An Ode to the Doctor Who Hand Pose

An Ode to the Doctor Who Hand Pose

David Tennant’s Doctor is very big on hands. Well, most biped humanoids, Time Lords included, are quite keen on having all their limbs. But remember the sword fight in “Christmas Invasion”? Remember the fighting hand? Remember how he grew a whole other version of himself out of that hand four years later?

But, most importantly, remember the hand pose?

Every Thursday in November, io9 is celebrating the history of Doctor Who, its legacy, and its anniversary celebrations across 60 years of adventures in Time and Space, as we gear up for the big day itself on November 23—and a new era beyond it shortly after…

The Doctor is a peculiar character to photograph for publicity. They don’t always do props—outside of the Sonic Screwdriver, and even that wasn’t always guaranteed back in the day. They don’t have any powers or abilities to gesticulate for, they’re not, for the most part, physical fighters. The things the Doctor is good at—their compassion for others, their ability to talk their way out of problems, their sprint pace down any given length of corridor—are not really things you can entirely get across when doing a publicity shoot. They don’t really have poses, either.

Except one. Firm stance. Stare down the camera. Dominant arm raised. Hand splayed. Never pointed, never beckoning, not even really gesturing. Just… splayed. The hand pose!


I joked about David Tennant’s Doctor and hands earlier; aside from the odd importance a literal, singular hand had to his first tenure in the TARDIS, the man loved himself a hand pose. It’s all over the press pictures of Tennant’s years on Doctor Who, to the point that, now that the actor is back in action as a new incarnation of the Doctor, he’s doing all over again in the promotional pictures for the 60th anniversary specials—as if that is as nostalgic and worth celebrating as part of this anniversary as anything else. And in a way it is: the pose isn’t just Tennant’s, he was likely inspired by a famous publicity shoot of Tom Baker’s Doctor doing much the same. But almost every Doctor had one.

Jon Pertwee’s Doctor was fond of a Doctor Strange-ian horns. Baker arguably started the more general vague hand-splaying adopted by Tennant. Peter Capaldi, in turn, made the hand pose his own, wiggling his fingers with reckless abandon. Hell, Ncuti Gatwa’s Doctor isn’t even here yet and he’s already doing it! There is just something that reads as unequivocally Doctor-ish about the whole thing. An air of mystery to it that befits the Doctor’s own beguiling allure. What does it mean? Who knows. What does it invoke? No idea. Why do it? You can only put your hands in your pockets or on your hips so many times, I guess. Why does it feel so Doctor Who anyway? Don’t know, it just does.

And maybe that’s why it’s worth celebrating, this weird little part of an ever-evolving character picked up and iterated on by generation after generation of actor to inhabit the role. That’s part of the joy of Doctor Who going on for so long—even the littlest flourish can spark a legacy across Time and Space.