Happy Birthday, Doctor Who!

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the British television series Doctor Who. I’ve been a fan for about thirty-two of those years. I actually discovered the series through Starlog Magazine. There was an article about how the actor who was playing the Doctor was changing from Tom Baker to Peter Davison. I was intrigued because the two actors didn’t look anything alike and I wondered how they could possibly do that. Unfortunately, growing up in Southern California, no PBS station at the time actually carried the series, so I had to wait a few months until I went to my uncle’s house in Florida before I would finally get to make my first journey with the Doctor. The episode was “Robot’s of Death” starring Tom Baker.

David at the Tardis Console.  The Doctor looks on with concern.

David working on the Tardis console. The Doctor looks on with concern!

Eventually, after I returned home, the Los Angeles PBS station finally kicked off a run of Doctor Who starting with the 20th anniversary episode, “The Five Doctors.” From that point on, I’ve been able to watch, more or less regularly, when the show has been produced, until the present day.

Doctor Who has inspired me over the years. It’s the story of an alien—a Time Lord—who wanders time and space in a machine called the TARDIS helping where he can, often with the assistance of a human companion. He has lived for hundreds of years and when he grows too old or, as more often happens, becomes injured beyond healing, he regenerates into a new body. Ramon and Fatemeh from Owl Dance have certainly taken some inspiration from the Doctor in terms of their desire to help people where they go. The Scarlet Order vampires have had to deal with questions of longevity and losing those they care about to time, just as the Doctor has.

My daughter Myranda meets John Levene who played Sergeant Benton on Doctor Who.

1996: My daughter Myranda meets John Levene—Sergeant Benton on Doctor Who.

Not only has Doctor Who inspired elements of my writing, the show has crept into my personal life at times, too. When my wife and I were trying to decide what to name our second daughter, we were watching one of the early episodes. As the credits scrolled, we saw the name of the show’s first producer, Verity Lambert. We both looked at each other and decided to name our daughter Verity.

Over Labor Day weekend, I was honored to be asked to be on the “Doctor Who: Celebrating 50 Years” panel with such folks as Alastair Reynolds, who recently wrote a Doctor Who novel featuring the third doctor, and Lynne M. Thomas, one of hosts of the Verity Podcast. One of the things I was able to contribute to the panel was an appreciation of the fact that there is much more to Doctor Who than just the television series. There have been two movies starring Peter Cushing and an ongoing comic series in Doctor Who Magazine. There are novels and there’s an ongoing audio series from Big Finish Productions featuring many of the past Doctors. They even started an animated web series when it looked like the show was not coming back to television. The first and only episode is available for free at the BBC’s Doctor Who Website.

With all this going on, newcomers may wonder how anyone keeps all these Doctor Who stories straight. In fact, Doctor Who is rife with contradictions. Not only are there story contradictions that have been dismissed with a wave of the hand and a dismissive declaration of “wibbly wobbly timey wimey” but thematic contradictions. Doctor Who is at once serious and silly, excellent drama and pure cheese, wonderful storytelling and episodes that make you groan. One of the joys of Doctor Who is that it is not merely rife with contradictions, it revels in them, has fun with them and plays with them. Watching how writers have juggled that over the years has been one of the true delights of the show.

I was once asked, if given the opportunity, would I write for Doctor Who? In fact, I once wrote a story based on the eighth Doctor visiting the 1963 World’s Fair in Seattle. So yes, if the Doctor ever came calling and asked if I would go traveling, you bet, I’d be there!

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2 comments on “Happy Birthday, Doctor Who!

  1. Dr. Who and I also go way back. I watched it on a fuzzy UHF channel for the San Jose PBS affiliate. Frankly, the constant turnover in doctors and companions is starting to really bug me. And, Saturday’s special “Day of the Doctor” was, in my opinion, absolutely awful.

    • Always great to hear from another fan of the classic series.

      If I run the stats on the eight “classic” Doctors, their average tenure was 3.5 years, thrown slightly long by Tom Baker’s 7-year term. The average of the new doctors is 2.7 years, thrown low by Christopher Eccleston’s 1-year term. Given that the error bars overlap, it’s hard to say the new doctors have had statistically shorter tenures than their original counterparts. My impression is the same goes for the companions. Most companions only lasted one or two seasons of the series. The only exceptions coming to mind are Jamie and Zoe, Sarah Jane Smith and Rose Tyler — all of whom were around for more like three seasons and one of those is a new series companion. Of course, I think the changes do feel more immediate given the faster pacing of the new series and the fact that we get episodes right away instead of waiting sometimes years for them to get to us in the U.S.

      I haven’t seen “Day of the Doctor” yet since I rely on iTunes to feed my Doctor Who addiction. It’s downloading now. I did rather like “An Adventure in Space in Time”, the story of Doctor Who’s creation.

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