Doctor Who after 50 years: Time Lords never truly die

In homage to the upcoming 50th anniversary special episode of Doctor Who, to be broadcast on BBC (and BBC America) today, Saturday, 23 November, I decided to take a walk down memory lane with my favorite Time Lord.

The beginning…in a junkyard?

Fifty years ago, on 22 November 1963, the world was shocked by the assassination of President John F Kennedy. What many Americans don’t realize is this was huge news throughout the world not just here, and especially among America’s closet allies, including Great Britain. As in the U.S., Britain’s BBC had extensive and almost unrelenting news coverage, both on the day of the assassination (which was already in the early evening for them), and throughout the next day.

There was debate and controversy over whether the BBC should go ahead with the premier episode broadcast of their new science fiction TV serial program, Doctor Who. In the end, they decided to go ahead, with the rationale being, ‘The news across the pond is so awful — people, and especially the children — could use a break.

Doctor Who - 50th anniversary

Indeed, the show as originally written was intended to be somewhat light for adults, accessible for children, and although scary at times, hopefully not too much.

Due to both power outages (caused by coal strikes) and extended news coverage of the JFK assassination, on 23 November 1963 the inaugural episode of Doctor Who, “An Unearthly Child,” was delayed by 80 seconds.

Who is the Doctor? And why is he messing with a police call box?

The first Doctor, played by William Hartnell

The first Doctor, played by William Hartnell (BBC publicity photo)

As the story opens, two teachers from Coal Hill School are concerned about one of their students, a peculiar teenage girl named Susan Foreman. Susan is improbably genius-level brilliant but has strange gaps in her knowledge of ordinary things. Her teachers — Barbara and Ian — become even more suspicious when they learn Susan’s recorded home address is actually a junkyard (I.M. Foreman’s Yard) at 76 Trotter’s Lane, in Shoreditch.

Long story somewhat shorter, Ian and Barbara soon determine that Susan’s grandfather — an old man introduced to them only as The Doctor (never, ever named ‘Doctor Who’ except in one movie I’d just as soon forget) — and Susan are both aliens from another world, later revealed to be Gallifrey.

And moreover, a blue public Police Box (a fairly common sight in Britian yet in 1963) was in fact a disguised TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space). In future decades, the fact the TARDIS is stuck being a Police Box is remarked upon frequently as being rather ineffective in terms of inconspicuousness, since Britain doesn’t have them anymore. Luckily the “don’t notice me anyway” part of the chameleon-circuit perception filter seems still to be working.

Much, much larger on the inside than the outside, with a futuristic-looking control room and console, the TARDIS was both a spaceship and a time machine, capable of going anywhere, anywhen. As for the Doctor, he’s a Time Lord. Yep, really not human. He even has two hearts.

The TARDIS - 1980s fiberglas prop version (Photo: GNU license)

The TARDIS – 1980s fiberglas prop version (Photo: GNU license)

Eventually, we learn that the Doctor and Susan were on the run and that the TARDIS, a venerable and obsolete Type-40 — hence making it highly prone to malfunctions over the years — was actually stolen. (Although in truth, being sentient, the TARDIS actually allowed herself (yes, female) to be stolen.)

Three years later, Doctor Who had become rather a sensation on British television, despite shoestring budgets and often laughably crude sets and costumes. They also had adopted a serialized format of (usually) four to six shows in a row comprising a longer story arc — a practice which was kept for most of its initial run.

Unfortunately, by 1966, William Hartnell’s health was suffering and he just couldn’t keep up with the rigors of the series filming schedule. The writers for Doctor Who came up with an idea: What if the Doctor could regenerate? Literally become someone else.

Sure, why not? It’s science fiction after all. This also seemed to be a far better solution than trying to find a Hartnell look-alike. It was later established that regeneration is something all Time Lords can do, up to a maximum of 13 total incarnations…although recently the writers have hinted this isn’t necessarily a hard and fast limit.

The second Doctor - Patrick Troughton (publicity photo)

The second Doctor – Patrick Troughton (publicity photo)

At the end of “The Tenth Planet,” the first Doctor became the second, played with clownish glee by recorder-tootling, fur-coat clad Patrick Troughton. And thus began a Doctor Who dynasty. The show ran uninterrupted from 1963 until 1989, with seven Doctors in all (occasionally with special episodes when different Doctors would meet each other, even though such was very much not supposed to be allowed due to the risk of temporal corruption).

