So Who is This Doctor Bloke Anyway?
A new series of Doctor Who begins at 7 o’clock tonight, and what better time to make a new start with this poor old blog? Well, with any luck I’ll soon begin at An Unearthly Child, the real place to start, but if you’ve perhaps just seen the trailers and come new to the whole thing, I’m starting with a potted guide (based on one I wrote last year). But whether you start with the brilliant DVD box set The Beginning, or with tonight’s Smith and Jones…
What do you need to know about Doctor Who?The Doctor is a traveller in time and space. He goes anywhere he likes – alien worlds, past, present, future… He respects life rather than authority, and obeys no-one else’s rules. He lives by his own joy in exploring new places and times, and by his own moral sense to fight oppression. He prefers to use his intelligence rather than violence, and he takes friends with him to explore the wonders of the Universe.
OK, so that’s the important bit, but a few more questions…
Where’s the Doctor from, and why does he travel?Well, he’s an alien, and the people of his world watched over all of time and space, but without interfering (though, if you follow the story from the start with this blog, it’ll be a long while before you get to where he came from). He found that just watching bored him, when he wanted to get out to meet people and experience things for himself, and it came to offend his morals, because the more he saw evil the more he wanted to stand up to it. So he took a TARDIS and left. Those he fought most often were the Daleks, alien conquerors in armoured mini-tanks with a hatred for all other races. They too developed time travel, leading to conflict with the Doctor’s own people in which both sides wiped each other out, and now the Doctor looks like the only survivor (that is, if you’re starting with Smith and Jones. Start where this blog’s about to, and you’ve got a long wait to get that far). So he just carries on travelling, making the most of life, seeing the sights, toppling empires, that sort of thing. He also claims to have a really complicated name, so he just calls himself ‘the Doctor’ (‘Doctor Who?’ That’s one of the many questions about him that’ll remain a mystery).
What’s this ‘TARDIS’ that he travels in?It’s a machine for travelling through time and space, the name standing for Time And Relative Dimension In Space. It was a bit old and unreliable back when he took from his people, and he’s patched it up and customised it many times in around a thousand years that they’ve been travelling together. Just to make it even less likely it’ll go where he wants it to, it’s quite literally got something of a mind of its own, too. It moves seemingly by vanishing from one place, then just appearing in the next, travelling through a strange ‘vortex’ that’s unlike ordinary space. Oh, and the outside of it gives no sign of what’s inside. It used to disguise itself on landing so it wouldn’t be spotted, but when the Doctor arrived in the 1960s it took the form of a police box, a sort of phone booth before the British police had personal radios and mobile phones, and got stuck like that. Inside, though, unfolds into many other dimensions and many different rooms. You’ll have noticed that it’s bigger inside than outside, then. So do most people who go in (unsurprisingly).
A thousand years or so of travelling? He looks good on it.Well, his people were pretty long-lived, so that helps more than moisturiser. But it’s not just that their bodies live for hundreds of years. When they get too old, or are fatally injured, they’ve got a way of cheating death. Their body changes into a completely new one, giving them a new lease of life, shaking up their personality while remaining essentially the same person underneath. The Doctor’s had quite an eventful life, and the most recent body he’s been ‘born’ into is his tenth. Naturally, it also helps the TV series carry on when the actor playing the Doctor decides to leave, and it’s almost the only TV show that can recast its lead without hoping the audience are blind or pretending it’s something to do with plastic surgery or showers.
You’ve mentioned actors, and admitted it’s not real at last. So what’s special about this TV programme?It started off in 1963 and lasted three decades, making it the longest-running science fiction series in the world. Kept alive in books, audio plays and millions of imaginations, it was reborn in 2005 and has again been a popular and critical success thanks to its sheer joy, its unique flexibility and, of course, to monsters like the Daleks. The big creative talent behind the new series, Russell T Davies, calls it
“the best idea ever invented in the history of the world,”and it’s inspired an awful lot of people since, though you don’t need to know any intricate details to follow it. It’s the idea that’s important, that you can go pretty much anywhere and do pretty much anything, that people everywhere are worthwhile, whether they’re people like us or green scaly rubber people. The Doctor believes in freedom, and hates ignorance, conformity and insularity. He doesn’t work for anyone, wear a uniform or carry a gun, making the series both very British and very anti-establishment. It encourages people to think, to have fun, and to take a moral stand, but it’s wary of solving problems by shooting them. You don’t have to believe what you’re told, still less do what you’re told. And it’s spent several decades scaring children with nasty monsters and even the music, which when you put it all together is what family entertainment is about – a show with enough in it to satisfy all ages. Enough action to excite the adults, enough sharp questions to keep the children intrigued… That’s how down the years it’s inspired spin-offs from comics to novels, from Torchwood to the Sarah Jane Adventures.
The best of Doctor Who would include a dash of horror, adventures in history, enough wit to make you smile, enough ideas and strangeness and to make you think, and enough action to get you excited. That’s probably too much to fit into just one piece of television, which takes you right back to the idea that you can go anywhere and do anything, because it’s not about just one piece of television, but different travels. It’s the only show where, if you don’t like where it’s ended up one week, if you want it to be scarier, or funnier, or more thoughtful, or more action-packed, the next week will be in a completely different place and time and probably in a completely different style, but still recognisably the same programme. That’s probably why I fell in love with it, anyway.
How can I find out more?You can read more of this blog, or all the terrifyingly in-depth Doctor Who articles on my main one, or tens of thousands of other web pages. But I wouldn’t, if I were you, not to start with. It’s probably the best TV programme ever made, so the best way to find about it is to watch it.
The new series starts on BBC1 at 7pm on Saturday March 31st. But – that’s today! It’ll run for the next dozen weeks, and BBC3 may just force themselves to repeat it once or twice should you miss it, too. So if I were you, I’d sit down and watch David Tennant as the Doctor as he meets a young woman called Martha Jones and together they meet some aliens. Thrillingly, I don’t know anything else about that one yet. Or you can buy the DVD box set Doctor Who – The Beginning, starring William Hartnell as the Doctor, and start way back in 1963 with this blog. But watching either will be a better introduction to this fantastic series than anything you could possibly read. So watch one!