Thursday, April 06, 2006


So Who is This Doctor Bloke Anyway?

With a new series of Doctor Who beginning on Easter Saturday, and BBC3 tonight beginning a repeat of last year’s stories, it’s a perfect time to start watching. So what do you need to know? The Doctor is a traveller in time and space. He goes anywhere he likes – alien worlds, past, present, future… He respects life rather than authority and obeys no rules but his own sense of fun and a moral sense to fight oppression. He uses his intelligence rather than violence, and he takes friends with him to explore the wonders of the Universe. That’s it.

OK, so that’s the important bit, but a few more questions.

Where’s the Doctor from, and why does he travel?

Well, he’s an alien, and the people of his world watched over all of time and space, but without interfering. He found that just watching bored him, when he wanted to get out to meet people and experience things for himself, and offended his morals, because when he saw evil he wanted to stand up to it. So he took a TARDIS and left. Those he fought most often were the Daleks, alien conquerors in armoured mini-tanks with a hatred for all other races. They too developed time travel, leading to conflict with the Doctor’s own people in which both sides wiped each other out, and now the Doctor’s the only survivor. So he just carries on travelling, making the most of life, seeing the sights, toppling empires, that sort of thing. He also claims to have a really complicated name, so he just calls himself ‘the Doctor’ (‘Doctor Who?’ That’s one of the many questions about him that’ll remain a mystery).

What’s this ‘TARDIS’ that he travels in?

It’s a machine for travelling through time and space, the name standing for Time And Relative Dimension In Space. It was a bit old and unreliable back when he took from his people, and he’s patched it up and customised it many times in around a thousand years that they’ve been travelling together. Just to make it even less likely it’ll go where he wants it to, it’s quite literally got something of a mind of its own, too. It seems to vanish from one place and just appear in the next, travelling through a strange ‘vortex’ that’s unlike ordinary space. Oh, and the outside of it gives no sign of what’s inside. It used to disguise itself on landing so it wouldn’t be spotted, but when the Doctor arrived in the 1960s it took the form of a police box, a sort of phone booth before the British police had personal radios and mobile phones, and got stuck like that. Inside, though, unfolds into many other dimensions and many different rooms. So you’ll have noticed that it’s bigger inside than outside. So do most people who go in, unsurprisingly.

A thousand years or so of travelling? He looks good on it.

Well, his people were pretty long-lived, so that helps more than moisturiser. But it’s not just that their bodies live for hundreds of years. When they get too old, or are fatally injured, they’ve got a way of cheating death. Their body changes into a completely new one, giving them a new lease of life, shaking up their personality while remaining essentially the same person underneath. The Doctor’s had quite an eventful life, and he’s just been ‘born’ into his tenth body. Naturally, it also helps the TV series carry on when the actor playing the Doctor decides to leave, and it’s almost the only TV show that can recast its lead without hoping the audience are blind or pretending it’s something to do with plastic surgery or showers.

You’ve mentioned actors, and admitted it’s not real at last. So what’s special about this TV programme?

It started off in 1963 and lasted three decades, before being reborn last year, and has usually been a popular success, thanks to its unique flexibility and, of course, to monsters like the Daleks. The big creative talent behind the new series, Russell T Davies, calls it “the best idea ever invented in the history of the world,” and it’s inspired an awful lot of people since, though you don’t need to know any intricate details to follow it. It’s the idea that’s important, that you can go pretty much anywhere and do pretty much anything, that people everywhere are worthwhile, whether they’re people like us or green scaly rubber people. The Doctor believes in freedom, and hates ignorance, conformity and insularity. He doesn’t work for anyone, wear a uniform or carry a gun, making the series both very British and very anti-establishment. It encourages people to think, to have fun, and to take a moral stand, but it’s wary of solving problems by shooting them. You don’t have to believe what you’re told, still less do what you’re told. And it’s spent several decades scaring children with nasty monsters and even the music, which when you put it all together is what family entertainment is about – a show with enough in it to satisfy all ages.

The best of Doctor Who would include a dash of horror, adventures in history, enough wit to make you smile, enough ideas and strangeness and to make you think, and enough action to get you excited. That’s probably too much to fit into just one piece of television, which takes you right back to the idea that you can go anywhere and do anything, because it’s not about just one piece of television, but different travels. It’s the only show where, if you don’t like where it’s ended up one week, if you want it to be scarier, or funnier, or more thoughtful, or more action-packed, the next week will be in a completely different place and time and probably in a completely different style, but still recognisably the same programme. That’s probably why I fell in love with it, anyway.

How can I find out more?

You can read more of this blog, or tens of thousands of other web pages. But I wouldn’t, if I were you, not to start with. It’s probably the best TV programme ever made, so the best way to find about it is to watch it.

The new series starts on BBC1 on April 15th (look out for the trailer) – or, if you’re in tonight, watch BBC3. Between tonight and next Thursday, they’re repeating the whole of the ‘comeback’ series from last year, and the first episode, Rose, starts at 7 tonight, where the Doctor (in his ninth body, played by Christopher Eccleston) meets a young woman from a council estate called Rose and they foil an alien invasion. Alternatively, at 7.15pm on Easter Saturday there’s a brand new story called New Earth, starring David Tennant as the Doctor, and I don’t know anything else about that yet. But watching either will be a better introduction to this fantastic series than anything you could possibly read. So watch one!

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Russell T Davies, calls it “the best idea ever invented in the history of the world,”

He never knowingly understates anything, does he? ;-)
False modesty has never been a failing of his.

He's right, obviously (well... Perhaps a run-off with chocolate) ;-)
And from eight years out of the future: a regenerated version of this article, should you want to see how I've changed my mind...
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