Why I Love Doctor Who

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Note: an earlier version of this article originally appeared in the Norwegian publication, Z Filmtidsskrift, Number 4 in 2013, editor-in-chief: Ingrid Rommetveit, guest editor: Marte Stapnes.

For those poor, deprived souls who have never encountered this most wonderful institution, Doctor Who is a weekly British sci-fi (or more accurately, fantasy) television series, produced by the BBC, which began, just a few months before I was born, in November 1963 and ran successfully until 1989. Apart from one brief revival attempted in 1996 it lay dormant until a major relaunch in 2005, which has seen it scale heights of mass popularity with the general viewing public that are genuinely surprising in an age of dumbed-down, lowest common denominator appeal programming.

At its core the show is a simple and ingenious idea, a person of mystery on the run, able to travel anywhere in time and space, through means of a machine permanently disguised as a 1960’s London Police Box (which is bigger on the inside), alongside one or more companions who act as the viewer’s eyes on the Doctor’s never ending adventures.

Rather unusually, the show was created not for children and not for adults. Instead it was a drama show intended to appeal to the entire family, broadcast in an early evening spot where it was reasoned that everyone would be together. That reasoning worked perfectly in my household; I can still feel flickering, luminous black & white images of Patrick Troughton’s Doctor imprinting on me, as he did battle with Yetis on the London Underground and evil Daleks swirling around Victorian England while my parents and grandparents sat close by, never more than the safety of a comforting lap away. Thankfully, young and imaginative minds such as mine were oblivious to the show’s paucity of production budget during its original 26 year run, reveling instead in its wild flights of fancy.

The show took a bold leap in regards to its casting. After three successful years in 1966, lead actor William Hartnell’s deteriorating health could have signaled an end to its run; instead, the producers decided to take a chance on re-casting the role with a new actor, the mercurial Patrick Troughton, by use of a plot device which saw the Doctor’s people, the Time Lords, able to physically regenerate themselves twelve times, thus gifting the character with a distinct new personality every few years and thereby ensuring a potentially limitless run for a successful TV show. It was a brave move from the producers, but one that still attracts massive amounts of publicity for the show, as seen with the recent casting of the Thirteenth Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, boldly changing the character’s gender for the first time.

Fans of the show are often asked “Who (pun no doubt intended) is your favourite Doctor?” the answer to which is usually the one you grew up watching. For me, however, that’s a tricky question, as I have brief memories of irascible First Doctor, William Hartnell and stronger memories of the playful Patrick Troughton. I suppose Jon Pertwee’s eccentric but groovy, uncle-like Third Doctor was probably where I became hooked (probably because I also had an eccentric but groovy uncle in real life), but it was with the truly off-the-wall Tom Baker that I became a die-hard fan, rubbishing rival TV channels’ attempts to lure me away with imported productions such as The Man from Atlantis and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century; glossier undoubtedly, but with far less substance.

We are regularly treated to storylines which feature the likes of shape changing robots powered and driven by miniature people, religious orders focused on bringing about the death of the main character, multiple timelines, Winston Churchill ruling the Roman Empire from a steampunk London overrun by Pteranodon, life or death chess games, heartbreaking nods to characters in the show’s past, ingenious resolutions to character relationships and infuriating solutions to questions posed in the last few years of story lines and yet more questions set up for the future.

And the show still has the ability to chill and delight, as illustrated by one of its more recent creations, the Weeping Angels; a fearsome race of aliens which disguise themselves as stone statues, unable to move so long as you watch them, but ready to ready to pounce as soon as you blink or look away. The children’s game of peek-a-boo has been craftily subverted by successive showrunners Russell T. Davies, Steven Moffat and Chris Chibnall, and is guaranteed to have children and adults alike scurrying to watch from behind the sofa.

The show’s attitude to sex and relationships has also been a delight since the relaunch, openly espousing not just a confident attitude to heterosexuality or homosexuality, but indeed to omnisexuality: just one more way in which the makers refuse to speak down to the audience, and one more reason why the BBC should be held in such high regard, for supporting such a consistently adult outlook for a family appeal show.

