Doctor Who is a BBC science fiction television programme originally created in 1963. It centres around a character named The Doctor, who travels around the universe in a time machine called the TARDIS ("Time and Relative Dimension in Space"), which resembles a 1950s British Police phone box, but is considerably larger on the inside than it is on the outside.
The programme ran for twenty-six seasons between 1963 and 1989, at which point it was canceled indefinitely. Various forms of the series continued after the cancellation, with popular series of novels published by Target and then BBC Books, along with audio serials and re-releases of past episodes on VHS and DVD. Since 2005, a new series has been produced by BBC Wales.
The Doctor has the ability to regenerate his body when mortally weakened, a useful plot device that has allowed the role to be played on TV by thirteen different actors so far.
First Doctor (1963-66)
The First Doctor was portrayed as a cantankerous old man. Initially a somewhat dark character, he became more grandfatherly in later episodes. William Hartnell's era introduced the most well-known of the Doctor's foes, the Daleks. This was the first incarnation of the Doctor to be played by two different actors, the second being Richard Hurndall, who played the First Doctor in The Five Doctors, in 1983, as William Hartnell had died in 1975. In the Series 8 episode Listen, the First Doctor appeared as a boy played by an unknown actor. The First Doctor regenerated due to his old age in The Tenth Planet.
Second Doctor (1966-1969)
Patrick Troughton's Doctor was an impish figure, whose gimmicks included playing the recorder. In this period, much of which is lost, the program felt the influence of Star Trek somewhat. This incarnation of the Doctor was forced to regenerate in The War Game, in addition to being exiled to Earth.
Third Doctor (1970-1974)
Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor was Earth-bound for much of his tenure, a move that was partly motivated by budgeting constraints in production. In the stories themselves, this was explained by the Doctor's race - the Time Lords - imposing an exile upon him due to alleged crimes prosecuted in The War Games. During this time, the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce ("UNIT") was a key element of plots - the Doctor was officially UNIT's scientific advisor, but he frequently attempts to break free of the Time Lords' imposition of exile. The Third Doctor regenerated in Planet of the Spiders, after being exposed to large amounts of radiation.
Fourth Doctor (1974-1981)
Arguably the most well-known Doctor, Tom Baker, with his seven-foot long scarf and fondness for jelly babies played the role for longer than any other actor. Considered to be an eccentric character, he was capable both of representing human attributes and being aloof and of being detached from others around him.
Fifth Doctor (1981-1984)
The fifth Doctor became something of a vulnerable character, which was a conscious decision by the production team (led by John Nathan-Turner) to remove the aura of invincibility that they had felt was becoming part of the Doctor's characterization with Tom Baker. Shown to be a keen cricket fan, the Doctor was arguably more human than any of his predecessors and often relied more on his companions to assist throughout his missions. Peter Davison was the youngest actor to be cast as the Doctor, at the age of 29, until the casting of Matt Smith, who was 26, when he was cast as the Eleventh Doctor in 2009.
Sixth Doctor (1984-1986)
The Sixth Doctor was premised around being the antithesis of his predecessor, with his garish and color-mismatched costume reflecting the vast contrast with the mild-mannered fifth Doctor. In terms of characterization, the Doctor became something of an unstable character, often violently responding to people and events around him. The Sixth Doctor is the first Doctor to be played by two different actors. Colin Baker was also the first actor to play the Doctor to play a guest role in the show prior to playing the Doctor. He appeared in the 1983 story, Arc of Infinity, as Commander Maxil. In The Time and the Rani, he was briefly played by Sylvester McCoy, just long enough for the regeneration in to his next incarnation. Due to disagreements with the BBC, Colin Baker had declined to return for a regeneration sequence, making him the first, and so far, only actor to play the Doctor to not film a regeneration.
Seventh Doctor (1987-1989, 1996)
After the departure of Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy's depiction of the Doctor saw the series shift mood considerably. Early stories within the era depicted a somewhat comic and light-hearted Doctor, but over time the Doctor's character became steadily darker - a development that has been commonly described as making the Doctor a manipulating, scheming character who influenced events like a chess game.
