– Who’s there?
– Doctor Who?
In 1963, a group of writers have sat down and decided to make something extraordinary. Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber and Donald Wilson quickly came up with the idea of the Doctor, the 500-year-old Time Lord, who travels in time and space in his blue police box, getting into trouble and rescuing alien and human civilisations. Doctor Who was more successful than anyone would have thought; fans all around the world will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.
Despite the fact that characters and actors have come and gone during these long decades, the basic format and plot of the television show has pretty much remained the same. The main protagonist is called the Doctor (and not Doctor Who, which makes true Whovians cringe), and he is from the planet Gallifrey where the Time Lords live. His race is the mightiest of all: they are the protectors of Time and Space, they oversee everything that is happening in the universe(s), yet they swore never to interfere. The Doctor, however, is special – he’s a born traveller who cannot sit idly by, he wants to be part of everything. He steals a TARDIS („Time and Relative Dimension in Space”, the spaceships/time-machines of the Time Lords, but they basically look like a blue police box – long story), and starts travelling in time and space to see new cultures, to meet new people and different species, and just to have adventures. Meanwhile, he always acquires one or two companions of some sort (usually girls) who travel with him and get in trouble, of course.
The series was originally intended to be an educational show for the family, having the Doctor travel back to the past and visiting famous historic events, or travelling in space to unknown planets to teach the children about sciences. However, the historical episodes were not so popular with the production team and they found that the science fiction stories began to dominate the show, therefore they decided to use the past as a simple background for some of the episodes, but it has no effect on the storyline itself.
In the case of a show that has been on air more or less continuously for almost 50 years, it is inevitable that writers, producers and even actors change after a while, leaving their legacy to someone else. In the case of the crew it is not much of a problem, because a lot of people don’t even know who they are – but changing the main character might give some problem and it might even cause a riot amongst the hardcore fans. Therefore the producers came up with a brilliant device – changing the face of the Doctor, but keeping the overall personality and character. They decided that the Time Lords are able to regenerate when they are dying, so they can stay alive but look differently (and leaving them with some new personal quirks, as well). They managed to pull this off nicely, because there hasn’t been a single complain and it is working perfectly. The character of the Doctor has been played by 11 different actors so far (and even more if we take the non-canon appearances into account); which makes things interesting, because they too have a limit: it is said that a Time Lord can regenerate „only” 13 times.
It is widely accepted to sort the show into two different periods: the „old series” and the „new series”. The former is the original series which was on air between 1963 and 1989. Sadly, the BBC ultimately cancelled the show because it produced poor ratings due to its unfavourable time slot. The world was left without a Doctor – apart from the still ongoing and thriving radio-plays, novels, movies, and spoofs, etc. Doctor Who became such a huge phenomenon (and a great part of the British culture) that a lot of people wanted to revive the project once again, but it was a very intimidating task. However, one of the writers of the novels and an obsessed Whovian, Russell T. Davies, didn’t take no for an answer: he lobbied the BBC for almost ten years to revive the show. His dream became a reality in 2005 when the production team gave him a green light to do justice to the Doctor. He teamed up with writer Julie Gardner and remade Doctor Who into a fantastically fresh show that appeals to the older viewers as well as to the younger ones. Unfortunately, after 4 years, they have decided to step down and give the reign over to one of their fellow writers, Steven Moffat who is most widely known for his Sherlock series on BBC. He is currently writing the episodes for Doctor Who, and every fan is eagerly waiting for a „nerdgasmic” Sherlock-Doctor mashup.
A couple of words about the revived version (because this is the one I’ve actually seen in its entirety): it carries everything that was great about its predecessor, but it also makes it easy for new viewers who have never seen the Doctor before to join in. There are planets, species, references to the original series, but they are either so vague or so straightforward that even the newcomers can understand them and they don’t feel left out. The music of Murray Gold is amazingly fresh, catchy and it manages to capture the true essence of the show. It perfectly complements the visual. The CGI is a bit dodgy in the first two seasons due to the low budget, but it gets better and better. And as for the actors: the „new Doctors” perfectly deserve to be mentioned on one page with the „old Doctors”. Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith all do a great job of playing the same character – a little bit differently. The companions and supporting actors do everything in their power to bring the characters into life and make us feel connected to them, successfully. (Spoilers: I cried. Not just once.)
All in all, Doctor Who is for everyone. There is action, humour and wit (well, of course there’s wit in it, it’s British!), the characteristics of a great science-fiction, and, of course, a little bit of romance. There are eyecandies for the boys (the shortskirted companions) and for the girls (the Doctor, duh!). There are historic moments for the history-geeks (meeting Dickens, Shakespeare, or Vincent van Gogh – AND saving them from aliens!), and there are absolutely made-up scenarios on alien planets inhabitated by alien creatures. And for the accent-freaks: almost everybody speaks with a kind-of-British accent (you can thank the TARDIS for that – long story). So I highly recommend it for everyone – this is exactly what the Doctor ordered to cure boredom.