It’s one of those special fandom moments that all Doctor Who enthusiasts share, but each one remembers it in their own way. Where were you? What did it feel like? How excited were you when that ethereal theme music first filled the room? That question… "Who was your first doctor?" honestly matters. You always remember your first!
For me it was Tom Baker, the 4th doctor. His era in the TARDIS ran from 1974 to 1981 and he was wonderfully quirky and unlike any television character I’d seen before. He could turn a phrase in such a playful way and shake loose of almost any trouble with surprising ease and I loved every moment. He was quite a lovable old kook and I wanted to be the Doctor. I had no idea there was a whole generation of kids across the pond who felt the exact same way. You see, I was 9 years old when I first discovered the franchise and knew nothing of its history. It was 1978 and the first four seasons of Baker's run as the Doctor had just been sold to PBS stations across the US. I was there watching almost from the beginning and I can remember the moment the theme music began. I loved that sound almost as much as the show itself. It just felt different, exciting and a bit dangerous. It became "my show" and that sound of the TARDIS appearing and disappearing can still elicit a deep emotional reaction of excitement in me to this day. Tom Baker, obviously, is my answer to the question for me. He has since became my gold standard against which all future actors who take on the role are judged. I’m not alone in this and that’s why the question is such a great one for fans to discuss. The reason? The answer frames and gives perspective to each person’s very individual take on the series. It's what makes this broader franchise so magnificent. Each fan comes from a slightly different angle yet we're all Doctor Who fans. The David Tennant (10th) kids are very different from those who began with Jon Pertwee (3rd) or even Christopher Eccleston (9th).
The first major designation in perspective is old vs. new. If you discount the 1996 movie (which played host to the 8th Doctor), there is an almost 16 year difference between the 7th Doctor (classic series) and 9th Doctor (modern series). That difference in filming, pace, and storytelling is very real and forms the top level of what kind of Doctor Who fan you are. After that you drill down to personality of each Doctor and that’s the second level of identification. Which Doctor you began with often frames what you are looking for in YOUR Doctor. David Tennant is beloved by most, but for me, personally, he wasn’t a Doctor I cared for. Being a Baker guy, he was too pretty, at times too angry, and not nearly quirky enough for me. As someone who came to the series as a Baker fan I was looking for a real oddball in the role and I skew toward liking the more grandfatherly Doctors because (once I learned there was a broader series) I dug back to the early days as much as possible and met a ton of cranky old men in the role. This is what I learned it meant to be The Doctor. For me, the slow progression of Matt Smith (10th) to Peter Capaldi (11th) has been the best time ever to be a Doctor Who fan. In Smith I found the quirky Doctor I was missing. In Capaldi the quirk has evolved into an older figure full of mystery. Exactly what I want.
What makes the Doctor Who fandom so interesting is that you don't get a lot of Kirk vs. Picard arguments. The Doctor is a character of change and we love the change. It also allows the fandom to embrace many aspects of the character and evolve as the story continues. In it’s own way the tale becomes as timeless as the central character. Showrunner Steven Moffat explained it perfectly speaking with Variety…
Doctor Who is the all-time perfectly evolved television show. It's a television predator designed to survive any environment because you can replace absolutely everybody. Most shows you can't do that with. For example, once Benedict Cumberbatch gives up "Sherlock," what are we going to do? We are going to stop, that’s what we are going to do. Most shows have a built-in mortality. But here is a show that sheds us all like scales; a show that can make you feel everything except indispensable. It will carry on forever, because you can replace every part of it.
This is what makes that question of who was your first so magnificent. In one answer, you gain so much immediate knowledge about the other fan. It’s a beautiful way to share your fandom and immediately find your spot in the TARDIS.