Doctor Who is canceled…then ‘regenerated’

Sagging ratings and soaring production costs having taken their toll, after the last 7th Doctor episode, “Survival,” Doctor Who went off the air in 1989 for the first time in 26 years. A sad day for fans.

There was a 1996 movie revival, with Paul McGann as the 8th Doctor, which was supposed to kick off a new cross-Atlantic Doctor Who production series, but it just didn’t happen. Ratings were fantastic in Britain, but not good enough here in the States — probably in large part because the majority of Americans had no clue who this ‘Doctor’ was or why they should care about him.

The Fourth Doctor -- Tom Baker -- always and forever my favorite Doctor

The fourth Doctor — Tom Baker — always and forever my favorite Doctor

It remains worth noting however that Big Finish Studios kept the franchise alive throughout the intervening years with a long and extensive series of audio productions, with the original actors, both the Doctors and their companions. Doctors 4 through 8 — Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker (no relation), Sylvester McCoy, and Paul McGann — all participated. Some of these were even adapted for broadcast on BBC radio. The audio productions remain available for purchase on Big Finish site — along with audio shows for all kinds of non-Who programs, including one of my other BBC favorites, Blake’s 7 (also horrible sets and cheesy costumes, late 1970s hairstyles (Perms! On men! Aaaaah!) — but pretty amazing and often quite deep and dark stories).

In a very odd turn, quite possibly because there was no Doctor Who on television from ’89 onward, the 8th Doctor is the most prolific in terms of novels, novellas, short stories, and audio productions about his adventures.

Finally in 2005, the BBC brought Doctor Who back yet again, with the 9th Doctor played by Christopher Eccleston, a Doctor remarkable in that he was the first to have a “Northern” accent, rather than the usual Received Pronunciation (RP) English dialect favored by his predecessors in the role. (In response to a criticism of his accent, the 9th Doctor responded, “Lots of people are from the north.” The 10th Doctor went back to RP.)  This new 9th Doctor had many of the personality traits of his predecessors, yet nevertheless was darker, and hinted at having recently undergone soul-shattering tragedies (i.e., ‘The Time War‘).

Indeed, a certain quality of melancholy, as well as unfathomable age — he is, after all, well over 900 years old — seems to have become the common hallmark of the current series of Doctors.


The Doctor, in chronological order, from left to right, top row — William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, and Matt Smith (collage from publicity photos)

As of now, there have been eleven Doctors in all in official canon, not counting the Valeyard (who was to have been the Doctor’s final incarnation, but it is not clear whether he’s really the Doctor, or just a corrupted ethereal part of him “from between his 12th and 13th incarnation”). Also, there’s the as yet unknown and sinister-seeming Doctor introduced to audiences just last spring and played by John Hurt. (I know a few spoilers, but won’t share ’em.) Word from the BBC is the most recent Doctor, played by Matt Smith, will be replaced during this year’s Christmas special Doctor Who story by Peter Capaldi.

Should be interesting, having a somewhat older Doctor again.

Everybody has a favorite Doctor

There’s an old saying among Doctor Who fans, that your first Doctor will always be your first love. Well, not so for me. My very first encounter with Doctor Who was in the late 1980s, when New Jersey public television stations were showing imported reruns from the third Doctor era — Jon Pertwee. A bit of a foppish dandy, with a taste for fancy clothes and action, he just didn’t appeal to me all that much.

But the fourth Doctor, Tom Baker… ahhh.  There we go. The longest serving incarnation, he was the Doctor from 1974 through 1981. He of the long scarf, floppy hat, toothy grin, and an endless supply of Jelly Baby candies. I developed a huge fan-crush on him.

I’ve already embedded a bunch of photos in this post and will probably have several more before the end, but I can assure you, I am the proud owner of a full-sized, color-accurate 18-foot long reproduction of the knitted wool scarf Tom Baker (top row right in the collage) often wore as the Doctor. That scarf is draped (and draped, and redraped, and draped some more) over the back of my reading chair. There’s a story as to how the fourth Doctor’s scarf came to be; perhaps I’ll share it in the comments.

The Tenth Doctor - David Tennant (publicity photo)

The tenth Doctor – David Tennant (publicity photo)

And if I had to pick a second favorite Doctor, it would actually be one of the recent versions — the 10th Doctor, by David Tennant (middle one in the bottom row in the collage). Why exactly I’m not sure. Some kind of perfect alchemy of enthusiasm, optimism, and — towards the end of his reign — a tragic melancholy. (Doesn’t hurt that among the Doctors, he was the most physically attractive as far as I was concerned.) I was so sad to see him go.

