Doctor Who is a British science fiction television series produced by the BBC about a mysterious time-travelling adventurer known only as "The Doctor". It is also the title of a 1996 television movie featuring the same character. It is common to see the show's title abbreviated as Dr. Who, even by the BBC, although purists consider this form incorrect.
The programme is a significant part of British popular culture, widely recognised for its creative storytelling, use of innovative music (originally produced by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop) and (sometimes low-budget) special effects. In Britain and elsewhere, the show has become a cult television favourite on par with Star Trek and has influenced generations of British television writers, many of whom grew up watching the series. Doctor Who ranked third in a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes of the 20th century. The list was produced by the British Film Institute in 2000 and voted on by industry professionals.
A new series of Doctor Who started on March 26, 2005, continuing on from the original 1963–1989 run and the 1996 television movie. The series is produced by BBC Wales in association with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and is currently broadcast weekly in Europe on Saturdays at 7 PM BST on BBC One, with a repeat on Sundays at 7 PM on BBC Three. It is broadcast in Canada on CBC at 8 PM local time, 8:30 PM in Newfoundland.
Main article: History of Doctor Who
Doctor Who debuted on BBC television on November 23 1963. The programme was born out of discussions and plans that had been ongoing for a year. Head of Drama, Sydney Newman was mainly responsible for developing it. Head of the Script Department (later Head of Serials) Donald Wilson, staff writer C. E. 'Bunny' Webber, writer Anthony Coburn, story editor David Whitaker and initial producer Verity Lambert also contributed. The series' distinctive and haunting title theme was composed by Ron Grainer and realised by Delia Derbyshire.
The BBC drama department's Serials division produced the programme in-house for the following twenty-six seasons, on BBC One. Falling viewing figures, a decline in the public perception of the show and a less prominent transmission slot saw it suspended as an ongoing series in 1989 by Jonathan Powell, Controller of BBC One. While in-house production had ceased, the BBC was hopeful of finding an independent production company to re-launch the show. Philip Segal, a British expatriate who worked for Columbia Pictures' television arm in the United States, approached the BBC about such a venture.
Segal's negotiations eventually led to a television movie. The movie was broadcast on the Fox Network in 1996 as a co-production between Fox, Universal Pictures, the BBC, and BBC Worldwide. However, although the film was successful in the UK (with audited viewing figures of 9.1 million), it was less so in the United States and did not lead to a series. Although licensed media such as novels and audio plays provided new stories, the programme remained dormant until 2004. In that year, BBC Television began producing a new in-house series after several years of unsuccessful attempts by BBC Worldwide to find backing for a feature film version.
The new series debuted with the episode Rose on BBC One on March 26, 2005 and on CBC in Canada on April 5, 2005. It will also be shown on Prime TV in New Zealand and on the ABC in Australia from mid-May. No premiere date or broadcaster has been announced for the United States. The American Sci-Fi Channel was briefly said to be interested in acquiring the US rights to the new series, but withdrew after a screening of the first episode. The BBC commissioned a second series, along with a Christmas special on March 30, 2005.
Each of the weekly episodes formed part of a contained story (or "serial") of between one and twelve parts — usually either six or four 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 (containing four stories often referred to by individual titles connected by framing sequences) during Season 23; the epic The Daleks' Master Plan, which aired in 12 episodes (plus a one episode teaser entitled Mission to the Unknown, featuring none of the regular cast), 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. The idea was to alternate stories set during important periods of human history (such as the French Revolution, the Roman Empire, or the Battle of Culloden Moor) which would educate younger audience members about history, with stories set either in the future or in outer space, which would educate them about science. This was also reflected in the make-up of the Doctor's original companions, one of whom was a science teacher and another a history teacher.
In practice, however, science fiction stories proved to be far more popular with the viewing public, and the "historicals" were dropped entirely after the first few years. While the series continued to make use of historical settings throughout its run, they were generally used as a backdrop for science fiction themed tales. The series featured only one more purely historical story during its original run, the 1982 serial Black Orchid , set in 1920s Britain.
