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Doctor Who

Doctor Who is a British science fiction television series, concerning the adventures of an mysterious time-traveller known only as "The Doctor".

The programme ran for 26 seasons on the BBC from November 23, 1963 until December 6, 1989; the longest-running television science fiction series. It was created at the suggestion of Sydney Newman[?] after lengthy brainstorming sessions that included such (largely forgotten) people as Alice Frick[?] (whose suggestion it was to make the show about time travel), C. E. 'Bunny' Webber[?], and David Whittaker.

The show was renowned for its use of innovative music and special effects which were produced by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

The Doctor has a machine called the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space) which enables him to travel in time and space, the Weekly episodes would form part of a contained story or "serial", of between 1 and 14 episodes, but usually 6 in earlier years and 3-4 in later years. The Doctor is accompanied by between 1 and 3 companions: people who choose to travel with him for a period of time for a variety of reasons.

It was initially devised to be partly educational: a proportion of episodes would see the characters travel to important periods in history, such as the French Revolution, or the Roman Empire. These so-called "historical" stories were dropped after the first few years in favour of the more popular science-fiction stories.

Most of the show's mythology and backplot was developed gradually by later writers. Early on, nothing is known of the Doctor at all, not even his name: in early episodes he is referred to as "Grandfather" by the character of Susan. Barbara Wright, a teacher who later becomes one of the Doctor's companions, refers to "The Doctor" and Ian Chesterfield, her fellow teacher at Coal Hill School, who (about to take a trip or two in space and time in the TARDIS) asks, "Doctor who?" Hence the series' title. They meet the Doctor after following his "granddaughter", Susan (a pupil at their school by whom they are both intrigued), home in the fog to a junk-yard where the TARDIS is concealed.

In the series, The Doctor is not subject to the normal constraints of mortal life as he is a Time Lord, a race from the planet Gallifrey that has mastered the secrets of time, but which for the most part keeps them secret. His first incarnation was played by the irascible William Hartnell, and early in the series viewers were indoctrinated into the mysteries of his TARDIS, a machine capable of travel through both space and time.

In many of the series stories, The Doctor has also saved the Earth (and a number of other planets) from such notable adversaries as the Cybermen, the Sontarans and the Silurians. However, the factor which probably most ensured the series captured the public's attention was the introduction of the Daleks in the second storyline: a lethal race of metal-armoured mutants, whose chief role in the great scheme of things would appear to be, as they frequently observe in their instantly-recognisable metallic voices, to 'Exterminate!'.

Seven actors played the Doctor in the original series:

  1. William Hartnell (November 23, 1963 - October 29, 1966)
  2. Patrick Troughton (October 29, 1966 - June 21, 1969)
  3. Jon Pertwee (January 3, 1970 - June 8, 1974)
  4. Tom Baker (December 28, 1974 - March 21, 1981)
  5. Peter Davison (March 21, 1981 - March 16, 1984)
  6. Colin Baker (March 22, 1984 - December 6, 1986)
  7. Sylvester McCoy (September 7, 1987 - December 6, 1989)

In 1996, an attempt was made to revive the series with a telemovie starring Paul McGann as the Doctor. A co-production between the BBC and 20th Century Fox Television, it aired on the Fox Network on May 14, 1996, and in the UK on May 27, 1996. The movie was simply titled Doctor Who, but many fans refer to it as "The Enemy Within" (suggested by the movie's executive producer, Philip Segal[?]) to distinguish it from the Doctor's many other adventures.

On a few occasions, former actors guest-starred in episodes featuring past incarnations of The Doctor:

  • Pertwee and Troughton with Hartnell in a minor role in "The Three Doctors"
  • Troughton, Pertwee with Davison in "The Five Doctors", a 20th anniversary special, with another actor, Richard Hurndall, standing in for the late William Hartnell. The story began with a clip featuring Hartnell. Tom Baker declined to appear and the narrative was reworked to use clips from Shada, an intended six-episode story from the Tom Baker/Lalla Ward period that was never completed due to industrial action. A dummy of Baker was used in the publicity photographs.
  • Troughton with Colin Baker in "The Two Doctors"
  • Pertwee, both Bakers, Davison and McCoy - with rubber dummy heads standing in for Hartnell and Troughton - in "Dimensions in Time", a charity spoof in aid of Children in Need[?].

The changing of actors is explained within the series by the Time Lords' ability to "regenerate" after suffering mortal injury, illness, or age; the process repairs and rejuvenates all damage, but as a side-effect it reconfigures the Time Lords' physical appearance semi-randomly and also affects their personalities. This explanation was not developed until after the elderly William Hartnell had already retired from the show for health reasons. It was later established that each Time Lord can regenerate 12 times before permanently dying, though as with most such "rules" there were occasionally exceptional cases, such as when a renagade Time Lord at the end of his regeneration cycle possessed the body of another person to continue living.

Another Time Lord was introduced into the series during the Pertwee period, in the form of "The Master", an arch-villain who began to appear regularly until the actor playing the part, Roger Delgado, died suddenly. Later, the character was reintroduced, played by another actor, Anthony Ainley[?].

