Doctor Who Length of Service

Time to read: 4 minutes

This is text I wrote to go with an infographic I did that appeared in an article on Kasterborous regarding length of service time for each of the 11 Doctors.  Here is my full, overlay anal text to go with the infographic.

I’ve been hanging around the BBC Doctor Who Facebook page a lot, and something I’ve been seeing posted a lot is the usual chorus of comments about “We don’t want you to go Matt”.  If you’ve been a Doctor Who fan for any length of time, this is refrain I’ve heard a lot.    But one thing I do see a lot was “it seems like he just started”.

That’s obviously not correct, because Matt has a few series as the Doctor under his belt, but it did get me to wonder, exactly how long has he had the role, and how does it compare to his predecessors?   So I decided to do some research into how long each of the 11 actors to have played “The Doctor” on television.

I know every time a list of actors playing the Doctor comes up, there’s always someone that says “What about Richard Hurndall, or what about Peter Cushing?”   This list is not meant to get into all the pedantic discussions like that.   This is about the big 11.  You know them.  Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, T Baker, Davison, C Baker, McCoy, McGann, Eccleston, Tennant, & Smith.

Decided to look into these splendid chaps and rank the Doctors in order of service time.  Both in chronological order, and in story/episode order.  I’m only counting stories made during the actor’s “regular run”. In other words, I’m not counting something like Patrick Troughton’s appearance at the end of Ep4 of “The Tenth Planet”, or Tom Baker’s appearance at the end of “Planet of the Spiders”.  Episode counts start with their proper tenure as “The Doctor” and ends with their regeneration into the next guy.

This list does not count reappearances from past Doctors like in the Three, Five, Two Doctors. Or Time Crash, Dimensions in Time, or the 50th Anniv Special.  It also assumes that Matt Smith will be the Doctor for the 2013 Christmas special.   If it turns out to be true that he regenerates at the end of the 50th Anniv story, then well, I’ll have to readjust at that time.

IT ALSO DOES NOT COUNT BIG FINISH STORIES!  (or other media like comic books)  Why?  Because they’re non canon.  Now, they’re great.  Some of them are better quality wise than the main program in places.  But wishing them to be canon does not make them canon.  Canon rule is simple.  If it’s on the main TV show, it’s canon.  If it’s not, it’s not.   Again, it counts time they were ON THE SCREEN as the Doctor.  Not when they were originally announced as having the role.  If you do that, then where do you start?  Peter Capaldi was announced in August 2013 as Doctor #12, and Matt Smith is still the incumbent until December.   That’s too much of a nightmare, so I opted to go with SCREEN TIME ONLY.

What surprised me a little is that Matt Smith held the role on screen by just about two months less than David Tennant did, and had just three episodes less than Tennant did.  So the claims of Matt Smith “left too quick” are unfounded.

Here are the numbers, but if you don’t want to read all that, you can check out the handy dandy infographic I whipped up out of this data.

Longest Tenures by calendar dates:

  • TBaker: 6yr 2m, 21d
  • Pertwee: 4yr, 5m, 5d
  • Tennant: 4yr, 0m, 7d
  • Smith: 3yr, 8m, 22d (assumes he will relinquish role on Dec 25, 2013)
  • Hartnell: 2yr, 11mo, 6d
  • CBaker: 2yr, 8m, 14d (included 18mo break between series, however)
  • Troughton: 2yr, 7mo, 16d
  • McCoy: 2yr, 2m, 29d
  • Davison: 2yr, 2mo, 12d
  • Eccleston: 2m, 23d
  • McGann: Very funny

Longest Tenure by Episodes/Story:

  • TBaker: 172/41
  • Hartnell: 134/29
  • Pertwee: 128/24
  • Troughton: 119/21
  • Davison: 69/20
  • Tennant: 47/36 (94eps if old format length)
  • Smith: 44/38 (88eps if old format length)
  • McCoy: 42/12
  • CBaker: 31/8 (would be 44 if all were 25min length)
  • Eccleston: 13/20 (26eps if old format length)
  • McGann: 1/1

Raw Details:

William Hartnell

  • First: Nov 23, 1963
  • Last: Oct 29, 1966
  • Length: 2yr, 11mo, 6d
  • Episodes: 134
  • Stories: 29

Patrick Troughton

  • First: Nov 5, 1966
  • Last: Jun 21, 1969
  • Length: 2yr, 7mo, 16d
  • Episodes: 119
  • Stories: 21

Jon Pertwee

  • First: Jan 3, 1970
  • Last: Jun 8, 1974
  • Length: 4yr, 5m, 5d
  • Episodes: 128
  • Stories: 24

Tom Baker

  • First: Dec 28, 1974
  • Last: Mar 21, 1981
  • Length: 6yr 2m, 21d
  • Episodes: 172
  • Stories: 41

Peter Davison

  • First: Jan 4, 1982
  • Last: Mar 16, 1984
  • Length: 2yr, 2mo, 12d
  • Episodes: 69
  • Stories: 20

Colin Baker

NOTE: The first of Colin’s two series had 45 min episodes (like modern series), as opposed to the standard 25 min episodes the rest of the classic series had.

  • First: Mar 22, 1984
  • Last: Dec 6, 1986
  • Length: 2yr, 8m, 14d (included 18mo break between series)
  • Episodes: 31 (44 if 25m episode length)
  • Stories: 8

Sylvester McCoy

NOTE: While McCoy was technically the incumbent between Survivial & the 96 TV movie, the show was not in active production, so I do not count that as service time.

  • First: Sep 7, 1987
  • Last: Dec 6, 1989
  • Length: 2yr, 2m, 29d
  • Episodes: 42
  • Stories: 12

Paul McGann

  • First: May 12, 1996
  • Last: May 12, 1996
  • Length: A bloody crime it was what it was.  Deserved better.
  • Episodes: 1
  • Stories: 1

NOTE: From this point onwards, all episodes are 45 minutes in length (give or take a few minutes, and the odd extra length episode) and after the first season, they each had a Christmas Special.

Christopher Eccleston

  • First: Mar 26, 2005
  • Last: Jun 18, 2005
  • Length: 2m, 23d
  • Episodes: 13 (26 old format length)
  • Stories: 10

David Tennant

NOTE: I did not count the 2005 Children in Need segment as an “episode”, same for Time Crash.

  • First: Dec 25, 2005
  • Last: Jan 1, 2010
  • Length: 4yr, 0m, 7d
  • Episodes: 47 (94 old format length, give or take)
  • Stories: 36

Matt Smith

NOTE: The Matt Smith Episode/Story count also includes the forthcoming 50th Anniv & Christmas Specials later in 2013.  It does not include a ton of the shorts made, like Space/Time, A Night in the Tardis, Good as Gold, etc…

  • First: Apr 3, 2010
  • Last: Dec 25, 2013
  • Length: 3yr, 8m, 22d
  • Episodes: 44 (88 old format length, give or take)
  • Stories: 38

ONE FINAL NOTE:  This list does NOT count John Hurt, despite being announced on screen as “The Doctor”.  We will need to wait and see what the fallout from the 50th Anniversary special is on that one.

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