So, you’ve heard of Doctor Who but you don’t know what it is about? Well look no further, I am here to fix that with my Beginner's Guide to Doctor Who.
Without further ado, let me set the scene for you:
The year is 1963, the Beatles are exploding onto the scene and the moon landing is still six years away. On the 23rd of November, a new unknown sci-fi show called Doctor Who (not Dr. Who) debuts on our screens with the Doctor becoming an immediate favourite among viewers.
Flash forward and this beloved series is now celebrating its 60th anniversary with the Doctor still gallivanting on adventures, along with many companions, through space and time, saving the world (and sometimes the whole universe!) from evil aliens, gods, and other world destroying threats. During these adventures, the Doctor has even given his life to protect those he loves.
But Who is the Doctor? How does he travel? What happens when The Doctor dies?
Who is The Doctor?
While he may look human, he is quite the opposite! The Doctor is, in fact, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. Time Lords possess the unique ability of regeneration, enabling all the cells of the body to regenerate, which allows the character to take on a new appearance and personality when fatally wounded or dying of old age.
At the time of the 60th anniversary, the Doctor has had fourteen incarnations, with the fifteenth to be played by the fabulous Ncuti Gatwa. Each actor has brought something different to the Doctor’s character.
Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor was perhaps one of the most iconic incarnations. Tom Baker left his mark as the most influential and most loved of all of the classic Doctors, while also having the longest run in the role, thanks to his infectious grin, instantly recognisable scarf and armed with an intense enthusiasm for jelly babies.
Christopher Eccleston played the Ninth Doctor for the show’s revival in 2005. This Doctor emerges fresh from the aftermath of the Time War, a devastating conflict which resulted in the annihilation of both the Daleks and Time Lords. Along with a simple black leather jacket, the Ninth Doctor (or as I like to call him “the grunge Doctor” ) brings a raw vibe, due to survivors’ guilt, split by moments of sharp wit.
Newer fans of Doctor Who, myself included, grew up with the Tenth and Eleventh, played by the brilliant David Tennant and Matt Smith respectively. The Tenth Doctor is an extremely charismatic and intelligent individual, making an immense impact on those around him as well as the audience, while seamlessly able to blend humour with moments of intense seriousness.
Whereas his successor, the Eleventh Doctor, brings out the childlike nature of The Doctor, adding an element of whimsy while referred to as a “mad man with a box” with his first season often described as fairy-tale-like.
The later incarnations of the Doctor continue to add their own uniqueness to the role. The Twelfth Doctor, played by BAFTA award winner Peter Capaldi, exhibits a strong sense of introspection and emotional depth. In contrast, Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor introduced a novel vigour to the role, becoming the show’s first female incarnation. Her portrayal stayed faithful to the Doctor’s basic principles of compassion, intelligence, optimism, curiosity, and a strong sense for adventure.
Not much has been seen of The Fourteenth and Fifteenth Doctor but with David Tennant reprising his role as The Fourteenth Doctor and I, for one, cannot wait to see what the BBC has in store.
How does the Doctor travel?
The Doctor’s oldest companion is his spaceship the TARDIS, short for Time And Relative Dimension In Space. The First Doctor stole his TARDIS and fled Gallifrey, after becoming disillusioned with the Time Lords, to travel and help people all over the universe. After landing on Earth, the TARDIS exterior remained stuck with a 1960s blue London police box exterior. However, this unassuming exterior houses something far more remarkable as inside it is vast and otherworldly with the synonymous “It’s bigger on the inside” coming to mind.
The TARDIS is a living, sentient, and organic machine which functions as much more than just a mode of transportation across space and time for the Doctor. In the Eleventh Doctor’s era, the TARDIS consciousness is even placed inside a person where it is discovered that she likes the nickname Sexy.
Another quintessential tool in the Doctor’s arsenal is the incredibly versatile sonic screwdriver. The sonic screwdriver is effectively the Doctor’s Swiss army knife being used for a variety of tasks - such as opening doors, analysing and hacking alien technology, and taking medical scans to name a few of the almost endless features.
Like the Doctor, both the sonic screwdriver and TARDIS interior are prone to change if they are destroyed or if the sonic is lost.
In the Eleventh Doctor’s first episode, the brand-new TARDIS interior is seen, after being destroyed by 10’s regeneration, along with the console producing a new sonic screwdriver reflecting the new TARDIS.
The Villains of Doctor Who
It would be amiss to talk about Doctor Who without mentioning some iconic foes that The Doctor has had to face.
It goes without question that the most well-known foe of The Doctor are the Daleks. Serving their creator, Davros, these plunger-wielding dodgems are the ultimate machine of combat. The Daleks are driven by an intense hatred to seek and maintain the racial purity of the Dalek race and will annihilate all non-Dalek life forms. The Daleks are responsible for the extermination of the Time Lords and the destruction of Gallifrey.
You would think an enemy of your enemy would be your friend right? Wrong. That is not the case for another iconic villain known as the Cybermen. These villains are human brains in a silver cyborg casing, devoid of all emotion, due to being equipped with an emotional inhibitor. These cybernetic, former humans, seek a warped form of immortality through technological assimilation. The Daleks and Cybermen, therefore, are natural enemies due to their ideological differences with the former claiming the Cybermen are superior in only one way – at dying. With plans for world domination, this silver nemesis won’t stop until humanity has been fully ‘upgraded’.
In his adventures, the Doctor has also tussled with Time Lords such as Rassilon (the founder of Time Lord society) and his childhood friend now turned archenemy The Master. The latter even becoming Prime Minister of the UK for a brief time.
Although however hard the Master (or Mistress) tries, the Doctor is always there to foil his plans of universal domination.
The Doctor’s Companions
Travelling through time and space on his own can be very lonely so The Doctor usually prefers to invite humans he meets on his adventures to travel with him. These companions, named ‘Children of Time’ by Davros, provide a humanising, and occasionally romantic, connection to an otherwise isolated alien. They also often act as a moral compass to hold the dark side of The Doctor accountable as Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) puts it “Sometimes I think you need someone to stop you” – allowing moral and ethical dilemmas to be explored.
With the BBC adding every episode of Doctor Who, alongside the expanded universe - aptly named the ‘Whoniverse’ - to iPlayer and with Disney picking up the broadcasting rights outside the UK, plus the brief return of David Tennant, there is no better time to be a Doctor Who fan. Another addition, Tales of the TARDIS gives fans an easy introduction into Classic Who so everyone, regardless of age, can enjoy.
Now you know everything necessary for the 60th anniversary specials - so grab your sonic screwdriver and get ready for an epic journey through time and space.