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Doctor Who is both a television show and a global multimedia franchise created and controlled by the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation).
It centers on a time traveler called "the Doctor", who seemingly comes from a race of beings known as Time Lords. They travel through space and time in a time machine they call the TARDIS. This ship - which looks like a small, London policy box on the outside - has nearly infinite dimensions on the inside. It has become such an iconic shape in British culture that it is currently the intellectual property of the BBC rather than its actual makers, the Metropolitan Police Service.
Since Doctor Who's revival in 2005, its production has been primarily based in Wales by BBC Wales, with its soundtrack regularly performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales since 2006.
In order to accommodate cast changes, the narrative allows the Doctor to regenerate into an essentially new person on occasion. The cast is rounded out by one or more "companions", often females. On average, the main cast completely changes once every three or four years - a significant factor in the longevity of the program.
It has had two - some argue three - major production periods. The original run of the program was from 1963 to 1989, and is often called the "classic series" or "classic Doctor Who". A failed revival, in the form of a Universal-BBC co-production, came in 1996 - but the resulting one-off tele movie is often considered a part of the classic series. The current form of the program - sometimes called the "new series" - has been produced by BBC Wales and aired on BBC One since 2005.
Though the classic series is fondly remembered by fans of a certain age, the new series has been far more consistently popular with the British public,[source needed] and is usually the highest-rated scripted drama - outside of perennially popular soap operas - in the weeks that it is on the air.
The franchise spawned by the main television programs includes dozens of distinct ranges of spin-offs in televised, audio and print media.
History of Doctor Who[edit | edit source]
Origin [edit | edit source]
Several individuals share credit for establishing Doctor Who in 1963, but it is generally accepted that the original impetus for the series, as well as the establishment of certain aspects, such as the concept of the TARDIS, the basic character of the Doctor and the title Doctor Who itself belong to Canadian-born Sydney Newman, who is also credited with creating another iconic series, The avengers. Others involved in piecing together the puzzle that became the series include Head of SerialsDonald Wilson, writerC. E. Webber, script editor David Whitaker and the show's first producer, Verity Lambert, the first woman to hold such a position in the drama department at the BBC.
Two other notable participants in the birth of the series were Anthony Coburn and Waris Hussein, the writer and director, respectively, of the first four-part serial, To Unearthly Child, the first episode of which aired on November 23, 1963. The version of the first episode that was broadcasted was in fact the second mounting of that episode; an earlier version (called "The Pilot Episode" by fans), was taped some weeks before, but was rejected for several issues. The BBC allowed a second mounting of the pilot to proceed. The first episode aired the day after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and had to be rebroadcast a week later when power failures disrupted the first broadcast.
Also important to creating the atmosphere of the early series were composers Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire. Grainer wrote the basic melody of the Doctor Who theme, and Derbyshire, with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, transformed it into a pioneering piece of electronica music. There have been several arrangements used of the theme, but the basic melody has remained unchanged throughout the show's history. No new piece of music has ever been commissioned as a theme, making it one of the longest-serving signature tunes in television history.
To Unearthly Child introduced the first incarnation of the Doctor, played by character actor William Hartnell. Supporting him were William Russell and Jacqueline Hill as Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, respectively, and Carole Ann Ford as the Doctor's granddaughter, Susan Foreman. These four would form the core cast of the series throughout its first season and into the second.
From very early on, the television show spawned a sub-genre of the franchise in the form of short stories in various shapes and forms from small one-paper issues to short novels to even telling a story on a set of cards. This genre has developed throughout the years into massive shorts and anthologies and is still holding up in the 21st century.
The Daleks [edit | edit source]
After the first episode introduced the characters and concept, the remaining three episodes of To Unearthly Child encompassed a modest storyline involving a group of cavemen in prehistoric times. The series began to find its voice as a science fiction series with the second serial, The Daleks by Terry Nation. It introduced the Daleks, the single most iconic reoccurring enemy of the franchise. The series began to really take off in popularity with this serial, which helped launch "Dalekmania" in the UK, leading to toys, the first novelization Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks, the movie adaptation Dr. Who and the Daleks, and many televised sequels, beginning with The Dalek Invasion of Earth.
