Monday, June 06, 2011

First Trip To The Doctor: Doctor Who 101 and Why You Should Watch | The Mary Sue

If you’ve ever wondered why The Mary Sue doesn’t post much stuff about the current season of Doctor Who, there is a simple, shameful reason behind it: the editorial staff is only three seasons in love with the Doctor and is terrified of spoilers. We would just watch it all day and not post anything to bring ourselves up to speed, but you’d probably prefer that even less… so when contributor Christopher Holden, also a new Who convert who’s actually had the time to catch up, offered to write a post on how and why one should follow everyone else down the swirly worm hole after that twirling TARDIS, we welcomed it. If only to create even more people who, despite their expectations, find themselves learning to love that completely artificial synth-whine of a theme song.

My primary source of geekdom has always been comic books. That is the source from which all my other interests branch out. Thus, my first exposure to Doctor Who came from the random attainment of 1970’s Marvel Doctor Who Comics in my youth. The bright covers depicting a curly-haired English man sporting a long scarf seemingly made from Joseph’s Technicolor dream coat did not pique my interest. Although others may have enjoyed his comics, because the Doctor was not part of the canonical Marvel Universe, to me he was simply Doctor Who cares?

In recent years, the topic of Doctor Who has re-emerged in my life, through my constant use of the internet, and most prominently my frequent viewing of the “Late Late show with Craig Ferguson.” Ferguson’s fervid fandom sparked my interest, and once previews for the newest season began appearing on TV, online, and in my beloved comics, I endeavored to finally discover what made the Doctor so special. After watching the first couple episodes of the season, and doing some extensive research, I realized how amazing the world of Doctor Who is, and, what I had been missing for so long. In the hopes of helping convert new fans to this nearly fifty year old franchise, I created this guide to help fellow geeks who are interested in Doctor Who, but don’t know where to start.

Who is the Doctor

The simplest explanation of the Doctor can be found in the intro for the current series when Amy Pond states “His name is the Doctor. He comes from somewhere else. He travels in the TARDIS that is bigger on the inside than on the outside, and can travel both space and time.” That get’s right to the point and allows viewers to jump on and enjoy the episode, but it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. For starters, one would ask what is a TARDIS? And where exactly is somewhere else?

For starters, TARDIS stands for “Time And Relative Dimension In Space” which is to say, it is a ship that the Doctor controls (for the most part) and navigates throughout time and space. The Doctor’s TARDIS is disguised in the shape of a police box, which for those of us who are not British, is like a phone booth that connects directly to the police. TARDIS’s were created by a group of aliens called the Time Lords, of which the Doctor is a member, which brings us to who exactly the Doctor is.

Given the Doctor’s current status, he is somewhat like a Bizzaro Lobo. He is the last of his kind, because he killed the rest of his species, and he travels the universe having crazy adventures, fighting all kinds of aliens. However, unlike Lobo, the Doctor did not destroy his race because he was “the baddest bastich in the fraggin’ universe,” but instead did so because his once wise and peaceful race, the Time Lords of Gallifrey, had become corrupted and had become willing to sacrifice the entire universe for their own selfish reasons. Also, similar to Lobo, the Doctor does not simply die, but instead simply regenerates into a new body.

History of Doctor Who

Originating in 1963, Doctor Who is a show produced by the BBC geared towards children and Science Fiction fans alike. Doctor Who’s nearly fifty year old production history is best comparable to James Bond’s own lengthy film history. Similar to 007, a multitude of different actors has portrayed the title character over the years. However, unlike Bond, who we are led to believe is apparently an ageless agent of MI6, the Doctor is explained to be an alien known as a Time Lord, who in lieu of death, is able to regenerate up to twelve times (and possibly more) with a change in appearance and personality every time. This neatly wraps up the transition between actors, with every new Doctor seen regenerating from their predecessor. Of course, this constant transition leads to different eras of Doctor Who, with each Doctor having his own strong fan bases.

Continuing the James Bond comparison, the Fourth Doctor, portrayed by Tom Baker, is much like Sean Connery in that they are both seen as the most identifiable and often definitive version of their characters. The Fourth Doctor, who appeared in my comics, became well known because of his long vibrant scarf, quirky love of jelly bellys, beloved companions (Sara Jane and K-9), and bohemian persona. If Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor could be seen as parallel to Sean Connery’s Bond, then Christopher Eccleston’s portrayal of the Ninth Doctor could be seen as parallel to Timothy Dalton’s Bond. The Ninth Doctor, much like Dalton, is a much darker, grittier version of a long established character, accentuated by his short hair, and black leather jacket. David Tennant’s (aka Barty Crouch Jr.) portrayal of the recently departed Tenth Doctor, can be compared to Pierce Brosnan’s portrayal of 007 in that they are both fan favorites who helped to reinvigorate the franchise. The Eleventh and most current Doctor is portrayed by Matt Smith. Much like Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond, Smith’s legacy for the franchise is yet to be seen.

