This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of one of televisions most original and iconic characters, Doctor Who. On November 23rd, the date of the broadcast of the series first episode in 1963, the fiftieth anniversary special will air, starring Matt Smith and David Tennant. It will be a landmark anniversary, as Doctor Who is the longest running science fiction television series in the world. Since the series returned in 2005 it has become a cultural phenomenon here in the States as well as in it’s native England. Go into many book and entertainment stores, and one will find miniature police boxes and Dalek toys. Virtually limitless in the stories it can tell, the series remains just as original and unique today as it did during it's black and white early days. Dr Who revolves around the journeys of a mysterious alien known as The Doctor, who travels through time and space in his Tardis, which takes the form of a blue police box that is larger on the inside than the outside. The Doctor, a Time Lord from Gallifrey, has lived for a thousand years, having twelve regenerations, a process that allows him to change his physical form whenever one body gets too old, or dies.
There have been eleven actors to play the title character in the series since 1963. The original series, airing from 1963 to 1989, featured the first seven actors in the title role, the most popular of which is Tom Baker, who played the character on screen from 1974 to 1981, the longest of any actor. Each actor has brought something different to the role and the character. Patrick Troughton was the cosmic hobo (1966 to 1969), Jon Pertwee, the man of adventure (1970 to 1974), and Tom Baker, the bohemian, known for his thick brown curly hair and long scarf. When the series returned in 2005, Christopher Eccleston had the starring role, handing it over to David Tennant the following year. Taking over from Matt Smith, The twelfth actor to portray the Time Lord will be Peter Capaldi, who begins his time as the Doctor in this years’ Christmas special.
The Biblical theme of good verses evil has always been the central message woven throughout Dr Who over the last half century. The benevolent Doctor, a Messianic, savior figure, constantly fights for what is right, regardless of the odds, or the threats against his own life. The Fifth Doctor, portrayed by Peter Davison (1982 to 1984), sacrificed his life to save his dying companion, Peri, in ‘The Caves of Androzani’. The Doctor has risked his life countless times to save others, giving no thought to his own. The Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) once told his companion Zoe that “There are some corners of the Universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things which act against everything that we believe in. They must be fought”, in ‘The Moonbase’. Although the series is known for it’s wide variety of alien monsters, and countless Earth invasions, the most popular enemy races have been the Daleks and the Cybermen. It’s also noteworthy to mention the Ice Warriors, the Sontarans, the, Silurians, The Sea Devils and The Master.
In the 1983 story ‘Arc of Infinity’, the Doctor mirrors the role of Jesus in what is virtually a sci-fi retelling of the betrayal, death and resurrection of Christ. The Doctor returns to the Capitol of his home planet, Gallifrey, representing Jerusalem, where he is betrayed by a friend, Hedin (Judas Iscariot) who is working for the evil timelord, Omega, representing Satan. The Doctor is arrested, taken to the High Council (the Jewish Council of teachers of the law, chief priests and elders), where he is found guilty and sentenced to death by the President, like the Roman governor Pilate. He is taken to the Termination Chamber (Golgotha, the Place of the Skull) where he is terminated (crucified). Going to the Matrix (heaven?), he materializes back on Gallifrey (the resurrection). At certain places, the dialogue resembles the scriptures, especially when one character says, "If we spare the Doctor we condemn untold millions to destruction. That is the choice we face here", parallelling Caiaphas's decision during the plot against Jesus, "...it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not." (John 11.50). In ‘The Daemons’, a popular story from 1971, the Doctor (Jon Pertwee) battles Azal, a devil-like space creature which appears as a cross between a human and a goat (Leviticus 16: 5-10, 20-27). Thirty-five years later, in the 2006 2-parter, The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit, the Doctor, now played by David Tennant, confronts a large Devil-like entity with spiritual powers that even the Time Lord admits to not fully understanding.
Often incorrectly thought of as being a children’s program, Doctor Who has always appealed to people of all ages. Even during the course of it’s original run, having an extremely limited budget, the producers made the most of what they had, employing Shakespearean actors, designing imaginative sets and costumes, and having first rate writing, the quality was second to none. Even the glossy new series, with it’s modern special effects and cinematic soundtrack, is unable to compete with the classic series on a number of levels. Ironically enough, during it’s original run on the BBC in Great Britain, the series was virtually unknown by people in other countries. Aired by Public Broadcasting Stations (PBS) across America on Saturday nights throughout the 1980’s, Who gained an underground cult following, which ultimately paved the way for the respect that it now has. Now, after all these years, the series has solidified it’s place firmly in pop-culture, and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. Go into many U.S. bookstores now, and you’re likely to find Doctor Who t-shirts, sonic screwdrivers, action figures, books, and a variety of Tardis and Dalek-themed merchandise. Even after fifty years of adventures in time and space, there is still many things left unknown about The Doctor. Chances are, fans of the sci-fi phenomenon will still be asking themselves fifty years from now, ‘who is the Doctor?’.