Allons-y! Even after 50 years, "Doctor Who" still going strong

Allons-y! Even after 50 years, "Doctor Who" still going strong

November 21st, 2013 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

THE ELEVEN DOCTORS Picture shows: William Hartnell as The First Doctor, Patrick Troughton as The Second Doctor, Jon Pertwee as The Third Doctor, Tom Baker as The Fourth Doctor, Peter Davison as The Fifth Doctor, Colin Baker as The Sixth Doctor, Sylvester McCoy as The Seventh Doctor, Paul McGann as The Eighth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston as The Ninth Doctor, David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor and Matt Smith as The Eleventh Doctor.

Photo by Photo: BBC 2013

TIMELORD TIDBITS

• The Doctor's signature vessel, the TARDIS, is powered by the Eye of Harmony, a star ripped from its orbit and frozen at the moment it explodes and begins collapsing into a black hole.

• When he takes over as The Doctor during the 2013 Christmas special (no air date announced), 55-year-old Peter Capaldi will be the oldest actor to take on the role since William Hartnell - who was also 55 - introduced the character in 1963. At 26, current Doctor Matt Smith was the youngest to pilot the TARDIS.

• For an extended period during the tenure of actor Jon Pertwee, the Doctor was exiled to Earth and couldn't travel through time and space.

• The length of the trademark scarf worn by Tom Baker as The Doctor's fourth incarnation varies between 10 and 20 feet in length.

• Georgia Moffett, the daughter of Peter Davison, the fifth incarnation of The Doctor, is married to David Tennant, who portrayed he Doctor's 10th incarnation from 2005 to 2010. In the episode "The Doctor's Daughter," she plays the cloned offspring of her husband's character.

• Many companions have accompanied The Doctor on his travels. During his tenure as The Doctor, Tennant was joined by 11 companions, more than any other version.

• Although he is a decidedly English figure, three actors who have portrayed The Doctor are native Scots: Sylvester McCoy, David Tennant and - soon - Peter Capaldi.

• The 2007 Christmas special "Voyage of the Damned" set a post-revival high point for the show with 13.31 million viewers.

• The Doctor's versatile tool, the sonic screwdriver, doesn't make its first appearance in the show until the fifth season when it appeared in "Fury from the Deep."

DOCTOR WHO TIMELINE

• Nov. 23, 1963 - "An Unearthly Child," the first episode of "Doctor Who," airs on BBC 1. The storyline continues in three subsequent parts aired in the following weeks.

• Oct. 29, 1966 -In the first example of The Doctor's trademark regenerative abilities, Patrick Troughton replaces William Hartnell as the series' lead at the conclusion of the episode "The Tenth Planet."

• Jan. 3, 1970 - Troughton is replaced by Jon Pertwee, who makes his first appearance in the episode "Spearhead of Space." For the first time, the show is presented in color.

• June 8, 1974 - At the end of the serial "Planet of the Spiders," Tom Baker takes over as The Doctor. He holds the role for eight years, a longer tenure than any other actor.

• March 21, 1981 - With the conclusion of the serial "Logopolis," Peter Davison replaces Tom Baker, becoming the fifth actor to portray The Doctor.

• March 22, 1984 - Colin Baker begins his 31-episode run as The Doctor in "The Twin Dilemma."

• Sept. 7, 1987 - After the TARDIS crash lands in "Time and The Rani," Sylvester McCoy becomes the seventh incarnation of The Doctor.

• Dec. 6, 1989 - The initial TV run of "Doctor Who" ends with the conclusion of the three part-episode "Survival."

• May 14, 1996 - After a seven-year hiatus, "Doctor Who" returns with a made-for-TV movie. After a brief appearance, McCoy regenerates into the eight incarnation of The Doctor, who is portrayed by Paul McGann.

• Sept. 26, 2003 - The BBC issues an official announcement that it is resurrecting "Doctor Who" in a new TV series.

• March 26, 2005 - Christopher Eccleston takes over as the ninth incarnation of The Doctor in "Rose." Although it maintains storyline continuity with the classic show, the revised season is referred to as "Series 1" instead of "Series 27."

• June 18, 2005 - In the final sequence of "The Parting of the Ways," David Tennant takes over as the 10th incarnation of The Doctor.

• Jan. 1, 2010 - The current Doctor, Matt Smith, takes the reigns of the TARDIS at the end of the two-part serial "The End of Time."

• Christmas 2013 - Smith will be replaced by Scottish actor Peter Capaldi, the 12th actor to portray The Doctor.

Whovians say ...

