Other than maybe Han Solo, in the universe of sci-fi fashion, most leading men have let us down. Captain Kirk is cool, sure. But you can’t go out dressed like him without getting some serious pit-stains. I always loved the outfits from Logan’s Run, but it gets cold in big cities sometimes. Battlestar Galactica? Come on. T-shirts and ugly wifebeaters? What is that?
All in all there’s only one hero of time and space out there who knows how to dress. And his name is the Doctor.
Before the Tenth Doctor’s alternating red or cream sneakers, the Fifth Doctor was rocking some pretty sweet white trainers. Because Peter Davison’s Doctor sort of had a cricket-player thing going on, this totally made sense. But he’s not the only Doctor with cool shoes. Though one can’t wear the dandy boots of Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor with just anything, a good formal boot is an easy way to communicate sexiness. And speaking of boots, Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith has brought back the “ugly” functional boot in a big way.
Jackets, Blazers and Suits:
Starting with William Hartnell, the Doctor’s dress has generally exuded a vague sense of formality. With the exception of Christopher Eccelston’s Ninth Doctor, every incarnation of our favorite Time Lord has worn a collared shirt, and often a blazer or suit-jacket of some kind. Though Patrick Troughton’s ill-fitting jacket is pretty much a fashion fail, he did start the trend of the Doctor dressing casually formal while simultaneously goofy.
You’d think Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor would have a monopoly on the velvet blazer, but both the Fourth and Eighth Doctors sported velvet too. The Eleventh Doctor’s tweed blazer is maybe a little more classic than a velvet one, but it communicates the same retro message. The Doctor likes vintage clothes, because from his perspective there’s no such thing as vintage since nothing ever goes out of fashion.
The Tenth Doctor probably wins in the blazer/suit department owing to the fact that his ensembles work because he isn’t trying too hard. He looks cool, but never out of place. In “The Waters of Mars” when he’s standing there in his blue suit, cradling his spacesuit, it might have looked stupid. But it doesn’t, because the Tenth Doctor’s suits are like James Bond’s tuxedos, strangely appropriate for all occasions because the wearer is super-confident.
When the Doctor is doing outer-wear, he does it in the style of a detective or a superhero. Most of the Doctor’s big coats are cloak-like, reminding us of the character’s connections to Sherlock Holmes. Some of this—like the Third Doctor’s capes—just call a lot of attention to the Doctor. Other coats, like the Ninth Doctor’s plain leather jacket, are unassuming, but still works on a classic level.
Even though the Ninth Doctor got a lot of grief for this jacket, it actually was a brilliant fashion move. The Doctor had been gone from the public consciousness for a while, meaning any notion of how he dressed was up for grabs. Playing it safe would have probably meant doing some amalgamation of familiar Doctor pieces—a scarf, a hat, a big coat, a tie of some kind. Instead, the Ninth Doctor’s outfit is a risk. Because it’s simple, or “boring,” it actually is one of the cooler outfits of all the Doctors. The Ninth Doctor’s coat and general fashion works because it’s relatable. Most of us don’t wear bowties and crazy scarves. But many of us do own a warm-weather coat and a few sweaters (jumpers) which we will always wear. Fashion-wise, the Ninth Doctor was the people’s Doctor.
While he’s not the Doctor, Captain Jack Harkness should get a special mention here for bringing back the WWII style trench. Honestly, I bought one cheap from an Army surplus place last winter and feel like I’m on the Torchwood team whenever I put it on.
Scarves and Ties:
Obviously we can’t talk about the Doctor’s fashion sense without talking about neckwear. The Fourth Doctor’s ridiculous scarf is probably the most noticeable scarf of all time and space. What’s so great about the Fourth Doctor’s scarf is that it is somehow its own fashion reference point. Don’t tell me the long scarf Rose wears in the final scenes of “The End of Time” isn’t a shout-out to Tom Baker. Not only that, but I bet those Harry Potter scarves wouldn’t be near as cool if it weren’t for Doctor number 4.
Ties and bowties are obviously a big deal with the Doctor. And even though the Eleventh Doctor has been constantly reminding us that “bow-ties are cool,” he isn’t the first Doctor to rock this iconoclast fashion statement. The Second Doctor, the Third Doctor, and even David Tennant under the guise of John Smith, have all worn bow ties. There are a lot of sociological theories as to what the wearer of a bow tie is trying to say by wearing a bow tie. In one of the deleted scenes from Season 5, Amy asks the Doctor “is it a cry for help?” But not matter the answer, the main reason the bow tie works for the Doctor is because he is the Doctor. The Doctor has also worn regular ties throughout his various incarnations. This is good, because ties are cool too.
Let’s get one thing straight—fezzes are NOT cool. River Song did us all a favor by blasting that thing with her ray-gun. But, some of the Doctor’s hats have been awesome. I know we all love Tom Baker’s big floppy hat, and the hat is pretty much the only thing that saved the Seventh Doctor’s look; the sweater and trousers weren’t really doing Slyvester McCoy any favors, but the hat sort of brought it all together and gave him a more distinguished/mysterious quality. All in all though, I have to say that I love Fifth Doctor Peter Davison’s hat the best. It seems like he really uses it to protect himself from the elements, and it somehow makes the stick of celery on his lapel make sense.
There have of course, been many fashion failures. And no, I didn’t forget about the Sixth Doctor. I just couldn’t bring myself to write about his get-up. Sure, trying to kill Peri in “The Twin Dilemma” was messed up, but not near as whack as that freaking coat!
All in all, considering how long the guy has been around, I think he’s succeeded more times than he’s failed. As aliens go, I think we can all agree that the Doctor is hands-down the best dressed.
This post originally appeared December 31, 2010
Ryan Brit is a long-time contributor to Tor.com. In the late 90’s and early 00’s, his fashion repertoire relied heavily on navy blue Chuck Taylors. But in the era of Tenth Doctor David Tennant, he switched to red. He’s also been rocking an elbow-patched tweed jacket way before Matt Smith showed up.