Tomorrow night marks the world premiere of series eight of “Doctor Who.” It’s the show everyone is talking about, it’s purportedly the most watched television program on Earth, it’s cool to watch “Doctor Who.” But if you’re already a fan, you know all that. But what if you aren’t? If you are new to Who, #NewtoWHO as the hashtag for The Nerdist goes, here’s a handy guide to what you need to know to enjoy the big premiere tomorrow, after the jump.
Yeah, “Doctor Who” has a five-decade history, a rich tapestry of continuity that makes the kewlest of nerds grin like mad bastards – but truth, you don’t really need this part to enjoy tomorrow night’s show, but it’s good background. Created in 1963 as essentially a children’s show to teach kids about history, “Doctor Who” quickly evolved in something entirely different, becoming a television sensation, spinning off into other series, movies, and later eventually in recent years taking over the world.
The series that ran continuously from 1963-1989, had an American TV pilot in continuity in 1996, and began again in 2005, to be still running today. So it’s not a consecutive run, but during its absence, books, audioplays, fan fiction, toys, games, comics, and reruns in syndication and on video and DVD was constant. The popularity of “Doctor Who” never waned. “Who” fandom is one of the biggest and most loyal in the world, and in the United Kingdom, its country of origin, it is an institution.
The Doctor, never actually referred to by the name Doctor Who in the TV series, but as ‘The Doctor,’ is a kindly old man with a magic box, shaped like a British phone booth or Police box as they called them back in the day. This magic box, called the TARDIS, short for Time And Relative Dimension In Space, is actually a spaceship and time machine that is much bigger on the inside.
The Doctor taught lessons in history and morality via his travels through time and space, usually with a variety of companions that would change throughout the years. These sidekicks would range from children to daring heroes and heroines, to damsels (and dudes) in distress at times, but all served the position of asking The Doctor what’s what, who’s who, and why’s why, so he could explain it all to them. And what good is adventuring, fighting bad guys, and righting wrongs if you don’t have anyone to share them with.
The Many Faces of The Doctor
I’ve talked about this particular concept before here. What makes The Doctor so special is that he’s not even human. He is a Time Lord, and a renegade one at that, from the planet Gallifrey. He might look human, but this alien creature has a number of other abilities beyond his two hearts, space/time machine, and his sonic screwdriver. Yes, a sonic screwdriver, because The Doctor hates weapons, and with a screwdriver, as his name implies, he fixes things.
The other thing that Time Lords do is regenerate. They have more than one life, usually a finite number (the average is twelve, although there are exceptions). Each time The Doctor dies, he regenerates into a completely new person, with the same memories but a different body, different clothes, and even personality, thus making it easy for multiple actors to portray the character. So whether you’re talking about the suave David Tennant, the quirky Matt Smith, the long scarved Tom Baker, or the action man Jon Pertwee, they are all The Doctor, and sometimes, they even cross each other’s paths – because time travel.
The Doctor, despite his renegade status on his own world, having stolen his TARDIS to see the universe and ‘have adventures,’ is essentially a good guy. He can rarely stand to see injustices, or people victimized or terrorized, and having been stranded on Earth for some time, he has developed a fondness for the human race. He always seems to come back here, and believes he has a role as the earth’s protector. Someone like that makes a lot of enemies.
Among them are the Daleks and the Cybermen, both mechanoid fascists of different types, whose only goals seem to be the extermination of the human race, conquest of the universe, and access to time travel – not necessarily in that order. The Daleks are particularly nasty in their hatred of The Doctor, they fear him, calling him ‘the oncoming storm.’ Other monsters and alien races out to get him include the Sontarans, the Silurians, the Weeping Angels, The Silence, and even The Doctor’s own people, the Time Lords. For a closer look at some of these baddies, check out my article from last Halloween here. I’m sure we’ll be seeing some of them this season…
As I mentioned above, The Doctor tends to travel with ‘companions.’ These folks range from The Doctor’s own granddaughter to the Time Lady Romana, from the leader of UNIT to the pansexual immortal Captain Jack Harkness of Torchwood, and even to potential love interests like Rose Tyler and Amy Pond. Companions come in all shapes, sizes, and types, sometimes dopey, sometimes smart, sometimes to be rescued, and sometimes to be feared. Whatever form they take, The Doctor is seldom alone.
His current companion is a young lady named Clara Oswald, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman, who despite persistent rumors, is probably not leaving the show come Christmas. Clara is ‘the impossible girl’ who fell through time to save The Doctor and has ended up saving him time and time again over the ages. It’s complicated, again, because time travel. Suffice it to say, today she’s a teacher and a friend of The Doctor. She’s there when he regenerates into his newest regeneration.
Another New Beginning
Award winning actor Peter Capaldi debuts as The Doctor tomorrow night. He will officially be the Twelfth incarnation of the character, whether the count is off or not, he’s the official number twelve. We will enter the picture just as he’s regenerated from matt Smith to Peter Capaldi, so really, we won’t know what to expect, and neither will poor Clara. Either way, it should be an adventure, as Calpaldi promises to be something very different.
As we’ve seen from the previews (check them out here and here), Clara is not alone as a companion in tomorrow’s episode entitled “Deep Breath.” Also on hand are a trio of companions from Victorian England, fan favorites Madam Vastra, Jenny Flint, and Strax. Freakish, but accepted in their time, Vastra is a Silurian detective in the mode of Sherlock Holmes, Jenny her assistant and lover, and Strax is the warlike but restrained Sontaran warrior/valet. Seriously, BBC, they need their own spin-off.
I’ll see you tomorrow night, with a full review of “Deep Breath.” Hold on to your sonic screwdrivers, I have a feeling it’s going to be bumpy ride!