Doctor Who

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The Doctor Who 2005 television series logo.


Doctor Who is a long-running British science fiction television programme produced by the BBC about a mysterious time-travelling adventurer known only as "The Doctor". It is also the title of a 1996 television movie featuring the same character. It is common to see the show's title abbreviated as Dr. Who, even by the BBC, although purists consider this form incorrect.

The programme is a significant part of British popular culture, widely recognised for its creative storytelling and use of innovative music (originally produced by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop). It is also known for its innovative use of low-budget special effects for most of its history. Elements of the programme are extremely well known and identifiable even to non-fans. In Britain and elsewhere, the show has become a cult television favourite on a par with Star Trek and has influenced generations of British television writers, many of whom grew up watching the series. Doctor Who was ranked third in a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes of the twentieth century, produced by the British Film Institute in 2000 and voted on by industry professionals. In 2005, the series came first in a survey by SFX magazine of "The Greatest UK Science Fiction and Fantasy Television Series Ever".

After a long period off screen, a new series of Doctor Who started in 2005, continuing the programme from the original 1963–1989 run and the 1996 television movie. It is produced in-house by BBC Wales with some development money contributed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). The 2005 series has concluded in the United Kingdom.

A special Children in Need "mini-episode" was broadcast on 18 November 2005, and the programme returned for a special on Christmas Day 2005. This will be followed by a second series, with a second Christmas special for 2006 and a third series in 2007.

Production of the 2006 series is currently underway, starring David Tennant as the Doctor and Billie Piper as his companion Rose Tyler.



The Doctor Who 'diamond' logo, used in the show's opening titles from 1973 to 1980.
Main article: History of Doctor Who

Doctor Who first appeared on BBC television at 5:15 p.m. (GMT) on November 23 1963. The programme was born out of discussions and plans that had been going on for a year. Head of Drama, Sydney Newman was mainly responsible for developing it, with contributions by the Head of the Script Department (later Head of Serials) Donald Wilson, staff writer C. E. 'Bunny' Webber, writer Anthony Coburn, story editor David Whitaker and initial producer Verity Lambert. The series' distinctive and haunting title theme was composed by Ron Grainer and realised by Delia Derbyshire.

The BBC drama department's Serials division produced the programme in-house for the following twenty-six seasons, on BBC One. Falling viewing figures, a decline in the public perception of the show and a less prominent transmission slot saw it suspended as an ongoing series in 1989 by Jonathan Powell, Controller of BBC One. While in-house production had ceased, the BBC was hopeful of finding an independent production company to re-launch the show. Philip Segal, a British expatriate who worked for Columbia Pictures' television arm in the United States, approached the BBC about such a venture.

Segal's negotiations eventually led to a television movie. The movie was broadcast on the Fox Network in 1996 as a co-production between Fox, Universal Pictures, the BBC, and BBC Worldwide. However, although the film was successful in the UK (with audited viewing figures of 9.1 million), it was less so in the United States and did not lead to a series. Although licensed media such as novels and audio plays provided new stories, the programme remained dormant until 2003. In September of that year, BBC Television announced the production of a new in-house series after several years of unsuccessful attempts by BBC Worldwide to find backing for a feature film version.

The new series debuted with the episode Rose on BBC One on March 26 2005; Canada's CBC on April 5 2005; Australia's ABC on May 21 2005; and on Prime TV in New Zealand from July 7, 2005. It is scheduled to debut in France's France 4 channel on November 5, 2005. No première date or broadcaster has been announced for the United States. The American Sci-Fi Channel was briefly said to be interested in acquiring the US rights, but withdrew after the network previewed several episodes.

On March 30, 2005, the BBC commissioned a second series and a Christmas special. On June 15, it was announced that a third series and a second Christmas special had been commissioned.


During the original 1963–1989 run, each of the weekly episodes formed part of a contained story (or "serial") consisting of several parts — usually either four to six in earlier years and three to four in later years. Three notable exceptions were the epic The Daleks' Master Plan, which aired in 12 episodes (plus a one-episode teaser entitled Mission to the Unknown, featuring none of the regular cast); the 10-episode serial The War Games; and The Trial of a Time Lord, which ran for 14 episodes (containing four stories often referred to by individual titles, and connected by framing sequences) during Season 23.