The Doctor’s companions

Probably one of the most important factors behind the long-term success of Doctor Who isn’t just the Doctor himself. It’s been his traveling companions. Although the Doctor’s companions have included a robot dog (K-9, of course), another Time Lord (Romanadvoratrelundar, or Romana for short — and yes, I spelled that from memory), a Princess of Traken, a chameleonic alien, and various human-looking inhabitants of other worlds, most of them have been humans.  And most from Earth.

We’re not meant to identify with the Doctor. He’s too friggin’ awesome, too ‘big’ to comprehend. But his companions? They’re our surrogates. Many of them are just ordinary people suddenly thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Like the intrepid reporter, Sarah Jane Smith (played by the great and sadly-departed Elisabeth Sladen, who had her own Who-related spin-off show), whose introduction to the (3rd) Doctor came when she stowed away on the TARDIS while researching a story. (Don’t get me started on the seriously yummy and totally ambisexual Captain Jack Harkness…)

The catch for fans, the way of identifying with the companions, is the idea that a strange alien Time Lord in a blue Police Box could just show up and sweep you away into time and space. Literally anywhere, anytime, from the Big Bang to the heat death of the Universe itself; Earth in the past, present or distant future; alien worlds, alternate dimensions. Fantastic adventures with a man who can always come up with a last minute plan and save (nearly) everything. And do nearly anything, including making bow ties cool. (Nice try with the Fez, but no.)

The Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special

23 November 2013 will be the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who — with a 50th anniversary special episode, “The Day of the Doctor,” uniting both the 10th and 11th Doctors, and their companions. (And maybe more? The BBC isn’t saying.)

And in preparation, the BBC is pulling out all the stops. First, there’s an amazing and super-neat interactive graphic showing the various Doctors’ journeys in space and time.

Doctor Who - BBC interactive graphic screenshot (original is here at the website)

Doctor Who – BBC interactive graphic screenshot (original is here at the website)

If that’s not enough, there’s another interactive graphic, Doctor Who at 50: Tour the TARDIS. (Author’s note: The BBC keeps misspelling it as ‘Tardis.’ No, no, no — it’s an acronym and supposed to be in all caps. Yeesh.)

Doctor Who at 50: Tour the TARDIS (screenshot from interactive graphic at site)

Doctor Who at 50: Tour the TARDIS (screenshot from interactive graphic at site)

I’m a regular reader of the BBC News website, and for the last month or more in the Entertainment and Arts section, it’s been wall-to-wall Doctor Who. Missing Troughton-era Doctor Who episodes found at a TV station in Nigeria (many from the early 1960s were lost because the BBC re-used the tapes, thinking nobody would ever want to see them again — wrong!) A story titled “An American Time Lord ‘would use a gun’” (perhaps, but then he most certainly would not be the Doctor). How the TARDIS interior was designed. Special articles on ‘Three Doctors and one companion.” And lots more.

This weekend on BBC America, there will be an Eleventh Doctor marathon, with the 50th anniversary special, “The Day of the Doctor,” 23 November. Lots of information over there. Plus a few more tidbits:

  • The Doctor Who mini-episode ‘The Night of The Doctor.‘ (Here’s a Youtube link, if you’d rather watch it there. BTW, the title, if you think about it, is a bit of a giveaway and a squee moment for lots of fans.)
  • Where to watch Doctor Who in the States (i.e., who carries BBC America). You Brits already know and are probably already sick of the constant advertisements.
  • A video montage of all the Doctors’ regenerations (subject to how much video they managed to salvage, especially for the earlier ones) — this is also available in the TARDIS tour interactive graphic.
  • Peter Capaldi talks about what it’s like to be chosen to play the 12th Doctor.
  • The first and second Doctor Who 50th Anniversary “The Day of the Doctor” commercial trailers.

And finally, the one I thought was coolest of all, a trailer video showing all of the Doctors, as well as some of the memorable companions (Yay! Sarah Jane!), enemies, aliens, and gadgets.

Published professional writer and poet, Becca had a three decade career in technical writing and consulting before selling off most of her possessions in 2006 to go live at an ashram in India for 3 years. She loves literature (especially science fiction), technology and science, progressive politics, cool electronic gadgets, and perfecting Hatch green chile recipes. Fortunately for this last, Becca and her wife currently live in New Mexico. @BeccaMorn

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62 Responses to “Doctor Who after 50 years: Time Lords never truly die”

  1. BeccaM says:

    I saw some snippets of video from O’Hare’s earlier performances on shows like Trapper John and various TV movies, and he seemed like an almost entirely different man in those previous years. He was very well regarded as a Broadway actor — and that doesn’t happen if you’re bad at it.