"The series has always placed great value on courage and ingenuity. Those are tools that every person has and can easily bridge the gap between generations without seeming old or outdated. Plus it shows us that we could all aspire to be like The Doctor in some way ... even without a sonic screwdriver in our pocket."

- Rickie Blevins, 37

His first Doctor: Tom Baker (the 4th)

"Even as a child I recognized that The Doctor helps us be brave when we're terrified, encourages us to fight for what is right, reminds us of our own strengths. It brings us together to help us realize that we are not alone when we are depressed."

- Jennifer Wood, 36

Her first Doctor: Jon Pertwee (the 3rd)

"To see this man, who isn't human, live through so much heartache and pain in his long life and who has stopped so much more pain is just enduring. People love to see someone who has touched so many lives, and he has."

- Gary Cretors, 33

His first Doctor: Christopher Eccleston (the 9th)

THE PAST

Tonight at 9 p.m., BBC America (Comcast 114; EPB 145; DirectTV 264; Dish 135) will air "An Adventure in Space and Time," a docudrama about the origins of "Doctor Who." Actor David Bradley ("Game of Thrones," "Harry Potter") stars as William Hartnell, the first actor to portray The Doctor.

THE FUTURE

"The Day of the Doctor," the 50th anniversary special for "Doctor Who," will air Saturday at 2:50 p.m. on BBC America (Comcast 114; EPB 145; DirectTV 264; Dish 135).

THE RENEWAL

A new season of "Doctor Who" will begin sometime near the end of December. Scottish actor Peter Capaldi will become the 12th actor to portray The Doctor.

Most of the time, people dread visiting the doctor. But for millions around the world, there's one doctor they would drop everything to see.

Only's he's not just a doctor. He's "The" Doctor.

Since he first appeared on British TV sets 50 years ago - Nov. 23, 1963, to be exact - the eccentric star of the science-fiction series "Doctor Who" has taken audiences on almost 800 trips through time and space. To its most-devoted fans, however, the show is much more than just good, occasionally campy TV.

"'Doctor Who' is like a comfort food," says Ashley Raburn, 32, the co-founder of Tennessee Who Authority, a local "Doctor Who" fan club, and co-director of programming at Timegate, an Atlanta-based "Doctor Who" convention.

Raburn has followed The Doctor's exploits for as long as he can remember. As a child, his family made a weekend ritual out of watching public television reruns of the show. In high school, he haunted local video store Media Play to find VHS tapes of classic episodes and perused listings for spin-off merchandise in mail-order catalogs.

Even after so many years, he says, The Doctor still manages to make him feel better.

"For me, if I have a bad day, I don't go home and eat chocolate or ice cream, I go home and watch 'Doctor Who' because the show is like a longtime friend," he says. "The show has just always been there. Sometimes, the writing is horrible or the sets are rough, but it's mine and I love it."

BACK (AND FORTH) IN TIME

"Doctor Who" follows the adventures of The Doctor, a time-traveling alien who pilots the TARDIS (it stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space), a ship permanently disguised as a 1960s police call box that's "bigger on the inside." To escape the predicaments he finds himself in, he employs a genius-level intellect, empathy and a catch-all tool called the sonic screwdriver, which can unlock doors, hack computers and analyze substances, among other things.

Most importantly, when critically injured (or if the leading actor decides to leave), The Doctor "regenerates" into a new body. To date, 11 actors have taken on the role. Matt Smith has portrayed The Doctor since 2010.

Despite building a significant cult following, including some like Raburn who watched "Doctor Who" reruns in America, the BBC decided to rest the series in 1989 at the end of the 26th season. Even a mass phone-in protest from fans failed to sway the network's executives, and with the exception of a pair of mini-episodes and a made-for-TV movie in 1996, "Doctor Who" fans were left without new episodes for more than 15 years.

Rumors abounded for years that the network would revive the show and, in 2003, the BBC issued an official statement that it would return. Like many "Who" fans, Raburn was bowled over.

"It was like the world stopped," he says. "I was excited to get just one more season of 'Doctor Who,' and now it's on top of the world."

The show came back in 2005 and since has seen its popularity grow tremendously on both sides of the Atlantic. According to CableTV.com statistics, "Doctor Who" has reached an average per-episode audience of about 8 million during the last seven seasons. In its 26 years before being canceled in 1989, the series was nominated twice for British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards. Since 2005, it has been nominated 16 times, winning five, including Best Drama Series in 2006.

The show's highly anticipated 50th anniversary special, "The Day of the Doctor," will be globally simulcast Saturday in 75 countries and also will be shown in special screenings at more than 450 theaters in the U.S. and Canada. In the months leading up to the golden anniversary, current Doctor Matt Smith and other characters from the show have been featured on the cover of magazines such as Entertainment Weekly, The Times, SFX and TV Guide.