Early cast changes edit source]
The Dalek Invasion of Earth was also notable for featuring the series' first cast change. Carole Ann Ford left the series. She was replaced the following week by Maureen O'Brien as Vicki, establishing the pattern of the Doctor's companions changing. The other original actors, William Russell and Jacqueline Hill, left the series a few months later at the conclusion of The Chase, making way for another new companion, Steven Taylor, played by Peter Purves. Over the decades, the length of service of different companions has ranged from as little as a few weeks (with some being considered companions after appearing in only a single episode), up to several years. Some actors have returned to reprise their roles years and even decades later (most notably Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith).
A change of identity [edit | edit source]
The next major turning point in the series occurred in 1966 when the actor playing the First Doctor, William Hartnell, left the series. Rather than introduce a new leading character, replace Hartnell with no explanation or simply cancel the series, the producers, with input from Sydney Newman, chose to establish the Doctor's ability to regenerate into a new person when injured or near death. This led to the dramatic - and successful - transition to Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor at the conclusion of The Tenth Planet, a serial that was in itself notable for introducing the franchise's second most popular recurring villains, the Cybermen.
The intro for the 1967 serial The Macra Terror was iconic for incorporating the current Doctor's face to the sequence as a permanent installment.
The Doctor's race was not established as being Time Lords until the last of Troughton's stories, The War Games in 1969. This story also featured the Doctor's home planet for the first time.
The experiment of regenerating the Doctor occurred again in 1970 with the introduction of one-time comic actor Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor, a move that also coincided with the series changing to color production. Once again, this was successful and Doctor Who continued to establish itself as a British TV institution, although it remained virtually unknown in American markets.
The term "regeneration", however wasn't coined until the ending of Pertwee's era, Planet of the Spiders in 1974.
Target Books [edit | edit source]
In 1973, Target Books reissued a trilogy of novelizations from the mid-1960s, and in 1974 began to issue its own adaptations of televised episodes. In a time before home video recorders and commercial release of TV series on tape and DVD and when rebroadcasts were rare and many old episodes were thought lost, the target line became a popular and valued aspect of the growing Doctor Who franchise; the books would be published into the mid-1990s. A unique feature of the Target line (in fact dating back to the first novelizations published by Frederick Muller) is that many of the books were written by either the original scriptwriters or by individuals with strong behind-the-scenes connections to the series, such as Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks, David Whitaker, etc., all of whom worked in script editing or producing capacities on the series. In the late 70s, about a dozen of the Target novels were reprinted in American editions by Pinnacle Books, with introductions by noted science fiction author Harlan Ellison, who added to the franchise's prestige by placing it higher in his estimation than Star Trek.
The Tom Baker years [edit | edit source]
The series continued through the 1970s, with Tom Baker taking on the role of the Fourth Doctor in 1974. Baker became the most iconic, and arguably most popular actor of the classic series. This was due in part to the frequent rebroadcasts of his episodes in the United Kingdom, which began during his tenure. He was the first "young" Doctor and played the role for more seasons (seven) than any actor to date. Other actors have been considered the "current" Doctor for longer, but without regular television appearances. Near the end of the Tom Baker era, the BBC attempted a spin-off series, K9 and Company, but it never went beyond a pilot episode, A girl's best friend.
The US broadcasts of Doctor Who were initially poorly done, with some broadcasters airing a version with narration explaining the plot. By the late 1970s, however, the series was firmly entrenched in the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), which would air the show repeatedly over the next three decades and air the revived series after 2004.
The 1974 serial Robot began featuring the TARDIS in the intro sequence, a feature that lasted until The Leisure Hive in 1980.
In 1976, season 13 episode 5 The Brain of Morbius aired, which saw a mindbending contest take place between the Doctor and evil Time Lord Morbius in which no less than 8 faces appeared meant to be faces of the Doctor prior to William Hartnell's First Doctor. While Philip Hinchcliffe would go on to state that he intended to imply that Hartnell wasn't the first, many fans of the show blatantly dismissed this, concluding that it either wasn't valid, that they were the faces of Morbius amongst others. Indeed multiple other stories would back these statements by firmly continuing to put Hartnell's version as being the original Doctor.
In 1979, Doctor Who saw its first
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