    I am glad that JMS finally spoke up, to help raise awareness of what it’s like to try to have a normal life, a career and everything, while struggling with a worsening mental illness.

  2. Mike_H says:

    Interesting. Being a huge B5 fan, at the time the excuse I heard was that O’Hare was wooden because he was more of a “stage” actor than “screen” actor (heard that a lot, although it never made sense to me), but now I’d bet that was just another smokescreen for the effects of his illness.

    I still tend to rank B5 over most televised sci-fi, Doctor Who being the exception.

  3. Mike_H says:

    But even that seems unfair since the Doctor himself is the ultimate Mary Sue, no?

  4. Mike_H says:

    In your opinion, you believe that of the X-Files and of River Song. But I’d note that in BBCAmerica’s “Vote for the top 10 Matt Smith episodes”, fully 6 of those 10 episodes were River Song episodes. So clearly many fans of the show disagree with your take on the character.

    Again, it’s absolutely fair that you have your preferences and opinions on both shows — but amongst me and my pals, we actually enjoyed the arc shows on X-Files, and several of the “Monster of the week” episodes left us cold. (Although to be fair, some other “MOTW” episodes of X-Files were fantastic).

    Perhaps you just simply have a preference for non-arc in *anything*, and therefore are less likely to appreciate that style of writing, even if it’s good?

    I think River Song’s “special hypercompetence” is explained adequately enough by her upbringing and the fact that we pretty much were told that most of her life and development happens off-screen — and that years, even decades may pass between her appearances in the show.

    In many ways it was her hypercompetence that I liked, since we almost *never* had a Doctor interact with a companion that knew more than he did. It was putting the Doctor in a situation he was often uncomfortable with, and that was something *new* for a such an old character, so I enjoyed that quite a bit.

    And… we’re talking about a show in which they travel through space and time in a box that’s bigger on the inside than on the outside… I tend to give Doctor Who writers a lot of leeway when it comes to their plots and their characters, because that’s part of the fantasy of it all. If we expected consistent, rigid, linear plot and character development all the time, I think we’d miss out on some of the best moments of the show. Like “The Doctor’s Wife”, for example — so much of that story is nonsense on the face of it, but works beautifully from an emotional standpoint.

    But this is all just my opinion, and again, I understand if River Song isn’t what you enjoy about the show. I just have a different take, but I don’t think that means one of us is wrong and the other is right, it’s just not that simple.

  5. Monoceros Forth says:

    For me, I’d rather celebrate and cherish a show that is so versatile that it could encompass so many different kinds of characters and still be as popular as ever 50 years later.

    That’s a very good point. But there are many, many TV shows that I like, even adore, but which I have to admit were perpetually burdened with some weakness that never went away.

    Another example comes to mind with the show “The X-Files”, which is on my mind because my mate’s been watching a lot of it recently. I can’t think of any TV show that was better at getting across a sense of “the weird”, in the sense used when speaking of the “weird fiction” of writers such as H. P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen or Algernon Blackwood. But the creators of that show suffered from this persistent delusion that they weren’t just writing spooky stories, they were creating a “mytharc”. Without a question all of the best “X-Files” episodes were the one-off, “monster of the week” episodes, but in watching those you’d also have to endure some rubbish conspiracy story-arc nonsense that led nowhere in the end anyway. It wasn’t the ruin of the show but it was a nuisance to be endured while following it.

    So it was with “Doctor Who” under Steven Moffat. He created a character in River Song who was perfect as the guest star of a brilliant two-parter. That should have been the end of her. But Moffat seemed to have fallen rather in love with his creation and kept writing her into more and more stories, making her more and more ridiculously special and hypercompetent because that’s what fanfic writers do to their favorites. It’s an understandable weakness, even a tolerable one, but not anything I feel obliged to overlook any more than I feel obliged to overlook Chris Carter’s fumbling attempts to make “The X-Files” something that it wasn’t and shouldn’t have tried to be.

  6. Monoceros Forth says:

    Mary Sues and Marty Stus always have their fans. That’s why people keep writing them.

  7. vickif says:

    I love River Song.

  8. Chris Martin says:

    3 November 1963 – The beginning of the Doctor Who era, celebrating its 50th broadcast anniversary — an accomplishment unprecedented in Science Fiction TV.