Eighth Doctor (1996)
Paul McGann played the role for a television movie, which acted as a back door pilot in the hopes it would lead to a new series, which never came to fruition. The Doctor himself was perhaps more human than any other, with the revelation that he was "half-human" on his mother's side and displaying far greater emotional response than in the past. After appearing in the 1996 movie, McGann would go on to play the Eighth Doctor in audio stories by Big Finish Productions. He would not be seen on television as the Eighth Doctor for another 17 years, until The Night of the Doctor, the minisode prequel to the 50th anniversary special, where he regenerated into his next incarnation.
War Doctor (2013)
Prior to the 50th anniversary, it was believed that at some point between the 1996 movie and the 2005 series restart, the Eighth Doctor regenerated into the Ninth Doctor during the Time War. However, in the minisode prequel The Night of the Doctor, it is revealed that the Eighth Doctor regenerated into another incarnation called the War Doctor. Originally, Steven Moffat intended for the Ninth Doctor to be the incarnation of the Doctor who fought in the Time War. However, Christopher Eccleston declined to be in the 50th anniversary special, as Moffat as said he knew he would, which led to the creation of the War Doctor, as well as the subsequent casting of John Hurt. Hurt is the oldest actor to play the Doctor, being 73 at the time. The War Doctor is also the second incarnation of the Doctor to be played by two actors, as Paul McGann played the War Doctor shortly after his regeneration in The Night of the Doctor. The regeneration from the War Doctor to the Ninth Doctor is the second time in which an actor has declined to film a regeneration. Although Eccleston did not appear in The Day of the Doctor, his likeness can be seen briefly during the War Doctor's regeneration.
Ninth Doctor (2005)
The Ninth Doctor was the first incarnation to be seen in the series restart in 2005. His first appearance takes place shortly after the regeneration of the War Doctor as seen in The Day of the Doctor, which aired eight years later. This incarnation of the Doctor is still haunted by the events of the Time War, and believes Galifrey destroyed, as he has forgotten the events of The Day of the Doctor. Christopher Ecceleston, who played the Ninth Doctor, is also the first actor to play the Doctor to be born after the show had started in 1963.
Tenth Doctor (2005-2010)
The Tenth Doctor was more humorous and vivacious than that of his predecessor. Yet, much anger and survivor's guilt was still present in his character. He was also the first, and so far only Doctor to have two regenerations, and the first Doctor to regenerate, and not have his appearance change. This occurred in the Series 4 episode, The Stolen Earth. David Tennant was the first actor to be credited as "The Doctor" as opposed to "Doctor Who". Of the five incarnations of the Doctor who have appeared since the series restart, David Tennant is considered to be the most popular. He is often compared with Tom Baker, who played the Fourth Doctor as the most popular incarnation of the Doctor.
Eleventh Doctor (2010-2013)
Matt Smith is the youngest actor to play the role, being 26 at the time of his casting in 2009. Like his predecessors, his portrayal of the Doctor was again very different. Despite being such a young actor, his character often has the feel of an old, wise man. He is much more eccentric and "alien" than his previous two incarnations, and while he seems to have mostly resolved his anger and survivor's guilt towards the time war, he can display a scary amount of anger towards perceived injustices (as with all Doctors), or towards those who have hurt his friends. This particular Doctor is being hunted by a mysterious religious order known as "The Silence", who believe that "Silence will/must fall" if the oldest question in the universe, hidden in plain sight, should ever be answered - "Doctor Who?". The Eleventh Doctor was also the last incarnation of the Doctor's first regeneration cycle, taking into account the War Doctor and the Tenth Doctor's first regeneration.