Companions and Spinoffs

Every version of the Doctor is coupled with one or more different companions. No, I don’t mean “companions” in the way Inara is a companion; I simply mean people who accompany the Doctor on his travels. In fact, it is a general rule that the Doctors do not engage romantically with any of their companions. The companions help ground the series to some extent, and allows the viewer to understand the zaniness of Doctor Who better by seeing events though the perspective of the companions. Occasionally, companions are so popular that they are able to get their own spinoffs, such as The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood. In this way, fans can continue to connect with the plot and characters of a certain series long after the Doctor they had grown to love has moved on into a new form.

The current Doctor’s companion, Amy Pond, as well as her fiancé Rory, have already garnered a large fan base, and are shaping up to be a set of the most beloved companions in The Doctor’s history.


Any hero is only as good as his/her villains, and the Doctor is no exception. With a wide array of enemies from different species and backgrounds, the Doctor often has his hands full. The two most significant  of his enemies are the Daleks, and the Master. The Daleks are the second most recognizable thing from Doctor Who, after the Tardis. They are compact, tank-like cyborgs, who look like roid-ed out R2-D2s and have the catch phrase of “Ex-terrrrr-min-ate!” which they shout in a manner similar to how an angry Stephen Hawking must sound. They also have death rays.

The Master is The Doctor’s arch-enemy. Their relationship is best comparable to that between Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty. Similar to The Doctor, The Master is a Time Lord, and regenerates into a new form with every new Doctor. They are on the same level of intelligence, and were even classmates. The Master disappeared at the climax of “The End of Time,” the last episode with the Tenth Doctor, and has not yet been seen in the last two seasons, leaving his fate, and the form of his eventual regeneration, a mystery.

What watching an episode is like/ Why you should watch Doctor Who

Watching Doctor Who is a unique experience. It is unlike any other show on TV. Most episodes are self contained and with an hour’s length, are almost the equivalent of a small movie. Despite being geared towards children, Doctor Who is a show you have to pay close attention to. The dialogue is the most important aspect, because although there is often a lot of action involved in the show, the Doctor always saves the day by relying on his wit and intellect instead of constantly resorting to violence. For this reason, as well as for the occasionally inaudible accents, Doctor Who is best viewed when you have the ability to pause and rewind as you watch it. Another amazing thing about this show is the plethora of nods and references made throughout. Past episodes with different Doctors are alluded to occasionally, and every once and a while old Doctors come by for a cameo. The great thing about Doctor Who, is that it’s a show so deeply embedded in the British culture, that it’s not going anywhere soon; which means it’s a show you can get involved in, knowing that there are legions of other fans across the world, and with the solace of knowing that it will quite possibly outlive you.

Editor’s Note: I would like to add, by way of further persuasion, that Doctor Who, like many American sci-fi shows, frequently depicts inter-species romance. It is to its credit that, unlike many American shows, it depicts interracial and gay relationships just as often.

Why you should start watching this season

With decades of canon already in place, and a multitude of excellent actors previously portraying the Doctor, someone might wonder why they would want to begin watching from the current season. The truth is, there are many exciting things happening this season that will entice old fans and new converts alike. The continuing saga of the Doctor’s time traveling future wife, River Song, comes to a head with the promise of her first encounter with the Doctor to be presented later this season. Simultaneously, the mystery of Amy’s potential pregnancy persists, as does a resolution to the dreadful events seen earlier in the season’s two part opener “The Impossible Astronaut.”

Rumors are circulating that the season finale will presented on an epic scale, with a crossover between multiple Doctors, including fan favorite David Tennant. Granted those still remain rumors, while one of the most exciting things about this season is a certifiable fact. That’s right, the Sandman himself, Neil Gaiman, has written the fourth episode of the season! The episode is quite a doozy too, as it delves into the most important relationship in The Doctor’s life. Another reason this is the perfect time to start watching Doctor Who, is that it is the second season of the Eleventh Doctor, which means that you have an entire season full of reruns to sate your appetite for Eleven and Amy Pond, as you wait for a new episode each week.

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