Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

Area fans reflect on BBC's iconic sci-fi series

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Exactly 50 years ago, the world became aware of the Doctor.

A healer of sorts, the Doctor -- an alien Time Lord who's been to the ends of the universe and time -- has been our champion against all manner of baddies, among them Daleks, Cybermen and Weeping Angels, typically defeating them with wit, intelligence and boundless innovation.

He's also the title character of "Doctor Who," an iconic British sci-fi television series that debuted 50 years ago today, and is considered the longest-running science-fiction series in TV history. Even a 16-year break from 1989 to 2005 was filled with a TV movie, audio plays, books, comic books -- and the belief that the Doctor would someday return.

At 2:50 p.m. today (7:50 p.m. in Britain), this 50th anniversary will be marked with a special episode being simulcast in 75 countries on six continents -- a rarity for any episodic television series. A mini-episode released on the Internet last week, "The Night of the Doctor," set the stage.

Millions around the world can hardly wait for what's expected to be one of the most thrilling in some 800 "Doctor Who" episodes: "The Day of the Doctor," which features three actors who've played the role of the Doctor, the current one, Matt Smith; his predecessor, David Tennant; and a previously unknown War Doctor, John Hurt.

Some, like the Finney family in Gainesville, have planned parties and will offer guests "fish fingers and custard," bowtie pasta salad and marshmallow Adipose (humanoid blobs of fat). Even Wood-Hannah and friends drove her new TARDIS-blue Honda to Atlanta for the closest simulcast at a movie theater today; it'll be shown again Monday at Regal Cinemas in Ocala and Gainesville.

John Skillman said he'll simply be "sitting on the edge of my seat" at home in Ocala.

But Ryan Pagels, Ocala Civic Theatre's music director, won't be; he'll be in recital at Stetson College in DeLand this afternoon. A Doctor fan since childhood, he said catching the episode "will be the first thing I do when I get home. For me, it's really the story; that's what pulls you in."

Fans know the canon. But for those who don't: The TARDIS (short for Time and Relative Dimension in Space) is the Doctor's "ship"; it resembles a blue 1960s British police call box but is vast inside. It sometimes takes him where and when he wants, but always where he NEEDS to be. The Doctor carries a sonic screwdriver that has medical and analyzing applications, and "is great for opening doors."

The Doctor typically travels with a Companion or two, usually from Earth. They come and go; some have died or been lost, others merely wanted a life with less mileage again. Yet they always harbored the spark of adventure kindled by their time in the TARDIS.

And whenever the Doctor is mortally wounded or weary of his years -- he is about 900 Earth years old -- he "regenerates" into a new form: a new appearance, personality and quirks but with all the memories and knowledge. Eleven actors have been the Doctor, allowing writers to explore new possibilities.

And we've all been along for the ride.

Students smile, Dr. Reba Bandyopadhyay said, whenever she enters her astronomy class at the University of Florida carrying her Dalek mug. The Daleks are aliens bent on extermination of all other life - - and one of the Doctor's main nemeses.

She's been watching "Doctor Who" since moving to Gainesville in 1980 when she was "maybe 5 or 6." In 1985, she was not quite 13 when her mother took her and her younger sister, Sheila, to a Doctor Who convention at the O'Connell Center, where she met the fifth Doctor, Peter Davison.

She wore a hat and long multi-colored scarf her grandmother knitted that was similar to the one worn by the fourth -- and one of the most popular -- of the Doctors, Tom Baker. She still has the hat and scarf, and just may break them out today for when she and her husband watch the special.

"Gainesville was a big 'Doctor Who' town in the mid-80s," Bandyopadhyay said. "It was my first science-fiction convention. As I reflect on it, it was pretty small, but it was exciting. If you're a little kid and you're a geek and you see there are thousands like you, it's really neat."

Sigrid Santiano, who now lives in Ocala, palled around with Jon Pertwee, the third Doctor, when her husband, Tony, was a U.S. diplomat in London in the 1970s. They'd met Pertwee in Bonn, Germany, before he was cast as the Doctor. He was always "Uncle Jon" to their daughter, Karen.