    Tattoo Designs

  9. My favorite professor introduced me to Doctor Who in late 1981, so it was Tom Baker. I recently saw parts of the first episode on You Tube. I found it prophetic that in 1963, they knew that Britain would metricize its currency. The United States was the first to metricize its currency, and it may be the last to metricize its measurements. We can still beat Liberia and Burma (Myanmar)!

  10. Mike_H says:

    Oh, stop. River Song was wonderful and a big hit with many fans, old and new. I get that some people don’t like the character, but as someone who’s been a rabid Whovian since 1978, I adored her.

    With so many Doctors and so many companions, everyone will have their favorites and their least favorites, but it’s hardly useful to tinkle on other people’s favorites just because you don’t like them. We could find fault with any companion (and any Doctor), if we wanted to.

    For me, I’d rather celebrate and cherish a show that is so versatile that it could encompass so many different kinds of characters and still be as popular as ever 50 years later.

  11. Pank_ache says:

    Hi – Just read this post fro the first time. It’s great. Sorry to be picky but when Rose asks Doctor #9 why he has a Northern accent he replies, “Lot’s of PLANETS have a north” (not as you have above). Sorry if you’ve been told this before:

  12. Pank_ache says:

    Hi –

  13. BeccaM says:

    Aye, mine wasn’t cheap either.

  14. Bomer says:

    Nice! I think my grandmother might be getting tired of me randomly mentioning wanting that scarf. She’s offered to make me one. I just need to find the pattern and see about getting the yarn for it.

  15. KC Jenner says:

    I remember reading that part of the reason for the Doctor having companions was for there to be a way to explain who and what was going on. They were someone that would ask questions and then the Doctor would reply. Then he would not just be saying things to no one.

  16. MyrddinWilt says:

    This is the scarf they are looking for:

    Had mine shipped from the UK. It is the right wool, length and stitching. And not cheap.

    But doing it yourself is pricey too.

  17. Monoceros Forth says:


    River Song was like an annoying little kid who wanted everyone to know that they’re going to get a super special gift on their birthday and keeps reminding you of that, but if you ask what the gift is going to be they’ll only say they can’t tell you because it’s a secret. Thumbs down.

  18. BeccaM says:

    It’s only twelve feet long! Pshaw. And far too thin!

  19. BeccaM says:

    Spoilers, sweetie.

  20. BeccaM says:

    Here it is — my scarf. The original story is James Acheson, costume designer for the series, asked knitter Begonia Pope to craft the scarf using a selection of colorful yarns.

    Misunderstanding the instructions, Ms. Pope used ALL of the yarn she’d been given, resulting in a scarf nearly 20 feet long. Over the years, they created a shorter ‘stunt scarf’, but the original, due to wear and tear and stretching was, at one point, about 24 feet long — despite losing some of its stripes due to damage.

  21. pappyvet says:

    Just watched the 50th anniversary show. I may get hate mail for this but , it could have been a bit more I thought. That being said , when Tom Baker showed up at the end, I about weeped. So long ago .

  22. Otis says:

    Tom Baker’s scarf:

  23. BeccaM says:

    I recommend the miniseries — it’s good. The Marquis de Carabas (Paterson Joseph) is simply marvelous, as are Messrs Croup and Vandemar.

    Again, as with most BBC productions of this sort, they rather skimp on FX and production values…but the story is still marvelous.

  24. Bomer says:

    Neverwhere! Love the book. Haven’t been able seen the miniseries or listen to the radio version.

  25. Bomer says:

    So looking forward to this tonight. The fourth* Doctor was my favorite, and I’m seriously jealous that you have his scarf (always wanted that scarf), followed by the tenth Doctor. Donna will always be my favorite companion.

    *If I remember right that was the first Doctor I saw on PBS.

  26. Monoceros Forth says:

    I was approximately zero years old in the early ’70s *chuckles*

  27. met00 says:

    Really? You clearly weren’t a teenager in the early 70’s. :-)

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  28. BeccaM says:

    Aye — it seems this fan had a habit of filming the episodes off his telly. Join that with the audio they already had, and voila.

  29. Monoceros Forth says:

    Ah, they’ve found all the Marco Polo episodes! I know that storyline only from older reconstructions using rerecorded dialogue and production stills, somewhat after the fashion of the reconstruction of George Cukor’s A Star is Born.

  30. BeccaM says:

    That’s my guess, too. Now I feel really bad for not liking Sinclair…

  31. Monoceros Forth says:

    Oh dear! I did not know that about O’Hare. I liked his character more than I liked Sheridan’s and I thought he was fine in the role, although a lot of people at the time said he was wooden. Now I’m wondering how much of that perceived woodenness was because of the unfortunate flattening of affect caused by antipsychotic drugs, whose effects I have seen for myself.

