What I Like About Who: No. 1

This is the first column in a weekly series from Rob Hull, Figures and More. Check back Mondays for a weekly journey through time and space, or read all of our adventures here

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Rob Hull, and I am a Whovian, AKA a devotee of the adventures of the BBC’s marvelous british sci-fi series Doctor Who, and, by extension, the extraordinary character at its heart: The Doctor.

Whether or not you’ve seen an episode of Doctor Who, it’s never too late to become a Whovian yourself. I expect the excitement over the upcoming 11th season starring Jodie Whittaker will (re)generate a lot of new Doctor Who fans. The good news though, is that we Whovians are a generally pleasant and welcoming bunch. So please, join our ranks.

So where do you start? Episodes of Doctor Who are available to stream exclusively on Amazon Prime Video, but before diving into the first episode, allow me to clue you in on some must-know pieces of info. Since the first episode aired in 1963, lots of things have changed about the show, but no matter what happens, the following basics remain the same. So take a seat as we journey through five decades of adventures through time and space. This is Doctor Who 101.

Jodie Whittaker will take on the role of the Thirteenth Doctor in the upcoming season of BBC’s Doctor Who.

THE DOCTOR

The Doctor is an alien from the Planet Gallifrey, belonging to a race of people known as the Time Lords. The Doctor has a humanoid appearance, but with a different biological makeup. He possess two hearts, for example. The Doctor has a particular fondness for Earth, often choosing humans as travelling companions. The Doctor is kind and always looks to avoid violence. And best of all, he is usually the cleverest person in the room.

The Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi, pulling Bill Potts inside the Tardis, with help from Nardole.

TARDIS

The Doctor travels through time and space in a special ship called the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space). On the outside, the TARDIS resembles a blue wooden Police Telephone box, which was the precursor to phone booths—which, decades later, are also pretty much extinct. On the inside, however, the TARDIS is much larger, a fact which all companions are forced to acknowledge as a rite of passage. Speaking of companions…

Upcoming Thirteenth Doctor Jodie Whittaker with companions Graham, Ryan, and Yaz.

COMPANIONS

When it comes to companions, The Doctor said it best: “I never know why, I only know who.” Companions are our “window” into the Doctor’s world. They provide The Doctor with emotional support, local knowledge, and act as his conscience. But, they are always his friends, and he is their guide to the wonders that exist beyond their little corners of the world. Sometimes, there is even a romantic attraction, but this is almost never entirely realized. Some recent companions have been great characters with personalities and story arcs all their own, such as Rose, Amy, Rory, and Clara. Some, such as Martha Jones and Bill Potts, have broken new ground in the show’s history. Martha was the first black companion in the series history, and Bill was the first lesbian companion. The upcoming Thirteenth Doctor will have three companions: Graham, Ryan, and Yaz.

Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith with the Sonic Screwdriver.

SONIC SCREWDRIVER

Although the Doctor dislikes weapons, The Doctor does like tools–specifically, one tool. The Doctor’s trusty Sonic Screwdriver is a pen-like device that performs any variety of functions, and is great at adapting to The Doctor’s needs. It’s great, as you can imagine, for turning screws, but it also hacks into computer networks, disables electronic locks, works as a scanner, and creates destructive or harmful sound waves. It does not however, work on deadlock seals or, strangely enough, on wood. For the longest time, several Doctors shared the same Sonic Screwdriver model, but since the return of the series in 2005, it has been tradition to give each Doctor his or her own Sonic Screwdriver, although the Ninth and Tenth Doctor’s Sonic was essentially the same. Also of note, the Sixth Doctor had a Sonic Lance, and the Twelfth Doctor used Sonic Sunglasses for a while. Also of note, the first, second, and seventh Doctors did not have Sonic Screwdrivers. The tradition continues as the upcoming season will feature a new version of the Sonic Screwdriver, to be used by the Thirteenth Doctor. The exact origin of the device is not always known, but the 11th and 12th Doctor’s Sonic Screwdrivers are shown in the series to be created by the TARDIS.

