycle that began with the incarnation we know as the First Doctor. This was this Time Lord’s final incarnation in this regeneration cycle. Thankfully he was gifted a new regeneration cycle by the Time Lords just moments before he would have most likely otherwise died. Which was a relief to everyone else they would have had to cancel the show. Heh.
31: Alternate Thirteenth Doctor. As played by Joanna Lumley in The Curse of Fatal Death. Once more, we’ve dealt with this timeline already. However, it is worth noting that Joanna Lumley is the only woman to have played an incarnation of The Doctor on screen (but not the only woman to have played an incarnation of The Doctor).
32: The Dream Lord. As played by Toby Jones in Amy’s Choice. The Dream Lord was a psychic manifestation of the darkest parts of the Eleventh Doctor’s character.
33: The Twelfth Doctor. As played by Peter Capaldi. The Twelfth Doctor is the fourteenth incarnation of the Time Lord we know as the Doctor since he took that name and the first incarnation of this Time Lord in his current regeneration cycle.
34: Alternate Doctor, unknown incarnation. As played by Mark Gatiss in The Web of Caves. Gatiss!Doctor fits in somewhere, somehow…probably. I am so done…
35: The Curator. As played by Tom Baker in The Day of The Doctor. The Curator may or may not be a future incarnation of The Doctor, possibly his final incarnation. Or he might be The Fourth Doctor. Or he might just be the curator of the National Gallery in London. I’m pretty sure he’s The Doctor though, but, ultimately…who knows?
In closing – Capaldi’s Doctor is most likely the 27th incarnation of the Time Lord we know as The Doctor, who is likely now on his third regeneration cycle. The very first incarnation of this Time Lord may or may not have gone by the name The Other. But we have now ventured deep, deep into the realms of my personal headcanons, so it’s definitely time to end this.