Ladies and gentlemen, this is not an easy one to sum up in one of my typical 1000-word reviews. This is the type of show I could record a whole commentary for, right from the very first episode from 1963. Doctor Who is a humongous sci-fi franchise that has only gotten more clever, more fun and, rightfully, more beloved with time and is still running to this day, impressing all who tune in to BBC to join the time-travelling Doctor in another of his exceptionally fantastic adventures.
Put on hiatus after its original run between 1963 and 1989, a TV film attempted to bring the show back in 1996, but it wasn’t until Russell T. Davies revived the show in 2005 that it got back on its feet. And today, with the show being run largely by one Steven Moffat, the special episode that celebrates the show’s 50th anniversary is airing and I do declare that my body is, in fact, ready!
For the five of you who don’t know, Doctor Who is one of the longest-running television programmes of all time, spanning over 50 years with a total of almost 800 (!) episodes, all focusing on a human-looking alien, a Time Lord from Gallifrey known simply as The Doctor, travelling through space and time in a flying police box, or TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space), that’s a lot larger inside than outside, with a sonic screwdriver and the occasional companion by his side at all times. His adventures can take place anywhere in the Universe at any point in time, and that’s the beauty of it all!
Throughout the years and his many regenerations, a trick that Time Lords use to essentially cheat death and gain a new body, he has been played by William Harntell as the First Doctor, Patrick Throughton as Second, Jon Pertwee as Third, Tom Baker as Fourth, Peter Davison as Fifth, Colin Baker as Sixth, Sylvester McCoy as Seventh, Paul McGann as Eight, Christopher Eccleston as Ninth, David Tennant as Tenth and Matt Smith as the current Eleventh. He is basically the same guy with the same memories, but with altered personality traits, mannerisms and most noticably, tastes in clothes. With Hartnell he’s a serious old man, with Eccleston he’s a suave action hero, with McGann he’s an optimistic romantic, with McCoy he’s a manipulative chess master, with Pertwee he’s practically James Bond, with Throughton he’s a comical figure, with Davison he’s kind and peaceful. And so on.
Who knows? He might even regenerate into a woman at some point!
His companions, meanwhile, have included but aren’t limited to Carole Ann Ford as his granddaughter Susan, Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, who would later receive her own spin-off show after being brought back for the revived Who series; Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart; John Barrowman as suave omnisexual Captain Jack Harkness, who would later be the star of a darker spin-off show called Torchwood; Alex Kingston as a character whose entire mystery can be ruined by even the faintest spoiler (hence her catchphrase); an awesome robotic dog named K-9 and Jenna Coleman as the current companion Clara Oswald, a mysterious and “impossible” girl who has played an important role in The Doctor’s very timeline in a way that I will certainly not reveal. Wild theories online state that she might even represent the Doctor Who show itself. I dare not try to explain.
On his journeys, The Doctor has naturally acquired an intensely memorable gallery of enemies also. Surely we’re all familiar with the Daleks, a genocidal race of evil trash can-looking aliens, or the Cybermen, humanoids turned into cold death machines, or The Sontarans, a bunch of war-mongering potato people, or The Master, an evil and corrupt Time Lord who can most definitely be called The Doctor’s arch-enemy and opposite. He also runs into statues that move when not in direct eyesight known as Weeping Angels, a mind-wiping alien race called The Silence, various historical figures and on multiple occasions he meets previous incarnations of himself, which is exactly what will occur again in the 50th anniversary episode and I cannot wait to see it!
Now, even though I do love the show and its legacy and mythology, of course there are some things that are flawed about it. Setting aside the lackluster special effects and occasionally boring episodes from the old series, the new series provides its share of silly moments that seem of out-of-place even by the show’s standards, and a few companions that seemingly won’t go away, like Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill). They were okay, but they would sometimes feel a little too built up by Moffat and especially by the vast army of irritating fangirls that the new series has generated.
There’s also the exaggerated hype they’ve helped build around David Tennant’s Doctor. As much as I liked and miss Tennant, they made him a little too mopey and not wacky enough, especially when he stopped crying over the destruction of his home during the legendary Time War and started crying instead over some blonde chick named Rose Tyler (Billie Piper); another overrated companion, in my opinion. I think his regeneration was made a bit too big of a deal too. I don’t mind it being as sad as it was, but what was the point of having him go around and say goodbye to all his former companions, as if he’ll never meet them again? Does he really not think he’ll remember them in his next incarnation? Why not have him go bid a sobbing farewell to the Daleks as well? I’m sure he’ll never meet them again.
Even so, he is still amongst my favourite Doctors alongside Tom Baker, Colin Baker, William Hartnell and Matt Smith. If, however, I were to answer the often uttered question “Who is YOUR Doctor” the tossup is between Hartnell and Tom Baker. I’d probably have to say Tom Baker’s classic, lovably eccentric Fourth Doctor wins by a few inches. I even possess a copy of his overly long scarf, ordered as a gift to me straight from the BBC itself by my dear father. Mind you, I still need to see more episodes of the classic series so I’m not as familiar with Doctors like The Second or The Third yet. I am, however, planning on getting there at some point. If I must also choose a favourite companion, though, that’s easier. It’s Sontaran Commander Strax from the new series. He gets the best lines, the biggest laughs and the funniest scenes. You can all admit to loving that adorable potato at least a little. I’ll pick Lala Ward’s Romana if he doesn’t count as a companion, however.
Favourite episode, then? Hrm. Difficult, but I’d most probably go with Genesis of The Daleks as my favourite of the old series – introducing Davros, the creator of The Daleks and another villain who would be brought back for the 2005 series – and The Name of The Doctor for my revived series favourite. This wonderful episode takes us, via the point-of-view of Clara, on a surreal journey through the entire timeline of our alien hero and all of his past selves, as it takes a moment to reflect upon everything the mad man in the blue box has been through since the very start. It is nothing short of absolutely beautiful!
The show is full of similar continuity nods where the new series frequently references events from the classic one, but it is not until now, the year of the show’s 50th anniversary, that the missing gap between the old Who and the new Who will be definitively filled in and everything will be tied together once and for all. I’m greatly excited, not only to see two familiar Doctors in the same episode again, but also to find out more about John Hurt‘s mysterious “War Doctor” character as well as greeting the next heir of the TARDIS: Peter Capaldi. I swear, if the switch to an older actor as The Doctor isn’t an attempt to finally get the show back to its roots, then it’s just a test to see if the fangirls are actually smart enough to appreciate the show’s wit, creativity and characters regardless of what face the protagonist has and keep watching, or if they were only ever here because David Tennant and Matt Smith are “cute”. If it’s the latter, my only hope is that the door doesn’t hit them on the way out.
Doctor Who is, in any case, an absolutely fantastic show! I first saw it in 2008, became a true fan only last year and I have admired it since. Brilliantly written, creative in its ideas, and intensely fun in its freedom when it comes to settings in both space and time. Great music by Murray Gold, a memorable theme tune to boot (largely unchanged since the start), hilarious comedy, powerful drama and a massive gallery of characters that will stick with you for a long, long time. If you haven’t seen it yet, you by all means should! And then you might want to explore the radio dramas. Or the novels. Or the comics. Or the recent documentary about it. Or the Peter Cushing homage. Or the Rowan Atkinson spoof. There is, quite aptly, an entire Universe for you to discover. Don’t forget the jelly babies.
I’ll be watching the 50th anniversary shortly. It has been a great run and I look forward to 50 years more!
“It’s a big Universe, everything happens somewhere.” – The Eleventh Doctor