The show's longtime fans say they suspect many newcomers to "Doctor Who" share their sense of attachment to the series.

"Every person who watches the show takes something away from it," says Eric Williams, 30, who began watching "Doctor Who" at age 7.

His first episode was a rerun of "Robots," the 1974 episode that marked the first appearance of Tom Baker, whose eight-year turn as The Doctor is the longest in the show's history.

Because different actors brought different personalities and quirks to their execution of the role, fans tend to have particular favorites with whom they resonate. Williams says Baker is "his" doctor. For about five years, he has dressed as Baker's iteration of the character at local conventions, wearing a signature 16-foot, multicolored scarf and handing out Jelly Babies, an imported British candy that Baker's character was notorious for eating. He even named two of his dogs K-9, after the faithful robot companion introduced during Baker's run.

Williams says the lessons he learned watching "Doctor Who" and seeing The Doctor's pacifistic approach to conflicts helped him get through some tight spots growing up.

"I was an outsider as a kid and got picked on a lot. The Doctor is also kind of an outsider," he says. "When I watched those shows, they helped me stay positive and realize that every single person is important. That's something I've carried with me as I've gotten older."

HISTORY

Together, The Doctor and his human, and occasionally non-human, companions have overcome often impossible odds over the last 50 years. He has faced off with the devil himself on an asteroid and saved London from a horde of rampaging dinosaurs. He has ended wars on countless worlds, seen the universe end and died himself - after a fashion - more than a dozen times.

Long before it became an internationally successful franchise and a Guinness World Record holder as TV's longest-lived science-fiction show, "Doctor Who" was originally just a way to fill a hole in the BBC's schedule.

In 1962, Sydney Newman, the newly promoted head of BBC Drama, needed a family-friendly program to fit into a Saturday evening time slot between sporting show "Grandstand" and musical panel series "Juke Box Jury." The original proposal was primarily educational, following a time traveler who took his passengers back to witness significant historical events or into the future to explain various scientific processes.

The show opened with a four-episode storyline, "An Unearthly Child," which aired on Nov. 23, 1963. The Doctor - played by William Hartnell, an actor well-known for roles as tough guys and soldiers - traveled back with several companions to the Stone Age, where they become embroiled in a war between rival tribes.

The second serial, "The Daleks," introduced the robotic aliens who would become The Doctor's most-feared enemies and simultaneously did away with the pretense of being educational.

In its earliest seasons, "Doctor Who" attracted an average viewership of 8.34 million per episode, according to CableTV.com. By 1966, Hartnell's health was failing and his departure was imminent. Faced with the prospect of losing the show's leading actor, writers introduced The Doctor's ability to regenerate into a new body - a process then referred to as "renewal" - and replaced Hartnell with Patrick Troughton.

By building in a means to bring in new talent, fans say, "Doctor Who" established the critical mechanism that has allowed it to continue for 33 seasons and 798 episodes, far exceeding other science-fiction titans such as "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (178 episodes, seven seasons), "The X-Files" (202 episodes, nine seasons) and "Stargate SG-1" (214 episodes, 10 seasons).

"They built in a really simple way of continuing the character by allowing the character to evolve," says Valerie Brown, 51, who began watching the show in 2009. "It can grow with every age and every decade and every culture."

WHOVIANS

Diehard "Doctor Who" fans - or "whovians" - say the show has earned a special place in their hearts and had a surprising impact on their lives.

Some fans who watched the classic series and weathered the desert years prior to the modern revival say they feel some resentment - if only a hint - toward those who have come to the show more recently.

Like Williams, Rachel Stewart, 31, and her husband Kim Swanson, 41, attend conventions dressed as various versions of The Doctor and his companions. She initially became aware of the series just after the 2005 reboot - he watched the original series when he was younger - but after seeing the modern revision, they went back and revisited the show's classic roots. Some fans don't take the time to dig into that history, she says.

"Those are the people who say the show is so cool, but they haven't invested in the fandom; they haven't gone and done their homework," says Stewart.

Others say that, after years of languishing in a state of studio limbo, any support for the show is encouraging.

"A huge fandom will also ensure its continuation," Brown says. "If you don't have the fans, they won't sink the money into it."

Although she knows the show is entirely fictional, Stewart says there's a small part of her - and probably other fans - that secretly wishes The Doctor would pay her a house call.

"It's like a grown-up fairy tale," she says. "I think it's better than Santa Claus, in a way.

"If The Doctor shows up in my backyard, would I run away with him? Yes."

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.