Photo: BBC; The first eleven Doctors.

REGENERATION

The Doctor can be saved from death by the process of regeneration, which changes every cell in the Doctor’s body, while retaining all the memories of the prior incarnations. Regeneration often results in a change of the Doctor’s demeanor and wardrobe. Recently, we learned that gender can also change as result of regeneration. In fact, for the first time in the show’s 55 year history, The Doctor will be female.

So, why does the Doctor have this unusual power that other sci-fi heroes do not? It all began back in the ‘60s. While the third series of Doctor Who was being made, the actor who played the First Doctor, William Hartnell, became very ill, and told the producers he would be unable to continue making the series. The series was a hit, and the BBC did not want to end it, so they devised a clever way to replace the actor in the lead role. Someone came up with the concept that the Doctor could rejuvenate his body if it was “wearing thin,” but in the process the look of the Doctor would change completely. So, at the end of the episode called “The Tenth Planet,” William Hartnell turns into Patrick Troughton as the first ever regeneration bid farewell to the First Doctor and introduced the world to the Second Doctor. And, the rest is history. Over the course of the 55 years of the show, 12 actors have played the Doctor: William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, and Peter Capaldi. On October 7, Jodie Whittaker will become the Thirteenth Doctor. As a side note, John Hurt played a “non-numerical” version of The Doctor called the War Doctor.

Third Doctor Jon Pertwee surrounded by Daleks.

ENEMIES

The Doctor has made a fair share of enemies over the years. The ones you should be most aware of are the Daleks, homicidal robot tanks; and the Cybermen, converted humans who have removed emotion. There’s also The Master, and the Weeping Angels and…well, you’ll see.

In the beginning, stories were produced in a serialized fashion, meaning that each story was told over a series of multiple weekly episodes. So, whatever villain was selected for that story was in as many sequential episodes as it took to tell the whole story. This format lasted for the entire run of the original series, until it’s cancellation in 1989.

When the series was rebooted in 2005, the serial format was abandoned for a series of single or two-part stories, that each contained pieces of the overall series story arc, which would be resolved in the final episode of the series. Each series typically ran 13 episodes, though Jodie Whittaker’s first series will only be 10 episodes. Typically, each episode features a different villain, unless it is a two-part episode, which features the same villain in both parts. Since the reboot, the showrunners for the series have done a good job of mixing in the classic villains with new creations. The new showrunner, Chris Chibnall, has publicly stated that no classic villains will be appearing in Jodie Whittaker’s first series as the Thirteenth Doctor.

So there you go, you’re all set to join the ranks of us loyal Whovians. Of course, the best way to advance your knowledge of the show is to WATCH IT! As the Doctor once asked his companion: “All of Time and Space, everything that ever happened, or ever will…Where do you want to start?”


DID WHO KNOW?

  • Doctor Who almost didn’t happen. The first episode was scheduled for broadcast in England on November 22, 1963. Any AMERICAN History aficionados reading this will, of course, realize that as the day President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. The BBC was worried Doctor Who might not air due to the news coverage of the assassination. But, the program did air as scheduled, attracting a modest viewship. Fortunately, the producer of the show, Verity Lambert, who I believe would be VERY proud of Jodie Whittaker, convinced the BBC to re-air the first episode the following week. That re-airing got a much better viewership and started off the 55 year journey that we are still on today.
  • When the Tenth Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver was made into a toy by the British Toy Company Character Options, it was brought to the set and shown to the cast and crew. It was so well made and durable, that the Props Department actually replaced the prop they had originally made with the toy replica.
  • The Daleks, the franchise’s most famous and iconic villains, almost weren’t. The BBC Executive in charge of Doctor Who, Sydney Newman, envisioned the program as a “historical drama”, and was dead set against there being any “bug-eyed aliens” in the show. However, when the program became a hit, they needed to produce a second serial, and the only script ready was for the serial called “The Daleks”, which became a huge hit in the ratings and forever cemented the “homicidal pepper pots” in pop culture.