Progress Notes

Dr. Who

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One of the guys I work with is a huge science fiction fan, all subtypes, even though he is kind of fussy. I asked him if he was enjoying the new Season of Dr. Who. He answered that he had never gotten into the show and asked me what it was that I saw in it. I didn't have a ready answer but I mentioned that it was sort of a tradition and it was light entertainment. We were busy, the subject got changed, and I never did finish the thought.

I wish I could say that I have watched Dr. Who all my life but I haven't. I have watched it off and on for a very long time though and I think its longevity and constant change make it a unique program. When I first read that the producers dealt with the change of lead actors by writing that into the show as a regular feature to be expected, I admired their cleverness. Dr. Who has also changed to reflect the times and the taste of the period. I have studied the concept of the Zeitgeist in literature and it applies especially to science fiction, which is almost always written within the framework of cutting edge science at that time. Frankenstein was about biology, chemistry, anatomy and electricity, the latest thing when Mary Shelley wrote. We had stories about submarines and lost civilizations. Films of the 1950s were about atomic energy, then space, and now we have films and stories about genetic splicing, cloning...and so it goes. Dr. Who is about travel in time and space and over the years it has changed to reflect cultural evolution: mores, fashions, manners, language. Each successive Dr. Who has been different and the difference has often been to make him conform to the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times.

The first Dr. Who I recall was Jon Pertwee and for a long time thereafter he was the essential Doctor to me. He was sophisticated, somewhat distant and brusque, and compared to the companions seemed impossibly old. Tom Baker was a big change, meant to appeal to a different generation, as were Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. I know Tom Baker was wildly popular in the role but to me he, and most of the others named seemed clownish and un-serious. By then, though, I was of an age that should have outgrown Dr. Who so I never gave it much thought.

Years went by and when I picked up the show again, Christopher Eccleston was the Doctor and while he was not a favorite of mine, he represented a new direction, more serious, more mature in approach and more studly. He gave the show a much needed facelift. Then David Tennant changed it all again. He was a known quantity and well liked as an actor before he became the Doctor. People said, "Dr. Who got David Tennant? Wow!" He delivered, too. He brought high energy, some of the old fierceness, some vulnerability and a lot of yelling from time to time. People were sad to see him finish his run and he seemed to be sad about it too. His finale was glorious and he not only did he not hurt his career a bit by playing the Doctor, he added something to the show that set a standard the next guy was going to have a hard time meeting.

The next guy turned out to be Matt Smith, who brought a lot of the same qualities while seeming even younger than David Tennant. He made the role his very quickly with a neat assist from companion Amy Pond, a unique companion in her origin and personality, played by Karen Giilan. Now he has the latest companion, Clara, who is a bit of a return to the pretty young girl--but this time with a mysterious past. Dr. Who just keeps rolling along, flying the TARDIS to Who knows where.

Dr. Who is about big things. Time, space, saving the world from certain destruction by (nearly) invincible enemies and doing the right thing in all of the big things and most of the small things. Dr. Who is going to get the companion back home in time for the wedding. Unmarked, probably. Dr. Who will not only go back into the burning building after a friend, he will go back after someone he doesn't like very much. You can watch Dr. Who and not worry that you child or your grandmother will be offended by anything they see or hear. You can miss a few episodes and catch up later or not at all. It won't matter too much if you do. You will smile at times and if you pay close attention you will catch some witty dialogue. You may not be moved or challenged or in any way changed by what you see on Dr. Who. You will be entertained. That's what I see in Dr. Who.


  1. tomi01uk's Avatar
    Having never watched it before even once, I now know that I would probably like to.
    Good piece of writing on Dr Who and really helps to understand the popularity it still has.
  2. Doc's Avatar
    Thank you very much! I worry that I bore my friends to tears with some of these interests of mine. Dr.Who is a permanent part of my life. I'd be happy if someone else finds an interest and some enjoyment out of it, too. I met someone today who mentioned Netflix and watching old series, including Dr. Who. We were debating our favorite recent Drs and having a great time within minutes. Good times!