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Doctor Who
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Doctor Who

Doctor Who is a British science fiction television series, concerning the adventures of a mysterious time travelling adventurer known only as "The Doctor".

The programme was and remains a significant part of British popular culture, widely recognized for its creative storytelling, use of innovative music which was produced by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and budget special effects. The show has become a cult television favourite on par with Star Trek, and has influenced generations of British genre television writers, many of whom grew up watching the series. In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, Doctor Who was placed third

Table of contents
1 Overview
2 Viewership
3 Changing faces
4 Other appearances
5 Missing episodes
6 1989 cancellation
7 2005 revival
8 Related topics
9 External links


Origins and format

The programme was created at the initiation of BBC Head of Drama Sydney Newman after lengthy brainstorming sessions involving the Head of the Script Department Donald Wilson and BBC staff writers C. E. 'Bunny' Webber and David Whitaker. It was Alice Frick of the Script Department's Survey Group that suggested the show be about time travel, but it was Newman who named it Doctor Who.

Each of the weekly episodes formed part of a contained story (or "serial") of between one and eight parts - usually six in earlier years and three to four in later years. Three notable exceptions were The Trial of a Time Lord, which ran for 14 episodes and took up the whole of Season 23; the epic The Daleks' Master Plan, which made it to 12 episodes (plus a one episode Doctor-less teaser entitled Mission to the Unknown); and the 10-episode serial The War Games.

The programme was initially devised to be partly educational and for family viewing on the early Saturday evening schedule, with stories set in the past to educate the younger audience about history and stories set in the future to educate them about science. In relation to the former, several early serials saw the Doctor and his companions travel to important periods in human history, such as the French Revolution, the Roman Empire and the Battle of Culloden Moor. These so-called "historicals" were dropped after the first few years in favour of the more popular science-fiction stories, and the series would not return to a purely historical story until the 1982 serial Black Orchid, set in 1920s Britain.

Doctor Who ran for 26 seasons on the BBC from November 23, 1963 until December 6, 1989. After an absence of 16 years (barring a few one-off specials), it is scheduled to return to the small screen in 2005, maintaining its record of being the longest-running science fiction television series ever. Writers over the years have included Douglas Adams, Robert Holmes, Terrance Dicks, Dennis Spooner, Eric Saward, Malcolm Hulke, Christopher H. Bidmead and Brian Hayles. For the new series, talents such as Russell T. Davies and Mark Gatiss have come on board.

Who is the Doctor?

"The Doctor" is a Time Lord, an extraterrestrial from the planet Gallifrey, who travels in a time machine called the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space) that allows him to reach any point in time and space. For the most part, and usually because the vessel's navigation system is old and unreliable, he explores the universe at random and uses his extensive knowledge of science and advanced technology to heroically avert the crises that he encounters. The Doctor has, at various times, been accompanied by companions who have chosen to travel with him for a variety of reasons.

The Doctor is considered a renegade by his people for his penchant of getting "involved" with the universe, in direct violation of official Time Lord policy. However, most of the time his actions are tolerated, especially when he has saved not just Gallifrey, but the universe, several times over. His standing has waxed and waned over the years, from being a hunted man to even being elected Lord President of the High Council (an office he never assumed, and eventually was removed from). In the end, though, he has always seemed quite content to remain a renegade and an exile.

The character was first portrayed by William Hartnell, who played him as an irascible, grandfatherly figure. When Hartnell left the series, the role was taken over by Patrick Troughton. To date, eight actors have played the Doctor, with perhaps the most enduring incarnation being the fourth, played by Tom Baker (pictured).

When the series begins, nothing is known of the Doctor at all, not even his name. In early episodes he is referred to as "Grandfather" by the character of Susan. In the very first story, 100,000 BC, two teachers from the Coal Hill School in London, Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton, become intrigued by one of their students, Susan Foreman, who exhibits high intelligence and advanced knowledge. Trailing her to a junkyard at 76 Totter's Lane, they see her enter what appears to be a police box. Following her inside, the two not only discover the police box's unusual properties but encounter an old man calling himself the Doctor, who subsequently whisks them away for an adventure in time and space.

In the first episode, Barbara addresses the Doctor as "Doctor Foreman," as the junkyard in which they find him bears the sign "I.M. Foreman". The Time Lord responds, "Eh? Doctor who?" Although referred to in the on-screen credits for nearly twenty years as "Doctor Who", the Doctor is never really referred to by that name, except in a tongue-in-cheek manner. The only exception has been a computer in the serial, The War Machines, which commanded that "Doctor Who is required."

