If you’re like me, you were counting the hours until the new season of Doctor Who premiered. For those of you who did watch it, did you like it? How did you feel about the new doctor, played by Matt Smith? If you are a fan, then hopefully this bit of trivia about the show and The Doctor will help hold you over until the next episode comes on.
Running on more than 30 seasons, Doctor Who is the longest-running science fiction show in the world and considered the most successful science fiction show of all time based on ratings and sales. In fact, more than 750 episodes have been broadcast since the show started. (Take that Star Trek.) Even one of the top directors of all time, Steven Spielberg has said that "the world would be a poorer place without Doctor Who.” Image of writer/producer Steven Moffat with his Hugo Award via Dennis Schnapp [Flickr]
Spiraling Spin Offs
In addition to re-spawning the show in 2005, the Doctor Who series has resulted in at least five attempts at television spin-offs –the most successful of which is probably Torchwood –an anagram of Doctor Who. (On a side note, am I the only one who considers Jack Harkness, the main character of Torchwood, to have a name that's almost too bizarrely close to my own? Think about it, Jill Harness & Jack Harkness...maybe we're name soul mates.) Not all of the spin-offs are so good though; there's a very good reason K-9 and Company, a very 80’s detective-like show featuring K-9 and Sarah Jane, never made it past the pilot episode. Image via Foomandoonian [Flickr]
Regenerations That Survive The Generations
A lot of people who are familiar with the show but who don’t actually watch it wonder how one character can be portrayed by so many different actors. Those of you who do watch the show know that it’s because The Doctor is a Time Lord and his race regenerates every time they should die. Not all fans of Doctor Who know that a Time Lord is only supposed to be able to regenerate a total of 12 times though and The Doctor has so far regenerated a total of 10 times (he’s on his 11th body now). Assuming the show continues to do well, do you think The Doctor may be able to cheat this standard Time Lord rule and regenerate more than 12 times, like his enemy The Master? Unsurprisingly, the ability to regenerate was developed as a means to keep the doctor alive after the first actor, William Hartnell, announced his desire to leave the show in 1966. In fact, regeneration was never even conceived of until they needed an excuse to keep the show going. A recent BBC archive release stated that the team based the regeneration cycle on bad LSD trips. The memos said the transformation was a horrifying experience, like the "hell and dank horror" associated with a bad acid dose. Doctor collage via Wikipedia
Ch- Ch- Changes
After each regeneration, The Doctor looks completely different and takes on a slightly modified personality. This is because each body is supposed to represent a different aspect of the same character. He always maintains the same memories, but his emotions and personality will change to some extent. Because the purpose of regeneration is partially to allow The Doctor to enjoy a new and youthful body, his character becomes younger every time he regenerates. Fans of the show may recall how old the first Doctors were, particularly when compared with 26 year-old Matt Smith.
Matt Smith, Meet The Doctor
Funny enough, Matt Smith is still much younger than anyone on the show or the network wanted The Doctor to be. Few people believed that a 26 year-old could adequately portray the knowledge and life-experience that helps to define The Doctor. Even so, when he auditioned for the role on the first day, the production team, particularly head writer and producer Steven Moffat were so blown away by his acting abilities, that they immediately knew he was the one. When they announced their decision, they stood firm behind his casting, stating, it had “always been Matt.” Because Matt was so unknown at the time, the announcement of his casting led both Reuters and The Independent to announce the news as a question, their headlines proclaiming, “Doctor Who?” Image via Alun.Vega [Flickr]
A British Staple or A Gorefest?
Many people, including Caitlin Moran, a reviewer for The Times, have noted that Doctor Who is “quintessential to being British.” Many fans believe part of any English childhood should be spent watching Doctor Who from “behind the sofa” and popping your head out when the scary parts are over. Unfortunately, it’s these scary bits that made the show a target for morality police during the 1970’s. Legendary campaigner Mary Whitehouse repeatedly filed complaints with the BBC about the show’s frightening and gory content. Every time she complained though, it only helped to boost the show’s rating. It got to the point where the show’s producer during the 80’s, John Nathan-Turner, said that he looked forward to her comments because the show’s ratings would jump as soon as she made them. On the other hand, Whitehouse was definitely onto something. A BBC study in 1972 found that Doctor Who was the most violent of all dramatic programs produced by the network at the time.