  32. BeccaM says:

    No, they have been. I think they thought it would appeal to younger audiences.

    You may be pleasantly surprised with the next Doctor, Peter Capaldi. He’s 55.

  33. BeccaM says:

    And yeah… what SF we did get on TV was all bad. I remember those shows you named and being bitterly disappointed with nearly all of them.

    At that point, it seemed to me we could have “decent FX but lousy stories” or (from the Brits) “horrible FX, but good stories.” In time, I found I preferred the latter.

  34. BeccaM says:

    I quite liked B5. And it turns out there was a reason — a tragic one — why Michael O’Hare (Cmdr. Jeffrey Sinclair) left the show after the first season. O’Hare was suffering from an untreated mental illness that just made it impossible for him to continue working as an actor.

  35. BeccaM says:

    In other Who-related news, it looks like just maybe some more 1st Doctor episodes have been found and are being (have been?) restored

  36. chris10858 says:

    Maybe Im getting old but it seems the Doctors are getting younger and younger with each reincarnation. Pretty soon… they’ll have a 12 year old playing him a la Doogie Howser.

    I agree with Becca that Tom Baker was my favorite!

  37. Monoceros Forth says:

    Oh, I forgot to add: we should remember that aside from the actors shown above, the Doctor has also been played by Peter Cushing, in some odd non-canonical “Doctor Who” films I’ve never seen (sort of like that one-off Clouseau movie with Alan Arkin):

    Also he’s been played by Rowan Atkinson, Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, and Joanna Lumley:

    (This means that the Doctor has been played by both Withnail and I.)

    Joanna Lumley would have made a great Doctor, don’t you think?

  38. Monoceros Forth says:

    Thank the FSM for Heinlein and his more adult novels.

    Did he ever get round to writing any? I remember mostly author-insertion stuff, armchair militarism, and that deus ex machina story set on the Moon.

  39. met00 says:


    My son is in 8th grade and has to get shipped to the HS to take Trig (which he is getting an A in). He is a geek. Now to quote him, “Geeks are cool, I mean more than that Geeks are cool and rich.” So, I guess geekdom has changed a great deal since I was a kid. Of course this is also the same kid I had with me when I was visiting a friend of mine who I worked with in the early days of the ARPAnet who now is a visiting Prof at MIT, and we are standing on the campus and he looked at my son and asked him if he planned on attending MIT, and after a moment my son replied “I had considered it, but I think I will be going to Cal Tech, It’s really just a better school for physics.” (there are times I just want to throttle that boy!) So, yes, he is seriously cool, exceptionally laid back, has a warped sense of appropriateness and I am very proud of him. :-)

    As for scifi, yes, there was a massive period where there was a wasteland in the US. When battlestar galactica was considered good and in order to sell scifi on TV they had to first make a movie to sell a series (Gil Gerard as Buck Rodgers), When Steve Majors and Jaime Sommers were the “future” (and a damn bleak one at that). When the height of my childhood can be filled with crap like Timeslip, Space 1999 and Quark (all forgettable series that I hope have has all the episodes burned)… I can understand why a series like Dr Who would fill a gap for many. For me I just turned away from “hollywood” creating my fix and went with good old fashioned books and imagination.You could say that the lack of the US to produce decent SciFi in the 70’s was what helped lead me to becoming an avid reader. Thank the FSM for Heinlein and his more adult novels.

  40. Monoceros Forth says:

    Oh, yeah. That was one of the strongest aspects of “Red Dwarf”, really, how they managed to make an incompetent martinet of a character somehow sympathetic and likable. (Contrast the “M*A*S*H” TV show and its failure to do anything interesting with Maj. Burns, who is very much like Rimmer in some ways.)

  41. Monoceros Forth says:

    Arguably, televised sci-fi was still pretty much a wasteland in the early to mid-’90s. TNG, which had never been more than sporadically good, was degenerating into soap opera in its final seasons; its replacement, DS9, didn’t look terribly promising. (I’ve heard it matured into a fairly good show, though; one day I should find out for myself.) There were a whole bunch of new shows that were all bad, like “Time Trax” and “Sliders” and “SeaQuest DSV” and “Space, Above and Beyond”.

    Imagine what it was like, too, to learn about “Doctor Who” only at a time when there wasn’t any more “Doctor Who”, just reruns, and it looked like there’d never be any more aside from that ghasty American thing from 1995.