"In the early days, they always had very good actors who played the role," Santiano said. But she and Tony lost track of "Doctor Who" after Pertwee left the series and they were transferred to Australia; today, they don't get BBC America, which carries the series. But Karen still watches -- "She thinks David Tennant is the most gorgeous Doctor," she said -- and so does Karen's son and his 8- year-old daughter.

Dr. Glen Finney, a behavioral neurologist at Shands/UF, and his family went trick-or-treating dressed as characters in the "Whoniverse." At SwampCon in Gainesville earlier this year, they presented a "Trip Through Time" overview of the 11 known Doctors, from William Hartnell in 1963 to Smith today, gleaned from hours of screening together classic and current episodes on Netflix.

Finney said he began watching "Doctor Who" on public television in Miami in the late 1970s.

"As a kid, I loved science fiction and fantasy," he said. "The Doctor took me to so many worlds and to the past and future. He stretched the mind with his sometimes eccentric adventures."

Or, you could say, charm. "Doctor Who" has a charm not found in the glitzier "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" franchises, said Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture at Syracuse University.

And it has "a history of interesting stories constantly refreshed by new actors and a pretty well-told tale," he added. "Part of the reason 'Doctor Who' made it to year 50 is because it managed to make it to year 25." It's almost a tradition.

"It's certainly not the most scientifically dense or complex show," Thompson continued. "It's not the most sophisticated world. It's certainly not the nature of the special effects; he's still traveling around in a phone booth."

But when a Doctor regenerates, "it's like pushing a refresh button," he added. "We get to explore a lot of new things. The stories are not tied to a single actor; they become transcendental - - and not that common."

Rick Allen can be reached at or 867- 4154.

The Doctor's Tools

TARDIS -- Short for Time and Relative Dimension in Space, this is the Doctor's time traveling "space ship." Outside it looks like a 1960s British police call box, but inside is enormous; there's even a swimming pool. Visitors invariably remark that it's bigger on the inside. The TARDIS has its own personality and usually takes the Doctor where and when he wants to go, but always takes him where he needs to be.

Sconic screwdriver -- An early smart tool, the screwdriver can analyze things, has medical applications and can hack into computers. Plus, it's good at opening most locked doors.

Fob watch -- Resembling a pocketwatch, this device can at need hold the Doctor's memories and personality, his Time Lord essence.

Psychic paper -- A blank white card shown to people who "see" whatever the Doctor wishes them to see, such as police credentials.

K9 -- More a companion than a tool, K9 was a series of talking robotic dogs programmed to be loyal and logical, if sometimes too literal. Some K9s were able to regenerate. Some conducted missions on their own, or served as protectors and champions of Time Lords and Ladies, as well as the Doctors' Companions.

The Doctors

William Hartnell, 1963-1966

Patrick Troughton, 1966-1969

Jon Pertwee, 1970-1974

Tom Baker, 1974-1981

Peter Davison, 1981-1984

Colin Baker, 1984-1986

Sylvester McCoy, 1987-1989 & 1996

Paul McGann, 1996 (TV movie, books, audio episodes), 2013

Christopher Eccleston, 2005

David Tennant, 2005-2010

Matt Smith, 2010-present

Peter Capaldi becomes the Doctor in the Christmas special, 2013

John Hurt, the War Doctor, 2013

The Doctors' Main Nemesises

Daleks -- A race of withered beings confined to salt shaker-like robotic bodies. Their main goal is extermination of all other life in the universe.

Cybermen -- A race of hive-mind robotic beings devoid of all emotion. They reproduce by capturing humans and "upgrading" them to the robotic form.

Weeping Angels -- To look at them, they're statues, but this is ancient race of assassins who send their victims into the past and live on the victims' potential life energy.

The Silence -- An ancient race living on Earth for thousands of years; their intent is to silence the Doctor. We see them, but when we look away we forget they exist. Who were we talking about?

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  • APA 6th ed.: Allen, Rick (2013-11-22). Area fans reflect on BBC's iconic sci-fi series. The Gainesville Sun .
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  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Area fans reflect on BBC's iconic sci-fi series | url= | work=The Gainesville Sun | pages= | date=2013-11-22 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=25 July 2024 }}</ref>
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