Doctor Who. If you’re not a “Whovian”, a legitimate term for fans of the television show, there may be a pretty good chance you at least know a few who are. Or maybe you’ve heard something about or relating to the show, and didn’t know much about it. If the passing conversations have piqued your interest, or if you have some trouble understanding just what Doctor Who is all about, it is my hope with this article that your curiosity is satisfied and your confusion is cleared. Doctor Who is a sci-fi, action and mystery based television show produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). It’s one of the biggest shows out of Britain, claiming about fifty years of existence, and is one of the longest-running tv shows to be produced as a result. It is extremely popular among its genre, having a cult following, and even considered a staple to British pop culture.
Perhaps the best way to expound upon the show itself is to start with its central-most character, the show’s namesake, but he is simply known as “the Doctor”. He is an alien who seeks and finds other alien and monsters, then attempts to maintain peace between the antagonistic creatures and humans of the earth race. Something special and important to know about the show is that the majority of the Doctor’s adventures tend to transcend time and space. Episodes and stories can gravitate to life and times within history or among much distant future centuries. Other fantastic ideas of other worlds, dimensions, and universes are sometimes explored as well. The stories and general plotline of Doctor Who are also driven by exploring the character of the Doctor himself. The show’s title is meant to invoke a sense of mystery about its main character. For instance, the Doctor supposedly has a legitimate name, though it is not known to anyone. As of current episodes, it is not clear why the Doctor prefers his alias to his real name, except that there is some personal choice in being called what he is called. There are but some brief details of the Doctor’s background: he is nine hundred to a thousand years in age. He calls himself a time lord from the fictitious planet, Gallifrey. Gallifrey was supposedly lost in a huge war against his race’s arch enemy, The Daleks, and it is entertained that the Doctor has something to do with the alleged extinction of the planet. Teasers of the show’s newest season (season eight) question whether the Doctor is a good man, likely in light of all the Doctor’s mystery and controversy.
Another important driver of the Doctor Who stories is the incident of regeneration. This is how actors have transitioned
through the role of the Doctor and how many seasons and stories have begun and ended. Each “new Doctor” initiates a new chapter in the life of the show. To date, the Doctor has regenerated twelve times, or twelve different actors have held the role. Each has brought something unique to the character and the show overall. Not every season begins with a new Doctor, but after reading this article, I think you could start with just about any season that begins with a new Doctor if you wanted a good place to start watching. Just be aware that the story lines will likely build from anything from previous seasons. To give you an idea on some of the cult culture surrounding the show, fans have a “favorite Doctor”, or a particular actor of the role whom they favor. When Whovians meet for the first time, they may ask, “Who is your Doctor?”, which inquires upon one’s favorite portrayal of the Doctor’s role. The specific Doctor may then be referred to by a cardinal number in relation to their place in the series (most may favor the ninth, tenth, or eleventh Doctors for example), or sometimes the specific Doctor may be referred to by the actor’s name (for instance, my Doctor is the Matt Smith Doctor). Additionally, just about anything relating to the first eight Doctors are considered to be part of the classic era of the show. The ninth Doctor and beyond are a part of the show’s revival after nearly sixteen years off the air.
The Doctor usually doesn’t travel through time and space alone. Whovians recognize anyone who travels with him as companions (or friends or assistants on some occasions). His companions, traditionally human, are vital to the show in that they can be the source for understanding the Doctor’s world. In other words, an “audience surrogate” who often poses questions about time, space, and the situations at hand for the Doctor to explain. Every companion is unique and plays considerable roles in the stories as well as the Doctor’s life. Some stories relate how the Doctor and companion meet or part ways. In some episodes they may be a victim of some sort or a damsel in distress figure, or they play a significant part in the heroic efforts against the antagonists. The companions become his best friends, some are romantic interests, and a few are even his family.
The Doctor travels everywhere in his spaceship known as the TARDIS (an acronym for “time and relative dimension in space”). The TARDIS is iconic in that it looks like a mere police box from the outside, but you step within and it is
anything but a cramped compartment. In other words, it’s bigger on the inside, transcending and defying spatial laws as much as the Doctor does the laws of time. The Doctor and his companions are most often seen in the control room, from where the TARDIS is operated, yet the “bigger on the inside” idea is also supposed to hint at the TARDIS having an indefinite number of corridors and rooms. References within the show have alluded to the presence of a swimming pool, a library, an attic and other storage, an observatory, along with many other special rooms. At the same time, there is a mysterious idea to the TARDIS that there really is no limit to what it has, and it changes almost as often as the Doctor does. There are also some references to the TARDIS being an outdated, unreliable piece of machinery stolen from the Doctor’s home planet. It never seems to take him where he wants to go, but it always takes him to where he needs to go–typically right to the doorstep of conflict. And its nonetheless loved to the extent of being the show’s trademark symbol.
Antagonists and Enemies
Going through all of time and space, the Doctor and his companions always face some sort of antagonistic character. They are likely seeking world/universal domination or terrorizing innocent parties in some way. Nearly every episode introduces a unique monster or villain, though there are a few who have been confronted by just about every Doctor to date. These would be the Daleks and the Cybermen. These are considerably franchise staples as they have existed in Doctor Who since its earliest years, and they are also a few of the most recognizable characters (apart from the heroes).
The Daleks are extraterrestrial cyborg creatures with the most iconic appearance. Their bodies are large, perhaps around six or seven feet tall, and they’re encased within a titanium-like shell. They’re outfitted with two arm-like appendages, one of them serving as something like a ray gun, and they appendage on top is basically a Dalek’s visual unit. Writing about them really doesn’t do them much justice as they are the most feared creatures in Doctor Who. With a cold-hearted, robotic cry of “Exterminate!”, one is indeed decimated. As mentioned, the Daleks are bitter enemies against the Doctor and his race of the Time Lords. An event referred to as the Great Time War relates to a rivalrous conflict between the two races, and is the Doctor’s last memory of everything from which he came. It is unclear as to where he was in relation to the events. Some references claim he was on the front lines, and others say he refused to fight. For a long time, he believed he was responsible for his planet’s demise. But most recent stories have entertained Gallifrey’s continued existence since the war, and the Doctor actually saved Gallifrey. (Confused yet? LOL)
The Cybermen are also cyborg creatures, who have been said to originate on a “twin planet” to earth. While they construct themselves from human beings, the human brain is almost the only human thing about them. And even then, human emotions are inhibited within them. They are constantly upgrading, and seeking to upgrade humankind for the sake of their preservation.
A lot of mystery, a lot of madness, but a lot of fun. That’s Doctor Who for ya! It’s a world all its own in all its intricate details, never-ending mystery, and confusion, but I think that’s the beauty of Doctor Who. If it helps, keep in mind that there’s something of a bigger picture to Doctor Who. Many details tend to resonate through episodes and even through seasons, and in due time it comes full circle. I hope this exposition helps you gain some sense of the show (and its fans). There are several companion books and guides to the show available if anything is still unclear or if more specific info is desired. The program’s homepage is a good source too, and you can even check out all the hype for the new season!