Dr Who, an introduction
By Bert Ehrmann
2006-02-06 – It’s been a long wait, but the Brit import series Doctor Who is finally returning to our shores after a decades’ absence. Originally broadcast here in the America via syndication from the 1970s to 1990s (in Fort Wayne on PBS), Doctor Who vanished from the cultural landscape after an aborted attempt at Americanizing the show in the mid 1990s.
Doctor Who followed a human looking alien known as “The Doctor” and his (usually) human companion(s) whom travel around the galaxy in their time machine dubbed “The TARDIS,” doing battle with he forces of evil bent on galactic domination and destruction.
Doctor Who began life in Great Britain in 1963 as a pseudo children’s educational show, mixing science fiction, fantasy and educational elements. Soon, however, the educational “baggage” was dropped in favor of a more space-operatic like series.
Since it began airing over 40 years ago, ten actors have portrayed the title role. In a move designed to keep the series going even when the lead actor wanted out of the show (think George Clooney on E.R.), Doctor Who writers had the character “regenerate” after death, literally changing bodies and personalities. As one Doctor’s time would pass, he would regenerate with a new actor filling the title role. Whereas one Doctor could be quiet and brooding another might be colorful and gregarious. The character would change to fit each actor’s own particular acting sensibilities.
The original series officially came to an end in 1989 and though there have been a constant stream of novels, radio dramas and comic books based since, all was quiet on the television front until 1996. That year Fox television “Americanized” the series releasing a Doctor Who two-hour “movie-of-the-week.” If the movie was successful, Doctor Who would have spun off into an American series. But the movie didn’t do all that well and series plans were scrapped.
Over the last decade various writers and stars were all attached to reviving the Doctor Who franchise, with Anthony Head (Giles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Alan Rickman (Diehard) being fan favorites for the title role. But it wasn’t until late 2004 that an all-new Doctor Who series actually went into production.
The new Doctor Who began airing on BBC early spring of 2005, ending its 12 episode run a few months later.
In this new series, the Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston (28 Days Later), teams up with Rose Tyler, played by Billie Piper. Rose is trapped in a dead-end job living with her mother and dealing with an unappreciative boyfriend. In the series opener, Rose accidentally comes across the Doctor doing battle with aliens, becoming intertwined with the Doctor’s path after the aliens replace her boyfriend with a duplicate.
Playing the role with a comedic swagger delivering deadpan lines like, “Nice to meet you Rose. Run for your life.” Eccleston redefined the character, bringing the Doctor into the 21st century while at the same time honoring the character traits that made Doctor Who, well…, Doctor Who. In my opinion, Eccleston was the best actor to portray the Doctor in the last thirty years.
But here in America television lovers had to live vicariously through our British friends since there were no plans on airing the new Doctor Who on our shores. It wasn’t until almost a year after the series started airing in the U.K. that the Sci Fi Channel announced that they would start airing the series Friday nights this March.
Which is a very good thing. I’ve already seen season one of Doctor Who and thought it was one of the top television shows of 2005 – even if it had never officially aired here in the U.S. And the Brits must agree since a second season of Doctor Who is set to start airing on BBC in the U.K. sometime this spring. Also, later this year Doctor Who series developer/writer Russell T. Davies will launch a spin-off show in the U.K. entitled Torchwood.
Once again it’s good to be a fan of Doctor Who.