Posted: April 29, 2011
The first time I paid attention to anything Whovian was back in 1996 when the Fox network produced and aired their TV movie based on the popular British television program Doctor Who. I had heard of Doctor Who before but never watched it and knew nothing about it.
I didn’t watch the Fox TV movie, either, but I did read a TV Guide article about the movie and why it was such a big deal that it was premiering in the good ol’ U S of A.
No, I pretty much ignored Doctor Who until 2000 when I moved in with my future husband. He introduced me to The Doctor and although I wasn’t an instant fan I liked it enough to watch a few more. Gradually I grew to love it and hope to one day see every episode that still exists.
Doctor Who follows the travels and adventures of a particular Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. No, we don’t know his name and he only goes by ‘The Doctor’ and occasionally ‘John Smith’ when a name is absolutely necessary. He is never actually called ‘Doctor Who’ unless you count the theatrical films starring Peter Cushing, which you shouldn’t because they’re in their own ‘universe.’
The Doctor ‘borrowed’ his ship, called the T.A.R.D.I.S., which can travel in both space and time. The show was originally envisioned as an educational program for children but it shifted from being a teacher of history to an all out science-fiction/fantasy program soon after it began in 1963.
There’s something to like about every Doctor but so far my favorite has been and remains Jon Pertwee. Last year I finally saw several stories with the first doctor and despite my initial trepidation he has turned out to be one of my favorites as well.
So, let’s meet the Doctor, shall we? Hmm?
William Hartnell :: The Crotchety Grandfather
Often described as the ‘grandfatherly’ Doctor, he was actually more like an overgrown child at times. He was relatively young (the current incarnation states that he is 908 years old) so of course he thought he knew everything. He even stooped to pouting and refusing to speak when he didn’t get his way.
He didn’t want any tag-along companions but once they were there and he grew to love them he almost forbade them to leave.
He was on Earth to give his granddaughter, Susan, a more stable life as an adolescent. (And before you ask, no, we don’t know who her parents were or who her grandmother happened to be.) Two of Susan’s school teachers, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, became curious about Susan and her home life after she spoke out in history class, claiming that the facts in their text was wrong.
It seemed that the Doctor was just looking for an excuse to leave because seconds after Barbara and Ian stepped into the T.A.R.D.I.S. he took off, dragging them along and complaining about it the entire way.
By the time the school teachers found a way home (via a Dalek time machine, no less) they had made quite an impact on The Doctor. In the beginning he was content to leave the natives of the times and planets he visited to their fates. It was Barbara and Ian who taught him to be a hero and to use his knowledge and power for good.
Patrick Troughton :: The Hobo
Following an encounter with The Cybermen, the first Doctor ‘died’ and regenerated into his second incarnation played by Patrick Troughton.
I haven’t seen many stories with the second Doctor, but he was definitely much different than the first. In general he was much more patient with his companions but seemed to be a bit more pessimistic. He liked to play the flute and his outfits were often frayed, earning him a later nickname of the Hobo Doctor.
It was at the end of Troughton’s run that we first heard of The Time Lords and of the planet Gallifrey. An encounter with another rogue Time Lord brought about his capture, forced regeneration and subsequent exile to Earth.
Jon Pertwee :: The Dandy
During the second Doctor’s adventures he encountered a modern military group in Britain called UNIT. When the third Doctor was exiled to Earth he was found by UNIT, namely Brigadier Lethbridge Stuart, and stayed on to help take care of odd happenings planet-side.
In reality, the producers were trying to cut costs and figured the best way to do that was to keep the Doctor Earth-bound, letting the monsters and dangers come to him.
Despite what could have been a boring setup, Pertwee was an exciting Doctor who could be demanding, superior, snobbish but at the same time very kind. For the first time the Doctor was a man of action both physically and mentally and despite his often disgust for the human race did his best to protect his adopted home.
