There’s been 12 (OK, 13 — more on that later) incarnations of Doctor Who since the British TV series first debuted in 1963. For a man who’s traveled time and space, fought Daleks and Cybermen, and saved the queen countless times, he’s always done it with a sense of style.
Last week, the BBC unveiled new Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi’s costume as the next Doctor. It’s an effortlessly cool and modern look, one I’d expect to start flooding menswear Tumblrs almost immediately.
We all know what you wear speaks volumes about your personality. That’s definitely the case with the Doctor. The Doctor’s sartorial choices say plenty about him, and his outfits, not to mention his accessories — bow ties, scarves, fezzes, and umbrella stolen from the Riddler — have become as identifiable with the character as the S on Superman’s chest.
The fashion of Doctor Who has inspired countless Tumblrs and Pinterest pages, not to mention legions of cosplayers, as well as interpretations in popular style. (I’ll confess to owning a pair of TARDIS cufflinks.)
It’s worthwhile to take a spin through the Doctor’s history, and his wardrobe, to see what the clothes say about the man, his times, and how they links the character’s past and future.
The First Doctor:
The First Doctor (1963–1966) had a look that lands somewhere between Wizard of Oz and the Monopoly man. Played by William Hartnell, the original Doctor wore a black frock coat, a vest with a wing-collared shirt, and plaid pants. And that ribbon tie, which just feels kind of deflated and defeated at the prospect of having to hang around the man’s neck.
His favorite accessories included a monocle and a cape. He was instantly eccentric. You can’t look at him without thinking “granddad made a lot of money and then got into some pretty elaborate cosplay.”
But the look was purposeful. In introducing the Doctor to audiences, it was important to let them know from the start that this slight old man was mysterious, probably dangerous, and always out of place. In the same way this early era of Doctor Who influenced the show’s future, Hartnell’s costume created a kind of lookbook for his predecessors.
The Second Doctor:
The Second Doctor (1966–1969) seemed like a time-traveling dumpster diver upon first look. There’s a reason he’s (affectionately?) referred to as the “cosmic hobo.” I’d also offer “intergalactic drifter,” because it looks like he murdered someone and borrowed their clothes, even though they clearly don’t fit properly.
Patrick Troughton took on the role of the Second Doctor after the producers of the show came up with the idea of regeneration, which has now ensured the show’s longevity into a new century.
That might be why the Second Doctor’s look so closely followed his predecessor. Costume as continuity, or variation on a theme. Troughton’s Doctor kept things baggy, with a black frock coat, similar plaid pants, and upgrading to a tiny bow tie. With a shaggy mop of hair and a face as malleable as Silly Putty, Troughton’s Doctor was meant to be a bumbling clown. (He liked to play the recorder and had a fondness for hats.) It’s a little Chaplinesque, but now it carries as a man who woke up on your front lawn after a long night at the pub. Mind the absinthe parties, Doctor.
The Third Doctor:
In January 1970, the Doctor spent a long weekend at Tom Jones chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland, and after long nights of laughter and too much brandy in the Jacuzzi, he borrowed a few things on the way out.
The Third Doctor (1970–1974), brought the Doctor Who franchise squarely into the modern day by turning the time traveler into a dashing and dapper action star. Jon Pertwee’s incarnation of the Doctor could often be found in velvet smoking jackets with ruffled shirts, black leather gloves, silk ties, and, on occasions, a cape. Right after he’s done dispatching the Cybermen, he’s gotta make his lounge act at the Kitty Kat room in Reno.
This time the Doctor’s clothes were a symbol of change. It was a new era, as the show largely kept the Doctor Earth-bound while working for a secret government agency. The Doctor traded in the TARDIS for fast cars (and, yes, a “Whomobile.”), and dropped the sonic screwdriver in favor of dolling out judo-chops. This was the era of popular British shows like The Avengers and The Persuaders!, and the Doctor became an international man of mystery. Think of it as spy-fi.
The Fourth Doctor:
Tom Baker’s Doctor (1974–1981) became an icon in the history of the series. Partially because he had the longest tenure as the character. But really, it comes down to one thing: that striped scarf. It was the original infinity scarf.
The Fourth Doctor’s multicolored muffler became a trademark for the character. According to Baker, the impossible length of the scarf was all the work of an overenthusiastic knitter. The basics of the outfit were all there, though they varied over his seasons: long coat, patterned vest, and a cravat, with the addition of a wide-brimmed fedora. But then there was the scarf. The costume was allegedly inspired by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters of Aristide Bruant.
The Fourth Doctor was right at home in the late ’70s. Baker’s unrelenting curls, wild eyes, and maniacal grin seemed to be a dead giveaway of his alienness. When combined with the bohemian ensemble, it screamed English lit professor who shops exclusively at Goodwill and will probably get you high. It’s worth noting here that the Fourth Doctor was notorious for carrying a bag of snacks around with him in his coat at all times.
The Fifth Doctor:
There’s something about the Fifth Doctor (1981–1984) that makes him seem like he would be more at home on Days of Our Lives or All My Children. He’s too pretty to be adventuring around in time and space.
After seven seasons of Tom Baker, the show clearly had to draw a line between the past and future of Doctor Who. And Peter Davison looked like a Labrador puppy playing in a bubble bath compared to Baker.
But Davison’s ensemble was as much a break from the past as it was a throwback. The Fifth Doctor wore a cricketer’s uniform: a cream overcoat with striped pants, coupled with a white V-neck sweater and a shirt with the Doctor’s recently added question mark insignia on the collar. (Even the Doctor couldn’t escape the pull of corporate branding.) He added some flare with a Panama hat and a celery stalk boutonniere.
It was a youthful look for a youthful Doctor (Davison was the youngest to take the role until Matt Smith). But it’s also starkly fashionable compared to his previous incarnations. For one, it all matches nicely and fits well. Today we’d call it “Doctor: The new summer collection by Tommy Hilfiger.”
The Sixth Doctor:
In the mythos of the show, the Sixth Doctor (1984–1986) — played by Colin Baker — is supposedly one of the most unhinged. The effects of his regeneration left him like an underbaked cake, allegedly.
But that look. It burns your pupils. It’s like the Doctor went on a coke binge with David Bowie and ran naked through the halls of the TARDIS while listening to the original cast recording of Godspell. He emerged, a fully realized man of the ’80s in an acidic perm and the Amazing Technicolor Nightmare Coat.
By this point Doctor Who had been on the air for more than 20 years and the show was trying to fight off signs of aging while dodging cancellation.
The basics of the costume were largely the same as the past: a long coat, a vest, patterned pants, and a tie. But then someone adjusted the color and tint dials. Honestly, how the Doctor’s enemies didn’t burst into laughter the minute after seeing him is a mystery to me. Baker described the look as “an explosion in a rainbow factory.”
The Seventh Doctor:
After the Sixth Doctor’s patchwork couture, there was really only one way to go: subdued. And when you think subdued, most of us think, question mark-patterned sweater vest.
Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor (1987–1989) had a costume that signaled a slight return to sanity, or at least as close as you can get for a show on wobbly legs trying to enter its third decade. McCoy’s Doctor seemed like a cross between a Batman villain and your bumbling uncle on vacation. The Seventh Doctor wore a safari jacket and Panama hat, complemented by that Riddler-esque sweater vest, a tie, plaid pants, and a paisley scarf. Oh, right, and an umbrella with a question mark handle. Subdued.
It was a staid look compared to his predecessor, and by contrast almost retro. In the end it didn’t matter: The BBC canceled the show after 26 consecutive seasons in 1989.
The Eighth Doctor:
The 1990s were not good to the Doctor. While many of us can look back in regret at our Zubaz, flannels, and baggy overalls, the Doctor came into the ’90s as a velveteen Victorian. The Eighth Doctor (1996) was supposed to bring the franchise back to life by way of a TV movie made by the BBC and Fox. Paul McGann’s Doctor took all the basic elements of the Doctor’s wardrobe and blasted it out to the point of excess. It wasn’t just that he wore a frock coat, but a velvet one, with a silken double-breasted vest and a silk cravat. The producers clearly wanted to play up the “time” part of time traveler.
But the overall appearance was more of a Mad Hatter. But given all the flair and extravagance of ’90s fashion (a babydoll dress and combat boots seemed like a good idea), in a way that let the Doctor fit right in.
Alas, it was not meant to be. While the movie got good ratings in the U.K., it didn’t fly in the U.S. This is all our fault for watching Party of Five.
The War Doctor:
John Hurt’s Doctor was a bit of retrofitting to the show’s history; he was added into the past in the future. (George Lucas would approve.) The War Doctor, as he’s called, was first seen in the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special in 2013, but within the show’s history he’s essentially Doctor 8.5. Time travel can be messy and make your brain hurt sometimes.
Hurt’s character was essentially the Doctor as a soldier, the man who fought and ended a time war all on his own. His costume plays on this idea, with a battle worn look for the Doctor: a distressed leather coat, a vest, a cravat, and World War II-era spats. If you were wondering how to make a cravat and vest look tough, the answer is add a bandolier.
The Ninth Doctor:
After being off the air for more than a decade, Doctor Who returned to television in 2005. And he came back looking like your friend who spends too much time shopping at Hot Topic. Christopher Eccleston was responsible for bringing the Doctor back to life and updating him for a new millennium, and he kept his costume simple: black on black on black. Eccleston said he wanted the focus to be on the Doctor, not the costume. The Ninth Doctor wore a black leather coat, black V-neck shirt, and black pants. It’s a look that either says “I’m mysterious” or “I don’t want to put much thought into what I’m wearing to the Paul Oakenfold show.” You look at Eccleston and see a broody guy, and his Doctor came back to TV as a man with a haunted past.
But Eccleston deserves credit, not just for reviving the Doctor, but pulling off the look. We all know how hard it can be to find matching shades of black in the closet.
The Tenth Doctor:
If the Ninth Doctor was the guy you met at the club, the Tenth Doctor (2005–2010) was the guy you’d bring home to meet your parents. David Tennant’s Doctor was modern and stylish, a clear departure from his monochromatic forbearer. Tennant wore slim-cut pinstripe suits with four buttons, Chuck Taylors, and a suede overcoat. A handsome lad, for sure, but perhaps a little high maintenance given the time he needs to get his hair ready.
Tennant not only made the Doctor contemporary, he helped take him global. Of course it doesn’t hurt when your Time Lord has the bearing of a heartthrob. Look at him and tell me you can’t picture him playing bass for Interpol.
The Eleventh Doctor:
Every Doctor has his fashion quirks, and with the Eleventh Doctor (2010–2013), it was bow ties. Hell, he even turned it into a catchphrase.
Matt Smith was in an odd spot taking over for David Tennant. They’re both good-looking youngish guys, so how to differentiate between the two? Smith’s Doctor chose mad professor over charming indie rocker. The Eleventh Doctor wore a tweed jacket, complete with elbow patches, as well as suspenders, dark pants, and lace-up boots. Smith’s Doctor was natty and hip, as bow ties and textures were on the rise in men’s fashion during his tenure. It’s Oxford on the TARDIS, a look that helped Smith — the youngest actor to play the part — gain a little gravitas. But only a little. The Eleventh Doctor’s love of fezzes and cowboy hats made every adventure seem just a little like a costume party teetering on the edge of chaos.
The producers ditched the tweed for a more traditional look for the Doctor in the latter half of Smith’s run. The frock coat, vest, and new bow tie created a clear line to Doctor Who’s past just in time for the show’s 50th anniversary.
The Twelfth Doctor:
It seems appropriate that the succession stops with Capaldi’s new understated and modern look. A navy overcoat with a matching cardigan and pants, and a white dress shirt and black shoes to end out the look. (BBC originally claimed that the boots were Doc Martens but recently issued a correction.) It’s simple and sleek, not relying on any accessories or flare, aside from the blazing red lining in his coat. It’s a bit of a young man’s look, which is helpful given that Capaldi is one of the oldest actors to take on the role. Then again, it’s a look that’s worked well for David Lynch.
Like the two doctors before him, the Twelfth Doctor is a man who enjoys the services of a good tailor. The Crombie coat also shows he has good taste (and apparently deep pockets), as the label is famous for fitting Cary Grant, John F. Kennedy, and The Beatles.
At this rate, The Doctor’s already giving that other long-standing icon of British style a run for his money. Obviously, I’m talking about this guy: