While each actor to appear on Doctor Who has a memorable experience, each has gone on to other roles after portraying the famous Time Lord. For any actor who steps into the shoes of the Doctor, it tends to be a life-changing and career-changing experience. Especially when portraying a role that’s been filled by so many others that it has become a pop-culture icon, playing the Doctor always leaves an impact on their actors and often becomes one of the roles they are most known for. But every Doctor must then pass their role on to the next actor, leaving them to grow their career in new ways.
The long-running series tells the story of a time-traveling alien called the Doctor who travels with a human companion in Doctor Who. A key aspect of the Doctor is that they can regenerate their body when they die, becoming an entirely new version of themselves with a different face and personality. This is partially what has allowed the show to go on as long as it has, because the titular character can canonically change actors as many times as it needs to without the show’s continuity becoming confused, at least in this respect.
The very first Doctor who started it all was played by William Hartnell, an actor who filled the role for three years from 1963-1966. After he departed the show as a series regular, although he did appear in later Doctor Who specials, Hartnell held several television roles, including as Impey on 1967’s No Hiding Place, Henry Swift in the 1968 film Softly Softly, and Henri Lindon in 1970’s Crime of Passion. However, most of the roles Hartnell was known for besides his time in the TARDIS came from earlier in his career, including his depiction of Sergeant Grimshawe in Carry on Sergeant in 1958, Tom Masterick in 1945’s Query, and Inspector Harris in 1948’s Escape.
Following in Hartnell’s footsteps was Patrick Troughton as the second Doctor. Troughton played the role for three years as well, finally leaving the series in 1969. After this, he portrayed Harry Porter in A Family at War from 1970-1972, Nasca in The Feathered Serpent from 1976-1978, and Arthur in Knights of God in 1987. But Troughton was most known for his roles as Father Brennan in The Omen in 1976, Phineas in Jason and the Argonauts in 1963, Klove in Scars of Dracula in 1970, and Cole Hawlings in The Box of Delights in 1984.
Jon Pertwee entered the Doctor Who canon as an iteration with style and elegance, a part which he played from 1970-1974. Afterward, he played the Storyteller on Jackanory for several episodes and played Worzel Gummidge in the show of the same name from 1979-1981, a role he reprised in 1987. He also narrated The Little Green Man in 1985 and played Spotty in the UK version of The Further Adventures of SuperTed. But the roles he was most known for besides the Doctor were when he played Crassus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in 1966, the soothsayer in Carry on Cleo in 1964, and as Sheriff Albert Earp in 1965’s Carry on Cowboy.
Tom Baker was one of the longest-running actors to hold the role, as he played the part for seven years, wrapping up his term on Doctor Who in 1981. After this, he played the famous Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1982, narrated 13 episodes of Tales of Aesop in 1990, and played Prof. Geoffrey Hoyt, the general surgeon in Medics from 1992-1995. He also played Halvarth in Dungeons & Dragons in 2000 and reprised his role as the Doctor several times throughout the rest of his career. Otherwise, Baker was most known for his role as Rasputin in 1971’s Nicholas and Alexandra and Koura in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad in 1973.
Peter Davison followed Baker’s larger-than-life portrayal as the youngest actor to take the role before Matt Smith. He worked on Doctor Who for three years, after which he played Tristan Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small from 1978-1990, Squire Gordon in 1994’s Black Beauty, Joseph Lockwood in 1998’s Wuthering Heights, and Henry Sharpe in Law & Order: UK from 2011-2014. His most recent role was Assistant Commissioner Gordon Stewart in The Gold, and Davison is most known for his role as the Doctor, which he reprised several times since the late 80s.
Colin Baker played the Sixth Doctor for about three years, finishing his tenure in 1986. After this period, he played the Stranger in The Stranger: The Terror Game in 1994, as well as Donald Dewhurst and Desmond Dewhurst in 1997’s The Knock, and the Narrator in A Dozen Summers in 2015. His most recent role is DS Rawlins in 2022’s Minacious, and Baker has continued to be involved in several Doctor Who projects throughout the years. Besides his work in various Doctor Who productions, he’s most known for his role as The Stranger in More Than a Messiah in 1992 and Paul Merroney in The Brothers from 1974-1976.
