On November 23, 1963, the BBC broadcast the very first episode of Doctor Who. And unless your TARDIS is broken, you’ll realize that was exactly 48 years ago. Although it was put on a 16 year hiatus from 1989 to 2005, it is still considered the officially “longest running science fiction TV series” by the Guinness Book of World Records.
For the uninitiated, Doctor Who follows the exploits of the titular Doctor and his ever-growing list of companions as they travel through time and space and protect the Earth (and sometimes the entire universe) from destruction. Here is a quick rundown on what you need to know.
A 900 year old Time Lord from Gallifrey, the Doctor is inquisitive, compassionate, unpredictable, and above all else, brilliant. It’s hard to say whether the Doctor finds trouble or if trouble finds him, but it is never a calm day when he is around. The Doctor has found himself in countless life-threatening situations, often just barely escaping at the last minute. And although he usually emerges victorious and relatively unscathed, he has effectively died on several occasions. Fortunately, Time Lords have a special ability that allows them to cheat death through regeneration. When his time draws near, he can change every cell in his body and emerge with a new appearance and persona. First portrayed by William Hartnell, the Doctor has gone through 11 incarnations to date. Prior to the series being revived in 2005, perhaps the most iconic (and longest running) iteration was the Fourth Doctor played by Tom Baker. Most recently, he has been played by Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, and Matt Smith (as the Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh respectively).
It’s blue, travels through space and time, and is bigger on the inside. The TARDIS features a chameleon circuit that allows it to blend in with it’s surrounding, but it broke during a visit to the 1960’s and has been stuck looking like a vintage police box ever since. Nevertheless, it remains the Doctor’s most vital asset. More than just a simple spaceship, it is a living organism with a mind of it’s own.
The Doctor rarely travels alone and almost always has an entourage in tow. While he’s usually accompanied by a young female, he’s also been known to associate with robotic dogs, military commanders, and pansexual time agents. A few have even spun off into their own series, such as Sarah Jane Smith in The Sarah Jane Adventures and Captain Jack Harkness in Torchwood.
The Doctor has faced off against countless foes from all across the universe. He does, however, have repeated run-in’s with a few of them. His most prominent enemy are the Daleks, who I’ve spoken about at length elsewhere. Other classic enemies include Cybermen, former humans who have been assimilated into an emotionless robotic collective, and the Master, a fellow Time Lord with sinister intentions. Since the revival, viewers have also been introduced to new enemies like Weeping Angels and the Silence.
Despite running for nearly half a century, Doctor Who is going as strong as ever. It remains a staple of British pop culture, and is seeing increased exposure in the United States. If you haven’t watched it yet and are a fan of sci-fi, I definitely recommend it. And don’t be intimidated by the long history, the 2005 relaunch provides an excellent jumping off point that will explain all the pertinent backstory as it goes along. Series 1-5 are available for streaming on Netflix (as are a collection of classic stories), so they are easily accessible. Series 6, which concluded this past October, was just released on DVD. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed.
What are YOUR favorite Doctor Who moments? Let us know in the comments!