The Mane of the Doctor: What Doctor Who haircuts can tell us about the show
From on-trend Beatle-mops and "towering meringues" through natural curls, stalagmites of hair gel and wigs all the way to Jodie Whittaker's blonde bob, the Doctor's hair is iconic - but what can each style tell us about the Time Lord?
Minding my own beeswax in the kitchen a while back, my ear was drawn to the popular broadcasters Zoe Ball and Sara Cox discussing the hot button topic of Doctor Who’s hair.
Not in the way us Who diehards might discuss it, you understand – which would probably be in the context of, say, the continuity nightmare caused by Peter Davison’s temporally unreliable barnet during season 19, or whether it might be possible to digitally remove David Tennant’s upsetting fringe from future releases of The Day of the Doctor.
No, they were talking about Jodie Whittaker’s smart blonde bob (series 11 model, for those taking notes) and its influential bearing on their own tonsorial makeovers.
Whatever the excuse, I was just pleased the subject of the Doctor’s hair was finally getting the traction it deserved. Because, for me, this is a much more important conversation than the trifling issues which usually take up all the bandwidth when people talk about Doctor Who: you know, stuff about scripts and casting and ratings and whether the logos on our DVD spines line-up properly. (OK, maybe not more important than that last one.)
By way of illustration, look no further than Peter Capaldi’s first run as the Doctor in 2014. By Steven Moffat’s own admission, they probably went a bit far down the aggressive “Malcolm Tucker in space” route that season, leading to a rapid reverse ferret in time for that year’s Christmas special. But that isn’t the main problem. The main problem with Doctor Who series eight is that Peter Capaldi doesn’t have proper Doctor Who hair.
I mean, look at it. It’s just so ridiculously… sensible; like he’s on his way to a job interview, or a court appearance (Probably the latter, knowing the Doctor). I put it to you that it’s simply impossible for Peter Capaldi to properly dispense his duties as Doctor Who with that haircut.
And clearly P-Cap felt the same, which is why, over the following years, his hair gradually mushroomed into a classic, '70s-vintage Doctor Who ‘do, culminating in his final appearance in 2017’s Twice Upon a Time, by which time he looked like a man who’d fallen head first into a candy floss machine, or perhaps got too close to some low-lying cloud.
Christopher Eccleston’s close-cropped Ninth Doctor suffers from a similar problem. In this case, it was a deliberate choice to shy away from the classic / clichéd (delete as applicable) image of the Doctor as an Edwardian fop. But I’d argue they went a little far. I’m perfectly happy to accept the Doctor can turn into a woman, a Scotsman or even a cactus, but surely no self-respecting Gallifreyan DNA would allow itself to resolve into a haircut like that.
When we first met the Doctor, he was an old geezer with long white hair – a surprisingly bold statement for 1963, when The Beatles had a generation of parents’ clutching their pearls in horror just for growing their moptops over their collars. The little flick curl at the end was also a statement look, suggesting the existence of a pair of Time Tongs aboard the TARDIS.
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The Second Doctor’s mussed-up Beatlemop (above) was achingly on-trend for 1966, though in subsequent appearances becomes more problematic. Patrick Troughton’s hair in The Five Doctors (1983) is less Beatles, more Ann Widdecombe. And then The Two Doctors (1985) rolls a hand grenade into established hair continuity by presenting the Second Doctor with a grey thatch. Is this further evidence of the existence of a mysterious ‘season 6B’, extending the life of everyone’s favourite cosmic hobo beyond The War Games? Or had he simply forgotten to apply his Just For Time Lords that day?
Jon Pertwee’s coiffure follows a similar trajectory to Peter Capaldi’s, starting out as a rather sensible short crop before expanding to the towering meringue of his final year, by which time it is clearly a danger to low-flying aircraft and, indeed, pterodactyls. Tom Baker, by contrast, rocked the same trademark teeth and curls throughout his seven-year run – only at the very end did his well-sprung mop visibly sag, along with its wearer’s enthusiasm.
We’ve already discussed Peter Davison’s ever-fluctuating mane, which was up and down like a Castrovalvan staircase during the early '80s. According to Davison, producer John Nathan-Turner insisted on him having blonde highlights in order to boost his chances of becoming “a gay icon”. Goodness knows who the celery was supposed to appeal to, though. Dentists?
The Sixth Doctor’s hair serves as a metaphor for Colin Baker’s own experience in the role: it starts out full of bounce and vigour, but by the end of The Trial of a Time Lord is looking distinctly frazzled (I don’t know what the humidity was like in that courtroom, but no amount of Frizz Ease was going to save this one).
Secretive so-and-so that he was, the Seventh Doctor had a habit of keeping his hair under his hat – which is just as well, as it rather defies all attempts at categorisation. Even now, the best description expert hairologists have managed to come up with is “brown”.
Paul McGann was the first Doctor since William Hartnell to wear a wig (two, in fact, costing $5,000 a pop). It wasn’t until he returned to the role 17 years later that he finally appeared with model’s own hair – though probably not the hair you were expecting.
Post-Eccleston, David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor reintroduced the idea of Interesting Hair to the role – though those stalagmites of lovingly applied gel did raise the disturbing idea of the Doctor spending an hour in the TARDIS bathroom before dashing out to save the universe. And any doubts that 26-year-old Matt Smith might be too young to play the Doctor were instantly assuaged when he was unveiled to the nation staring out beneath a magnificent swoosh so enormous, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d cast the hair, and the actor came with it.
And now, after 58 years, we are blessed to be living through a truly golden period for Doctor Who hair: the sort of hair that’s stylish enough for Radio 2 DJs to ask for in a salon, but which can also be swished about in a manner that’s truly… well, Doctor-ish.
As a bonus, thanks to series 12’s introduction of Jo Martin’s Fugitive Doctor, and the canonisation of the Morbius Doctors, cosplayers' dressing-up boxes can be expanded still further. But we’re still waiting, at time of writing, for that elusive Ginger Doctor…