    Then there was “Babylon 5”. Such wasted potential…but at least it was different, and still pretty good so long as Straczynski was letting writers other than himself pen some episodes.

  42. BeccaM says:

    Actually that one made my eyes mist up a bit, making me feel just a little bit sympathetic for the poor sod, whose main problem — besides being lazy, self-absorbed, and a total smeg-head — was that he also tried too hard to fit in and be liked.

  43. Monoceros Forth says:

    Heh. I liked what was done with “Red Dwarf” in sneaking some good stories about important concepts into a goofy, comical sci-fi show. Like how the cat-people form a religion and fight religious wars based on Lister’s laundry list and his dreams of opening a restaurant (with individual sachets of mustard!), or how it’s sometimes better to fail than to succeed (q.v. what happens to “Ace” Rimmer after getting held back a year.) I prefer my sci-fi to have a light touch.

  44. JamesR says:

    GREAT post Becca! – won’t materialize here again ’till after I’ve seen the ‘new’ episode

    Bananas are good!

  45. BeccaM says:

    Well, from my perspective and introduction to Doctor Who, it might be worth remembering the science fiction wasteland that was American television around 1985.

    Star Trek: TNG was two years off yet (and its first season rather awful, in my opinion). We wouldn’t have Babylon 5 until 1994.

    In fact, it was my complaining to a co-worker, “There is literally no SF on television” — that led her to tell me, “Check out Doctor Who. You might like it.”

    Having something, anything, that wouldn’t be a TV series canceled after a season (or less) was something I desperately craved. Also, having had the introduction to British science fiction through Doctor Who, that made me willing to check out these other shows I’d never seen but thought might be cool. Like Blake’s 7, for instance. Or The Prisoner.

    p.s. Your son is seriously cool.

  46. BeccaM says:

    Love it.

  47. pappyvet says:

    And the crunchy king prawns that nobody wanted to tell Lister were really giant roaches.

  48. pappyvet says:

    BE careful ! Too much Dalek cake could…….Exterminate !

  49. Monoceros Forth says:


  50. BeccaM says:

    Very funny show, too. I quite enjoyed it. Used to have the tapes, until VHS became obsolete.

  51. pappyvet says:

    Oh I’m going to throw a ringer in with Red Dwarf. Busted a gut many times with Lister , Rimmer and the Cat. Not to mention Holly and Kryton.

  52. BeccaM says:

    Oooh, don’t get me started with Life on Mars. (And yes, ONLY the UK version. Not that awful American bastardization of the story.)

    I have watched, and rewatched, and rewatched that series. Brilliant television. (Guilty acknowledgment: I actually think the sequel, “Ashes to Ashes” is okay, too, and don’t mind the supposed explanation it provided for what happened to Sam. To me it made sense.)

  53. pappyvet says:

    Who are you ?
    I’m the Doctor.
    Doctor Who?
    Oh how I love the Doctor !

  54. MyrddinWilt says:

    I am currently working on decorating my Dalek cake for the party tonight.

    Bringing the Dalek up from the basement, its a life size prop.

  55. BeccaM says:

    Me too. After Sarah Jane Smith, for me, I think Donna was easily the next best of the companions. Tough as nails, not willing to let the Doctor get away with any guff. Ready ever with an indignant, “Oy!”

    I also liked how among the current crop of female companions, Donna was always clear she had zero romantic interest in her ‘skinny spaceman.’ But most of all, she and the Doctor were good for each other — each of them became better people in the other’s presence.

    Donna’s grandfather, Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbins) was also a treasure. Loved the old gaffer.

    Jenna Coleman is cute as a button, but her Clara Oswald at times feels too much like a human version of the Doctor, like she’s trying to keep up with him.

  56. maria says:

    I began watching Dr. Who years ago when it was in black-and-white and starred Jon Pertwee as the doctor. But somehow I outgrew it. The latest incarnation of Dr. Who leaves me cold. I much more enjoyed the inventiveness of another British sci-fi fantasy show “Life on Mars.”

  57. Mighty says:

    Baker is my favorite. I also love me some K-9. I love they brought him back later for an episode.

  58. met00 says:

    I never got it. Pertwee was my first, and he really did nothing for me. The cheep sets and my gawd, the Dalics with “ex-term-in-ate” were just so campy. But since I was a geek [the type that let myself get dragged to trek conventions, “That’s *trecker* not trekee!”] and ran D&D campaigns it was expected that I be up on The Doctor. Baker was better, but I still didn’t really get into it.

