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Who's the doctor? (1983)

1983-01-30 Enterprise Journal.jpg

[edit]

This is not about politics, the economy or world security. It's not about corruption or human suffering, and it's not about religion or social mores. And then again, it is.

Actually, it's about my favorite television show, which manages to wind all those things into its plots. If you're choosy about how you spend your time in front of the TV, like I happen to be, this could be for you. What we're talking about here is not a once-a-week, prime time series. This show's on every weeknight at 6.

IT HAS VIOLENCE, comedy, pathos, tragedy occasionally, but absolutely no sex. And never any vulgarity.

One week it's a space adventure, the next it's set in a jungle full of savages and monsters. Our hero will zoom from earth to the farthest planet in the universe, and he'll skip from thousands of years in the future to way back when. The space ship that does these wondrous things? Well, it looks like an old-fashioned London police phone booth, but looks can be deceiving.

Who is this character, who speaks in a thick British accent no matter what time, what culture, what world he's in? Who is this brilliant master-mind, who holds more than 50 degrees in various academic pursuits, who can turn an old carbon-arc lighthouse lamp into a laser beam powerful enough to destroy an alien spacecraft that would have easily conquered the world, meaning certain destruction and death for the world as it was back at the most recent turn of the century?

WHO IS THIS GUY in the long wool coat, longer woolen scarf dangling from his neck, crumpled hat on his curly head? Who is this man with green blood and two hearts, who travels with fair damsels to far corners of the universe, and never makes the first pass at them?

Doctor Who, that's who.

Except that in the show, he's referred to only as "the doctor," never as Doctor Who. There was that one episode, though, when the doctor appeared uninvited in a place where some diabolically devious plot was about to unfold, which seems to be his lot in life as a 750-year-old Time Lord. "Who are you?" one surprised character asked the doctor.

"I'm the doctor," replied the doctor.

"Doctor who?" asked the startled man. That question was shrugged off by the doctor, much like Ole Miss fans nowadays ignore those lingering Archie who? jabs.

Doctor Who IS no ordinary television show. It's BBC fare, which usually means high-quality stuff. It's shown on the Mississippi Educational Television network, right after Electric Company and just before The MacNeil-Lehrer Report, two other well-respected series on the network.

I don't advocate Doctor Who lightly. I'm not going to say that every episode is a masterpiece of theatrical technique, or even interesting. Some are real dogs, like the recent series in which unfortunate characters met their maker at the hands of a giant sewer rat under Victorian London streets. The rat looked something like the old two-person horse costumes and even had a rather cute face as it nibbled on the leg of the doctor's cohort.

THE SHOWS ARE RATHER like the old Saturday afternoon movie serials: Each episode ends with the doctor or the world facing certain peril, and picks up next night with the certain victim escaping the dreaded fate.

And it's a wild mixture of fantasy and fantastic filmwork, with special effects ranging from simplistic studio flim-flammery to "Stars Wars"-type special effects.

The actors take their roles seriously, but sometimes poke fun at their own show. Baker is marvelously adept at ad libbing dialogue, changing moods in mid-sentence and being either adeptly awkward or adroitly athletic, such as the time he foils death by splitting a rope with a crossbow's arrow. "How did you learn to shoot like that, Doctor?" his surprised ally asks. "Learned it from a Swiss fellow named Tell many years ago," he replies.

IN ANOTHER RECENT episode, the doctor had himself cloned, then injected into his own brain to battle a virus molecule that had decided his body was the perfect hive to incubate a race of crawdad-looking monsters that, of course, would like to rule all creation. The good doctor had as much trouble coping with the insides of his own brain as he did with the horrid "nucleus," which had summoned its own bad guy into the doctor's head to stave him off. That, you'll notice, is not your typical American television show plot.

The BBC claims Doctor Who is the oldest-running television show in the world. Since it's inception in 1963, the show has spread to 30 countries, has 98 million viewers, and has fostered chapters of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society worldwide.

IF THAT'S NOT ENOUGH to pique your curiosity, then know this: There are Doctor Who board games, buttons, posters, tee-shirts and even unisex candy underwear.

In all, there have been five doctors — rather, five actors portraying the doctor. You see, Time Lords, who hail from the planet Gallifrey, have the ability to regenerate a dozen times, sort of like cats and their nine lives. So when they meet their match, which doesn't happen often, they simply recycle.

It's an easy way to keep actors happy. When Tom Baker, the Doctor Who in the ETV series, decided to pursue other acting goals two years ago, he regenerated into a younger guy, played by Peter Davison. At the end of ETV's 98-episode cycle, which should come this spring, you'll see Baker as the doctor regenerate into Davison's doctor.

But then, the series will start all over with Baker's own regeneration from Patrick Troughton, as the series begins anew with the 1975 season. That's all that's seen in this country, because Time-Life Television bought the Baker era for distribution here.

I REALIZE ALL THIS may be confusing to non-Who watchers. Doctor Who afficianados know what I'm talking about, though. But don't take my word for it. Watch Doctor Who for a couple of weeks. If you miss the beginning of one series, watch anyway, and notice the transition from one place/time to another.

(The disappearing phone booth may confuse you, but that's his spaceship, called a TARDIS — Time and Relative Dimensions in Space. It's small on the outside, huge on the inside, and travels through both space and time, rarely ending up where the doctor means to.)

IF YOU BECOME totally confused, fear not. There are Doctor Who freaks all over the state, and some have even formed local chapters. There's even a preacher in Columbia who uses the show's concepts for his youth teachings.

Me, I'm willing to talk Doctor Who with anyone. There are some things I just haven't comprehended yet. Like, I'm still trying to figure out how he gets by with a total lack of plumbing in that TARDIS of his, if you know what I mean.


Caption: Who is this guy in the long wool coat, longer woolen scarf dangling from his neck, crumpled hat on his curly head? Who is this man with green blood and two hearts, who travels with fair damsels to far corners of the universe, and never makes the first pass at them? Doctor Who, that's who.

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.: Williamson, Mike (1983-01-30). Who's the doctor?. Enterprise-Journal p. 12.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Williamson, Mike. "Who's the doctor?." Enterprise-Journal [add city] 1983-01-30, 12. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Williamson, Mike. "Who's the doctor?." Enterprise-Journal, edition, sec., 1983-01-30
  • Turabian: Williamson, Mike. "Who's the doctor?." Enterprise-Journal, 1983-01-30, section, 12 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Who's the doctor? | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Who%27s_the_doctor%3F | work=Enterprise-Journal | pages=12 | date=1983-01-30 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=16 February 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Who's the doctor? | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Who%27s_the_doctor%3F | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=16 February 2019}}</ref>