I am taking another risk this week and recommending one of my favorite TV series. But I am finding that Doctor Who is more difficult to write about than The Pinhoe Egg. How do I even attempt to distill the world’s longest running science fiction TV series into a single blog post? *
Doctor Who has everything you expect from a sci-fi series: aliens, spaceships, monsters, distant planets, distant times and, of course, chases and explosions. Unusual from other sci-fi series I have seen, I care deeply about the characters and their lives. The Doctor is a nine-hundred year old, two-hearted, human look-alike alien who is nearly indestructible. He travels around in a retro wooden blue police box time machine, “the TARDIS – a Time and Relative Dimensions In Space” machine, with one or two young and good-looking companions, saving the universe from evil of all sorts. Despite his power The Doctor likes humanity and some humans in particular. He likes us for the same reason I like humanity – for our capacity for love, laughter, and compassion. He has seen us from our start in caves to our distant future as the universe is ending. Like a good parent he accepts our failings and challenges us to improve. Perhaps his character is best summed up by a quote from the 2010 Christmas Special, “In nine hundred years I have not met anyone who wasn’t important.”
If your spaceship can travel through both time and space you can go anywhere, anytime, and see anything. And The doctor does. Sometimes he goes to strange worlds with strange aliens but often the setting is a near contemporary earth. Doctor Who is unashamedly British, getting in a few jabs at Americans. It visits many British cultural icons in varying episodes that focus on Dickens, Shakespeare, Queen Victoria, the Blitz in London during World War II, Winston Churchill, and Agatha Christie.
Doctor Who aired its first episode in 1963 in a black-and-white series with clunky props and a much slower storyline. It was taken off the air in 1989 and then it was revived in 2005 in a season packaged misleadingly as The Complete First Series. The stories have improved, special effects have improved, even the monsters have improved. The Doctor has been played by eleven different actors over the years, a dramatic convenience explained away by The Doctor regenerating if he is killed. Each actor manages to add dimensions to his character, so I am not sure who is my favorite.
Although the monsters may be too scary for small children, Doctor Who can be enjoyed by most of the family. There is no sex (attraction is sometimes implied), no gory violence, lots of suspenseful action but the good guys ultimately win. As the actor David Tenant said in his portrayal of the tenth Doctor, “Defending the earth. Can’t argue with that.”
*Although some will argue that because Doctor Who wasn’t running from 1989 to 2004 that Star Trek wins the longevity prize.
Check the WRL catalog for Doctor Who