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Doctor Who

Doctor Who is a long-running science fiction TV show on the BBC. It’s positioned as a “family program”, i.e. one that is equally enjoyable for children and adults. The core premise is that there’s a long-lived humanoid alien, known only as the Doctor, who spends his/her1 time travelling throughout all of time and space, saving residents of the universe from tyranny and evil. The Doctor likes to have friends travelling with him/her (usually just one at a time, but sometimes 2 or 3) – the fanbase calls these “companions”. His/her spaceship is called the TARDIS, which is supposed to be shape-shifting so it becomes something unobtrusive wherever it lands, but since the very first episode in 1963 has been stuck in the shape of a mid-20th century blue police box.

There’ve been two main eras of Doctor Who: Classic Who between 1963–1989, and New Who from 2005 to the present day. There’s also been a 1996 telemovie, which was pretty Americanised, and a lot of “extended universe” content, including audio plays produced by Big Finish and novels describing new adventures. Umpteen different actors have portrayed the Doctor over this time, because the Doctor’s character has the ability of regeneration, which is to say that when something “kills” him/her, he can shapeshift into a new, healthy body. Each regeneration has a starkly different personality, and it is strongly suggested that the Doctor suffers significant (but not total) memory loss each time it happens. Originally, the Doctor was said to have thirteen lives. At some point in the New Who era, they retconned this in some extremely unsatisfying way and now he (or she) has infinite lives.

I started watching Doctor Who as a preteen when the ABC started repeating all the classic serials, in order, to celebrate Doctor Who’s 40th anniversary in 2003. Before long I was completely obsessed with the series, and it’s one of very few media properties I’ve ever written fanfiction for. What I loved about the series was the way it could cover such an enormous breadth of settings, exploring different science fiction tropes and story ideas. I always loved the more serious, thoughtful stories, ahead of the zany wacky ones. That said, my favourite Doctor is the conventional answer, the Fourth Doctor, who is a bit “zany and wacky”. Despite that he had some of the best serious stories, mainly in his early seasons – things like Genocide of the Daleks or The Brain of Morbius which have stuck in my brain ever since.

I started watching New Who when it began in 2005 (well, with a six-week delay, which was how long it took for episodes to get aired in Australia after their original broadcast in the UK). I didn’t really love it straight away – the quality of the first series was very uneven and then the dynamic between the Tenth Doctor and Rose in the second made my skin crawl. I thought each series out of 3, 4 and 5 was an improvement on the one that had come before, with 5 absolutely my favourite in the New Who era. After that the show started to lose me, and I ended up stopping watching at some point in the seventh series – not really on purpose, it just became one of those shows I always meant to catch up on and never did. I came back for the 10th series, with the Twelfth Doctor and Bill, because the ABC moved it to a very convenient timeslot (Sunday night). Then I watched the 11th series, Jodie Whittaker’s first, even though it was at the bizarre timeslot of 5pm Mondays. After that the ABC stopped advertising what bizarre timeslots they’d shunted the show to, so I stopped watching again, without intending to. As of late 2022, it’s been announced that future series of Doctor Who will be restricted to subscribers of the Disney+ streaming service, which I have absolutely no intention of subscribing to, so I guess I’m at an impasse.

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  1. Until Jodie Whittaker came in as the Thirteenth Doctor, the Doctor was always a “he”, so that’s how I keep thinking of the character even though that’s obviously not accurate any more. ↩︎

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