Perhaps part of the reason the show survived throughout these controversies though was its noble goal of educating children and providing a family-oriented show for all ages. The plot originally alternated historical stories and futuristic stories in an attempt to get children interested in both history and science and The Doctor’s original companions were even a science teacher and a history teacher. They soon started cutting back on the historical episodes though because the production team didn’t enjoy making them as much as the sci fi ones and the ratings were never as high anyway. (Personally, I’m a sucker for the historical episodes, but I’m a history nerd anyway.) Image via Stuart Bryant [Flickr]
Monstrous Success Stories
Another thing that always seemed to score high with the viewers were monsters, particularly the Daleks. To some extent, the Daleks, are even more famous than The Doctor himself. The Daleks became so popular during the 60’s that they even spawned what was known as Dalekmania, where the public would eat up anything related to the Daleks, including the 1964 board game, "Dodge The Daleks." The phenomenon was so major, they even made a film titled Dalekmania in 1995 that focused on the fad obsession with the aliens. In 1964, there was a single released by The Go-Go’s (not the 80’s girl band) called “I’m Gonna Spend My Christmas With A Dalek.” The Clash even referenced them in the song “Remote Control,” saying "Repression — gonna be a Dalek / Repression — I am a robot / Repression — I obey." If you think the obsession was over, then consider the 2008 study that showed 9 out of 10 British children could correctly identify a Dalek and that Daleks were featured on an English postage stamp in 1999. In recent years, they were even featured in two separate, unauthorized pornographic movies. Dalek even appears in the Oxford English Dictionary, as does T.A.R.D.I.S., and is often used as a metaphor for authoritarian people who act robotically. Image via Heath bar [Flickr]
The Time And Relative Dimension In Space Box
Speaking of the T.A.R.D.I.S., it’s another classic Doctor Who staple that’s become more recognizable than the actual Time Lord inside of it. If you’re not an avid viewer of the show, you may wonder why the spaceship looks like a police box. All T.A.R.D.I.S.s are made with a Chameleon Circuit that allows them to blend in with the surroundings it lands in. The Doctor’s Chameleon Circuit broke when he was in 1960’s Britain when the ship was in the shape of a police box. He liked the look enough that he decided to not bother fixing the circuit. When the BBC tried to trademark the famed blue police box in 1996, the Metropolitan Police filed an objection to the claim, arguing that they created and owned the rights to the box design. The Patent Office has since ruled in favor of the network, pointing out that the police never trademarked the box and that they never complained about the fact that the BBC was selling merchandise with the design for more than three decades. It’s also worth noting that the Doctor Who police box has never actually been a faithful replica of the real boxes used by the Metropolitan Police. The “dimensionally transcendental” properties (as The Doctor says) of the T.A.R.D.I.S. make it much larger inside than it appears to be. While no one has ever made a map of the interior of the ship, it is quite expansive and contains living quarters, an art gallery, a greenhouse, a library, a bathroom, a swimming pool, a medical bay, a multi-storied wardrobe, storage areas, an attic and a secondary control room. If you’ve ever wondered why such an incredible machine is always breaking down (aside from its age), then it may be beneficial for you to know that when The Doctor acquired his ship, he actually stole it from his home planet and the Type 40 T.A.R.D.I.S. he took was already unreliable and obsolete at the time. Image via traed mawr [Flickr]
So Is He Really A Doctor?
People who don’t watch the show often wonder things like, “what kind of a doctor steals space ships and fights off alien robots?” The thing is, no one actually knows if The Doctor is actually a doctor. At times seems to have some medical knowledge and he’s even claimed to have studied medicine, but he also has said specifically that he’s not a physician. When he’s with Martha Jones, he tends to insist on her doing anything medical-related, saying, “she’s a doctor; I’m The Doctor.” Perhaps the person who explained it the best was his nemesis, The Master, who quipped that it was quite sanctimonious for The Doctor to label himself as "the man who makes people better.”
It’s not too surprising that a sci-fi show about time and space travel that’s lasted for so long has started to build up some inconsistencies. Fortunately, the new head writer/producer, Steven Moffat (who also created Coupling), has great ways to answer all of those burning fan questions regarding the show’s continuity problems. One of the biggest issues with The Doctor is the matter of age. At first the writers decided that every time he regenerated, his age should be turned back, but this only lasted through the first regeneration and since then, his age was recorded as going forward. At times The Doctor claims to be 450 years old, 650 years old and even 906 years old. Steven Moffat has simply explained that The Doctor does not know his own age because his non-linear existence via time travel has made this calculation impossible. In other situations, the entire history of races, such as the Daleks, have been rewritten as time has progressed. Steven Moffat simply explains these concerns away by noting, "a television series which embraces both the ideas of parallel universes and the concept of changing time can't have a continuity error — it's impossible for Doctor Who to get it wrong, because we can just say 'he changed time',” Are you a fan of the show? And those of you who are fans, how do you feel about the spin offs and do you know any interesting trivia I didn’t mention here? Image via Jim Linwood [Flickr] Sources: BBC #1, #2, Dr. Who Profile, BBC News #1, #2, #3, #4, Wikipedia #1, #2, #3, #4, #5