Doctor Who originally ran for 26 seasons on the BBC from November 23, 1963 until December 6, 1989. Writers over the years have included Terry Nation, Henry Lincoln, Douglas Adams, Robert Holmes, Terrance Dicks, Dennis Spooner , Eric Saward , Malcolm Hulke, Christopher H. Bidmead , Stephen Gallagher , Brian Hayles , Chris Boucher and Ben Aaronovitch .
The serial format changed for the 2005 revival. Instead, the new series consists of thirteen 45-minute self-contained episodes, with three two-parters and a loose story arc. For the new series, Russell T. Davies is principal writer and executive producer, with Mark Gatiss, Paul Cornell, Robert Shearman, and Steven Moffat also contributing scripts.
Who is the Doctor?
Main article: The Doctor (Doctor Who)
The character of the Doctor was initially shrouded in mystery. All that was known about him was that he had a granddaughter, Susan, that she was born "in another time, another world" and both of them were exiles. Also, he could not fully control his time machine, the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space), which was larger on the inside than on the outside. The TARDIS originally had the ability to disguise itself according to its environment, but became "stuck" in the form of a police box after landing in London in 1963 and has remained in that shape ever since. Originally an irascible and highly irritable character, he was quickly shown to be a man of great intelligence and compassion, who abhorred evil in the universe and would always help others if he could.
Over time it was revealed that the Doctor was from an extraterrestrial race known as the Time Lords from the planet Gallifrey. The circumstances under which he left his planet were vague, but were at least partly due to the restrictive nature of Time Lord society, their rules against interfering with the rest of the universe, and his own desire to explore time and space.
So far, nine actors have played the part in the regular television series, including the 1996 television movie and the 2005 revival, with a tenth to follow. The Doctor, like all Time Lords, has the ability to "regenerate" his body when he dies, something he can do twelve times. The production team created this concept to allow for re-casting of the part when an actor wanted to leave or otherwise needed to be replaced. Prior to the 2005 revival, the regeneration was always worked into the storyline, but the 2005 series began with the Ninth Doctor already regenerated. As the Tenth Doctor is debuting at the end of the year, it is likely that we will only be seeing a regeneration from the Ninth to the Tenth, precluding any flashbacks.
The actors to play the Doctor, and their tenures, are as follows:
William Hartnell (1963–1966)
Patrick Troughton (1966–1969)
Jon Pertwee (1970–1974)
Tom Baker (1974–1981)
Peter Davison (1981–1984)
Colin Baker (1984–1986)
Sylvester McCoy (1987–1989, 1996)
Paul McGann (1996)
Christopher Eccleston (2005)
David Tennant (2005–?)
Richard Hurndall played the part of the First Doctor in the 20th anniversary telemovie The Five Doctors in 1983 as William Hartnell died in 1975.
The BBC announced on March 30, 2005, that Eccleston would depart at the end of the current series and that David Tennant was reportedly in talks for the role. Although other actors' names were mentioned, none were seriously suggested. On April 16 2005, the BBC confirmed that Tennant was to be the Tenth Doctor.
The Doctor almost invariably shares his adventures with between one and three companions (the only exception being the serial The Deadly Assassin). The idea of the companion is to provide a surrogate for the audience to identify with and to further the story by asking questions and getting into trouble. The Doctor's companions changed often as they left, either to return home or found new causes on worlds they had visited and elected to stay there. Some companions were also killed off during the course of the series.
There are some disputes as to the definition of a companion, but fans mostly agree that at least twenty-nine (including K-9 Marks I and II) meet the criteria for "companion" status in the television series. For further details, see the notes in List of supporting characters in Doctor Who.
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, the Silurians, and the Master, a rival Time Lord with a thirst for universal conquest. Of all the monsters, the ones that ensured the series' place in the public's imagination were the Daleks. The Daleks are lethal mutants in tank-like mechanical armour from the planet Skaro. Their chief role in the great scheme of things is, as they frequently remark in their instantly-recognisable metallic voices, to "Exterminate!"
The Daleks were created by writer Terry Nation (who intended them as an allegory of the Nazis) and BBC designer Raymond Cusick. Nation also wrote for 1960s telefantasy like The Avengers. He later created the 1970s science fiction programmes Survivors and Blake's 7 and was a writer for the popular American series MacGyver. 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, photographed by Lord Snowdon.
