How can a show that began in 1963 still have thousands of fans today, when so much has changed in the world of entertainment?
When you have as flexible and as awesome a central character as the Doctor, a space and time travelling alien who is the force for good anywhere and everywhere in the universe. And come on, who doesn’t love eccentric time travelling aliens? Whether you’re a die-hard Whovian, or just a casual viewer, this show has a little something for everyone.
Grab some jelly bellies, and a fez! Let’s take a look at the most beloved science fiction show from the other side of the pond, Doctor Who.
First, we’ll have to go over some Doctor Who 101 for those of you who are unsure of what the Doctor is all about. The Doctor is a Time Lord, a breed of alien who has two hearts, travel through space and time without major issues, and can process thoughts hundreds of times faster than the average human. In fact, humans are modeled after them in this verse, so we all look “Time Lord.” His home planet is Gallifrey, where the Time Lords once lived until the Doctor was forced to defeat them all in a very complicated mess of explanations, leaving him the only one left of his kind, something he constantly struggles with. He travels in his TARDIS, which is the iconic blue Police Box, which he stole in order to see the universe.
The Doctor is a pacifist, rarely ever using violence to solve the many intricate and deadly situations he finds. His tool of choice is the sonic screwdriver, which is the everything-it-needs-to-be-tool. He is the force for good, always trying to make sure everyone gets saved in the end. The Doctor doesn’t die, he regenerates, which is why so many different actors have played the part. However, eventually, after 13regenerations, he cannot no longer regenerate, and will die. Each regeneration highlights different sides of the same personality, which allows the actors to have their own take on the character and still technically be true to the performances before them.
There’s a lot more to the Doctor I didn’t mention, especially because the whole mythos is long and filled with lots of intricate details that are really best explained by the show and not my paraphrasing. Also, I want you to go and watch the show, so I can’t give it all away.
So let’s talk about the men who played the New Who Doctors: Christopher Eccleston (9), David Tennant (10), and Matt Smith (11).
Eccleston, who played the Doctor for one season, is probably my second favorite, if only by a hair. It wasn’t so much his acting, which was fantastic and multi-layered, but the fact that his portrayal of the Doctor clashed a little with the image they had put him in. After all, Eccleston plays him full of life and energy, quizzical, smart,…and then they dressed him like he’s from a Terminator film. It put the character a little off balance when you first meet him – I honestly thought they were going for 21st century, bad-ass Doctor. Thankfully, the writing maintained quality, Eccleston did a great job overall, and hey, the Doctor’s been in some strange outfits before.
David Tennant is the most popular thus far of the New Who Doctors…and I’m going to make the incredibly unpopular opinion that he is my least favorite of this generation…and is certainly in the bottom three for the whole series. My biggest problem with his character is not actually David Tennant; I think he’s an amazing actor, and with the material he’s given, he does an amazing job. However, it’s the material given to him I don’t like. Problem One, Rose, and Problem Two, he’s just so overly human and emo that it ruins his character for me. It’s not very in the nature of a tragic hero to go around complaining about how awful his situation is – it makes him some sort of weird woobie character. Again, this ALL personal preference and you can click here to read my full thoughts on the issues, but overall, 10 is still a very good Doctor, just not my favorite.
And then comes the latest incarnation – the 11th Doctor played by Matt Smith. Now I am going to say off the back, I am biased cause he’s my favorite. I feel he captures all the quirky, crazy, slightly-off-putting nature of the Doctor while still being able to portray the necessary emotional depth. Again, not everyone loves him, but I do. He’s still in the role for now, and has man more amazing adventures, so I’ll reserve any real, finite judgment until after its over.
Then there are the companions. More often than not, they’re human females, but they can also be alien and/or male. Often, these people travel with a doctor for at least one season, either alone or with others, and often because they need help with some matter, or emotional growth. Putting an image of all the companions would have taken up the entire blog post, so if you’re interested in seeing them all, you can view them all here.
The New Who companions are Rose, Martha, Donna, and Amy (and Captain Jack and Rory, but let’s stick to the ladies for now). With these four women, there’s a lot of hit and miss in terms of character arcs, individual episodes, and even just minor lines of dialogue. And since I just spent so much time on everything else, I’ll try and keep my comments compact.
Rose Tyler, main companion of both the 9th and 10th Doctor, and who eventually forms a sort of romantic relationship with him. I consider her the “everywoman” as in the stand-in for most female fans. She was a shop girl before running away with the Doctor, and ends up getting her own Human-Doctor, which pissed off a lot of fans, and placated others.
Martha Jones is the first non-white female companion and travels with the 10th Doctor, and a clever medical student, who also falls in love with the Doctor. Unfortunately, she came off as a love struck wannabe. She was brought into the show to bring up social commentary and racial issues both past and present.
Donna Noble is one of the most beloved companions of the new seasons, and was the last major female companion of the 10th Doctor. Her relationship to the Doctor was about best friends going on an adventure, and in my opinion was a welcome change from all the Doctor-love that was going on at the time. However her story ends tragically as, for very complicated reasons, she can never remember any of her adventures with the Doctor or her head will explode.
And finally, we hit Amy Pond, the latest companion who will be leaving the show soon. This Scottish young woman first meets the 11th Doctor after he first regenerates as a child, only to spend the majority of her childhood and adolescence waiting for him to return. She runs away with him on her wedding night, but returns eventually for her fiancé Rory and they now all travel together. I can’t reveal anymore cause not everyone has seen Season 6 yet, so you’ll just have to watch and find out.
Then, of course, there’s Dr. River Song, an archeologist and fellow time traveler. Her past is his future; when the Doctor first meets River Song, she dies. Many love her, a lot hate her. The biggest reason is because she’s been made an equal to the Doctor, as she is part Time Lord, and knows more about him than any singular companion….except for Sarah Jane, I suppose. It’s made pretty clear very early on that she has a very deep connection to the Doctor – be it love or strong friendship hasn’t been explicitly explained by the show, but most fans have assumed it’s a romance though we won’t be entirely be sure about this timeline until next season.
The Doctor has a couple of reoccurring enemies, the most famous of which are the Daleks. These hell-on-wheels-R2-D2-gone-wrong have haunted the nightmares of British children for decades, ominously screeching “EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!” We’ve seen their origin, rebirth, how they keep trying to take over Earth and they were near and dear to our hearts, though their treatment within the show is varied, at best, sometimes making them feel like serious threats and other time making them seem like garbage cans on wheels.
Then there’s the Cybermen, who are humanoid robots who capture humans into their bodies to make them Cybermen and use their organic matter. Constantly evolving, and always functioning so long as they can find human hosts, and are ultimately emotionless (…at least, they’re supposed to be). Like the Daleks, these are a force that have not only been trying to take over worlds, but have been around since the early days of Whodom.
The latest of these baddie are the Weeping Angels. They first appeared in Season 3, in an episode called “Blink” where they terrorize Sally Sparrow and try to steal the TARDIS. They are beings whose ultimate defense is their ultimate weakness – when someone is looking at them, they turn to stone, and can only move when someone is looking away. However in the stone state they can be destroyed physically, or if they look at another Weeping Angel they are frozen forever unless moved.
But don’t think it’s just these three super-powered baddies. There’s a whole host of other aliens in the show, who come and go with the narratives and Doctors, and in general they are well designed, and have thoughtful, interesting backgrounds and traits which add to the show’s detailed and extensive mythology.
Stay tuned next month when I review a harrowing tale of pirates, space, and the greatest injustice we who love sci-fi television have had to face in the last decade, when I review Firefly…and hopefully it won’t take me 3 months to write it.