In The Highlanders he adopts the alias "Doctor von Wer" (a German approximation of "Doctor Who"), and signs himself as "Dr. W" in The Underwater Menace. When pressed, he sometimes gives the name "Dr John Smith". On occasion he is referred to as "Theta Sigma", apparently a University nickname. He has also been mocked by his own people for adhering to such a "lowly" title as "Doctor".

In many spin-off comic strips, books, films and other media, the character is often called "Doctor Who" (or just "Dr. Who") as a matter of course, though this has declined in more recent years. From the first story through to Logopolis (the last story of the 18th season and also of the Tom Baker era), the lead character was listed as "Doctor Who". Starting from Peter Davison's first story, Castrovalva (the first story of the series' 19th season), the lead character is credited simply as "The Doctor".

A large part of the Doctor's appeal comes from his mysterious and alien origins. While over the decades several revelations have been made about his background - that he is a Time Lord, that he is from Gallifrey, and so on - the writers have often strived to retain some sense of mystery and to preserve the eternal question, "Doctor who?" This backstory was not rigidly planned from the beginning, but developed gradually (and somewhat haphazardly) over the years, the result of the work of many writers and producers.

Understandably, this has led to continuity problems. Characters such as the Meddling Monk were retroactively classified as Time Lords, early histories of races such as the Daleks were rewritten, and so on. While some fans regard this as a problem, others regard it as a source of interest or humour (an attitude taken by in the book The Discontinuity Guide). Nevertheless, much fan speculation has centred on exactly which aspects of the television series, books, radio dramatisations, and other sources will be considered canon in the new series to be broadcast in 2005.

The monsters

When Sydney Newman commissioned the series, he specifically did not want to perpetuate the cliché of the "bug eyed monster" of science fiction. However, monsters were a staple of Doctor Who almost from the beginning, and audiences responded to them.

Notable adversaries of the Doctor include the Autons, the Cybermen, the Sontarans and the Silurians. However, the monsters that ensured the series' place in the public's imagination were the Daleks. The Daleks are a lethal race of metal-armoured mutants whose chief role in the great scheme of things would appear to be, as they frequently observe in their instantly-recognisable metallic voices, to "Exterminate!"

The Daleks were created by writer Terry Nation (who also wrote for 1960s telefantasy like The Avengers and would later create the 1970s science fiction programmes Survivors and Blake's 7) and special effects engineer Raymond Cusick. The Daleks' debut in the programme's second serial, The Daleks, caused a tremendous reaction in the viewership ratings, and put Doctor Who on the map. The Daleks even appeared on a postage stamp celebrating British popular culture in 1999.


There was some controversy over the show being suitable for viewing by children. Moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse made a series of complaints to the BBC in the 1970s over its sometimes gory or scary content. However, her actions ironically made the programme even more popular, especially with children. Producer John Nathan-Turner was heard to say that he looked forward to Mrs. Whitehouse's comments, as the show's ratings would increase soon after she had made them.

Also during the 1970s, the Radio Times (a British television guide) announced that a child's mother said the theme song terrified her son. The Radio Times was apologetic, but her view is not the prevailing one. Indeed, the tune has made its way to the world of mobile phone ringtunes. During Jon Pertwee's second season as the Doctor, in the serial Terror of the Autons, images of murderous plastic dolls, daffodils killing unsuspecting victims and blank-featured android policemen marked the apex of the show's ability to frighten children.

It has been said that watching Doctor Who from a position of safety "behind the sofa" (as the Doctor Who exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image in London was titled) and peering cautiously out to see if the scary bit was over is one of the great shared experiences of British childhood. The term has become a common phrase used in association with the programme. Some have argued that this experience is a myth, pointing out that the traditional positioning of a sofa did not allow for hiding behind it. Nevertheless, people continue to reminisce about watching Doctor Who as children, through the cracks of their fingers... and from behind the sofa.

A wide selection of serials is available on VHS and DVD from BBC Video, on sale in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States.

Changing faces

Seven actors played the Doctor on television in the original series:

1. William Hartnell (November 23, 1963 - October 29, 1966)
2. Patrick Troughton (November 5, 1966 - June 21, 1969)
3. Jon Pertwee (January 3, 1970 - June 8, 1974)
4. Tom Baker (December 28, 1974 - March 21, 1981)
5. Peter Davison (March 21, 1981 - March 16, 1984)
6. Colin Baker (March 22, 1984 - December 6, 1986)
7. Sylvester McCoy (September 7, 1987 - December 6, 1989)

In 1996 there was a one-off television movie in which Sylvester McCoy's Doctor regenerated into:

8. Paul McGann (May 27, 1996)

On March 19, 2004, the BBC announced the name of the Ninth Doctor for the new series in 2005:

9. Christopher Eccleston.

The changing of actors is explained within the series by the Time Lords' ability to "regenerate" after suffering mortal injury, illness, or age. The process repairs and rejuvenates all damage, but as a side-effect it changes the Time Lord's physical appearance and personality semi-randomly. This explanation was not developed until producers had to find a way to replace the elderly William Hartnell with Patrick Troughton. It was later established that a Time Lord can regenerate 12 times before permanently dying, though as with most such "rules" there were occasionally exceptional cases, such as when a renegade Time Lord, the Master, at the end of his regeneration cycle possessed the body of another person to continue living.