Doctor Who has always appeared on the BBC's mainstream BBC One channel, drawing audiences of many millions of viewers. It was most popular in the late 1970s, when audiences frequently averaged as high as 12 million viewers per airing. During the ITV network strike of 1979, viewership peaked at 16 million. No first-run episode of Doctor Who has ever drawn fewer than three million viewers on BBC One, although its late 1980s performance of three to five million regular viewers was seen as being poor at the time, and was a leading cause of the programme's 1989 suspension. The BBC One broadcast of Rose, the first episode of the 2005 revival, drew an average audience of 10.81 million, No. 3 for BBC One that week and No. 7 across all channels.
Only four episodes have ever had their premier showings on channels other than BBC One. The 1983 twentieth anniversary special The Five Doctors had its debut on November 23 (the actual date of the anniversary) on the Chicago PBS station WTTW-TV in the United States and various other PBS affiliates two days prior to its BBC One broadcast. The 1988 story Silver Nemesis was broadcast with all three episodes edited together in compilation form on TVNZ in New Zealand in November, after the first episode had been shown in the UK but before the final two installments had aired there. Finally, the 1996 television movie premiered on May 12 on Citytv in Vancouver, Canada, fifteen days before the BBC One showing.
There was some controversy over the show's suitability for children. Moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse made a series of complaints to the BBC in the 1970s over its sometimes frightening or gory content. Ironically, her actions made the programme even more popular, especially with children. Producer John Nathan-Turner was heard to say that he looked forward to Whitehouse's comments, as the show's ratings would increase soon after she had made them.
During the 1970s, the Radio Times, the BBC's own listings magazine, announced that a child's mother said the theme music terrified her son. The Radio Times was apologetic. However, the visuals were more complained about than the music. 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 both in association with the programme and occasionally elsewhere.
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. As of 2003, every fully extant serial has been released on VHS. BBC Worldwide continues to release serials on DVD on a regular basis.
Sometime between about 1967 and 1978 large amounts of older material stored in the BBC's video tape and film libraries were destroyed or wiped to make way for newer material. This happened for a number of reasons. Most episodes of Doctor Who were made on two-inch quad video tape for initial broadcast, and telerecorded onto 16mm film by BBC Enterprises for further commercial exploitation. The BBC had no central archive then — the Film Library kept programmes that had been made on film while the Engineering Department was responsible for storing video tapes. BBC Enterprises sold the programme to overseas broadcasters (generally as 16mm telerecordings) and thus kept copies of programmes they deemed commercially exploitable. BBC Enterprises had little dedicated storage space and tended to keep piles of film canisters wherever they could find space for them, and, from around 1972 until 1978, Enterprises had a big cleanout of older material, including many old episodes of Doctor Who.
In the meantime, as the Engineering Department library had no mandate to archive programmes, older tapes were regularly wiped for reuse and to free up space. The Film Library had no responsibility for storing programmes that had not been made on film and there were conflicting views at the Film Library and Enterprises over responsibility for archiving programmes. All of these processes combined to erase enormous quantities of older black and white programming from the BBC's various libraries. While thousands of other programmes have been destroyed in this way, the missing episodes of Doctor Who are probably the best-known example of how the lack of a consistent programme archiving policy has caused lasting damage. As of 2004, 108 episodes of Doctor Who from the black and white era are missing from the BBC's archives despite ongoing attempts to recover them. See List of incomplete Doctor Who serials for a listing.
This phenomenon mostly affects the first two Doctors — William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton. Archival holdings are complete from the advent of the programme's move to colour television which coincided with the beginning of Jon Pertwee's time as the Doctor, though a few Pertwee episodes have required substantial restoration work due to loss or damage of the original 625-line PAL transmission masters and a few episodes are still only held as 16mm black and white telerecordings.
There have been some successes in the ongoing attempt to recover the missing episodes. 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 some of the black-and-white Pertwee telerecordings found in the archives. Audio versions of all of the lost Doctor Who episodes exist from home viewers making tape recordings of the show. Small excerpts have also been recovered on 8mm cine film taken by a fan in Australia during repeat showings of various episodes, which he filmed certain scenes of directly from the television screen.
