In this 3 part series, Ankit Dayal gives us a primer on the worlds of Dr. Who.
A legacy, a franchise, a legend without a permanent face; the Doctor has been in, around, and a purveyor of pop culture for more than half a century now. The series has won over 130 awards, including a BAFTA for ‘Best Drama Series’, the first and (so far) only science fiction show to clinch that title. Currently a record-setting 827 episodes in, over 150 books, graphic novels, spinoff TV shows, video games and cartoons later, the DWU and its fandom is practically endless. If you haven’t experienced a part of it for yourself, now is as good a time as any.
First aired in 1963, the ratings in the 1960s were well above 12 million in the UK, something that was unbelievable at the time. Imagine the kind of effect Gangnam Style has had, but less weird.
The secret to the Doctor’s popularity is as impossible to pin down as the genre of the show (sci-fi-fantasy-comedy-horror-drama is my best guess). Maybe it’s the simple idea of a goofy alien genius travelling through space and time, wielding his wit and sonic screwdriver, that just seems to hit home. It can also be a daunting task to step into this enormous world. Not to worry, as he often says…
Here in India, the series has been airing regularly for the last few years and it has even led to auditorium screenings of the 50th anniversary special as well the establishing of fan clubs around the country. (http://bit.ly/2o1DV7T) DWU royalty like 7th Doctor Sylvester McCoy and writer Mark Gatiss have paid visits to Comic Con India as well.
Most of its audience is probably online, since the BBC put the series on the popular BitTorrent platform (and legally at that!) The streaming giant Netflix cut a deal with the BBC early on as well, allowing people to not only binge watch, but keep going back to understand the recurring characters and the ‘wibbly wobbly timey wimey’ timelines.
Despite the vast Whoniverse, the main characters are always the Doctor and his companion. The latter is the audience’s eyes and ears, the foil, much like Sherlock’s Watson. The Doctor is the last of his kind, a 2000+ year old Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, with a spaceship/time machine (a blue police box from the 60’s, but only on the outside), a soft spot for Earth, and a hankering for adventure and bravado.
Fair warning: The plot can escalate quickly, with entire civilizations being introduced, corrupted and annihilated within a 45-minute episode. Even celebrities of the past like Winston Churchill, Mozart, Van Gogh, Marilyn Monroe are all part of the Doctor’s social life, and they are sometimes critical to these adventures, threatening to topple our versions of history. The writers are widely celebrated and critically acclaimed for somehow making sense of it all.
The very first writers like David Whittaker, Terry Nation, Robert Holmes and even Douglas Adams (yes, there already exist plenty of ‘Hitchhiker’s’ meets ‘Doctor Who’ fan theories), not only mastered the art of character development and weaving storylines that spanned over years, but also forged the various bizarre villains during it’s first 26 years. Doctor Who might have been the first to prove that a good villain can persuade millions to buy into a franchise.
(Recently, a 13-year-old set the world record for ‘Largest collection of Doctor Who memorabilia’ with 6,641 items! http://bit.ly/2nKJfKP)
The Doctor’s sworn enemies, the Daleks. They were probably tone deaf.
The series died out in the late 80s under weak leadership, but the children that it influenced in its golden age are the ones that brought it back. Russell T Davies revolutionized the DWU almost single handedly, reviving it in 2005 with an entirely new approach. In capable hands, the show’s popularity took over the globe faster than the Sontarans could load up their spaceships.
Steven Moffat, the current showrunner who took over from Davies, was seen on online forums back in 1995, posting fan theories. In a typical Doctor-Who-destiny-twist fashion, 16 years later, as headwriter he then used that theory in the series 6 finale (http://bit.ly/2nw2A0D). Moffat and Gatiss would also go on to helm another franchise, the incredibly popular Sherlock.
Even the actors on the show have set a standard for British television to the tune of a number of national awards. From established names like John Cleese, Sir Ian McKellan, Bill Nighy, Warwick Davis, Simon Pegg, to younger stars Maisie Williams, Felicity Jones, Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield, and atleast 2 Hogwarts headmasters (Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton), the talent that has passed through the Doctor Who sets speaks volumes.
The 10th and 12th Doctors, David Tennant and Peter Capaldi were part of the fandom, Capaldi having sent numerous letters to the BBC as a teenager, wanting to be the President of the fan club. Tennant, credits his love for the original series as his inspiration to become an actor. It’s simple, Doctor Who makes children’s dreams (and often nightmares) come true.
Canon aside, some Hollywood bigshots got to play out their fantasies in a charity special too.
Yes, there’s a lot of history and Whovians are as hardcore as geeks come (heck, they even got “Whovian” added to the Oxford Dictionary), but the truth is that with SO MUCH material created over the last 54 years, not many can claim to be experts. Every few years, the show turns on its head. Even the Doctor himself has ‘regenerated’ 12 times already (basically the character has been recast, sans reboot. Yes, that happens, Spidey fans). The classic tropes and many quirks of the Doctor have remained, but the show is constantly re-inventing itself, allowing new fans to join in on the bumpy ride.
Scribe: Ankit Dayal
Captains Log: Ankit Dayal is a professional procrastinator, musician, high ranking amateur geek by day; and asleep by night. Follow him, not for the stories, on Instagram @ankitdayal.