In the Sixth Doctor story The Trial of a Time Lord, a Time Lord with the title of the Valeyard (played by Michael Jayston) is revealed to be a potential future Doctor, existing somewhere between his twelfth and final incarnations and embodying all the evil and malevolence of the Doctor's dark side. The Valeyard was defeated in his attempt to actualize himself by stealing the Sixth Doctor's remaining regenerations, however, and so may never actually come to exist.

On a few occasions, previous Doctors have returned to the role, guest-starring with the incumbent:

Troughton, Pertwee with Davison in The Five Doctors, the twentieth anniversary special, with another actor, Richard Hurndall, standing in for the late William Hartnell. The story began with a clip featuring Hartnell. Tom Baker declined to appear and the narrative was reworked to use clips from Shada, an intended six-part story from the Tom Baker/Lalla Ward period that was never completed due to industrial action. A dummy of Tom Baker was used in the publicity photographs.
Patrick Troughton with Colin Baker in The Two Doctors.
Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Colin Baker, Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy - with rubber dummy heads standing in for William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton - in Dimensions in Time, a charity special in aid of Children in Need in 1993, the programme's thirtieth anniversary year.

Other appearances

Doctor Who has appeared on stage numerous times, most significantly in a stage play titled, Doctor Who: The Ultimate Adventure where the role of the Doctor has been played by, among others, screen Doctors Colin Baker and Jon Pertwee. Other original plays have been staged as amateur productions, with other actors playing the Doctor.

The Doctor has also appeared in two movies: Dr. Who and the Daleks in 1965 and Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150 AD in 1966. Both were essentially retellings of existing stories on the big screen, with a larger budget. In these films, as played by actor Peter Cushing, the Doctor introduces himself as "Dr. Who", and is apparently a human scientist who invented his time machine.

The pilot episode for a potential spin-off series, K-9 and Company, was aired in 1981 with Elisabeth Sladen reprising her role as companion Sarah Jane Smith and John Leeson as the voice of K-9, but was not picked up as a regular series.

In 1999 a special entitled "Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death" was made for Red Nose Day and later released on VHS. An affectionate parody of the television series, it was split into four segments, mimicking the traditional four-part serial format, complete with cliffhangers. In the story, the Doctor (Rowan Atkinson) encounters both the Master (Jonathan Pryce) and the Daleks. During the special the Doctor is forced to regenerate several times, with his subsequent incarnations played by, in order, Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and Joanna Lumley. The script was written by comedy writer Steven Moffat.

The Doctor in his fourth incarnation is also frequently impersonated by Jon Culshaw in the Dead Ringers series. Culshaw's "Doctor" has telephoned two of the "real" Doctors - Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy - in character as the Fourth Doctor. This prompted the bemused (and confused) McCoy to ask the classic question, "Tom? Are you in the pub?". When Culshaw phoned Baker himself and stated that he "was The Doctor", Baker replied, "There must be some mistake...I'm The Doctor..."

Further information can be found in the Doctor Who spin-offs article.

Missing episodes

During the 1970s and 1980s, the BBC erased or incinerated a lot of material which it thought had no further commercial use. This was because of union restrictions on some pieces of material, allowing them to be broadcast only a limited number of times or to be sold on within a certain period of time. Some pieces of film (such as the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II) were seen to be of national importance and preserved after this deadline, but other pieces were not so fortunate. When it became unfeasible to store this "redundant" material, it was disposed of. Doctor Who fell into this latter category - currently, 108 episodes of the television series from the Hartnell and Troughton eras do not exist in the BBC's archives, despite attempts to recover them.

Some success in these attempts, however, has been reported. A number of countries (notably Australia and Canada) bought rights to the series for broadcast abroad, and some episodes have been returned to the BBC from the archives of those television companies (The Tomb of the Cybermen was recovered in this manner from Hong Kong). Still other episodes are rumoured to have been returned by ex-employees of the BBC who did not wish to see a part of their childhood destroyed and instead of destroying the tapes, hid them at home. Early colour videotape recordings made off-air by fans have also been retrieved. Whilst of poor quality, these have proved invaluable for restoring colour information to black-and-white telerecordings found in the archives.