In addition to these short video clips and audio soundtracks, there exist still photographs produced by photographer John Cura. Cura was hired by the BBC to document the filming of many of their most popular programmes during the 1950s and 1960s, including Doctor Who. These 'telesnaps' were generally used to promote BBC programmes, and are, in many cases, the only visual evidence remaining of several missing episodes.
The most sought-after lost episode is Part Four of the last William Hartnell 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 which had been rebroadcast as part of 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.
Starting in the early 1990s, the BBC began to release existing audio recordings of missing serials on audio cassette and compact disc, with linking narration provided by former series actors such as Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Colin Baker, Peter Purves, and Frazer Hines. In the late 1990s, amateur fan groups began to piece together clips and still images (especially John Cura's 'telesnaps') and combined them with existing audio to produce approximate recreations of missing episodes. These 'telesnap reconstructions' are tolerated by the BBC, provided they are not sold for profit.
Adaptations and other appearances
Doctor Who has appeared on stage numerous times, most significantly in a stage play, Doctor Who: The Ultimate Adventure, where during its run 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 movies are not regarded as being part of the ongoing continuity of the series.
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.
The Doctor has also appeared in audio plays and webcasts. See Doctor Who spin-offs for more details.
In 1993, coinciding with the series' 30th anniversary, a charity special entitled Dimensions in Time was produced in aid of Children in Need, with all of the surviving actors who played the Doctor and a number of previous companions. Not taken seriously by many, the story had the Rani opening a hole in time, cycling the Doctor and his companions through his previous incarnations and menacing them with monsters from the show's past. It also featured a crossover with the soap opera Eastenders, the action taking place in the latter's Albert Square location. The special was one of several special 3D programmes the BBC produced at the time, using a 3D system that made use of the Pulfrich effect requiring glasses with one darkened lens.
In 1999, another special, 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 serial format, complete with cliffhangers. (The version released on video was split into only two episodes.) 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 (Tom Baker) has been represented on several episodes of The Simpsons, starting with the episode Sideshow Bob's Last Gleaming (where along with Krusty the Clown and Steve Urkel he was part of a delegation to the Pentagon of "the esteemed representatives of television"), which was broadcast the week of Doctor Who's 33rd anniversary.
Jon Culshaw frequently impersonates the Fourth Doctor 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, "But there must be some mistake...I'm The Doctor..." Both Baker and McCoy had previously worked with Culshaw and were aware of his impression of Baker but not when the calls would come, if at all, so their reactions were genuine.
In 1985, when the production of the series was suspended for a year and it looked like it faced cancellation, a charity single, "Doctor in Distress", was produced and released in March. It was written by Ian Levine and Fiachra Trench and performed by a group of 30 mid-level celebrities, including Colin Baker, Nicola Bryant and Nicholas Courtney under the banner "Who Cares". The single was universally panned.
In 1988 the band The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (later known as The KLF) released the single "Doctorin' The Tardis" under the name The Timelords. The song used samples from Doctor Who, Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll, Part Two", and The Sweet's "Blockbuster", with lyrics chanting about the Doctor, the TARDIS, and Daleks. "Doctorin' the Tardis" reached number one in the UK Singles Chart on 12 June, and also charted highly in Australia and New Zealand.
Other bands have covered or reinterpreted the Doctor Who theme, such as the electronica band Orbital, the Human League and the Australian string ensemble Fourplay. The Pogues used a bass line in their song "Wild Cats of Kilkenny" (from Rum, Sodomy & the Lash) that is similar to the Doctor Who theme, as did Pink Floyd in their song "One of These Days" (from Meddle), which featured a brief keyboard solo that echoed the theme's melody; the musical link is more obvious in the live version on A Delicate Sound of Thunder .
The theme tune has also appeared on many compilation CDs and has even made its way to the world of mobile phone ring tones.
- Howe, David J & Walker, Stephen James (1998). Doctor Who: The Television Companion (1st ed.). London: BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-40588-0.
- Howe, David J & Walker, Stephen James (2003). The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to DOCTOR WHO (2nd ed.) Surrey, UK: Telos Publishing, ISBN 1-903389051-0.
Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46