The programme was devised to be partly educational and for family viewing on the early Saturday evening schedule. The idea was to alternate stories set during important periods of human history (such as the French Revolution, the Roman Empire, or the Battle of Culloden Moor), which would educate younger audience members about history, with stories set either in the future or in outer space, which would educate them about science. This was also reflected in the make-up of the Doctor's original companions, one of whom was a science teacher and another a history teacher.

In practice, however, science fiction stories proved to be far more popular with the viewing public, and the "historicals" were dropped entirely after the first few years. While the series continued to make use of historical settings throughout its run, they were generally used as a backdrop for science fiction themed tales. The series featured only one more purely historical story during its original run, the 1982 serial Black Orchid, set in 1920s Britain. The programme also rapidly became a national institution, to the point where many renowned actors — both serious and comedic — asked for or accepted guest starring roles in various stories.

Doctor Who originally ran for 26 seasons on the BBC, from November 23, 1963 until December 6, 1989. Writers over the years have included Terry Nation, Henry Lincoln, Douglas Adams, Robert Holmes, Terrance Dicks, Dennis Spooner, Eric Saward, Malcolm Hulke, Christopher H. Bidmead, Stephen Gallagher, Brian Hayles, Chris Boucher, Marc Platt and Ben Aaronovitch.

As of June 2005, approximately 709 individual Doctor Who installments have been televised since 1963, ranging in length from 25-minute chapters (the most common format), to two feature-length productions (1983's The Five Doctors and the 1996 television movie).

The serial format changed for the 2005 revival. Series 1 consisted of thirteen 45-minute self-contained episodes (60 minutes with commercials in Canada), with three two-parters and a loose story arc whose elements were brought together in the season finale. For the new show, Russell T. Davies is principal writer and executive producer, with Mark Gatiss, Paul Cornell, Robert Shearman, and Steven Moffat also contributing scripts. It is expected that Doctor Who will surpass the number of individual instalments of the Star Trek franchise (around 726 episodes) during the third season of the new series.

The Doctor


The character of the Doctor was initially shrouded in mystery. All that was known about him was that he had a granddaughter, Susan, that she was born "in another time, another world", and that both of them were exiles. He also possessed a time-travelling machine called the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension(s) In Space), which is dimensionally transcendental (larger on the inside than on the outside), and seemingly never fully under his control. The TARDIS originally had the ability to disguise itself according to its environment, but became "stuck" in the form of a police box after landing in London in 1963, and has remained in that shape ever since (give or take the occasional attempt to fix it). Originally an irascible and highly irritable character, the Doctor was quickly shown to be a man of great intelligence and compassion, who abhorred evil in the universe and would always help others if he could.

Over time, it was revealed that the Doctor was from an extraterrestrial race known as the Time Lords from the planet Gallifrey. The circumstances under which he left his planet were only vaguely alluded to, but were at least partly due to the restrictive nature of Time Lord society, their rules against interfering with the rest of the universe, and his own desire to explore time and space. In the 1996 television movie it was revealed that the Doctor is half-human (on his mother's side), a revelation which proved controversial in some sections of fandom.

The Doctor, like all Time Lords, has the ability to "regenerate" his body when he dies, something he can do twelve times. The production team created this concept to allow for re-casting of the part when an actor wanted to leave or otherwise needed to be replaced. So far, ten actors have played the part for television (including the 1996 television movie and the 2005 revival). The actors to play the Doctor, and their tenures, are as follows:

  1. William Hartnell (1963–1966)
  2. Patrick Troughton (1966–1969)
  3. Jon Pertwee (1970–1974)
  4. Tom Baker (1974–1981)
  5. Peter Davison (1981–1984)
  6. Colin Baker (1984–1986)
  7. Sylvester McCoy (1987–1989, 1996)
  8. Paul McGann (1996)
  9. Christopher Eccleston (2005)
  10. David Tennant (2005–present)
Richard Hurndall played the part of the First Doctor in the 20th anniversary telemovie The Five Doctors in 1983, as William Hartnell had died in 1975. Other actors have also played the Doctor, though rarely more than once; see the list of actors who have played the Doctor for details.

