Doctor Who was and is the title of the SERIES, not the character. Said title emerges as a quote in episode one. The NAME of The Doctor has yet to be revealed, to this day.
It all started over fifty years ago: William Hartnell played an irascible time-and-space-traveller – with a grand-daughter – who stops off on Earth in 1963.
And it quickly became obvious that this was more than just another sci-fi kids’ show.
I do not propose to write a huge piece about the series – that has been done many times already. Rather I intend merely to document MY impressions of it – working on the assumption that you, my reader, are reasonably familiar with the saga. So here goes…
Hartnell originated the role. Geoffrey Bayldon had been offered it but turned it down. He would turn it down again, when William’s reign ended – yet he was happy to take on Catweazle, in 1970. Go figure.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The mythology of The Doctor came about by COMMITTEE.
A whole SLEW of creatives came up with the character, the theme, the style, the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space) – bigger on the inside: and with a stuck “Chameleon Circuit” (which meant they wouldn’t have to bother changing it for every new landing) – and The Doctor’s various nemeses.
However the most important innovation came in 1966, when Hartnell’s health became an issue – REGENERATION. Instead of finding a lookalike for the lead, they would just REPLACE him. In other words, REBOOT the character – before the term even existed.
And it was this concept that so far, has kept The Doctor going for HALF A CENTURY.
Doctor number two was Patrick Troughton, who played the character as a middle-aged PIXIE. His manner and dress were distinctly different from his predecessor and although popular for a while, his appeal eventually began to decay.
Thus in 1970, the series faced its first threat of cancellation. However, after Ron Moody had turned down the role, Jon Pertwee was persuaded to take on the job and The Doctor’s popularity was renewed.
Jon played him as an Edwardian Dandy (all the Doctors have tended to favour RETRO costumes) – with more action sequences than his former incarnations had affected. And it was made on FILM (for the one and only time, due to a strike among the VT engineers).
Then 1974 saw Doctor number four emerge. Tom Baker was weird – and the youngest Doctor yet. His style varied through a number of different writers and show-runners – from dark to light, gothic to modern. But he had the longest reign to date – seven years.
Therefore great interest was generated when his replacement was announced – but it soon disappeared when Peter Davison stepped in. He was even younger than Tom had been – and was decidedly WET.
The chubby Richard Griffiths had been mooted, but was sadly unavailable.
And so Peter kept the saga going for another three years – a period which was only of interest due to one of his companions being a MAJOR BABE.
One can only imagine how many Whovians pleasured themselves while picturing Nicola Bryant as Peri.
Moving on. The sixth Doctor (1985-7) was Colin Baker (no relation to Tom) and was easily the BLANDEST Doctor ever. Furthermore, production was troubled during this era – by a variety of factors, all as boring as Baker, so I’ll not dwell on them.
Doctor number seven, in the diminutive form of Sylvestor McCoy – a one-time street-performer who shoved 6-inch nails up his ample hooter – took over in ’87 and managed to keep things going for another two years.
But the writing was on the wall.
Michael Grade did more than most to BURY The Doctor. He openly hated the series. Some suggested he had been one of those little boys who, back in the Sixties had cowered behind the sofa, wetting themselves every time a Dalek screamed, “EXTERRRMINATE!”
But the truth was that The Doctor was getting STALE. Oh sure, the series had benefitted from TV’s innovations – colour, higher resolution (405-line to 625-line) and by the end, stereo and decent SFX.
However, like Star Trek, Doctor Who had always been about the WRITING – and after 26 years, the ideas had RUN OUT.
Which is where Russell T. Davies came in. But we had to wait SIXTEEN YEARS before his genius hit the screen.
During that LONG break, an American TV movie got made, featuring Paul McGann as Doctor number eight. Despite it going down the dumper, the BBC insist on including Paul in the official canon of Doctors – since a lot of MERCHANDISING got attached to it.
But the next REAL Doctor (number nine) was the first of the NEW guys – Christopher Eccleston.
Now, production switched to WALES, where a slew of highly talented writers, headed by the aforementioned Welsh whoopsie, Russell – with his chums, Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss and others – became the new creative outlet of the BBC.
In addition to creating the New Doctor, they developed its spinoff, Torchwood – and Sherlock.
Russell was free to infuse his gay agenda and powerful emotions into the writing, which broadened its appeal and involvement, raising Doctor Who to a whole new LEVEL.
And Eccleston was a breath of fresh air. Staying with a YOUNG Doctor, Russell and his friends introduced action, style, intelligence and verve to what had been a TIRED format. And a big budget, with modern state-of-the-art SFX didn’t hurt either.
No more wobbly sets and rubber monsters – even Michael Grade was impressed.
But despite DEFINING the New Doctor, Ecclestone announced that he was leaving after his first season, for fear of being typecast. David Tennant, with whom Russell T. Davies had worked before, was installed as Doctor number ten.
Very popular, he stayed with it for four years – although the last was marred by the BBC using Doctor Who as a bargaining chip, in order to punish the government (via the Whovians) for refusing to increase their license fee.
This over, Doctor number eleven came in, in the form of Matt Smith.
Steven Moffat was now helming, Russell having quit to write Torchwood and other series – and to spend more time with his partner, who had developed a brain tumour.
Similar to Tennant – but with almost no eyebrows – Matt added another three years to the canon and has just finished his tenure.
And with much ado and fanfare, 56-year-old Peter Capaldi has now been launched as Doctor number twelve.
At first, this writer was disappointed with the choice. The Hour’s Ben Whishaw HAD been suggested and it seemed he would have been the perfect choice. But WOULD he?
After further reflection, I decided I had been too hasty. The thing is, Ben would have certainly fitted the same mould as the other three New Doctors – but that’s the TROUBLE.
Way back in 1966, with Doctor number two, a precedent was set: new Doctor Whos have always been REBOOTS. This allows writers and lead actors to constantly reinvent and reinterpret the concept.
Which is why (despite a 16-year hiatus) The Doctor is still with us – after FIVE DECADES. Only James Bond and Corry can claim the same durability.
Plus the early Doctors were also middle-aged (Hartnell was 55 when he started). So in that regard, things have come full-circle.
Therefore, this author wishes you good luck, Peter. You have a huge talent and are surrounded by the finest writers and technicians in the World (or at least, Wales). You’ll be all right.
Just mind your language, okay?