Fifty Years of Doctor Who

Posted 10 years ago by myetvmedia

Fifty years ago, audiences crowded around their tellys to watch an old man (William Hartnell) and his granddaughter (Carole Ann Ford) enter a battered blue box and embark on a series of adventures that continue  today. The Doctor always has a companion and over the years there have been 46 official who have filled the role. Jenna Coleman will be the latest. Eleven different men have taken the title of Doctor, and his adventures have seen him travel with Marco Polo, duel in the skies of London and even brought viewers to the end of time. He’s fought mad men, robots, demi-gods, false gods, himself and even the British Prime Minister. Doctor Who has become so famous and well recognized that even political cartoons have featured him and other Doctor Who characters.

The longest running sci-fi in the history of television, Doctor Who remains a constant revelation. From the original run of 1962 to 1989, to the soft reboot in 2005, Doctor Who has conquered the screen, print, comics, audio plays and even had a few (mostly forgettable) video games. If an actor got too old (like the first Doctor, William Hartnell) or decided to move on, a new character would inhabit the Doctor and simply regenerate into a new man and continue on his journey. Sometimes he’s a young man in an old man’s body (Matt Smith), sometimes an old man in a young man’s body (John Pertwee, William Hartnell). Sometimes he commits genocide (like Sylverster McCoy in The Sea Devils or Remembrance of the Daleks) and other times he never would. He has been described as a goblin, a trickster, a warrior, but he always prefers The Doctor, a name he chose, an ideal he aspires towards. A man of learning, a healer.

Some of the Doctor’s have stayed longer than others. Christopher Eccleston  who now stars as Malekith in Thor: The Dark World, stayed only for one season. Paul McGann lasted on screen only long enough to do a direct to TV movie and a recent mini-episode. However, Paul McGann has a much larger role in the audio plays and comics when the season ended in the ’90′s and lived on only in the audio and comic world where it still enjoys a vibrant existence today. In contrast, Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor) held on for seven years with a hugely loyal fan base. Colin Baker (the Sixth Dr. Who) was markedly unpopular with the TV fans for no reason of his own but he was one of the most popular in the audio plays.

The Doctor Who story always returns to the small screen having not found success as a major movie. When the series ended in 1989 (Survival was the last aired episode), the comics and books kept the series ticking over. In 1996, there was an attempt to revive the series with a TV movie. Jim Carrey, Tom Hanks and Harrison Ford were all approached, but Paul McGann ultimately won the role. The attempt at a new series didn’t take due to lack of interest from the audience and a company that perhaps didn’t “get” the show. But the books and comics continued, now with McGann embodying the character of Doctor Who.

While the TV show idled between 1996 and 2005, there were numerous ideas put forth to reboot it including serious discussions of a crossover with Star Trek.  This idea actually took root with the comic book Star Trek: The Next Generation/Doctor Who: Assimilation. In 2005 the TV series was rebooted with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor. The Doctor’s death and regeneration led to David Tennant’s tenure as the Tenth, and eventually Matt Smith (the youngest yet to hold the role) donned the bow tie as number Eleven. Peter Capaldi has been announced as the next Doctor (the twelfth) set to take over the role in this year’s Christmas Special.

The upcoming anniversary episode to be shown by international simulcast, Day of the Doctor, will feature Matt Smith and David Tennant as the Eleventh and Tenth Doctors, with John Hurt as the War Doctor. This was a big part of last season’s finale and showed a secret side of the Doctor that we briefly saw and which the Doctor adamantly rejected. There was a special episode less than 7 minutes long,  put on Youtube and BBC iplayer where McGann made a surprise appearance as the Eighth Doctor in the mini-episode Night of the Doctor.  During this episode  we see his regeneration into the War Doctor.

The new episode The Day of The Doctor, written by Steven Moffat (Sherlock series with Benedict Cumberbatch) and directed by Nick Hurran will be screened simultaneously worldwide. There will be special screenings in Toronto at the  Scotiabank Theatre and the Cineplex Odeon on Yonge Dundas on the 23rd, and screenings at pretty much every theatre on the 25th. For more details, see here.

Why does the mystique of Doctor Who live on? From the earliest adventures, written by and starring people who had lived through the Second World War, to the Cold War adventures of the Seventh, to the more romantic, optimistic and fantastic adventures of the Tenth and Eleventh, the Doctor is whatever the audience needs him to be.

Donal O’Connor

@bbcdoctorwho, #savetheday, @KarenGillan2, @sophie_aldred

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