Prior to 2005, the regeneration was always worked into the storyline. However, in the documentary series Doctor Who Confidential Davies revealed his reasoning that, after such a long hiatus, a regeneration in the first episode would not just be confusing for new viewers but also lack dramatic impact, as there would be no emotional investment in the character before he was replaced. Accordingly, the 2005 series began with the Ninth Doctor (played by Christopher Eccleston) already regenerated, with no appearance by the Eighth Doctor (previously played by Paul McGann). It is unlikely that the regeneration of the Eighth Doctor to the Ninth will be seen on screen. The Ninth Doctor does comment on his own appearance in Rose, suggesting the regeneration happened recently.

Eccleston departed at the end of the 2005 series, and regenerated, in The Parting of the Ways, into the Tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant.


Billie Piper as Rose Tyler, one of the Doctor's current companions
The Doctor almost invariably shares his adventures with up to three companions (the only exception being the serial The Deadly Assassin, in which he travels alone). The idea of the companion is to provide a surrogate for the audience to identify with and to further the story by asking questions and getting into trouble. The Doctor regularly gains new companions and loses old ones; sometimes they return home or find new causes — or loves — on worlds they have visited. Some companions have even died during the course of the series.

There are some disputes as to the definition of a companion, but fans mostly agree that at least twenty-nine (including K-9 Marks I and II) meet the criteria for "companion" status in the television series, with others being established in the various spin-offs. For further details, see the notes in List of Doctor Who supporting characters.

Despite the fact that the majority of the Doctor's companions are young, attractive females, the series maintained a longstanding taboo against any overt romantic involvement in the TARDIS. However, that has not prevented fans from speculating about possible romantic involvements, most notably between the Fourth Doctor and the Time Lady Romana (whose actors Tom Baker and Lalla Ward shared a romance and brief marriage in real life). The taboo was controversially broken in the 1996 television movie when the Eighth Doctor was shown kissing companion Grace Holloway. The 2005 series played with this idea by having various characters think that the Ninth Doctor and Rose Tyler were a couple, which they vehemently denied.

Previous companions have reappeared in the series, usually for anniversary specials. One former companion, Sarah Jane Smith (played by Elisabeth Sladen), will guest star in an episode of the 2006 series together with robot dog K-9, their first appearance in the programme since the 20th Anniversary story The Five Doctors (1983).


The Daleks are perhaps the best known adversaries faced by the Doctor.

When Sydney Newman commissioned the series, he specifically did not want to perpetuate the cliché of the "bug-eyed monster" of science fiction. However, monsters were a staple of Doctor Who almost from the beginning and audiences responded to them.

Notable adversaries of the Doctor include the Autons, the Cybermen, the Sontarans, the Ice Warriors, the Yeti, the Silurians, and the Master, a rival Time Lord with a thirst for universal conquest. Of all the monsters and villains, the ones that ensured the series' place in the public's imagination were the Daleks. The Daleks are lethal mutants in tank-like mechanical armour from the planet Skaro. Their chief role in the great scheme of things, as they frequently remark in their instantly recognisable metallic voices, is to "Exterminate!" Davros, the Daleks' fictional creator, also became a recurring villain after he was introduced.

The Daleks were created by writer Terry Nation (who intended them as an allegory of the Nazis) and BBC designer Raymond Cusick. Nation also wrote for 1960s telefantasy like The Avengers. He later created the 1970s science fiction programmes Survivors and Blake's 7 and was a writer for the popular American series MacGyver. The Daleks' debut in the programme's second serial, The Daleks, caused a tremendous reaction in the viewership ratings, and put Doctor Who on the map. The Daleks even appeared on a postage stamp celebrating British popular culture in 1999, photographed by Lord Snowdon.


