William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Christopher Eccelston, David Tennant and Matt Smith…. who are these people? They are a long list of actors who have played everyone’s favorite time traveler, The Doctor, known to fans as Doctor Who! I first caught this show about 25 years ago, on Channel 11, Sunday nights at 11pm. I lost plenty of sleep waiting to see how “The Doctor saves the universe!” Doctor Who first started on November 23, 1963, on BBC television in England. It ran until the mid 80s, when it was canceled. There was a TV movie in 1996 and then the show was revived in 2005 and is currently still on the air. The BBC official site is a great place to get information on the new series as well as the older series, spoilers, news and even some fun and games. One Christmas they had an Advent calendar posted! The revival of the series has brought in so many new fans and delighted fans of old. It has always been part of pop culture in England and its wonderful to see it catching on here again!
The first Doctor (we never find out his real name) was a mysterious, curmudgeonly old gentleman who lived in a “blue police call box” with his Granddaughter, Susan, in an old junkyard. Susan’s school teacher’s were curious as to how this 16-year-old girl was so intelligent, so above the norm, that they went to see where she lived. What followed was both Ian and Barbara, the teachers, finding out the police box was actually a TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space), a time machine and spaceship used by The Doctor. Oh and it was bigger on the inside then on the outside! All four ended up travelling in time and space, encountering many aliens and eventually the evil Daleks, the Doctor’s archenemies. At some point, Susan stays behind on a future earth, and it is revealed The Doctor is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. Time Lords are an alien race that can travel through and manipulate time with their vastly superior technology. The Doctor, it turns out, grabbed a “TARDIS” and left the planet to pursue his own adventures. TARDIS’s can be “cloaked” to resemble everyday items. The Doctor’s TARDIS, being old, got stuck as a 1960s Police call box.
When the Doctor Who actor, William Hartnell,took very ill, the writers had to do something. Did the show need to end? What could be done? Bring in a new actor! How to explain it? Time Lords “regenerate”! When they are nearly mortally wounded, they change! Each regeneration brings a new look and personality to The Doctor. Many of us remember the fourth Doctor and his long, long scarf, that the fifth Doctor promptly unraveled when he appeared! Regeneration are not easy, in a sense the Doctor does “die” and is replaced by someone else. He is the same basic man, but what made one Doctor stand out, is now gone. The last Doctor to regenerate, stated “I don’t want to go”. It’s sad to see one Doctor leaving but then you get excited by the “new” one. The Doctor is also a bit “wobbly” right after a regeneration and needs a bit of time to get back on his feet. There is also the chance a regeneration might not look human.
He has spent a lot of time on Earth, was even stranded here for a bit and worked with UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) that was assembled to protect the Earth from alien threats. He has also had some wonderful companions. My two favorites are the Brigadier and Sarah Jane Smith. Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart was a no-nonsense man, who commandeered the British contingent of UNIT. He had frequent run ins with the Doctor but in the end became one of his closest friends. He is also one of the few companions to appear with almost all of the Doctor’s regenerations and is the longest running Doctor Who character (by the same actor of course). Sarah Jane Smith is a reporter who infiltrates UNIT, sneaks aboard the TARDIS and becomes embroiled in an adventure set in the Middle Ages. She works with the third Doctor and then the fourth. She is confident and inquisitive and first and foremost a feminist! This was the 70s afterall! The Sarah Jane character was brought back for the tenth Doctor series and now has her own series “The Sarah Jane Adventures” where she helps save the Earth.
There are also some great aliens, some good some bad. The most famous are the Daleks, created by the evil Davros, mutants in tank like mechanical armor, who chase enemies with shouts of “Exterminate!!”. A close second are the Cybermen, robotic creatures created from humans who no longer have emotions, who it turns out can be killed with gold. There are many other enemies from the Silurians to the Loch Ness Monster. There are some good aliens, some have traveled with the Doctor, Leela, Captain Jack (who is in the Torchwood spin-off) and Nyssa are some examples. And of course as Sherlock Holmes has his Moriarity, the Doctor needs his adversary. Enter the Master. The Doctor and the Master, also a Time Lord, grew up on Gallifrey and were childhood friends. They are equals but complete opposites. The only person in a room that can match the Doctor’s brilliance is another one of his kind, and that is usually the Master. After the great time war with the Daleks, the Doctor, finding out the Master is the only one left of his race, tries to save him. Only the Master knows what its like to be alone.
A great web page to check out is A Brief History of Time (Travel), that in addition to Doctor Who history has news on the aforementioned Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood. There are also numerous Doctor Who books from TV novelizations, to missing adventures to the “lost years”, as well as audio recordings, for a complete listing try The Doctor Who Reference Guide. Of course through the years there have been Doctor Who toys (we own a remote control Dalek that shouts “Exterminate!”), clothing (many people hand knit Tom Baker scarves in the 80s) and then there were the conventions. I never went to one but I do have a picture of Colin Baker (the Sixth Doctor) that my friend took, along with an autograph! Conventions not only had past Doctors but companions, enemies, show writers, costume designers and so on. There was even a Doctor Who song by the band The Time Lords with shouts of “Exterminate” in the chorus.
So what does the Doctor Who future hold? We just lost our tenth Doctor, David Tennant, who has regenerated (saving the Universe yet again!) and is now being played by Matt Smith. What kind of Doctor will the 11th Doctor be? What is going on with the TARDIS? Who will he travel with? What aliens will he battle? When will he have is inevitable Dalek story? So many questions! Of course fans speculate, insiders share and many spoilers abound. A great fan blog is Life, Doctor Who and Combom with all of those. Things can get a bid rabid, afterall, we love out Doctor, but it is chock full of great information for those just getting into the show or people like me, who have watched it for years. Sometimes, I think I know more about the Doctor then I really should!
The Doctor, I hope, will always be around. I love the character. Bless his two hearts. I can’t imagine life with no Doctor Who. The show is great fun! As he marches into his 47th year, I wish him many regenerations (past the 13 allotted a Time Lord). He is looking good for 906! Keep up the good work!