During Pertwee’s run the audience was first introduced to The Master, yet another rogue Time Lord, who had gone bad. The Master would become one of the Doctor’s arch nemeses periodically appearing on the program up to the present day.
Tom Baker :: The Bohemian
Toward the end of the third Doctor’s life, he was able to fix his T.A.R.D.I.S. and his banishment was lifted. Despite that, he stuck around and helped UNIT between his interstellar trips.
When he died and regenerated into his fourth incarnation, he practically jumped into the T.A.R.D.I.S. the second he woke up and took off for the stars.
The Doctor would visit UNIT occasionally but never again was UNIT a permanent fixture in the story lines.
One of the most famous incarnations – and long lasting – the fourth Doctor was the most manic up to that point. He could go from deadly serious to just plain silly in the blink of an eye. Tom Baker the actor would have rather done without companions and that often seeped through into his performance as the Doctor which resulted in a Doctor who loved his companions but often seemed to want them to go away. This isn’t a distraction, however, and just lends toward the unpredictability that has always been a facet of the Doctor.
Peter Davison :: The Morose Doctor
Despite the fact that the fourth Doctor often seemed to want to be alone, when he died and then regenerated into his fifth incarnation, he had three companions with him. The fifth Doctor preferred multiple companions and always had at least two with him at all times.
Despite his youthful appearance, this Doctor was rarely boyish and he lost his silly side along with the curls. He could often be morose and seemed to take his companions’ departures to heart more than his prior incarnations.
He wasn’t as physical as some of his prior personalities and preferred to use intellect and dialogue to resolve issues as opposed to brute force. All of the Doctor’s preferred this, but the fifth Doctor seemed even more reluctant to use violence to reach his goals.
Although all the doctors had a distinctive ‘look’ to them, this was the first Doctor who had a ‘costume’ and it rarely ever changed. He only changed out of his Cricket clothes for special occasions.
Colin Baker :: He was the Doctor, whether you liked it or not
When Colin Baker took over the role of the Doctor the production of the show was becoming troubled. The quality of writing was slipping, the budget was falling and despite Baker’s enthusiasm he was probably the least popular Doctor.
The fault was not with Baker, however. His performance was always top-notch and his take on the Doctor was very unique. He was aloof and condescending just like several of his previous incarnations, but this Doctor simply didn’t care what anyone thought. He was the Doctor, whether you liked it or not.
The story quality was often uneven. One particular story I remember watching had a horrid first half and a wonderful second half. How could the fans be expected to warm to anything during this time period when the show runners didn’t seem to know what they wanted?
Colin Baker’s was the third shortest run for a Doctor and it was not by choice. He was forced out of the part and subsequently refused to appear on screen for his death and the details of that death are still unknown.
Sylvester McCoy :: The Grand Manipulator
The seventh Doctor’s clothes and manner toned down and he was not nearly as arrogant or condescending as his previous incarnation. However, he could be very devious and oftentimes vengeful, something rare in any incarnation of the Doctor.
The production of the show was still having problems but McCoy was able to deliver a captivating performance as everyone’s favorite Time Lord. One of my favorite companions, Ace, is from this time period and despite the terrible editing during this period and the same problems in writing, there are still some good episodes to be seen during these seasons.
It was during this time that it was hinted that the Doctor was something more than what we had ever known and even more mystery seemed to surround his history and purpose.
But, the show had become an embarrassment to the BBC – even though there were still plenty of viewers – and the program was finally shut down for an indefinite hiatus.
Paul McGann :: The Romantic Doctor
Despite it’s ‘cancellation’ Doctor Who still had many fans. There were several attempts to resuscitate it over the years but it didn’t come to fruition until 1996 as a co-production between the BBC and the Fox network in the United States.
The eighth Doctor was seen onscreen for only one story which is a real shame. Despite the many problems with the script, McGann was a captivating Doctor and really deserved more screen time.