The most sought after lost episode is Part Four of the last First Doctor serial, The Tenth Planet, where at the end, the William Hartnell Doctor regenerates into the Patrick Troughton version. The only portion of this still in existence, bar a few poor quality silent 8mm clips, is the few seconds of the regeneration scene from a 1973 episode of Blue Peter. In 1992, a fan named Roger Barrett claimed to have a videotape of the episode, and offered to sell it to some Doctor Who fans and the BBC. However, Barrett turned out to be an alias, and the existence of the episode a hoax. Unfortunately, hoaxes of this kind are not uncommon in Doctor Who fandom, with people willing to exploit the hope that copies of the missing episodes may still exist somewhere, waiting to be recovered.

With the approval of the BBC, efforts are now under way to restore as many of the episodes as possible from the extant material. Using modern digital image processing techniques, the Doctor Who Restoration Team is using available professional and amateur film and video recordings to generate digitally remastered versions of the early episodes. These techniques were first tried on The Dæmons, and have since been applied to many others.

1989 cancellation

Doctor Who suffered during the 1980s due to the actions of Michael Grade, then-Controller of BBC ONE, who went on record as saying that he disliked science fiction. Grade suspended the series for eighteen months in 1985, and the following year ordered the removal of star Colin Baker. Then, in 1987, he scheduled the series in a doomed time slot opposite the immensely popular Coronation Street. The series' ratings and public profile suffered accordingly. In 1989, the year after Grade left for Channel 4, Jonathan Powell, his successor as BBC ONE Controller, decided to suspend the series. It was not cancelled outright as such; although in-house production had ceased, the BBC were hopeful of finding an independent production company to re-launch the show and had been approached for such a venture by Philip Segal, a British expatriate who worked for Columbia Pictures' television arm in the United States.

Segal's negotiations dragged on for several years, and followed him from Columbia to Steven Spielberg's Amblin company and finally to Universal Studios, where in 1996, an attempt was made to revive the series with a telemovie starring Paul McGann as the Doctor. A co-production between the BBC, Universal Studios and 20th Century Fox Television, it aired on the Fox Network on May 14, 1996, and in the UK on May 27, 1996. The movie was simply titled Doctor Who, but many fans refer to it as Enemy Within (a title suggested by the movie's executive producer, Philip Segal) to distinguish it from the Doctor's many other adventures.

Reaction to the telemovie was and continues to be mixed. Although British fans were understandably excited, and Paul McGann showed promise as the Eighth Doctor, many protested at the revelation that the Doctor was "half-human on his mother's side," as well as to a kiss between the Time Lord and his companion for the movie, Grace Holloway. Reactions were also mixed to the big-budget redesign of the TARDIS set. When American ratings proved lukewarm, the projected series never took off. Paul McGann's Doctor, however, has enjoyed an extended career in the audio plays and novels. The general consensus seems to be that McGann's characterization worked, but the movie as a whole did not.

2005 revival

On September 26 2003 it was announced that Doctor Who would be returning to BBC ONE, produced by Russell T. Davies (creator of the original Queer as Folk) with BBC Wales in 2004 for transmission in 2005. Davies is chief writer and Executive Producer, and other writers for the first season include Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, Paul Cornell and Rob Shearman. The Producer will be Phil Collinson and the other Executive Producers will be BBC Controller of Continuing Drama Series Mal Young and BBC Wales Head of Drama Julie Gardner.

The new series is to comprise of thirteen 45-minute long episodes, with the first story named Rose after the Doctor's new companion Rose Tyler. After much speculation in the press about possible candidates, Christopher Eccleston was announced as the Ninth Doctor. Rose will be played by former pop singer Billie Piper. Filming of the first season began in Cardiff on July 18 2004.

Ironically, in April 2004, Michael Grade returned to the BBC, this time as the Chairman of the Board of Governors, although this position does not involve any commissioning or editorial responsibilities. Asked on BBC Radio 4 about his thoughts on the new series, Grade commented on April 2, "This time it's none of my business what happens to Doctor Who, as long as I don't have to watch it."

On July 2 2004, the BBC announced that the Daleks would not be appearing as an adversary in series one of the new programme. This was following the breakdown of negotiations with the estate of Terry Nation, which jointly owns the rights to the monsters along with the BBC. Davies, however, was hopeful that things could be worked out for the Daleks to appear in series two.

The BBC has confirmed that another Doctor Who movie is in development, as it has been for much of the last ten years. Details on the movie are very sketchy and it is not even known if a script exists.

Related topics

External links