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Whoniversal Classics (1984)

1984-11-20 Wall Street Journal.jpg

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It was a few minutes past 11 one night. This reviewer was muttering curses, not loud but deep, disappointed because his trusty PBS channel had just begun to rerun, by blunder, Part One of a new adventure of "Dr. Who" from the night before. A moment later, a "crawler" flowed across the TV screen: "Whovians, please hang up your phones. Part Two will be seen tomorrow night."

Significantly, this university-operated channel also serves two other major university communities close by, with an international research center and a sprinkle of colleges thrown in. The cries of grief and anger jamming the station's phones came from professors, students, scientists, literary types like me, and a general cross-section of highbrow specimens, not from the long tucked-abed kiddies for whom the BBC's famous series first was created.

ou have entered a world far more seductive than any twilight zone. You couldn't find a more wholesome pop hero for young or old. The Doctor is supernally wise but engagingly, absent-mindedly fallible in nonfatal mistakes. He is utterly good, funny, valiant, bravely selfless unto pain and even "death," for he has had four of the 12 regenerations into different personalities that a Time Lord may have. He loves Earth and humankind though they are neither his planet nor his species.

At hand is a small stack of books, all imported from England, distributed by American publishers. The most important volume for devotees, in large-format hardcover, is "Dr. Who: A Celebration: Two Decades Through Time and Space," edited by Peter Haining (W.H. Allen, London, distributed in the U.S. by Lyle Stuart, 256 pages, illustrated, $19.95).

It celebrated, on Nov. 23, 1983, the 20th anniversary of the series. If you snarl that I am a year late, I can only plead that the Doctor himself has been known to materialize his time/space vehicle, the TARDIS, as much as 30,000 years off target, serendipitously rescuing the whole universe. A Johnny-come-lately, I was just beginning to be a fan a year ago; anyhow, I am materializing just in time to alert you to the Doctor's 21st anniversary.

There was a special show at the 20th, "The Five Doctors," which alas I did not see. But beside me is its novelized version, a 128-page paperback import distributed by Lyle Stuart (currently $2.95). There are scads of paperbacks, as nearly all the usually four-part sequences of half-hour adventures generate a spinoff. In England there are also Dr. Who magazines, comic books, exhibitions and one theater film. "Dr. Who" is a genuine cultural phenomenon, loved by all ages. Facets of the series and facts about it, far beyond what a short piece can list, are in the encyclopedic hardcover "Celebration."

"Dr. Who's" 21-year run is "unmatched in television history." One of the BBC's most successful productions by any reckoning, it is seen in 39 countries by an audience of 100 million. The by-product books appear in more than a score of languages. The show's most-hated menaces are the mechanized Daleks, the creation of scriptwriter Terry Nation. "Dalek" made it into Volume I (1972) of the massive Supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary.

The beloved Doctor is a Gallifreyan, has two hearts, and is at least 750 years old (he has a 500-year diary). Like his fellow Time Lords, he has an indefinite life span. His 12 possible regenerations beat a cat's nine lives. The Doctor is in his 4th, meaning that five actors have played him, each in his own style: William Hartnell (deceased), Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker and the current one, Peter Davison (remembered as younger brother Tristan Farnon in "All Creatures Great and Small"). "Who" is not a surname. He is simply "the Doctor," to which "Doctor who?" is a natural rejoinder.

In the copiously illustrated hardcover book (one section in color), Mr. Haining includes contributions by 11 other hands: the five doctors, the first producer, several scriptwriters and more. Its last section, "The Whoniverse," includes thumbnail synopses of 20 years of adventures.

A slender paperback, in an 8 1/2-by-11 3/4 format, "The Doctor Who Technical Manual" (distributed by Random House, 62 pages, $3.95), is extensively illustrated by drawings, with a few color plates. It contains detailed diagrammatic sketches of the major devices in the series. The TARDIS (acronym for Time and Relative Dimensions in Space), outwardly a small, blue London police phone box with a light on top, is enormous inside, with elaborate controls.

The TARDIS materializes and dematerializes with a pulsating, grinding, churning noise like a sick robot about to upchuck undigested nuts and bolts. One of the most lovable of all the inventions, the robot dog, K-9, seemingly is retired for keeps like many of the Doctor's human companions over the 21 years. All are in the hardcover book.

My favorite Doctor was Jon Pertwee; my next, Tom Baker. Getting used to Mr. Baker was hard when he succeeded Mr. Pertwee with a somewhat Harpo-Marxist style. That similitude quickly faded, and Mr. Baker's Doctor, often fey, can also be gravely heroic. Much as I liked Peter Davison as Tristan Farnon, I have not yet adjusted to his youthful Doctor and half expect him to do veterinary surgery on K9.

Unless you are put off by the whole notion of the Whoniverse, a trip in the TARDIS with the Doctor and friends is a brief respite from bad time or bad space.

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to whovian@cuttingsarchive.org

  • APA 6th ed.: Fuller, Edmund (1984-11-20). Whoniversal Classics. The Wall Street Journal .
  • MLA 7th ed.: Fuller, Edmund. "Whoniversal Classics." The Wall Street Journal [add city] 1984-11-20. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Fuller, Edmund. "Whoniversal Classics." The Wall Street Journal, edition, sec., 1984-11-20
  • Turabian: Fuller, Edmund. "Whoniversal Classics." The Wall Street Journal, 1984-11-20, section, edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Whoniversal Classics | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Whoniversal_Classics | work=The Wall Street Journal | pages= | date=1984-11-20 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=18 November 2017 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Whoniversal Classics | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Whoniversal_Classics | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=18 November 2017}}</ref>