Main article: Doctor Who theme music

The original 1963 arrangement of the Doctor Who theme music, as composed by Ron Grainer and realised by Delia Derbyshire at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, is widely regarded as a significant and innovative piece of electronic music, working from tape loops of an individually struck piano string and individual test oscillators and filters. The Derbyshire arrangement served, with minor edits, as the theme tune up to the end of Season 17.

A more modern and dynamic arrangement was composed by Peter Howell for Season 18 (1980), which was in turn replaced by Dominic Glynn's less well received arrangement for Season 23's The Trial of a Time Lord (1986). Keff McCulloch provided the new arrangement for the Seventh Doctor's era which lasted from Season 24 (1987) until the series' suspension in 1989. For the new series in 2005, Murray Gold provided a new arrangement which featured samples from the 1963 original with further elements added.

In the early 1970s, Jon Pertwee, who had played the Third Doctor, recorded a version of the Doctor Who Theme with spoken lyrics, entitled, "Who Is The Doctor". In 1988 the band The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (later known as The KLF) released the single "Doctorin' The Tardis" under the name The Timelords, which reached No. 1 in the UK. Others who have covered or reinterpreted the theme include Orbital, the Australian string ensemble Fourplay, The Pogues, Pink Floyd and the comedian Bill Bailey. The theme tune has also appeared on many compilation CDs and has even made its way to the world of mobile phone ring tones.


The image of the TARDIS is iconic in British popular culture.

Doctor Who has always appeared on the BBC's mainstream BBC One channel, drawing audiences of many millions of viewers. It was most popular in the late 1970s, when audiences frequently averaged as high as 12 million viewers per airing. During the ITV network strike of 1979, viewership peaked at 16 million. No first-run episode of Doctor Who has ever drawn fewer than three million viewers on BBC One, although its late 1980s performance of three to five million regular viewers was seen as being poor at the time, and was, according to the BBC Board of Control, a leading cause of the programme's 1989 suspension. Some fans considered this excuse disingenuous, since the programme was scheduled against the soap opera Coronation Street, the most popular show at the time (as it is also today). The BBC One broadcast of Rose, the first episode of the 2005 revival, drew an average audience of 10.81 million, No. 3 for BBC One that week and No. 7 across all channels.

The programme also gained a strong following in Australia, where it continues to be screened repeatedly due to the close connections between the BBC and Australia's major public broadcaster, the ABC. It has a fan base in the United States as well, where it was shown in syndication through the 1970s and 1980s, particularly on PBS stations (see Doctor Who in America).

Only four episodes have ever had their premiere showings on channels other than BBC One. The 1983 twentieth anniversary special The Five Doctors had its debut on November 23 (the actual date of the anniversary) on the Chicago PBS station WTTW-TV in the United States and various other PBS members two days prior to its BBC One broadcast. The 1988 story Silver Nemesis was broadcast with all three episodes edited together in compilation form on TVNZ in New Zealand in November, after the first episode had been shown in the UK but before the final two instalments had aired there. Finally, the 1996 television movie premiered on May 12 on Citytv in Toronto, Canada, fifteen days before the BBC One showing.

There was some controversy over the show's suitability for children. Moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse made a series of complaints to the BBC in the 1970s over its sometimes frightening or gory content. Ironically, her actions made the programme even more popular, especially with children. Producer John Nathan-Turner was heard to say that he looked forward to Whitehouse's comments, as the show's ratings would increase soon after she had made them.

During the 1970s, the Radio Times, the BBC's own listings magazine, announced that a child's mother said the theme music terrified her son. The Radio Times was apologetic, but the theme music remained.

There were more complaints about the programme's content than its music. During Jon Pertwee's second season as the Doctor, in the serial Terror of the Autons, images of murderous plastic dolls, daffodils killing unsuspecting victims and blank-featured android policemen marked the apex of the show's ability to frighten children. Other notable moments in that decade included the Doctor apparently being drowned by Chancellor Goth in The Deadly Assassin, and the supposedly negative portrayal of Chinese immigrants in The Talons of Weng-Chiang.

