Wednesday, November 20, 2013

50 Years of Doctor Who, An Introduction

It’s finally upon us.

The anniversary week of Doctor Who. 50 years. That’s quite a legacy.

Doctor Who - "An Unearthly Child"
But I am conflicted about whether I should take the time now to introduce the show? It’s been 50 years. Can I explain that? Should I try? Well, I would like to write a little on the anniversary, so maybe I should.

So let’s just introduce some of the basics of what we are talking about when fans bring up Doctor Who.

The show was first put on in 1963. It was produced by the BBC, the primary source of television at the time in the United Kingdom. The idea was to put out a new family show on Saturdays in the 6 PM hour.

Doctor Who - "The Gunfighter"
It was something of an innovative idea. Have a science fiction show, where you could show kids weird aliens and the occasional ray gun. But couple with this, historical stories, taking kids back in British and world history. The key to make these two ideas come together was time travel.

The characters in the show would have a time machine, which would take them off to interesting moments in history (like the height of the American Old West, the sacking of Troy, or the journey of Macro Polo). And then they could head into the future and see what would come. But the historical side was to be the focus. It would be cheaper, seeing as the BBC had a massive collection of costumes and props for historical dramas.

But how would the characters travel?

The TARDIS. …That’s what they call the time machine. It means Time And Relative Dimensions In Space. It’s a vessel that can take riders through time at will. Or, it can take you to any point in the universe, which they started doing with the second story of the series.

The ever present problem with the TARDIS is it's issues with getting you where you want to go. From the start, the vessel proved to have a problem hitting it's mark. In fact it seemed impossible, like lightening hitting a spot twice. Over the years the accuracy did improve. But even in the modern series of Doctor Who, it has a habit of surprising you with where you end up.

The ship was an interesting design. It is, as everyone says, “bigger on the inside”. The outside shell of the TARDIS seems quite small in most cases, usually it is the size of a small closet. But on the inside, it is vast. (How vast depends on who is writing. Sometimes it’s world onto itself. Other times, it’s just an impressive labyrinth.) The idea is one of the wonderful oddities and quirks of the series.

So a show was born, but who would it follow?

At its core would be a mysterious and old figure. Secretive. Brilliant. Alien. A person who would go by the title Doctor.

And around the Doctor, from the beginning, you will find his companions, humans (for the most part) taken out of their times (usually the present – relatively). At the start of the series, these people were not welcomed. The Doctor was largely solitary. But these humans grew on the Doctor, and it wasn't long before he found himself distraught at the thought of being alone. He would always find a new person, or group, that he could draw in, or find racing/stumbling into his life.

But returning to the Doctor, the long life of the series proved a complexity. The actor playing the Doctor, as the years progressed, was finding his age created issues in playing the role. The point came that they decided that some changes were needed. (Different people have different reading of the how’s and why’s of the change, and I don’t know what the definitive truth is.)

So a change in actors was agreed on. But an idea was struck on. The Doctor is an alien. Do you just get an actor that looks similar? (Think Darren on Bewitched.) Or, is there something in his alien physiology that would allow him to completely change? A full revamp.

Last days of the Doctor's
fourth body.
And the 5th Doctor arrives.
Regeneration. The Doctor would regenerate. It would mean that when the Doctor found himself nearing death, he could will himself to change. (Though it seemed to be an involuntary thing much of the time.) He would change his everything. New body. New voice. New personality. He would change from a white hair to black. He would change from stodgy to playful.

At his core though, he would always be the Doctor. His nature would always be true. But his demeanor, that would be reset.

And what is the nature of the Doctor. He is the good man. He strives to help. He strives to end harm. He strives to prevent death and suffering. He is a doctor to the universe. And he makes house calls.

Many faces. One Doctor.

 Next, for this anniversary, let's look at the first adventure.

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