The Doctor was played in the film versions (Doctor Who And The Daleks in 1965 and Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150 AD in 1966, both essentially retellings of existing episodes on the big screen and with a bigger budget) by the actor Peter Cushing. In these films, the character introduces himself as "Doctor Who", and is apparently human.

Doctor Who has appeared on stage, numerous times. Almost all the TV stories have been novelised, and there are also a number of series of original novels - many of these are well-regarded and are considered to fit into the official Doctor Who universe. The pilot episode for a potential spinoff series was aired in 1981, K-9 And Company: A Girl's Best Friend by Terence Dudley, but was not picked up as a regular series.

Doctor Who was largely brought to an end by the actions of a former Director General of the BBC, Michael Grade, who has gone on record as saying that he disliked science fiction, who pulled the series from its prime Saturday tea-time slot which it had occupied for 26 years. He has appeared on television series, Room 101[?], to disparage the programme. The cancellation caused furore in the British press.

In 1999 a four episode special called "Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death" was made for Red Nose Day and later released on VHS. This was a parody of the original series. In these episodes the Doctor, played by Rowan Atkinson, meets both the Master, played by Jonathan Pryce, and the Daleks. During the episodes the Doctor is forced to regenerate several times, so he's also played by Richard E. Grant[?], Jim Broadbent[?], Hugh Grant and Joanna Lumley. The script was written by Steven Moffat[?].


Since the end of the television series, "official" (which is to say, BBC-sanctioned) Doctor Who has survived in a number of forms.

  • Novels. Billed as telling "stories too broad and deep for the small screen", Virgin Publishing[?]'s line of original novels featuring the seventh Doctor began in 1991; it was joined in 1994 by a companion series telling "untold" stories with earlier Doctors, set between episodes of the television series. In the climate of renewed interest in the series that followed the 1996 telemovie, the BBC decided to reclaim Virgin's license when it next came up for renewal and publish its own series of Doctor Who novels; the last two Virgin Doctor Who novels were released in April 1997 (bringing to an end almost 25 years of Doctor Who publishing outside of the BBC), and the first two BBC-published novels were released in June the same year. The BBC currently releases two new novels every two months, one featuring the ongoing adventures of the eighth Doctor and the other an "untold" story of an earlier Doctor.
  • Audio. Big Finish Productions[?] makes a range of audio plays on compact disc, with one released every month starring one of the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth Doctors. The ongoing eighth Doctor series is independent of the novel line, with the Doctor doing different things with a different companion. Big Finish have also produced a limited-run series of audio plays based around one of the Doctor's companions, Sarah Jane Smith, as well as a limited "Doctor Who Unbound" series that explore possibilities contrary to the established mythos (for instance, "What if the Doctor had never left Gallifrey?"); the "Unbound" series allows well-known actors such as Derek Jacobi and David Warner to play the Doctor (albeit once each).
    A series of audio plays have also been webcast[?] on the BBC's web site, beginning with Death Comes to Time in 2001. Death Comes to Time had been made for, and then turned down by, BBC Radio 4; subsequent plays have been made specially for the webcasts by Big Finish.
  • Comics. The comic-strip adventures of the Doctor, which have appeared almost from the beginning of the TV series in the 1960s publication TV Comic[?], and during the 1970s in the mainly Gerry Anderson related comic Countdown[?], have continued to be regularly featured in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine[?] since its first issue in 1979 and have now outlasted the series that inspired it. The comic strip currently features the eighth Doctor in a series of adventures independent of the novels and the audios, with yet another different companion. Selected stories were reprinted and in North America by Marvel Comics. Those that have worked on the DWM strip have included such notables as writer Alan Moore and artists Dave Gibbons[?] and John Ridgeway[?].
  • Novellas. Telos Publishing[?] has produced a series of original Doctor Who novellas, published individually in hardcover; the first, Time and Relative by Kim Newman, was released on November 23, 2001. Although the series has been reasonably successful (in spite of the odd publication format, which resulted from the BBC having reserved for its own use the rights to publish Doctor Who story collections and Doctor Who books in paperback), the BBC has chosen not renew Telos's license, and the series will end in March 2004.

The hunger for more Doctor Who on television has been partly answered by direct-to-video productions by various companies. The BBC has never authorised any Doctor Who video productions (presumably on the basis that one might as well make a new television series), but production companies have been able to license individual characters and alien races from the show directly from the writers who created them, and feature them in adventures of their own. Companies who have released videos of this kind include Reeltime Pictures[?] (also known for the long-running Myth Makers series of documentaries) and BBV (who have also released a number of Doctor Who-related audio adventures on the same basis). BBV is also known for a number of productions that, while not using any elements from the show itself, tell a similar style of story and feature ex-Doctor Who stars in roles similar to those they played in the series; these include a direct-to-video series starring Colin Baker as "The Stranger", and a series of audio dramas starring Sylvester McCoy as "The Dominie".

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