And above all these values, Doctor Who consistently succeeds at what its far-sighted creators set out to achieve in the dim and distant early 1960’s, to make a drama show for the whole family that educates and entertains. Almost fifty years later it’s still doing that, with a flair, creativity and an ability to stimulate the imagination that dazzles and leaves me breathless with envy and awe.

Doctor Who’s approach to creative drama is one of the reasons I pursued and have succeeded in a creative career, and it continues to inspire me as an adult as much as when I was a child. Its sheer breadth of imagination stirred, thrilled and excited me, fanning the flames of my own need to create stories, a thread which has run through my career, from my years as a comic book writer and artist into my later work as a writer and director for animation.

My love for the show also led me to bring the 50th anniversary film, The Day of the Doctor, to Norwegian cinemas in 2013 (but that’s a story for another time).

Doctor Who is a series which rewards both the casual and dedicated viewer, and in a television landscape littered with deathless reality shows and tired genre formats; it rises high above its faults (which now tend towards a surfeit of ideas rather than the dearth of budget which often plagued the original run). It is unique, charming, exciting, terrifying and thought provoking in equal measures, and I will always adore this wild and wildly eccentric show.


Dave King is the creator and editor of Out Of Dave’s Head. For his sins, which are many and varied, he also works in animation as a writer, director, producer and lecturer. He still waits to be acknowledged for his talents as a lounge singer. 

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Doctor Who – New Doctor, Same As The Old Doctor

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Spoiler-free review of The Woman Who Fell To Earth.

So, the bit you really want to know first about tonight’s Doctor Who (the first for Thirteenth Doctor, Jodi Whittaker): it wasn’t the end of the world.

That is, the opening episode of (New Who) season eleven wasn’t really about the end of the world, I’ll come back to that, but what’s really important is that OUR world didn’t end because the Doctor has regenerated into… gasp… a woman.

When the first teaser trailer dropped on BBC revealing Whittaker, a very vocal number of fans lost their collective minds that their favourite, alien shape-shifter was going to change gender after more than fifty years as a variety of men.

The precise reasoning behind this anger felt rather nebulous, and certainly doesn’t bear up to scrutiny, especially given that from the moment Whittaker makes her entrance by falling through the roof of a train she literally (and figuratively) fully inhabits the frock coat of her predecessor(s).

The plot, which I’ll skip over to avoid spoilers (but there are aliens and lots of running around), is fairly light (actually, too light) and really simply serves as a mechanism to introduce the new Doctor and her team of companions. And it achieves this very well: new showrunner Chris Chibnall (along with a fabulous production team), moves everything along at a rate of knots and each of the characters are gifted with vulnerability, warmth and humanity (and I’m including The Doctor in that, of course, the most human of aliens) so that the we don’t notice the slight story.

It’s of note that the show is shorn of the self-reference that seems to have been weighing it down for the past few seasons. As a fan since the mid-1960s, it’s fun to see old stories and the show’s vast mythology used, but I also recognise that can be an unnecessary ball and chain to storytelling, particularly when it comes to keeping things light enough for casual viewers. Here’s hoping this continues across the season, as it all felt nicely fresh in this episode.

Of course, as this is a regeneration episode, we haven’t really seen The Doctor’s full, new persona yet, but all the important stuff is there: she’s quirky, brave, resourceful and stands up for what’s right. So, pretty much exactly the same as her previous selves. Whittaker hits all the right notes of humour and heroism and is The Doctor. Just like that. Really, strange, stuck-in-the-mud fans, what were you worried about!?

On the technical side, the show, shot with Cooke and Angenieux anamorphic widescreen lenses for the first time, looks an absolute treat, managing to make Sheffield look wonderful, which is no mean feat (sorry, Sheffield-dwellers).

So, we have a new Doctor – yes, a woman – starring in a new series of Doctor Who (albeit now on Sunday nights) and the world is still turning.

