William Hartnell. Patrick Troughton. Jon Pertwee. Tom Baker. Peter Davison. Colin Baker. Sylvester McCoy. Paul McGann. Christopher Ecclestone. David Tennant. Matt Smith. Peter Capaldi.
Twelve Doctors (Fourteen if you count John Hurt’s War Doctor and the abomination that is the metacrisis Doctor, but anyway…). 53 years. Combining the Classic series, the TV Movie and the ongoing New Series, Doctor Who is the longest running science fiction show in the world. Hell, the longest running show, of any genre. Period.
At the start, back in 1963 there were children watching (sometimes from behind the sofa!) who were grown adults in 2005 when the show returned, with kids or even grandkids of their own, and yet they still watched. And they helped introduce a whole new generation to this mysterious man in a dark leather jacket (although he’s worn numerous outfits over the years).
The show was designed initially, to be educational. “No B.E.M’s” BBC head of Drama Sydney Newman proclaimed to the show’s producer, Verity Lambert. Yet only the second serial in, thanks to one thing and another, Bug Eye’d Monsters is exactly what we got when we saw the Daleks for the first time. Sydney was furious. And then the viewing figures appeared. “I like a woman with piss and vinegar” Sydney said to Verity, and he went to bat for her when the BBC wanted to shut the show down. Sydney and Verity ultimately won, thanks to the Daleks, and the rest is history.
But it’s not just Doctor Who’s wonderful mix of education and science. Historical and futuristic adventures. It was the man himself. That wonderful Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, in the constellation of Kasterborous. When William Hartnell became too ill to carry on the role, instead of doing what most shows do and either fold or just cast another actor as the same persona, Verity had this brilliant idea . “Why not allow the Doctor to renew himself” she said.
That one idea was a stroke of genious (well it was Verity Lambert, what else would it be). And it has allowed not only the Character, but the whole show to regenerate several times over. And it breathes a new life into the show each and every time. So fans that may have drifted away are pulled back in each time there’s a new Doctor.
“Who will it be?” As they speculate about the next actor to take on the role. And every time, it has gained large amounts of media attention. Initially just in various newspapers, but as time went on, various day time TV shows like Pebble Mill and Blue Peter, and the news programmes of the day too. That still carries on now with the new show.
So, is it the character of The Doctor himself? Is it the actors that play The Doctor? People are always interested to see a new take on this glorious wanderer from the 4th Dimension. Or is it the Doctor’s wonderous adventures? From historical trips back in time to meet figures you only read about in history books, like Marco Polo or Vincent van Gogh. Or trips to the near present or future and battles with Cybermen, Daleks, Ice Warriors and various other outer space creatures. Sometimes the both combine.
Or, could it possibly be the Doctors companions? Over the years, the Doctor has travelled with (unwittingly at first) two English schoolteachers, a journalist, a savage from another world, a shape shifting penguin, a waitress with a penchant for blowing things up, a shop assistant, and a kiss-o-gram. Amongst others. Every one has a story that most viewers enjoy and sometimes can identify with.
When the show was cancelled in 1989, it didn’t just disappear into the ether. A number of fans that could not bear to see their favourite character just fade away started writing books. They gave the Doctor a new lease of life and kept him alive, kept him in the public consciousness. And moreover, in this age of Social Media today, there are countless pages, groups on Facebook dedicated to The Doctor or his companions. So many tumblr pages, and more artwork on Deviantart than you could care to dream of. The Doctor has captured the imagination of people up and down the country.
So. What is it about Doctor Who? It could be one or more of these things. It could be something different. Let us know in the comments below.