Twelfth Doctor (2013-)
First appearing in the closing moments of The Time of the Doctor, Peter Capaldi (best known for his role as Malcolm Tucker in the BBC drama, The Thick of It) is the first of a new regeneration cycle for the Doctor. Although his first appearance was The Time of the Doctor, his first official appearance was in The Day of the Doctor. Capaldi is also one of the oldest actors to play the role at age 55, the age William Hartnell was when he played the First Doctor. Making his first full appearance in Deep Breath, show runner Steven Moffat has promised a more raw turn for the Twelfth Doctor. Capaldi also made a guest appearance as Caecilius in the Series 4 episode, The Fires of Pompeii, which also saw Karen Gillan (Amy Pond) as a Soothsayer. This makes Capaldi the second actor to play the Doctor who has made a past appearance on the show, after Colin Baker, who played the Sixth Doctor. This incarnation of the Doctor is also the first to have a Scottish accent. During Capaldi's run as the Doctor, the Master returned, after being absent since The End of Time. This is also the first time a female actor, Michelle Gomez, has played the Master, who goes by Missy.
Political and Social Themes
Several stories in the series have been subtly or overtly political in their themes. For instance, The Green Death (1973) emphasized the dangers of pollution and big business; while the following year's Invasion of the Dinosaurs featured a contrasting menace -- pro-environment extremists. Other stories have taken their themes from current news stories of the time, such as the United Kingdom's entry into the Common Market. Many of these pro-liberal stories came during the period where the show was produced by Barry Letts, whose heavily liberal and environmentalist views shaped a lot of stories in the early 1970s. Apart from this period, the original series generally did not have a particularly heavily political leaning, and in fact The Sun Makers (1977) was a conservative story that told of the dangers of heavy taxes and overly complex governments.
In a recent episode, the Daleks - Doctor Who's most dangerous enemy, a race of creatures who are physically shriveled and weak, but who are contained within an armored tank-like body - take over Manhattan. They ruthlessly exploit workers engaged in construction and repair on the Empire State Building. This was reported in the liberal British newspaper The Independent as a metaphor for the rampant abuse of capitalism. The lead writer of Dr. Who, Russell T Davies is known for aggressively promoting the homosexual agenda in his prior show Queer as Folk and continuing to promote it in Doctor Who (despite the fact that the show is supposed to be geared towards a young audience), with many openly homosexual or bisexual (or as the show jokes "omnisexual" due to relations with aliens) characters, including the lead of the spin-off Torchwood, Captain Jack Harkness. Davies' attitude has been contrasted with that of John Nathan-Turner, the final producer of the original series who, while being publicly known as a homosexual, never allowed this to overtly influence the stories written while he produced the show.
At the same time Matt Smith took over the lead role in the show, Russel T Davies was replaced as lead writer by Stephen Moffat. While homosexual and bisexual characters still appear in the show since Stephen Moffat took over, they do so in a more realistically low proportion, and less attention is drawn to their sexual orientation than it was under Russel T Davies - as in, a smattering of characters who happen to be gay, as opposed to a high proportion of characters for whom their sexual orientation is their primary feature. In Stephen Moffat's 51st century, the church has changed a lot, becoming more of a spiritual military force. Most church soldiers hold the rank "Cleric", and fall under the command of Bishops, all dressed in rather standard military uniforms. Most members of the church are given a "sacred name", such as a Biblical name or the same of a saint, although the (also militarised) Anglican denomination allows members to have descriptions rather than names, such as "The thin, fat, gay, married Anglican marines", who jokingly ask why they would need names with such a descriptive title (the individual men being known as "The thin one" and "The fat one"). This would appear to indicate that in the fictional future of Doctor Who, the Anglican denomination (and possibly others) have accepted same sex "marriage".
Doctor Who is one of the best known cultural phenomena in the United Kingdom, and the iconic TARDIS is particularly well known.. It has been parodied many times by Family Guy, The Simpsons, South Park, and other mainstream comedies. Doctor Who paraphernalia can be found in most conventions and at sites like Amazon.
Around the world, Doctor Who can be seen on:
- BBC One or BBC Three in the UK
- CBC Television and Space Channel in Canada
- BBC America in the US, or via Netflix
- ABC in Australia