Sylvester McCoy became the Seventh Doctor from 1987-1989, becoming the last Doctor from the Classic Doctor Who series. After his work in the TARDIS, McCoy went on to appear as the Storyteller in Jackanory from 1991-1992 like some of his predecessors, as well as Mr. Dowling in The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling in 1997, as Radagast in The Hobbit series, which began in 2012, and played Igor in 2022’s The Munsters. Besides his reappearances in Doctor Who media, McCoy is most known for his role as Radagast in An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug, and The Battle of the Five Armies.
Paul McGann only appeared on Doctor Who once as part of Doctor Who: The Movie in 1996. McGann later went on to reprise the role in later shorts, as well as play Rob in Downtime in 1997, Lieutenant Bush in Hornblower: Loyalty and Hornblower: Duty in 2003, Dr. Peter Lord in 2003’s Poirot, Josh in B&B in 2017, and Mark North in Luther. In a departure from his compatriots, McGann is not most known for his role as the Doctor. He’s largely known for his role as Girard and Jussac in 1993’s The Three Musketeers, & I in Withnail & I in 1987, Walter Golic in Alien 3 from 1992, and David Talbot in 2002’s Queen of the Damned.
Like Paul McGann, John Hurt also played the Doctor outside of its existence as a television series. However, Hurt has enjoyed a long and storied career outside of Doctor Who. After the series, he played Tom Kendle in The Last Panthers in 2015, the priest in Jackie in 2016, and Leslie Salmon in My Name Is Lenny in 2017. But Hurt is most known for his roles in several cult-classic films, including his portrayal of Winston Smith in 1984, Kane in Alien in 1979, John Merrick in The Elephant Man in 1980, and Control in 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Christopher Eccleston played the first iteration of The Doctor after its revival in the mid-2000s. While he only filled the role for one season, his impact was indelible as the actor brought the famous character back to the small screen. Since his period on Doctor Who in 2005, Christopher Eccleston went on to play Claude in Heroes in 2007, Malekith in Thor: The Dark World in 2013, and most recently, Fagin in the TV series Dodger from 2022-2023. Besides his stint on Doctor Who, Eccelston is most known for his role as Malekith, playing David Stephens in Shallow Grave in 1994, and depicting Major Henry West in 2002’s 28 Days Later.
David Tennant played one of the most popular versions of the Doctor during his run on Doctor Who, portraying the Time Lord for three series and nine specials, and now Tennant is returning as the Fourteenth Doctor, too. But later, he played James in The Decoy Bride and Peter Vincent in Fright Night in 2011, Spitelout in several How to Train Your Dragon properties, John Knox in Mary Queen of Scots, and even voiced Don in 2022’s The Sandman. Tennant also played Crowley in Good Omens and is set to reprise the role in the show’s second season. Besides this, Tennant is most known for his role in Fright Night, his portrayal of D.I. Alec Hardy in Broadchruch, and his villainous role as Kilgrave in Jessica Jones.
Matt Smith had big shoes to fill when he followed Tennant’s performance as the Doctor in 2010, but his vivacious and sometimes dark portrayal of the character made his version shine. Smith’s acting career post-Doctor Who included Parson Collins in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in 2016, Morgan in Patient Zero in 2018, Richard Galloway in The Forgiven in 2021, and Prince Daemon Targaryen in House of the Dragon starting in 2022. Beyond this, Smith is most known for his role as Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh in The Crown from 2016-2017, Milo in Morbius in 2022, and Jack in Last Night in Soho in 2021.
Peter Capaldi appeared on Doctor Who as a side character before he stepped into the Doctor’s shoes himself. But after he departed the series in 2017, Capaldi played Rabbit in 2018’s Christopher Robin and Mr. Micawber in The Personal History of David Copperfield. Capaldi also appeared as David Simon in Lewis Capaldi’s music video for “Someone You Loved” and voices Seamus MacGregor in Big Mouth. But the actor is most known for his role as Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It from 2005-2012, a W.H.O. doctor in World War Z, ironically, and the Thinker in 2021’s The Suicide Squad.
Finally, the most recent iteration of the Doctor was played by Jodie Whittaker, who held the role from 2017-2022. Since she only recently departed the series, Whittaker has only appeared in the 2023 series Time. However, she also played Cath Hardacre in 2017’s Trust Me, Anna in 2016’s Adult Life Skills, and Jenny in Hello Carter. Beyond her role on Doctor Who, Whittaker is most known for her part as Beth Latimer on Broadchurch from 2013-2017, Sam in 2011’s Attack the Block, and Jessie in 2006’s Venus.