Stitches in time: Doctor Who’s outfits ranked and rated
Amid reports that Ncuti Gatwa is set to rock a pair of wellies aboard the TARDIS, here’s our guide to the Time Lord’s fashion highs and lows.
The Seventh Doctor once claimed to have “an impeccable sense of haute couture”. Which was a pretty bold statement for a man wearing so many questions marks that even The Riddler probably thought it was “a bit on-the-nose”.
It’s far from the only statement look the Time Lord has sported over the years, of course. And now, if tabloid reports are to be believed – and they’re usually not, but go with me here – it seems Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor is set to gallivant around the cosmos in a fetching pair of space wellies. So what more perfect time to bring you the Definitive Guide to Wellies in Doctor Who?
Just kidding (although the Cybermen did rock some delightful silver moon boots, back in the day): we’re actually here to talk about the Doctor’s duds down the years. And from Hartnell’s hat to Gatwa’s gumboots, it’s quite the catwalk parade…
Doctor Who costumes ranked - from William Hartnell to Jodie Whittaker
With a nod to the series’ HG Wells roots, William Hartnell set the default Doctor template of an Edwardian gentleman, complete with a frock coat, winged collar and cravat. What’s a ‘frock coat’, you ask? No idea, but that’s what Terrance Dicks always called it in his Target novelisations, so that’s what we call it as well. (For extra fan points, accessorise your description with an ‘Astrakhan hat’. No, me neither.) Style rating: 7/10
Patrick Troughton had some, er, eccentric ideas about his Doctor’s look, at various points suggesting he should dress in the style of “a Victorian windjammer” captain – whatever one of those is – or play him as an Arabian hero from One Thousand and One Nights, complete with blackface, which thankfully never happened.
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In the end, they settled on a scruffier, more dishevelled version of Hartnell’s costume – basically what the First Doctor might have looked like if he’d been thrown out of the TARDIS and forced to sleep in his car. Style rating: 6/10
Jon Pertwee’s Victorian dandy look emerged by happy accident from a Radio Times photoshoot, for which the actor wore his grandfather’s frilly shirt, velvet smoking jacket and black and scarlet cape.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that such retro foppery was currently all the rage among Carnaby Street hipsters (Peter Wyngarde had also recently made his debut as proto-Austin Powers Jason King in TV’s Department S). The Third Doctor would go on to sport numerous variations on this signature look, including a natty crushed velvet pimp suit that saw him voted Spiridon’s Most Superfly Guy 1973 (probably). Style rating: 8/10
Inspired by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s portraits of 19th century French cabaret artist Aristide Bruant, Tom Baker’s boho ensemble – designed by future triple-Oscar winner James Acheson – was completed by the most iconic item of clothing in Doctor Who history: a 12-foot-long multi-coloured scarf knitted for the programme by the fabulously named Begonia Pope.
No stranger to a tall tale, Baker has long insisted that “when we went to her little house, we could only talk through the letterbox, because the scarf filled the hall”. If you say so, Tom. Style rating: 8/10
By the time Peter Davison arrived, producer John Nathan-Turner had developed a taste of Costumes, with a capital C – hence the Fifth Doctor’s heavily stylised ensemble of cricketing whites, pyjama trousers and “fawn blazer with red piping” (Terrance again), accessorised with a stick of celery.
I’m sorry, what? That’s right – celery. You can laugh, but we’ll all be wearing them next year. Anyway, as the Tenth Doctor later told his predecessor, “fair play to you, not a lot of men can carry off a decorative vegetable”. And besides, wearing a bit of celery was nothing compared to being saddled with a wet lettuce like Adric. Style rating: 3/10
OK, brace positions everyone, it’s time to talk about the Sixth Doctor. Every fan knows the story of how John Nathan-Turner tasked costume designer Pat Godfrey to come up with something in “extremely bad taste” – only for her to keep coming back with things that weren’t quite tasteless enough. The resulting explosion in a fabric factory – think clown costume made entirely from carpet off-cuts – was certainly, um, eye-catching.
To be fair, Colin Baker’s Amazing Technicolor Nightmarecoat is not so awful on its own (indeed, such test card patchwork is currently bang on-trend, with Stella McCartney among those now “doing a Godfrey”). But once you add the yellow Rupert Bear trousers, Mr Tumble spotty cravat and – oh please – spats, the whole thing is just one giant migraine. Style rating: 2/10
Sylvester McCoy’s outfit was, in many ways, a return to the crumpled Edwardiana of the similarly puckish Patrick Troughton, complete with baggy jacket, checked trousers and braces. Sadly, McCoy could have been dressed in a giant dog costume for all anyone knew, because the only thing that drew the eye was his garish vintage golfing sweater plastered with more question marks than a peace offering from the Daleks.
The symbol had been a fixture of the Time Lord’s collar – because he’s Doctor WHO, geddit? – since the late Tom Baker era, but now he was positively riddled with them. And, just in case we didn’t get the message, he also carried around a bright red question mark umbrella and a flashing neon sign saying 'Ooh, I’m dead mysterious, me'. (OK, I made that last one up. But it was definitely heading that way.)
As his run went on, McCoy adopted a new, more sinister interpretation of the Doctor as a master of the cosmic dark arts, which was signalled through a combination of enigmatic dialogue and subtle shifts in his performance. But mainly by giving him a brown jacket. Style rating: 4/10
Being half-British (on his mother’s side), the Eighth Doctor cut a distinctly Byronic figure on the streets of 1990s San Francisco. The in-universe explanation for Paul McGann’s outfit is that he steals a Wild Bill Hickok fancy dress costume – though the dashing ensemble of brocade waistcoat, cravat and velvet green (oh yes) frock coat definitely says “Romantic poet” more than “sharp-shootin’ Wild West lawman”.