The TV movie set up a lot of the tropes of the modern series. For one, the Doctor was a romantic lead and even kissed his companion – and not in a fatherly way. Another was a more compressed way of storytelling. Because they were trying to produce a set number of hours, the stories of the previous Doctors were often padded and involved a lot of walking and running up and down corridors. The TV movie didn’t have three hours to tell one story and this lead to a leaner story.
It was hoped that the TV movie would lead to a series deal for the Fox network but this did not come to pass, which is probably a good thing. It was the Fox network which means that it would have been cancelled within two weeks anyway.
Christopher Eccleston :: The Angry Doctor
The Doctor was gone for almost a decade before the BBC decided to bring him back. In 2005 Christopher Eccleston was cast as the Doctor and Doctor Who is now more popular than ever.
Eccleston’s Doctor was quite angry, although this didn’t really show on the surface. It was eventually revealed that he was now the last of the Time Lords, the sole survivor of a great Time War with the Daleks.
Maybe because of this he allowed himself to become much closer to his new companion, Rose Tyler, and even fell in love with her. After only 13 episodes, the Doctor sacrificed himself to save Rose’s life.
Despite his brief time as the Doctor (the second shortest) Eccleston had a major role in bringing back the Doctor to mainstream popularity and set up storylines that would permeate through the series for at least three more seasons.
David Tennant :: The Emo Doctor
If anyone threatens Tom Baker’s rank as the Favorite Doctor, it’s David Tennant, which only makes sense because he was almost as manic as Baker ever was.
Not quite as angry as Eccleston – falling in love can do that to a guy, I suppose – this Doctor could often slip into a melancholy due to his status as the last Time Lord.
Despite these periods of depressions, Tennant’s Doctor was all about enjoying life and the adventure that was his life. Tennant had one season with Rose, lost her and then got her back and then lost her again…sort of. (You have to watch it to really understand.)
Everyone seemed to fall in love with this Doctor, male and female alike, and it was refreshing when he started travelling with Donna Noble who didn’t have romantic feelings for him at all. Unfortunately, Donna couldn’t stay onboard and had to leave at the end of Tennant’s third season.
After the third season Tennant did a series of two hour specials. His incarnation ‘died’ during the last special which is probably one of the worst Doctor Who stories ever – it was Russel T. Davies (the show runner) at his most self-indulgent and it royally sucked – but Tennant still gave a great performance.
Matt Smith :: The ‘Old’ Doctor
Matt Smith is the youngest actor ever cast to play the Doctor, but he doesn’t play it that way. In many ways, Smith’s Doctor behaves more like an old man than any incarnation since William Hartnell.
This Doctor’s relationship with his companion (the self-absorbed Amy Pond) is much more distant than any relationship with his companions since Tom Baker’s era.
Smith’s Doctor is also less concerned about the safety of his companions. In his second story he takes Amy to a spaceship colony hundreds of years in the future – and just leaves her alone while he goes to investigate something strange. There was no ‘wait for me here’ or ‘don’t do anything without me’ speech like we’re used to. He basically shooed her away and went and did his thing.
He even has no qualms putting children in harm’s way if it helps him obtain his overall goal. In a guest appearance on the spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures, he ‘beams’ a teenage boy to a hostile alien planet so he can switch places with him – and almost forgets he’s there.
Strangely enough this does not make him unlikeable. It’s a more absentmindedness than outright maliciousness.
Unless the series seriously tanks in popularity, it looks like The Doctor will be on the TV screen for many years to come. In the old days it was stated repeatedly that Time Lords got only 12 regenerations – 13 ‘lives’ total – but the Smith Doctor has stated that he can regenerate as many times as he wants.
This leads to speculation about what happened in the Time War and why this change has happened. With the advent of the new series a lot more attention has been paid to the mystery of the Doctor, who he really is, what really happened during that Time War and just how important he is to the survival of the human race.
And now, for your viewing pleasure, the Doctor Who logos through the years: