On November 23rd, science fiction television will hit a major landmark. Dr. Who, the oldest running Sci Fi show in continued production, turns 49.
The very first episode, titled “An Unearthly Child” broadcast on BBC in 1963, but was largely eclipsed by the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It re-aired a week later in front of the shows second episode. In the pilot episode, The Doctor (a 900 year old alien who looks perfectly human) is hiding out in a junkyard in 1960’s London with his granddaughter Susan. Her teachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright become suspicious of Susan’s above-average intelligence, which includes a unique grasp of history, time, and physics. While investigating her home situation, the two teachers stumble into an old police box hidden in the junk yard, discover that it’s really a spaceship that is “bigger on the inside,” and are immediately whisked away to times and worlds never before seen.
Key themes develop early on in the series that follow throughout all of The Doctors 11 incarnations. The Doctor travels through space and time, more often than not at the whims of his spaceship the TARDIS (which stands for Time And Relative Dimension In Space), rarely ever sure where or when he will actually land. He somehow always finds his way back to “modern” day England. His “weapon” of choice is actually a high-tech multipurpose device known as a sonic screwdriver (so named because when it first debuted, all it did was literally turn screws using sound). He ALWAYS encounters trouble wherever he goes. He constantly picks up companions along the way who help him outwit evil and generally keep him from getting too caught up in his own power and brilliance. And when he becomes badly damaged, he regenerates an entirely new body (generally younger than the previous version) with a whole new set of personality quirks. This last attribute has allowed The Doctor to stay new and fresh, a key ingredient to its half-century of success.
My fascination with The Doctor really began in earnest with the 10th Doctor, David Tennant. I was living on Afognak Island at a remote hatchery, and BBC America was my “go to” station on the satellite. I was fascinated by The Doctor’s wit, charm, and clever penchant for escaping the stickiest of situations. It had everything a nerd like me could enjoy. It had history, the power of science, aliens, strong female roles, and just enough heart and emotion to jerk the occasional tear from my eye. It was a refreshing alternative to the junk that passes for American television.And the writing is fantastic, so much attention to detail. Subtle themes emerge as each season progresses, jokes are made referencing encounters from past incarnations.
The more I immersed myself in the “modern” Doctors (9 through 11), the more interested I became in the “classic” years (Doctors 1 through 8). I’m currently on the third Doctor, John Pertwee, the first to be filmed in full color. It’s really amazing to see the character of the Doctor evolve through different bodies, companions, and alien encounters and to see the advances in cinematography that accompany each upgrade.
So if you’ve never had a chance to enjoy “Doctor Who” I highly recommend you slide on over to Netflix or Amazon Prime and check out both modern and classic runs of the series. And because the series is so “timey wimey” you don’t have to start at the “beginning” to appreciate the wit and humor of the Man in the Blue Police Box.
And now in honor of 49 years of Dr. Who and the holiday season, some fun Dr. Who related nerd gear:
A shirt from my own collection, on clearance and courtesy of sharkrobot.com
Or you can always go the DIY route and build your very own TARDIS bookcase!