It has been said that watching Doctor Who from a position of safety "behind the sofa" (as the Doctor Who exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image in London was titled) and peering cautiously out to see if the scary bit was over is one of the great shared experiences of British childhood. The phrase has become a common phrase in association with the programme and occasionally elsewhere.

A wide selection of serials is available from BBC Video on VHS and DVD, on sale in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States. Every fully extant serial has been released on VHS, and BBC Worldwide continues to release serials on DVD on a regular basis. One disc of episodes from the 2005 series is even available on UMD, with more releases planned. The latest series has been generally receiving an audience of about 7.5 million, with the highest so far being 10.81 million for the debut episode, Rose.

As of 2005, the new series has been, or is currently, broadcast weekly in Canada (CBC), Australia (ABC), France (France 4), Italy (Jimmy), New Zealand (Prime TV), Norway (NRK), Belgium (één) and KBS in South Korea — the first time a British drama series has been sold to a Korean public station. The series has also been sold to, but not yet shown in, Hungary (RTL Klub), Germany (Pro 7), Denmark (station not yet announced), Finland (TV2), Sweden (SVT), the Netherlands (NED 3), Israel (Yes Weekend) and the Arabian Peninsula / North Africa (Style UK).

Missing episodes


The First Doctor (William Hartnell) collapses prior to his regeneration. (From the surviving clip of The Tenth Planet, episode 4.)

Sometime between about 1967 and 1978 large amounts of older material stored in the BBC's video tape and film libraries were destroyed or wiped. This included many old episodes of Doctor Who, and mostly affects the first two Doctors — William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton. Archival holdings are complete from the programme's move to colour television (starting from Jon Pertwee's time as the Doctor), although a few Pertwee episodes have required substantial restoration work. In all, 108 of 253 episodes produced during the first six years of the programme are not currently held in the BBC's archives.

Some episodes have been returned to the BBC from the archives of other countries who bought copies for broadcast, or by private individuals who came into possession of copies by various means. Early colour videotape recordings made off-air by fans have also been retrieved, as well as small excerpts recovered on 8mm cine film from clips shown on other programmes. Audio versions of all of the lost episodes exist from home viewers making tape recordings of the show.

In addition to these, there also exist photographs made by photographer John Cura, who was hired by the BBC to document the filming of many of their most popular programmes during the 1950s and 1960s, including Doctor Who. These have been used in fan reconstructions of the serials. These amateur reconstructions have been tolerated by the BBC, provided they are not sold for profit and distributed as low quality VHS copies.

The most sought-after lost episode is Part Four of the last William Hartnell serial, The Tenth Planet, which ends with the First Doctor transforming into the Second. The only portion of this still in existence, bar a few poor quality silent 8mm clips, is the few seconds of the regeneration scene. With the approval of the BBC, efforts are now under way to restore as many of the episodes as possible from the extant material.

Starting in the early 1990s, the BBC began to release existing audio recordings of missing serials on audio cassette and compact disc, with linking narration provided by former series actors. "Official" reconstructions have also been released by the BBC on VHS as well as MP3 CD-ROM.

Adaptations and other appearances

Doctor Who has appeared on stage numerous times. In the early 1970s, Trevor Martin played the role in Doctor Who and the Daleks in the Seven Keys to Doomsday which also featured former companion actress Wendy Padbury (Pertwee's Doctor made a cameo appearance via film). In the early 1990s, Jon Pertwee and Colin Baker both played the Doctor at different times during the run of a musical play entitled Doctor Who - The Ultimate Adventure. For two performances while Pertwee was ill, David Banks (best known for playing various Cybermen) played the Doctor. Other original plays have been staged as amateur productions, with other actors playing the Doctor, while Terry Nation wrote Curse of the Daleks, a stage play mounted in the late 1960s, but without the Doctor.

