Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

A famous science-fiction series seeks a new audience with a TV movie

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It's Dec. 31, 1999. At the stroke of midnight, the Earth will be sucked through a dimensional vortex and destroyed.

Our time-traveling hero could fix everything and stop the evil madman who opened the cosmic Eye of Harmony and unleashed the force that will doom the planet - except that he lost the key to his time machine, he's stuck in traffic on a San Francisco freeway and, as bad luck would have it, no one believes that he's from outer space.

Who is this hero?



Not huh, Who.

Make that "Dr. Who" - the alien time-traveler known to his friends and enemies simply as The Doctor, the protagonist of a British science-fiction show. He zips around the universe in a vehicle that resembles a London police box (kind of a blue phone booth). Inside it's a sprawling time-and-space ship full of H.G. Wells-like gadgetry.

The box isn't as glamorous as the starship Enterprise of "Star Trek." And The Doctor isn't as well-known as Mr. Spock or Capt. Kirk.

But "Dr. Who" landed on television first. It's also the longest-running science fiction series in the world, as its die-hard fans quickly point out. It's bigger in terms of years and episodes than the original and spinoff "Star Treks" combined.

After a five-year absence, "Dr. Who" comes back to the future tonight in a big-budget, two-hour movie made with an American audience in mind.

"Dr. Who" began as a quirky, low-budget British television series in November 1963. It caught on in America when reruns appeared on PBS stations in the late 1970s with The Doctor played by Tom Baker. Baker, one of eight actors to have the role, played The Doctor like a spacebound Sherlock Holmes, wearing a 15-foot multicolored scarf and eating JellyBabies candy.

"It has a cult following here," says Robert Clyde Allen, a self-styled "Dr. Who" expert. Allen is an artist and bowling alley mechanic in Salisbury when he isn't running a "Dr. Who" fan club.

What's the appeal?

"It's good and evil drawn in primary colors," Allen says. "The villain wants nothing less than to conquer the universe. But it doesn't take itself too seriously."

That's partly because of its low budget. Many of the aliens, such as the dreaded Cybermen, were costumed in silver-painted wet suits with automobile headlights fastened to their heads.

The show made up for a low budget with good stories, acting and humor, Allen says. Episodes often ended with a cliffhanger, like the old Saturday matinees.

But instead of leaving a silver bullet and riding off into the sunset, The Doctor might leave a sonic screwdriver, vanish in his time-machine and have a cup of tea with his electric-powered dog.

The British Broadcasting Corp. stopped producing "Dr. Who" in 1989. PBS last aired it in North Carolina in 1991.

"Dr. Who" the movie, made by Universal Productions in partnership with BBC Worldwide, is set in America. Most of the characters, except The Doctor, are Americans.

The movie has a fast-paced plot and flashy special effects.

It opens with The Doctor bringing the remains of his arch enemy, The Master, back to their home planet of Gallifrey, where the Time Lords live. The Time Lords have 13 lives each. Most of them don't get involved in the affairs of the universe - except The Master, who wants to conquer it, and The Doctor, who does good.

The Master has used up all of his lives, but even in death, The Doctor cannot trust his rival. And for good reason. The villain escapes as slithering goo, wrecks the time-machine, takes over a human body and is loose on Earth.

British actor Paul McGann is the latest incarnation of The Doctor. Eric Roberts plays his arch rival and all around creepy bad guy, The Master.

Daphne Ashbrook plays a California surgeon caught up in the effort to save the world, after a lot of fast-talking from The Doctor. Yee Jee Tso plays a street gang member who at first helps The Doctor and then gets caught up with The Master.

"Who" fans agonized over rumors of the plot, new characters, and whether the movie might become a series during a lively discussion at the Cosmic Castle Bookstore in Greensboro recently.

The bookstore is a local haunt for "Who" fans, a place where you'd better know the difference between the Dalek robot-monsters and the Cybermen robot-monsters, and you'd better know that The Doctor's ship is a TARDIS (Tah-dis). If you don't know that it stands for Time And Relative Dimension in Space - nod and walk away.

Jack Loflin, 18, of Thomasville says that he and his friends are going to beg everyone they can to watch the show, hoping to boost its ratings.

Producers are not releasing information about the future of the show, but as with everything on television, ratings count.

Bill Bence, a Fox spokesman, said the network would like to continue "Dr. Who" as either a series or several

made-for-television movies. McGann has signed a five-year contract to play The Doctor, Bence said.

Fred Chappell, the award-winning Greensboro author whose work including science-fiction stories, thinks a new "Dr. Who" series could find an audience. He likens the series to classic tales of a mythic hero on a quest.

"To ask why people want stories like this, is to ask why people want stories - period," Chappell says. "There is a basic need for it. Not all of us are so famously situated to travel through time, but we'd all like to do that.

"It has a great deal of nostalgia for the future - a comfortable, Victorian utopia," he says. "And quite deliberately."

Chappell says that "Dr. Who" has never been serious science fiction, and he hopes that it stays that way.

"'Dr. Who' is good tongue-in-cheek television," he says. "He's not a real genius, and at times fumbles his way around. I hope they don't ruin it. That's half the charm."

Roxie Ray, a 33-year-old advertising representative in High Point, thinks the charm lies in the alien protagonist with the British foibles.

"I'm a history buff and an Anglophile, and I love 'Dr. Who,' " she says. "It's a peculiarly British institution. He travels in a police box. Who in America has ever seen one?"

Loflin, who is writing a "Dr. Who" script, says the show appeals to the outsider in everyone and throws in surprises for good measure.

Tonight's movie begins with The Doctor, who has survived decades of space travel and wacky monsters, stepping out of his time machine and getting gunned down in the cross-fire of a San Francisco street gang.

"That's only a minor setback," Loflin notes. "He's been dead before."


What: "Dr. Who"

When: 8-10 p.m. today

Where: WGHP (Channel 8)

Information: Check out a Doctor Who web site or

Or a join a discussion of possible secret identities for The Doctor


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  • APA 6th ed.: McKay, Rich (1996-05-14). A famous science-fiction series seeks a new audience with a TV movie. Greensboro News & Record p. D1.
  • MLA 7th ed.: McKay, Rich. "A famous science-fiction series seeks a new audience with a TV movie." Greensboro News & Record [add city] 1996-05-14, D1. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: McKay, Rich. "A famous science-fiction series seeks a new audience with a TV movie." Greensboro News & Record, edition, sec., 1996-05-14
  • Turabian: McKay, Rich. "A famous science-fiction series seeks a new audience with a TV movie." Greensboro News & Record, 1996-05-14, section, D1 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=A famous science-fiction series seeks a new audience with a TV movie | url= | work=Greensboro News & Record | pages=D1 | date=1996-05-14 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=22 July 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=A famous science-fiction series seeks a new audience with a TV movie | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=22 July 2024}}</ref>