Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Would You Like a Jelly Baby? - Doctor Who Throughout the Years.

Of all characters in modern science fiction, there is not a single one that compares to the longevity of The Doctor, of the British Sci-fi program Doctor Who. Through television programs, movies, radio shows, spin-off novels and comic books, Doctor Who has existed in one form or another since it first aired in 1963. The show's continuity as a single entity distinguishes it from other classic science fiction movies and television programs that experience a “reboot” or other retelling. Series elements such as The TARDIS (The Doctor's time traveling device), villainous aliens including the Daleks, and the character of The Doctor himself have persisted throughout the decades of the show.

The TARDIS, bigger on the inside than on the outside.

From the beginning, The Doctor was a mysterious figure, a time-traveling alien with a human appearance who adventured throughout time and space. He was first played by William Hartnell from 1963-1966 until the actor's failing health required his departure from the series, but he provided one of the key concepts behind The Doctor before he stopped playing the character. As an alien, Hartnell reasoned, why could The Doctor not “regenerate” himself into another body when near death? The Second Doctor first appeared in the fourth episode of the Tenth Planet serial, and several important aspects of the character were immediately established, most notably that in each incarnation, The Doctor not only looks, but behaves slightly differently.

As the show continued to release additional series on television over the years, The Doctor's face changed many more times and Doctor Who became more popular worldwide, in spite of parent criticism that it was too violent and frightening for children. The Doctor continued to adventure with one or more companions throughout time and space in the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space) device, which unlike the doctor retained its external appearance as a 1950's era British Police Box. Throughout the series' middle age, the actor who played The Doctor the longest was Tom Baker, portraying the Fourth Doctor, whose trademark long scarf and unusual demeanor made him one of the most immediately distinct characters in the show's long history. For many people, the Fourth Doctor was the definitive incarnation of the character, a status he would hold for over 25 years.

For many, he is the only Doctor that mattered.

The backstory of The Doctor and his alien enemies the Cybermen and the Daleks, was fleshed out and filled in a bit at a time over the years. The metal Cybermen are a race that replaced organic material bit by bit with cybernetic parts, and frequently come into conflict with The Doctor. The Daleks are an alien race of mutants bent on conquest who house themselves in a tank-like shell and have eliminated all emotions save those useful for conquest and the extermination of all other races. The insane metallic cry of “EXTERMINATE!” has persisted throughout the history of appearances by the Daleks. The Doctor himself was revealed to be a member of a race known as Time Lords, from the planet Gallifrey, though The Doctor himself seemed to be something of an outsider even to his own kind. This relationship with his people set the stage for another series recurring villain, a renegade Time Lord called The Master.

A classic joke was that the easiest way to defeat Daleks was stairs. This was later resolved, as they can fly.

The program went off of the BBC in 1989 as the network attempted to organize funding for future series featuring the characters, unsuccessfully attempting a revival with the lone appearance of the Eighth Doctor in a Television Movie in 1996. Throughout this period it was also discovered that in the 1970s over 100 episodes of early Doctor Who programs were forever lost as the original archives from the first six years of broadcast were destroyed to save space. Nearly 17 years of bad news for Doctor Who fans came to an end in 2005, when a revival starring Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor came to television screens.

The 2005 revival was tremendously popular, despite Eccleston only playing The Doctor for thirteen episodes, in no small part due to the overwhelming popularity of the Tenth Doctor. David Tennant was cast as the Tenth Doctor before the first episode of the 2005 series aired when it was made clear that Eccleston would play the character for only a single series. His regeneration was a major part of the first series' finale, and his portrayal of the character for the next five years proved so popular that he was the only actor to beat Tom Baker more than once in fan polls of “Greatest Doctor of All Time.” Aside from an episode here and there in the 1980s, it was Tennant's role as The Doctor that hooked me into the show personally and got me to track down the episodes I'd missed from 2005 on. Tennant continued to plat the character until 2008 when Matt Smith, the youngest actor to ever portray the character took over as the Eleventh, and current incarnation of the character.

My personal favorite Doctor, just barely edging out Tom Baker.

Personally, the episodes revisiting classic who villains are some of my favorites, but my all time favorite episode was “Blink” from 2007, featuring the Weeping Angels and barely featuring The Doctor at all. Throughout the years, historical adventure, sci-fi action and horror scenarios have made the show unique and consistently interesting, and several successful spin-offs have had runs of their own. Most notable among these is Torchwood, a show about an organization in Britain made aware of time travel and alien threats to Earth by the appearance of The Doctor, and their determination to defend against these threats at all costs. I'm still a few seasons behind, so I don't have much of an opinion about Matt Smith yet. I'm going to try to catch up this summer however, as I want to watch all of Torchwood in preparation for the Torchwood series “Miracle Day.” I'm sure when that premieres, I'll be right here to review it.
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The Angry Lurker said...

I must admit I've gotten into it more lately with the last three doctors.

Dave said...

The last Doctor and this Doctor are defo ok.

Sarah said...

This gave me the inspiration to start up that Doctor Who scarf I was making for you. Thanks. ;)

The Happy Whisk said...

Took me a few episodes to get used to David Doctor, but after that, I was hooked. I'm sorry he's not the doctor now. But I do like the first guy, in the new series a lot. Just a fun show overall. It has the right amounts of everything, to make a good show.

Chris C. said...

I have to admit I'm a fan of the Tom Baker Doctor. I've heard it said that for most people the first doctor they saw is the one they end up liking most -- this was indeed the case with me.

Alpha said...

Thanks for basic rundown.

Kelly said...

I wish I could say I've watched more than a couple episodes of Doctor Who to make a decent comment here, but damn it, I haven't and I feel ashamed. I love pretty much all things Sci-Fi but for some reason, I could just never get into DW. I watch Fringe, old episodes of Star Trek in all of it's variations, Stargate SG 1 series and so on and so forth but somehow, damn it, Doctor Who has slipped under my radar. Not that I wasn't unaware of it, mind you. Hmmm. Forgive me? Hey man, I'm glad to be back in the world of blogging again and I was able to comment on your thoroughly researched, well written post.

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