Fifty years of Doctor Who: Part 1
Doctor Who First aired on November 23, 1963. That means it will soon be fifty years ago, to the day, that we first met The Doctor. Fifty years we have known this man, and these men, but how much do we really know?
As it turns out, we know quite a lot, if we look at the collective knowledge of everyone that knows anything about The Doctor. Here I will expand, and explore these actors and the role they shared. How they shaped the character, and what kind of pants they wore. By actors, I mean William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, and Matt Smith. I don’t plan to talk much about John Hurt or Peter Capaldi here, simply because we know nothing about what they will do with this character, so I prefer to limit my speculation. However, that may change as I near the end of this series.
I would suppose we should start this adventure by briefly defining who the doctor is.
Doctor is not his given name, but one he chose for himself. His actual name is unknown. Why he uses the title of “The Doctor” has never been fully explained. The Doctor is a Time Lord, from the planet Gallifrey, in the constellation of Kasterborous, who travels through time and space in a time machine called the TARDIS. At the beginning of the series, the Doctor was about 400 years old. He is now approximately 1,200 years old, but producer Steven Moffat has stated that the Doctor simply does not know his own age, given the non-linear time-travelling nature of his life. The Doctor explores the universe at random, using his extensive knowledge to avert whatever crisis he encounters. He usually solves problems with his wits rather than with force, and is more likely to wield a sonic screwdriver than a gun, although he has been seen to use weapons as a last resort. As a time traveler, the Doctor has been present at, or directly involved in, countless major historical events on the planet Earth and elsewhere in the universe.
The Doctor has a deep sense of right and wrong, and a conviction that compels him to intervene when injustice occurs, which set him apart from The Time Lords, and their strict ethic of non-intervention. It is this penchant for becoming “involved” with the universe that has caused the Doctor to be labeled a renegade by the Time Lords. Most of the time, however, his actions were tolerated, especially given that he has saved not just Gallifrey but also the universe several times over. The Doctor’s standing in Time Lord Society has waxed and waned over the years, from being a hunted man who was eventually punished with an exile sentence on Earth, to being appointed Lord President of the High Council. He does not assume the office for very long, fleeing Gallifrey after his appointment rather than accepting the limitations on his freedom that the role would place on him.
The changing of actors playing the part of the Doctor is explained within the series by the Time Lords’ ability to regenerate after suffering illness, mortal injury or old age. The process repairs all damage and rejuvenates his body, but as a side effect, it changes his physical appearance and personality. While the Doctor remains essentially the same person throughout his regenerations, each actor has purposely imbued his incarnation of the character with distinct quirks and characteristics. Throughout his regenerations, the Doctor’s personality has retained a number of consistent traits. Its most notable aspect is an unpredictable, affable, clownish exterior concealing a well of great age, wisdom, seriousness and even darkness. The Doctor is a pacifist and is dedicated to the preservation of sentient life, human or otherwise. Nonetheless, the Doctor will kill when given no other option and occasionally in self-defense; it has been stated numerous times in the series, beginning in 2005, that he was responsible for destroying both the Dalek and Time Lord races in order to end the Time War.
While over the decades several revelations have been made about his background – the writers have often strived to retain some sense of mystery and to preserve the eternal question, “Doctor who?” This back-story was not rigidly planned from the beginning, but developed gradually over the years. This has led to continuity problems. Writer and executive producer Steven Moffat has argued that “a television series which embraces both the ideas of parallel universes and the concept of changing time can’t have a continuity error – it’s impossible for Doctor Who to get it wrong, because we can just say ‘he changed time’”. This may be something of a cop out, but it is also blatantly true and it would be disingenuous not to admit that fact, in my opinion.
That is, in a very nutshell fashion, who The Doctor is, although I did the character no favors for the sake of being brief. It is hardly fair to ram 50 years or character development into such a brief passage. In truth, I highly regret writing this, and I apologize for your having read it. The best amends I can offer is the fact that I now start telling you about all the actors that have taken on this role these past 50 years. Not right this moment, next week. I can only write so much.