Back in the late seventies, when our local PBS station was just starting to get the “really good” British BBC imports, (things like Upstairs, Downstairs, Dave Allen, Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Poldark) there was one quirky little show that would have me racing home from school, every day. It came on at four o’clock and it was a “must watch” kind of thing. Kind of like Dark Shadows was. It was called Doctor Who.
Anyone who has ever seen this show, nods their head, because they understand the sheer quirkiness of it. It’s neither fish nor fowl. It’s not comedy, it’s not exactly adventure or drama, its science fiction, fantasy with comedy, adventure, drama and a little something extra thrown in for good measure. It’s hard to explain, unless you just jump in and get your feet wet.
My feet have been wet since the seventies.
Our British cousins have had the benefit of the Doctor’s good graces since 1963, when William Hartnell first took to the airwaves, as the Time Lord. The show was supposed to be an educational show, talking about history. THAT worked out well. Mr. Hartnell began the journey that has taken us on a whirlwind tour of the universe that is still going strong.
They got to see the origins of regeneration. That wonderful idea that an actor can leave a role, turn it over to someone new, and voila! It’s all OK! (Not like the James Bond switches, from Sean Connery to George Lazenby to Roger Moore… what?? We weren’t supposed to notice??)
Across the pond they were treated to a new Doctor, played by Patrick Troughton. Roughish, intelligent, silly at times, this doctor did things like play the recorder to help his thought processes. Thanks to fans on YouTube and Netflix, we are able to see what we, here in America have missed with these two fine actors.
I think that our first Doctor, here, was dashing, dapper, swashbuckling third Doctor, Jon Pertwee. And with him, to our shores, came the Cybermen, Daleks, and the Master. How could we resist? We were introduced to the idea that “superhero aliens” didn’t have to have super powers, per se, just a sonic screwdriver, a great car and good friends and companions.
And then came the fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker. Now, if you are a fan of the older series, you may argue that Tom Baker is the greatest of all the Doctors, and you may be right. He was certainly the man that held the title of Doctor the longest. With that impossibly long scarf, mischievous grin and the jelly babies that came out of his pockets at the most inappropriate times, Tom Baker was the Doctor with panache!
The fifth Doctor’s propensity for cricket was unique and made Peter Davison’s portrayal of the character uniquely his own. Dressed in a cricket uniform and that ridiculous stalk of celery, Mr. Davison gave an air of youth and silliness to the character, that belied something else altogether. He had a sense of vulnerability that the other Doctors didn’t have, and perhaps it was Mr. Davison’s age that lent itself to it.
The sixth Doctor was played by Colin Baker, who arguably had one of the shortest tenures as the Doctor, though he has played our intrepid hero in other venues. His Doctor was maniacal in nature. Convinced that he was the best of all the incarnations past or future. Dressed in bizarre and painfully colorful patchwork, he came across as both condescending and petulant. He was voted the least liked of all the Doctors.
Part flim-flam man, part buffoon, the seventh Doctor was an almost darker version of the second. Played by Sylvester McCoy, his performance gave way to his comedic roots. This incarnation abhorred violence in any form. But as time went on, the incarnation became darker, as if something more were happening that the viewer were unaware of. Mr. McCoy’s TV performance was cut short by the BBC and the Doctor went off the air in 1989, but not out of its fans hearts.
In 1996 an American produced movie was made, as a pilot, and revival of the Doctor, with Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor regenerating into… Paul McGann. Mr. McGann had the shortest tenure as the Doctor on film. The eighth Doctor was an amnesic, and had his first screen kiss. There was more there, but we were never to know.
In 2005, in Cardiff, the TARDIS landed again. This time with Christopher Eccleston as the ninth Doctor. Snarky, dark, funny, dressed in a jumper and jeans and armed with a sonic… screwdriver? Mr. Eccleston’s doctor began a new era of adventures with the Doctor. And we couldn’t wait to go along.
Mr. Eccleston was only in the TARDIS for a year, when his Doctor kissed Rose Tyler to take the Time Vortex from her, and regenerated in the tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant. His “one warning” code, his cheekiness, fast talking, and lots of running made him the most popular Doctor since Tom Baker.
The tenth Doctor was at time wildly erratic, not always seeing the direct consequences of his actions, until the end. One of the most important things that he was reminded of, by companion Donna Noble, was that he should never be without a companion. He even discusses his mortality and the fact that by traveling alone, things don’t turn out well with Donna’s grandfather, in a café, a moment of pure pathos and humanity for our beloved Time Lord.
Now, we are graced with the youngest version of our Time Lord. The eleventh version of the Doctor, played by Matt Smith is both young and old. Crazy silly, angry, buffoon, lonely, sad and happy, all at once. He has just lost his beloved companions, Amy and Rory Pond. He is the first Doctor that we know of to be married (the Ponds are his in laws!?). And some have a love-hate relationship with him.
But through all of this… we have had fifty years. Fifty years of wild and crazy adventures. Fifty years of never knowing where we will end up next.
The Doctor: You know, since we're talking with mouths—not really an opportunity that comes along very often—I just want to say, you know you have never been very reliable.
Idris: And you have?
The Doctor: You didn't always take me where I wanted to go.
Idris: No, but I always took you where you needed to go.
The Doctor: You did.
Thanks… for taking us where we needed to go…. Allons y!