Long live the Doctor! November 23rd will mark the 50th anniversary of the iconic series Doctor Who. Let us remember past and present incarnations with the BBC’s trailer for “The Day of the Doctor,” as well as an excerpt from Dave Thompson’s Doctor Who FAQ.
On October 29, 1966, two stories and eight weeks into the series’ fourth season, Doctor Who changed forever.
For the past month, viewers had watched agog as the Doctor, played as always by the curmudgeonly lovable William Hartnell and supported by his latest companions Ben and Polly, did battle with a new, terrifying foe, looming metallic humanoids called the Cybermen.
The Tenth Planet gripped from start to finish. The TARDIS had materialized at space tracking station Snowcap Base, deep inside the Antarctic, in the then-impossibly distant-sounding year of 1986. There they discovered all was chaos as the base tracked the course of a shocking new arrival in our solar system, an unknown planet. It was Mondas, a world that was once Earth’s twin but had drifted into the outer reaches of space millennia ago. Now it had returned, weakened and dying. But not for long.
Like some vast globular vampire, Mondas was draining energy from the Earth, rejuvenating itself with the stolen power, and the Cybermen, the cybernetic denizens of the rogue planet, were already on Earth, paving the way for a full-scale invasion. For the Doctor and his companions, the race was not simply to defeat the invaders, but also to eliminate the reason for their invasion. Mondas had to be destroyed.
It took the last of the Doctor’s strength and energy to accomplish the task. The strain was enormous; too enormous. As the three travelers made their way back into the TARDIS, victorious, the Doctor paused and collapsed. Then, with no warning whatsoever, with no precedent on which to base the events that were about to unfold, we witnessed for the first time the ultimate miracle of the Doctor’s own civilization. The regeneration of a Time Lord.
Before the shocked and astonished eyes not only of his friends, but also the nearly seven million viewers tuned into BBC1 that evening, he began to change. His clothes, his face, his entire being. Doctor Who literally became Doctor Who?
It still seems remarkable that an alien menace making its debut on the show should succeed where the older, and far more formidable, Daleks failed. But the Cybermen did it. The Doctor was dead. Long live the Doctor.
More than four decades after that momentous occasion, the idea that the Doctor regenerates into a new body as soon as his old one reaches the end of its life cycle is so deeply ingrained within the show’s mythology that even newcomers to the series think nothing of watching, and accepting, his past personalities.
Blithely, we refer to the different Doctors by number, the First Doctor, the Second, the Fifth, and so forth. At the time of writing, we are in the reign of the Eleventh. And while legend (and the occasional on-screen comment) has suggested that Time Lords do have a finite (twelve) number of regenerations, it is merely legend. The Doctor, and therefore the show, could go on indefinitely.
No more or less than the companions who have traveled alongside him, the different Doctors certainly are not interchangeable, but neither are they utterly unique. Each has brought his own personality to the part, each has borne his own idiosyncrasies, and each has both his good points and his bad. But all remain the Doctor.
Doctor Who is indisputably the most successful and beloved series on UK TV, and the most watched series in the history of BBC America. Doctor Who FAQ tells the complete story of its American success, from its first airings on PBS in the 1970s, through to the massive Doctor Who fan conventions that are a staple of the modern-day science fiction circuit. Combining a wealth of information and numerous illustrations, Doctor Who FAQ also includes a comprehensive episode guide.
From the Doctor’s most impressive alien foes and the companions who have fought alongside him to unimagined planets and unexpected points in history, from some of the greatest minds ever to have walked the Earth, to the most evil beings ever to haunt the universe, it’s all covered here, including the Tardis, the none-too-reliable “bigger on the inside than the out” blue box in which the Doctor travels.