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Doctor Who, galactic anti-hero, lives on

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1983-04-03 Observer.jpg


SIX YEARS before astronaut Neil Armstrong took his giant leap for mankind and made inter-planetary travel a reality, actor William Hartnell took a small step for the BBC and created the role of Doctor Who.

On the eve of the eccentric space traveller's debut, John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Now, five Presidents and four Doctors later, the series is the longest-running TV science fiction programme in the world.

To celebrate 20 years of 'Doctor Who,' the BBC is staging a two-day 'trans-dimensional experience.' Today and tomorrow, in the grounds of Longleat, the Wiltshire stately home, fans will be able to mingle with actors from the series, watch videos of the Doctor's past adventures and confront a Dalek.

As everyone who has not been living on an alien planet must know, the series is concerned with the exploits of a tetchy Time Lord who travels in a police box which is larger on the inside than the outside. The Doctor has been in orbit so long that there are no longer any police boxes like his in use in England.

Even those closely connected with the series are sometimes at a loss to explain its continuing grip on successive generations. The programme is watched by an estimated 10 million viewers in Britain and a further 88 million in 39 countries around the world.

Surprisingly, 60 per cent of audiences are adult and Peter Davison, the current incarnation of the Doctor, confirms that the most devoted fans he meets are not children.

With Doctor Who fan clubs springing up in college campuses on both sides of the Atlantic and 10,000 devotees attending a Chicago convention, the series long ago assumed cult status and provides an unforeseen rake-off on merchandise for the corporation. At Longleat today it will be possible to buy Doctor Who Easter eggs, Tardis tea caddies, pottery Daleks and a host of other mementoes.

Director Peter Moffatt, who is working on an anniversary special featuring all the incarnations of the Doctor, thinks the success of the series is attributable to its mixture of horror and naivety. 'It has a touch of "Frankenstein" and "Listen with Mother,"' he said yesterday.

In an era when the series, which costs £44,000 an episode, faces multi-million dollar competition from feature films such as 'Star Wars,' not to mention the even costlier real-life exploits of the Space Shuttles, he believes its simplicity makes it distinctive.

It has a home-made quality about it,' he said, 'plus a touch of magic, of course.'

Peter Davison, who was surprised how quickly the public accepted his transition to Doctor from a vet in All Creatures Great and Small,' concedes that his character is no Superman. If you set out to invent a hero for a new series. there is no way you would come up with the Doctor,' he said yesterday. Although Doctor Who fights evil, he does not tote a gun.'

Undoubtedly the most evil of his enemies, who can be relied on to reappear whenever the programme's, ratings are dipping, were the Daleks. These creatures, like malevolent pepper pots, were the brainchild of script-writer Terry Nation. They first appeared in 1964 and within days the play-. grounds of Britain were shuffling with small boys, right arms held stiffly out in front of them and intoning in metallic voices 'Ex-ter-min-ate.'

Among the Doctor's other formidable foes was Mrs Mary Whitehouse, secretary of the National Viewers and Listeners Association, who claimed, that the programme was giving children nightmares.

Yet, this story of a time-traveller is itself locked in an earlier, less permissive era and might have brought nods of approval from Lord Reith and Uncle Mac. Peter Moffatt points out that all the children in Doctor Who' are polite and sweet. 'There is no bad language and the morals are impeccable,'

Though the BBC has opted in Peter Davison for a younger image, there is never a hint of an amorous liaison between the Doctor and any of his attractive female companions. As producer John Nathan Turner says: There is no hanky-panky in the Tardis.'

As ill-health, boredom or ambition overtook successive leading men, each new Doctor evolved the role and bequeathed his successor certain traits. In Peter Davison's Doctor it is possible to see traces of William Hartnell's crotchetiness, Patrick Troughton's whimsy, Jon Pertwee's elegance and Tom Baker's flamboyance.

Baker is the only surviving Doctor to shun the current celebrations.

Among the Doctor's supernatural powers, Davison has discovered an unsuspected ability to render small boys speechless. 'Although they have been looking forward to seeing you for weeks, most children under the age of seven cannot talk to you when it comes to it.'

The 32-year-old actor recalled how he watched the Doctor's early adventures while his sister cowered behind a sofa. Now he is performing for the children of the generation that watched from behind the sofa.

Caption: Twenty years on : A model Doctor Who (alias Peter Davison) with Lord Bath.

Additional keywords: Ultimate Celebration

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  • APA 6th ed.: Road, Alan (1983-04-03). Doctor Who, galactic anti-hero, lives on. The Observer p. 3.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Road, Alan. "Doctor Who, galactic anti-hero, lives on." The Observer [add city] 1983-04-03, 3. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Road, Alan. "Doctor Who, galactic anti-hero, lives on." The Observer, edition, sec., 1983-04-03
  • Turabian: Road, Alan. "Doctor Who, galactic anti-hero, lives on." The Observer, 1983-04-03, section, 3 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Doctor Who, galactic anti-hero, lives on | url=,_galactic_anti-hero,_lives_on | work=The Observer | pages=3 | date=1983-04-03 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=27 May 2024 }}</ref>
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