Next thing you know we’ll be getting a black James Bond. Then the world really will end, you wait and see…

Who Stars In Star Wars

24th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 21 Jan 2018
Photo credit: Billy Farrell/BFA/Rex/Shutterstock

Variety have just revealed an intriguing exclusive: Eleventh Doctor (and star of The Crown) Matt Smith has been signed for a role in the fortchcoming Star Wars: Episode IX.

There’s literally no other news at this point, beyond pointless speculation as to who (sorry) Smith will play. I’m sure a hundred thousand fan-boys are hoping for him to be Rey’s father, while the likelihood is that he’ll be an Imperial nasty of some kind (they do have a long history of being British, after all).

Smith will join returning regulars Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver, alongside newbies Keri Russell, Richard E. Grant, Dominic Monaghan, and Naomi Ackie. Billy Dee Williams will reprise his iconic role as space gambler, Lando Calrissian, Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels will reprise their roles as Luke Skywalker and C-3PO, and the late Carrie Fisher will be featured as Leia Organa, using previously unseen footage shot for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The currently subtitle-less Star Wars: Episode IX opens on December 19, 2019.

The Doctor Falls – Emotional And Political As Doctor Who Gets

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*Caution – spoilers*

“I’m not trying to win. I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone, because I hate someone, or because I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun. God knows it’s not because it’s easy. It’s not even because it works because it hardly ever does. I do what I do because it’s right! Because it’s decent! And above all, it’s kind! It’s just that… Just kind. If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live. Maybe not many, maybe not for long. Hey, you know, maybe there’s no point to any of this at all. But it’s the best I can do. So I’m going to do it. And I’m going to stand here doing it until it kills me. And you’re going to die too! Some day… And how will that be? Have you thought about it? What would you die for? Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand is where I fall.”

For anyone who thinks Doctor Who is never political, last night’s astounding finale to the current season (ten, in reboot terms) saw Peter Capaldi maginificently deliver the preceeding speech.

As a marker for The Doctor, writer Steven Moffat gives us this defining moment not only for the character and for the show but also as a comment on the zeitgeist – make no mistake about it, conscious or not, this is a political statement against the prevailing political winds of the UK and the world as a whole.

Written and performed with the twin qualitities of passion and vulnerability, this speech could as easily be delivered at an anti-establishment rally, with several thousand Corbyn supporters roaring their approval. I have no idea of the personal politics of Steven Moffat, but if the likes of Theresa May and Donald Trump could be seen as the ultimate Doctor Who villains – uncaring despots seemingly determined to wipe out everything good and decent about mankind – then this speech can easily be read as the ultimate rallying cry against them.

Doctor Who has always been good at reflecting the world around us, whether through the filter of technological advances (the Cyberman chant of “delete, delete”) or even politicians being replaced by gas-expelling aliens, but it’s rarely as outspoken against the status quo as in The Doctor Falls.

While not the actual bowing-out of Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor (that honour comes at Christmas, in a meeting with David Bradley as the First Doctor), this episode served as a superb summation of his incarnation – fiery, humane and yet always inhuman – and also neatly wrapped up the arc for Pearl Mackie’s Bill.

Much of the episode ran at an exceptional pace, narrative and emotional drive running hand in hand to deliver an astonishing gut punch. The scenes between the Cyber-transformed Bill (as close to Cronenbergian body-horror as the family show can possibly get) and The Doctor were heart-rendingly written and performed, this was a terrifying fate for a companion and a warning to all those who travel with the Time Lord.

And if the final ten minutes seemed to wallow a little, it’s tough to argue that this wasn’t earned or deserved. For the children watching, Bill’s eventual fate was all-important for a show which ultimately needs to be aspirational and inspirational.

Steven Moffat, director Rachel Talalay and the Doctor Who crew seemed determined to send this much-improved season off with a bang, an emotional wallop and, by adding the zest of a sharp, humanist comment on the real world, something to truly value.