When he returned 17 years later, McGann’s Doctor was rocking more of a rugged, Allan Quartermain vibe – like he was finally dressed for adventure, as opposed to a poetry recital. Style rating: 7/10
This was precisely the sort of foppery Russell T Davies was determined to get away from when he re-launched Doctor Who in 2005. And his leading man, Christopher Eccleston, was in full agreement, declaring he wasn’t going to wear gimmicky “scarves and hats”. It’s a decision that made a lot of sense at the time, though in retrospect it was arguably a course correction too far – one that ran a little too scared from the essential spirit of Doctor Who.
With his buzzcut, leather jacket and hobnail boots, the Ninth Doctor looks less like a Lord of Time and more like an East End hardman with his own car-clamping business. Plus he commits the cardinal fashion faux pas of wearing a jumper without a shirt underneath, a la Michael Douglas in that horrifically awkward Basic Instinct nightclub scene. Style rating: 2/10
David Tennant’s costume, by contrast, is close to perfect: finding a third way between Eccleston’s bovver boy and the fussy fancy dress of Classic Who, the Tenth Doctor went full geek chic with a skinny brown suit, Converse daps and Jarvis Cocker specs. The ankle-length coat, meanwhile, was a personal request by Tennant – fanboy that he is – to make him look more “Doctorish”.
In a press release, the BBC described the ensemble as “Franz Ferdinand-cum-Kaiser Chiefs”, which might just be the most 2005 sentence ever, while The Guardian’s resident fashionista favourably contrasted the first “indie Doctor” with Eccleston’s “rocker dad” leathers. Dubbed “the long pencil” by costume designer Louise Page, Tennant’s would become the most iconic Doctor Who look since Tom Baker hung up his scarf (or posted it back through Begonia Pope’s letterbox). The variant blue suit never looked as good, though. Style rating: 9/10
When Matt Smith pulled out his Doctor’s trademark bow tie while rummaging through the BBC dressing-up box, showrunner Steven Moffat was horrified. “That’s just the most ridiculously retro, child’s eye view of what Doctor Who wears,” he told him. But then Smith tried it on, and everyone agreed that bow ties are, indeed, cool. In fact, the Eleventh Doctor’s tweedy, preppy professor vibe suited Smith’s old-man-in-a-young-man’s-body down to his desert boots.
“Geography teacher meets Hoxton clubkid” was Esquire’s approving verdict. And punters seemed to agree – sales of bow ties went up 94%, according to Topman. There was less of a run on fezzes, though, and the less said about the ghastly purple get-up Smith wore in his final season – which really **did** look like a child’s drawing of Doctor Who – the better. Style rating: 8/10.
“Simple, stark and back to basics” is how Peter Capaldi described the Twelfth Doctor’s new duds in 2014, adding: “In my day, the original Doctors had all dressed in dark colours – although I knew this was probably because it was in black and white.” But this was no mere Hartnell or Troughton cosplay: in fact, there’s an argument for Capaldi’s fetching dark blue Crombie coat and button-down shirt being the most stylish of all the Doctor’s outfits.
Another nice touch was the livid slash of colour in the coat’s red silk lining – presumably in tribute to the young Capaldi’s great hero, Jon Pertwee, at the height of his peacock pomp. The later addition of a hoodie, sonic shades and an electric guitar may have had a whiff of midlife crisis about it (it comes to us all after the first thousand years or so) but Capaldi is so effortlessly cool, he even managed to carry those off. Style rating: 10/10
In contrast to her predecessor’s back-to-black approach, Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor brought a bold splash of candy-coloured cheer to the TARDIS. The essential elements of cropped trousers, t-shirt, braces and boots were based on a photo Whittaker found on the internet: she liked the androgynous nature of the look, and the t-shirt’s rainbow stripes also reflect the era’s “space for all” inclusivity (though their actual inspiration was an album cover by the actor’s beloved Coldplay).
As statement looks go, it’s certainly bold – Mork from Ork meets Rod, Jane and Freddy – but it’s been a huge hit with cosplayers, and the hooded coat is a modern Who design classic. (The colour of the trousers is ‘petrol’, by the way, if you want to update your colour charts.) Style rating: 6/10
And the future? Next up, we’ve got the return of David Tennant, rocking a subtle tartan variation of his trademark skinny spaceboy – after which we’ll get to find out if Ncuti Gatwa really is going to explore the universe in Gallifreyan galoshes, like Space Paddington.
Having already proved himself something of a style icon – including becoming the first Time Lord to go bare-chested on the cover of Doctor Who Magazine – you can’t help thinking that, if anyone can pull it off, it’s him.
Doctor Who outfits ranked
And so, to recap, here's our (definitive) ranking of Time Lord style – from the Doctors with the best sartorial sense to the ones most in need of a makeover.
- Peter Capaldi
- David Tennant
- Tom Baker
- Matt Smith
- Jon Pertwee
- William Hartnell
- Paul McGann
- Jodie Whittaker
- Patrick Troughton
- Sylvester McCoy
- Peter Davison
- Christopher Eccleston
- Colin Baker
Where will Ncuti Gatwa's get-up rank? Only time will tell...
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