As a little nerdling, I was fortunate that my local PBS station carried the adventures of the mysterious Doctor Who every Saturday afternoon. My childhood friend, Lyle Payne, introduced me to the time-travelling tales of the peculiar Time Lord one rainy Saturday when outdoor activity was out of the question (Thanks, Mom). As a fan of Star Trek and Star Wars, I was skeptical about this low-budget British sci-fi import but the first time I saw the TARDIS materialize and a flamboyant, almost jubilant, figure emerge on an unknown world I was hooked.
I continued to follow the Doctor(s) throughout my childhood, teen years and (yes) into my adulthood. Every so often the Doctor would have to regenerate into a new body, a cast change necessity that the show writers worked brilliantly into the mythos of The Doctor. Each time a new Doctor would take over the helm of the TARDIS, the show would also get a newly regenerated logo.
The Doctor Who logo may not be as recognized as Coca-Cola, IBM or the Superman shield but it’s a solid casestudy of how a logo can evolve, or regenerate, to stay fresh while remaining symbolic of the property it’s meant to represent.
What do you get when you cross the Doctor Who opening theme and the 16-bit goodness of the Super Nintendo? You get all kinds of awesome, of course!
Not convinced? Check out this YouTube video and become a believer.
William Hartnell (1963-1965)
William Hartnell is The Doctor I’m least familiar with because many of his episodes are lost due to the BBC erasing the tapes during a spring cleaning in the 1970s. However, there are a few extant episodes that can be seen occasionally. Hartnell was a grumpy, irascible grandfather figure. Like him, the logo for the first two seasons of Doctor Who was a solid, stately block sans-serif.
Patrick Troughton (1966-1969)
With Patrick Troughton, The Doctor became a more laid-back, whimsical character. Troughton’s Doctor was an absent-minded, brilliant vagabond with a penchant for gadgets like the Sonic Screwdriver. The Doctor Who logo regenerated into a lively serif font which, although not as light-hearted as the Second Doctor, was still a nice change of pace.
John Pertwee (1970-1974)
The Third Doctor was a dapper dandy who was an authoritative man of action. What wasn’t to love about this guy? He wore crushed velvet and and a ruffled shirt, drove a bright yellow jalopy named “Bessie” and took down his enemies with Venusian Aikido. The Third Doctor’s logo was the first to get the sci-fi treatment. The bent crossbar on the “H” in Who mixed with solid, serif font screamed “Hey, let’s travel the universe and fight some Daleks”.
Tom Baker (1974-1981)
Then there was Tom Baker! Baker was the longest serving on-air Doctor and he was Fantastic. His floor length scarf and bag of Jelly Babies became sci-fi icons. To most Americans Tom Baker is Doctor Who. The Doctor Who logo from Baker’s tenure reminds me of the designs in 1970s era Tiffany lampshades found at kitschy restaurant chains of the day. I have a soft spot for the logo though, since it graces my membership badge for The Whovian Society.
Peter Davison (1981-1984)
After Tom Baker’s epic run as The Doctor, the role was taken over by 29 year old Peter Davison. He was the youngest actor to take on the persona of the 900 year old Time Lord. He brought a youthful exuberance to the role. The logo was remade with a futuristic tube font and always reminded me of the Star Wars logo, especially Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. I suspect the resemblance was not an accident.
Colin Baker (1984-1986)
Colin Baker was the “crazy” Doctor, at least to me. His Doctor was flamboyantly dressed but his technicolor coat hid a darker, more driven personality than his previous incarnations. After his regeneration caused by poisoning in The Caves of Androzani, he nearly strangled his companion before getting a grip on his new self. The difference between Davison’s and Baker’s Doctors could not have been more dramatic, but the logo underwent a surprisingly mild regeneration. It now sported a minor vertical bend and a more subdued color scheme.
Sylvester McCoy (1987-1989)
Sylvester McCoy took over the role of The Doctor when the series was in an apparent death spiral. Despite McCoy’s popularity among fans, he still remains one of the most popular Doctors, the show’s ratings continued to decline. Finally in 1989, the show was put on indefinite hiatus. Whovians were crestfallen (yeah, me). It would be seven years before the TARDIS flew again. The McCoy era logo mixed a retro script font with a heavy block font. I felt the script font’s highly angled skewing was a little tacked on. I’d have kept it parallel to the “WHO” part of the logo, but still a nice change of pace.
Paul McGann (1996)
After seven years, Doctor Who returned to the airwaves thanks to the FOX network. A made for TV movie debuted in 1996 and saw Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor regenerate into the suave Paul McGann. The Doctor’s arch-nemesis, The Master, was determined to steal The Doctor’s remaining regenerations but, of course, The Doctor saved the day and took off to parts unknown with a new companion. Unfortunately, ratings weren’t strong enough to warrant a permanent return to TV. After this two-hour tease, Whovians would have to wait another 9 years for weekly adventures. The logo used for this backdoor pilot was the same one used by the Third Doctor with a nice 3D effect to give it weight.
Christopher Eccleston (2005)
Finally! After a 9 year absence from TV, The Doctor finally returned in 2005. Christopher Eccleston brought a darker essence to the character. During the course of the season it’s revealed that The Doctor took part in a time-spanning Time War which saw the destruction of his old enemies, the Daleks, and his own race, the Time Lords (both would return through the coming seasons). The new logo evokes The Eye of Harmony, the power source at the heart of the TARDIS.
David Tennant (2005-2010)
Eccleston’s Doctor regenerated after one season into the youthful David Tennant. Tennant brought the same youthful exuberance of Peter Davison but kept the dark secrets introduced by Christopher Eccleston. His five year run as The Doctor cemented the show as “Must See TV” for the 21st century. While Eccleston and Tennant’s Doctors were significantly different the logo remained safely similar for new and old fans. The Eye of Harmony theme was kept with a slightly narrower look.
Matt Smith (2010-2013)
Matt Smith is the youngest Doctor since Peter Davison. So far, his tenure as The Doctor has been brilliant. His youthful exterior is a nice buffer for the old soul inside. He has faced down old and new foes and even managed to cause the genocide of an evil, parasitic race feeding off the Human Race for centuries. The Matt Smith logo is my favorite logo of the long run of the show. The “DW” in the shape of the TARDIS is equally effective in identifying the show alone or teamed with the metallic, heavy Doctor Who logotype.
The fun and quirky Doctor Who portraits were illustrated by Bob Canada. Checkout his blog for more wonderful illustrations and funny commentary on pop culture.