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WHO would have guessed? 15 Doctors and still going strong

With Ncuti Gatwa about to start his stint as the 15th incarnation of the legendary Time Lord, WALLACE JONES previews six decades of the cult TV drama.


Doctor Who originated as the brainchild of BBC’s new Head of Drama, Sydney Newman, in 1963. He wanted a time travel show to fill the early Saturday evening slot between sports programme Grandstand and the pop music review show Juke Box Jury. It was originally aimed at entertaining a young audience whilst educating them about various historic events.


Six decades later, the dystopian adventure fan-favourite, based around the person known only as The Doctor who travels time and space in a police-box-shaped time machine (bigger on the inside than the outside), is a worldwide phenomenon, branching out into spin off graphic novels, podcast adventures, fan fiction, radio dramas and TV series such as Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures.


From the First Doctor (William Hartnell), to the most recent Doctors (Jodie Whittaker and David Tennant), Doctor Who has enchanted viewers with its invigorating plots, his relationship with his favourite species (humans), and terrifying, often recurring villains. Doctor Who’s cultural impact is such that is has been depicted in a variety of popular media such as Cars 2, Big Hero 6, Derry Girls and Family Guy.


The Time Lords and Gallifrey

The origins of the Doctor himself were a mystery to TV watchers in the 1960s, until it was revealed in 1969’s ‘The War Games’ – the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) story - that he is one of a mysterious race called the Time Lords. The name of his home planet – Gallifrey – was not revealed for another four years near the end of John Pertwee’s stint as the Third Doctor.


The Doctor travels in a time travel capsule called the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) which he stole from Gallifrey because he was bored with the Time Lord rule that they should not interfere with events elsewhere. The series portrays his travels across time and space with both human and alien companions, coming face-to-face with invasions, the destruction of planets, and a variety of other dystopian plotlines. Initially used as a quick fix because William Hartnell was too ill to continue in his role during Season 4 in 1966, the show’s writers introduced the idea that the doctor could ‘regenerate’ so they could cast another actor in the role. That stroke of genius has allowed the programme to continue with a range of actors allowing it to be refreshed and rebooted several times.


From Hartnell to Gatwa

The original series was launched in 1963 with William Hartnell as the Doctor and was cancelled in 1989 at the end of Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy’s stint. A one-off TV movie in which McCoy regenerates into Paul McGann was released in 1996. This era - known as ‘Old Who’ amongst ‘Whovians’- was iconic for providing key backstory and its introduction of the Doctor’s original companions Susan (known only as the Doctor’s granddaughter), Ian and Barbara. Later companions such as Sarah Jane Smith, Ace, Tegan and Mel all became fan favourites as the programme progressed and since made return appearances in the revamped show which was relaunched under Russell T Davies in 2005. During this time, villains such as the Daleks, the Cybermen (who both appeared during the first Doctor’s adventures), the Sontarans and fellow Time Lord The Master, were portrayed as frightening and memorable foes whose goals largely consisted of the conquering of humanity or worse, the whole universe.


The modern era of Doctor Who - known as ‘New Who’ – was launched in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor. In these series, the Doctors fought an array of classic villains whilst fending off new ones such as the Weeping Angels and The Silence.


The Return of Tennant


Each Doctor has their own adoring fanbases, but it is safe to say that the 10th Doctor played by David Tennant has been one of the most popular. At the end of the last series, Tennant surprisingly reappeared after Jodie Whittaker’s 13th Doctor (the first female incarnation) regenerated into the Tennant version as the 14th Doctor. Tennant has just played the role in a three-episode special for the 60th anniversary celebration. Holding the knowledge only a Time Lord can possess and reunited with favoured companion Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), the specials included the introduction of a comic book villain called The Meep (voiced by Miriam Margolyes), and The Toymaker who originally appeared in a 1966 First Doctor story, now played by Neil Patrick Harris. In Tennant’s last battle – with The Toymaker - we saw him ‘bigenerate’ so that the 15th Doctor, Sex Education actor Ncuti Gatwa, emerged as a split-off from the Tennant Doctor.


This exciting comeback and the complete Doctor Who TV canon (apart from a few missing episodes) can be watched on BBC iPlayer. The Xmas Special starring Ncuti Gatwa in his first full outing as the 15th Doctor, and new companion Ruby Sunday (Millie Gibson), will be broadcast on Xmas Day.




Written by Wallace Jones


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