    Fast forward (or time jump) to 2011 and my 11 year old son (at the time) finds Dr. Who on Netflicks. Raised on Star Wars, and after seeing all of TOS I didn’t figure that he would fall so hard from this show from across the pond. Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, and Matt Smith have captured his imagination. At 13 he had his Bar-Mitzvah and his theme “A Blue Envelope” The blue envelopes had a number on the outside back flap, multiple stamps on the front and inside the card had the date and the co-ordinates (on the back side were actual normal card invites). The actual event had a TARDIS and Matt Smith standups [yes, I have a TARDIS in my home, and Matt Smith is folded up in a closet (we gave the DJ, also a Whoian, the Martha Jones stand up as his tip]. He wore the tweed jacket, a bow tie, suspenders and kept on saying “yamaka’s are cool, just like a fez.” What in the world did I ever do to the world that I was given a Whoian as a son?

    On the positive side, I adore Martha (heck I even watched Torchwood once or twice just because she was in it). But as much as I adored her I loathed Rose (and he whiny overbearing idiot of a mother). So, years after NOT enjoying the campy show with cheesy sets and lousy “bad guys” that looked like a washing machine on wheels, I get taken in by having to watch the series with my son. Thus, on Monday we are off to IMAX 3-D to watch the special… Yes, it’s on tonight, but he said he won’t watch it. Why? One word. Spoilers. and if you heard that word in your head as if it was being said by River Song, then you are a Whovian too.

  59. Indigo says:

    I have loved them all since the Time Lords first began but David Tennant is the only on whom I have a fan-crush, as you phrase it. But I confess that my intentions towards him are scarcely honorable. Oh, by the way and ironically, regardless of T.A.R.D.I.S. as an acronym, the Latin word “tardis” means “late” and yes, indeed, in every crisis, the Doctor arrives . . . late. Tardily, if you prefer. :-)

  60. Monoceros Forth says:

    I was introduced to “Doctor Who” by a fellow I used to go to college with in the early ’90s who would bring back tapes he recorded off Maryland public television. For some reason the public TV station in my home town didn’t show “Doctor Who” reruns. Anyway I was treated to a rather scattered assortment of episodes over many series.

    I didn’t get around to watching any of the first episodes of the show with the original doctor as played by William Hartnell until a few years ago when I *cough* acquired a bunch and watched them. It was a very different show back then.

    Most people I know like Tom Baker’s Doctor best but I’ve liked Jon Pertwee a little more. I can’t tell you why exactly…maybe I prefer his sterner attitude to Baker’s silliness. Also the Pertwee era gave us some of the best supporting characters of the show: Roger Delgado’s turn as the Master and Elisabeth Sladen’s Sara Jane Smith.

    I never bothered with the semi-Americanized “Doctor Who” special from the mid-’90s with Paul McGann. McGann is a fine actor and I’m sure that he played the role well but everything else I’ve heard about the special sounds utterly dreadful.

    I didn’t get into the new “Doctor Who” show until at least a year after it had been rolling. I’d rather forgotten about the show in the meantime and was watching a lot less TV in general. But finally I cued up the episode “Rose” and immediately I liked it. The show seemed to strike just about the right balance: serious but also slightly goofy. Christopher Eccleston made an excellent Doctor, too.

    I too prefer David Tennant of the new Doctors. He could be at times just a bit too hammy but I usually I liked that. It was good to see a Doctor who could be truly and convincingly furious, or frightened, or cold and perilous. Matt Smith isn’t bad exactly but there’s something detached about his performance that leaves me cold. It’s good to see that they’re going with an older actor again; it’s about time. All they need to do is sack Steven Moffat and maybe I’ll start watching the show again.

    I miss Donna Noble as well. Easily she was the best of the recent Companions (not counting Sarah Jane Smith’s reappearance.) Rose was…OK. Martha was dreadful, a nonentity; she was supposed to be a professional woman yet spent every episode moonstruck for the Doctor. Arguably, so did Rose, but she had a saving humor to her and more of a life outside of being with the Doctor. Donna Noble, though, was like the irascible older sister to the Doctor and I loved it. Amy Pond annoyed me and River Song…let’s just say that if she were a fanfic character she’d be held up as the most risible example of Mary Sue writing imaginable, but there she was in an actual TV show.

  61. AndyinChicago says:

    I’m really hoping Donna Noble shows up in the 50th anniversary special. Most former companions have confirmed they won’t be in the special, but Catherine Tate hasn’t said anything.

  62. Robb Silverberg says:

    great article !! Baker was my first Doctor also, Saturday and Sunday afternoons on the local PBS channel …

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