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'Doctor Who': Every Former Doctor Return Appearance, Ranked
In its 53-year history, Doctor Who has featured more than a dozen actors in its title role. Thanks to the show’s occasional wanderings into the nostalgic corners of time and space, plenty of these former Doctors have come back to their beloved roles — for better or for worse. EW ranked every notable return of a Doctor, from the wackiest to the most wonderful. See which one came out on top.
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8. Jon Pertwee (Third Doctor), Tom Baker (Fourth Doctor), Peter Davison (Fifth Doctor), Colin Baker (Sixth Doctor), and Sylvester McCoy (Seventh Doctor) in “Dimensions in Time” (1993)
After ending its original run four years earlier, Doctor Who returned in 1993 for a one-off 30th anniversary special during Children in Need, an annual charity telethon in the UK. The two-part special (in 3-D!) featured every living former Doctor and dozens of former companions. What could have been a spectacular event ended up being an embarrassing hodgepodge of cheesy specials effects, head-scratching cameos from the cast of the BBC soap EastEnders, and a complicated plot even George R.R. Martin couldn't untangle. The nostalgia of seeing these classic Doctors back in action isn't enough to save this train wreck.
Fourth Doctor: “Good luck, my dears.”
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7. Patrick Troughton (Second Doctor) in “The Two Doctors” (1985)
Due to the BBC’s unfortunate "junking" policy, much of Patrick Troughton’s era (1963-1966) as the Second Doctor remains lost to Who fans. His later return appearances have been the best chance to see his lovable portrayal of the mercurial Second Doctor. But his final reprisal in “The Two Doctors” alongside Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor was ill-befitting of his legacy. In this clunky, too-long allegory promoting vegetarianism, Troughton had little time to dazzle, spending much of the story kidnapped, knocked out, or chowing down on a Spanish feast. Worse yet, he shares little screen-time with Baker, a waste of a comedic pairing rife with possibility.
Second Doctor: “Do try and keep out of my way in future and in past, there’s a good fellow. The time continuum should be big enough for the both of us.”
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6. Matt Smith (Eleventh Doctor) in “Deep Breath” (2014)
Matt Smith’s cameo (via a phone call from the past) in Peter Capaldi’s debut episode remains controversial amongst fans. In the scene, the Eleventh Doctor (Smith) urges his companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) to give his newest incarnation (Capaldi) a chance. Though a sweet scene on the surface, it ultimately masks an underlying panhandling to Smith super-fans feeling lukewarm about Capaldi. Regardless of sentiment, the scene feels tacked on and disrupts Capaldi’s otherwise stellar debut.
Eleventh Doctor: “He sounds old. Please tell me I didn’t get old. Anything but old! I was young.”
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5. Patrick Troughton (Second Doctor), Jon Pertwee (Third Doctor), and Tom Baker (Fourth Doctor) in “The Five Doctors” (1983)
A more accurate title would’ve been “The Four-ish Doctors.” Tom Baker, who, two years earlier, had bowed out of his iconic turn as the Fourth Doctor, refused to appear in the 20th anniversary special – his brief appearance is merely footage from a different, unfinished episode. He even refused to do the promotional photoshoot so they had to use his creepy Madame Tussauds wax figure instead (see it above). William Hartnell had passed away in 1975, so producers recast Richard Hurndall as the First Doctor — a fair substitute, but not quite the same. Still, The Five Doctors was a banner event in the show’s history. Sure, the plot is lackluster and slow-moving, but when all the Doctors finally get to interact at the end, it’s truly magical.
Fifth Doctor: “Well now it seems we must part, just as I was beginning to get to know me.”
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4. Paul McGann (Eighth Doctor) in “The Night of the Doctor” (2013)
Paul McGann had only appeared as the Eighth Doctor in a one-off TV movie in 1996, but his beloved incarnation lived on in novels, comic strips, and audio dramas for years to come. In a special mini-episode ahead of the series’ 50th anniversary, McGann burst back onto the screen to the delight and surprise of many fans. “Night of the Doctor” served as McGann’s heartbreaking swan song, with the Eighth Doctor facing mortal peril and a devastating regeneration decision. Though adding only seven more minutes to his on-screen tenure, McGann proved himself a worthy physician indeed. Bring him knitting!
Eighth Doctor: “I’m a doctor. But probably not the one you’re expecting.”
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3. William Hartnell (First Doctor) and Patrick Troughton (Second Doctor) in “The Three Doctors” (1972)
“The Three Doctors” kicked off the show’s tenth year on the air, a celebration that set the precedent for every anniversary special to come. The four-part story brought together Jon Pertwee (the incumbent, Third Doctor) with his two predecessors, Patrick Troughton (Second Doctor) and William Hartnell (First Doctor). Though an ailing Hartnell’s role was brief, his signature snark and grouchiness played well off of his “dandy and a clown” replacements. Troughton and Pertwee’s rivalry (on-screen and off) is all in good fun, making a delightful pair of bickering Time Lords.
Second Doctor: “Oh, I’ve seen you’ve been doing the TARDIS up a bit. Hmm, I don’t like it.”
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2. Peter Davison (Fifth Doctor) in “Time Crash” (2007)
For the first time in decades, Peter Davison donned his signature stick of celery once again for Children in Need alongside David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor in this hilarious mini-episode. Watching Davison and Tennant go toe-to-toe is a genuine laugh-out-loud marvel and a true gift to Who fans across generations. But its Tennant, a life-long Who fan himself, and his sweet-natured, nostalgic awe of Davison that makes “Time Crash” truly heartwarming and special. Years later, in a touching twist, Tennant married Davison's daughter Georgia Moffett, who ironically played the Tenth Doctor's adult daughter in a 2008 episode.
Fifth Doctor: “That could blow a hole in the space-time continuum the size of–well, actually, the exact size of Belgium. That’s a bit undramatic, isn’t it? Belgium?”
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1. David Tennant (Tenth Doctor) and Tom Baker (“The Curator”) in “The Day of the Doctor” (2013)
After hanging up his coat in 2010, David Tennant returned to the show in celebration of its 50th anniversary in 2013, in which his Tenth Doctor teamed up with Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor to help a previously unknown past incarnation of themselves (John Hurt) face a terrible decision. Tennant and Smith’s interactions were straight out of a buddy-cop film, full of gags, insults, and camaraderie — irresistibly fun to watch. The episode also featured a cameo from Tom Baker, the beloved Fourth Doctor, who this time took on the mysterious role of “the Curator,” offering the Eleventh Doctor wisdom and hope at the episode’s end. While Baker’s cameo probably made zero sense in any time-space continuum, the veteran Who star proved he could still enchant and amaze as the universe’s favorite hero.
Tenth Doctor: “We’re confusing the polarity!”