The Doctor has also appeared in two cinema films: Dr. Who and the Daleks in 1965 and Daleks - Invasion Earth 2150 AD in 1966. Both were essentially retellings of existing stories on the big screen, with a larger budget and numerous alterations to the series concept. In these films, Peter Cushing played a human scientist named Dr. Who, who travelled with his two granddaughters and other companions in a time machine he invented. Due to this and numerous other changes (not to mention the storylines that duplicated televised episodes), the movies are not regarded as part of the ongoing continuity of the series, although the Cushing version of the character would reappear in both comic strip and literary form, the latter attempting to reconcile the film continuity with that of the series.

A pilot episode for a potential spin-off series, K-9 and Company, was aired in 1981 with Elisabeth Sladen reprising her role as companion Sarah Jane Smith and John Leeson as the voice of K-9, but was not picked up as a regular series.

In 1997, a PC computer game (using voices of all television Doctors from the third to the seventh, and imitations of the first two incarnations) based on the television series was released by BBC Multimedia. Called Destiny of the Doctors, it featured attempts by the Master (reprised by Anthony Ainley) to eradicate the Doctor's seven past incarnations from the universe. Although it was well-received by fans and critics alike, its place in the canon is almost impossible to work out.

Doctor Who books have been published from the mid-sixties through to the present day. The Doctor has also appeared in many audio plays and webcasts. See Doctor Who spin-offs for more details.

On 17 October 2005, The Independent reported that the BBC had commissioned Davies to produce a 13-part spin-off series titled Torchwood (an anagram of "Doctor Who"), set in modern-day Britain and investigating alien activities and crime. The series will star John Barrowman, playing his Doctor Who character of Jack Harkness, and will premiere in Summer 2006. [1]

Charity episodes

In 1993, coinciding with the series' 30th anniversary, a charity special entitled Dimensions in Time was produced in aid of Children in Need, featuring all of the surviving actors who played the Doctor and a number of previous companions. Not taken seriously by many, the story had the Rani opening a hole in time, cycling the Doctor and his companions through his previous incarnations and menacing them with monsters from the show's past. It also featured a crossover with the soap opera EastEnders, the action taking place in the latter's Albert Square location and around Greenwich, including the Cutty Sark. The special was one of several special 3D programmes the BBC produced at the time, using a 3D system that made use of the Pulfrich effect requiring glasses with one darkened lens.

In 1999, another special, Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death, was made for Red Nose Day and later released on VHS. An affectionate parody of the television series, it was split into four segments, mimicking the traditional serial format, complete with cliffhangers. (The version released on video was split into only two episodes.) In the story, the Doctor (Rowan Atkinson) encounters both the Master (Jonathan Pryce) and the Daleks. During the special the Doctor is forced to regenerate several times, with his subsequent incarnations played by, in order, Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, and Joanna Lumley. The script was written by comedy writer Steven Moffat, who contributed two scripts to the 2005 series and will write one script for the 2006 series.

As noted above, on November 18, 2005, an untitled 7-minute "mini-episode", set in the immediate aftermath of The Parting of the Ways and leading directly into The Christmas Invasion, was shown as part of the Children in Need telethon.

Other programmes

The Doctor in his fourth incarnation (Tom Baker) has been represented on several episodes of The Simpsons, starting with the episode "Sideshow Bob's Last Gleaming" where (along with Krusty the Clown and Steve Urkel) he was part of a delegation to the Pentagon of "the esteemed representatives of television". The episode was broadcast the week of Doctor Who's 33rd anniversary. He was also in the episode "Treehouse of Horror X", where he had been kidnapped by an evil science-fiction-crazed villain.

Jon Culshaw frequently impersonates the Fourth Doctor in the BBC Dead Ringers series. Culshaw's "Doctor" has telephoned four of the "real" Doctors — Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy — in character as the Fourth Doctor. This prompted the bemused (and confused) McCoy to ask the classic question: "Have you been in the pub?". When Culshaw phoned Tom Baker himself and stated that he "was the Doctor", Baker replied, "But there must be some mistake...I'm The Doctor..." Both Baker and McCoy had previously worked with Culshaw and were aware of his impression of Baker but not when the calls would come, if at all, so their reactions were genuine.

See also



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