By Katelyn Stafford
Doctor Who turned fifty this year, and the BBC’s celebrations have culminated in an anniversary special that aired in late November. To clarify, the show itself has turned 50 this year; the eponymous time-traveling alien, on the other hand, has been saving humanity from Daleks and Cybermen for about 900 years give or take, making him very old. If all that sounded like complete gibberish, then fear not! This article is here to answer the semi-centennial question: Doctor Who?
His true name is surrounded by myth and secrecy, and he simply goes by the Doctor. He is the lone survivor of the Time Lords, a guardian race that could see the past, present, and future all at once. the Doctor travels through space and time in his blue police box, a TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension in Space). It doesn’t always take him where he wants to go, but always where he needs to go.
The adventures of the Doctor have spanned nearly 800 episodes, with only eleven actors having played the title character. Now here is where it gets a bit wibbly-wobbly. the Doctor isn’t technically immortal, but instead of dying after life-threatening injuries, he regenerates. Much of the show’s canon is built around the regenerations, creating new lore as it continues, but it is also a stealthy production trick that allows the show to continue on indefinitely. Every regeneration is a chance to revamp the show with new set designs, background characters, and a new look for the Doctor himself. With each new incarnation he takes on a new face and wardrobe, his personality changing slightly every time. The Doctor has had eleven faces so far (usually referred to by their number in the succession), and after this Christmas, he will regenerate again becoming the 12th Doctor.
As the Doctor says, since “time is a big ball of wibbly wobbly time-y wimey stuff”, starting at the beginning isn’t as easy as it sounds. It was the 23rd of November in 1963 when British television audiences were first introduced to the last of the Time Lords, and it has been a pop culture icon ever since. Generations of people grew up watching Doctor Who. When someone describes their Doctor, or the incarnation they grew up with, their age shows. He gallivanted across the universe with his granddaughter, ran to save humanity with a goofy scarf trailing behind him, skulked in a black leather jacket, or bounced into viewers’ hearts with 3D glasses and scuffed white converse tennis shoes. The original series ran until 1989, ending with the Doctor in his seventh incarnation. After a lukewarm movie sometime later and a failed pilot, BBC veteran writer Russell T. Davies decided to revamp the series and bring the Doctor back for more adventures.
The new and improved Doctor Who premiered in 2005 with the 9th Doctor. Doctor Who can be classed into “Classic Who”—the series that ran from 1963 to 1989—and “New Who”—the series that has run since 2005. It is easiest to catch up with New Who, which will start its 8th season next year. Classic Who is assembled together in various places across the net, from Netflix to Amazon Prime, but about a hundred episodes are just missing. Legend was that the BBC just plain taped over the archived episodes. A couple were actually discovered a few months ago in a radio station. In Nigeria. Oh, BBC.
When discovering Who for the first time, many people skip to New Who’s second season with fan-favorite David Tennant’s conversed run as the 10th Doctor, but Nine is the true start of the revamped series and should not be skipped! The Doctor returns darker and moodier, conflicted and hardened after the mysterious Time War that left him an orphan of his species. He is alone in the universe and his two alien hearts are pained by every double beat. The opening season of the series has the Doctor coming to terms with the burden of being the sole guardian of the secrets of time. Then he meets Rose Tyler. She is the first companion of the new series and comes from a long line of people that have accompanied the Doctor across the universe.
The companions (originally called “assistants”) are as big a part of Doctor Who as the Doctor himself is. The first Doctor took his granddaughter with him to explore the universe, and together they brought onboard a pair of human school teachers. In the original series, companions had strictly non- romantic relationships, although the reboot has explored the complexities of the Doctor’s relationship with humans. The companions keep the Doctor in line, and remind him of the importance of humanity time and time again. Traditionally played by women, companions often end up saving the day (and the Doctor). Clara Oswald is the most recent, and she will be there when the Doctor regenerates from Eleven to Twelve, who will be played by Peter Capaldi.
The 50th anniversary special not only serves as nostalgia for veteran Doctor Who fans, but as a crash course for people new to the series. There is no better time than now to catch up with the Doctor and join him on his new adventures as Twelve. Eleven’s regeneration into Twelve will not be a time to say goodbye, but rather a time to say “Hello. Hello Doctor. It is so very, very nice to meet you.”