Home > R > The tenure of Doctor Who incarnations

The tenure of Doctor Who incarnations

With a new actor being announced tomorrow, it got me pondering about the good Doctor. Specifically, who is the longest serving doctor? IMDB has the data:

whos <- data.frame(
  doctor = c(
    "William Hartnell",
    "Patrick Troughton",
    "Jon Pertwee",
    "Tom Baker",
    "Peter Davison",
    "Colin Baker",
    "Sylvester McCoy",
    "Paul McGann",
    "Christopher Ecclestone",
    "David Tennant",
    "Matt Smith"
  n_episodes = c(
  stringsAsFactors = FALSE
whos$doctor <- factor(whos$doctor, levels = whos$doctor)

Let’s plot it to see how it changes over time.

(bars <- ggplot(whos, aes(doctor, n_episodes)) +
  geom_bar(stat = "identity") +

The plot shows that earlier doctor whos were typically in more episodes

There was a definite shift after Tom Baker towards a shorter term as the doctor. In terms of screen time, the shift is a little less pronounced due to the move from 25 minutes to 45 minutes per episode from Christopher Ecclestone onwards (and for one of the Colin Baker series).

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  1. 3rd August, 2013 at 15:01 pm

    Thanks for this interesting chart. It really helps put the Doctor’s tenures into perspective.

    I’m currently undertaking my first marathon in which I watch every episode broadcast, in chronological order, and then blog about it – 50 Years in 50 Weeks. You can check out my blog at http://doctorwhomindrobber.wordpress.com/

  2. Anonymous
    4th August, 2013 at 20:42 pm

    As you already mention, the episode length nearly doubles in the modern era. You may want to update your graph to reflect this. It would be more accurate.

    • 5th August, 2013 at 8:08 am

      Not more accurate, just a different metric.

      It’s also more of a pain in the ass to get the data for, since there are lots of specials with nonstandard lengths. If you’re happy to collect the data, I’ll gladly draw you a plot

  3. alurin
    8th August, 2013 at 15:46 pm

    “Episode” is an odd metric, though, since most of the Classic episodes were parts of serials, whereas most of the modern episodes are standalones. So you’re getting neither at screen time, duration of tenure, or number of stories. Also, you misspelled “Eccleston” 🙂

  4. 9th August, 2013 at 22:28 pm

    Hi there, nice work. I’ve done something similar – data, script and plot are available here http://pbett.webs.com/stats/stats.html#DW

    My “solution” to the problem of metric was to use the full length of the episode featuring each Doctor, regardless of how long there were present for. This causes some oddities, at regeneration-time, but it’s easier than actually sitting in front of each episode with a stopwatch measuring screentime or something similar, and fussing about flashbacks, Doctor-Lite episodes, etc. There’s no neat way of doing it, so as long as you’re careful about what it is you’re actually plotting I think it’s fine. Number of episodes is a good metric from the point of view of the viewer, who has to wait a week between each one – a week >> the difference between 25 & 45/60 minutes, so it’s closer to what the viewer will feel perhaps.

  5. 23rd August, 2013 at 14:07 pm

    Sylvester McCoy was my Doctor growing up but for some reason in my mind I had it that he had done a lot more episodes than your chart suggests (the memory is a funny old thing!). Always awesome to see R and Doctor Who in the same blog post 🙂

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