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Doctor Who captures American imagination

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1982-12-05 San Antonio News Express.jpg


WITH a groaning, whining noise, a blue police box materializes out of nowhere. A tall, curly-haired man, wearing a floppy hat and a long, striped scarf, jumps out of it. This image is familiar to those who have been following the adventures of the eccentric hero of British television, Doctor Who.

"Doctor Who" is one of the longest running television series in the world. It has been playing on BBC-1 since 1963. Originally, the program was conceived as a mixture of entertainment and education. Its creators, who were also responsible for another hit, "The Avengers," had decided that children would be more prone to learn about history if it was accompanied by the zest of adventure. Strangely enough, almost 20 years later, NBC has caught up with that idea in its new show, "Voyagers."

In any event, "Doctor Who" was launched the day before the assassination of President John Kennedy. It quickly garnered millions of viewers, and its success with audiences of all ages has never faltered. Today, "Doctor Who" is counted as one of the most entertaining science-fiction series in the world.

The program's format is simplicity itself. The hero, always called The Doctor and never Doctor Who, has the ability to travel through time and space in a sophisticated machine named Tardis. One of the most amazing peculiarities about this Tardis is that its interior is much larger than its outside appearance would indicate. The Doctor, who has two hearts and a body temperature of 60 degrees, stole his Tardis from his fellow Time Lords, a race of powerful beings who, unlike himself, do not like to intervene in the affairs of others. The Doctor is usually accompanied in his travels by companions, often young girls who desire a bit of adventure.

This loose framework has given the series a great deal of flexibility throughout its years. Soon after its creation, for example, it was discovered that children preferred alien planets to Earth history. Consequently, the program turned more and more toward space fantasy. In the series' 20 years of existence, the Doctor has faced such varied enemies as the Celestial Toymaker, the emotionless Cybermen, the giant spiders of Metebelis 3, the mad Chinese god Weng-Chiang and, of course, the Daleks, pepper pot-shaped creatures from the planet Skaro bent on universal extermination.

The diversity of the enemies is well matched by that of the heroes. Over 20 companions have journeyed in the Tardis, arriving and departing as the individual actors went on to bigger and better roles.

THE Doctor has been the subject of five different interpretations, six if one counts the two movies released in the late 1960s in which Peter Cushing played the role. This is all made possible by the fact that the hero is a Time Lord. Being virtually immortal, Time Lords' bodies have the ability to regenerate into totally new forms. This is, of course, extremely convenient for the show's purposes. When the lead actor is tired of the part, another can step in. This is the most unique feature of "Doctor Who." It has, without a doubt, contributed to its long-standing success, by keeping it from getting stale.

The first Doctor was played by veteran actor William Hartnell, who often played a crusty sergeant in the British "Carry On" movies. Hartnell retired after three years of the series and, in 1966, the part was taken over by character actor Patrick Troughton. Troughton played the impaled priest in "The Omen" and the good wizard in "Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger."

After another three years, afraid of being typecast, Troughton left to be replaced by Jon Pertwee. Pertwee, a stage actor, a folksinger and a nightclub entertainer, brought considerable acclaim to "Doctor Who." It is Pertwee's tall, white-haired Doctor that American viewers discovered, for the first time, on their PBS stations in the 1970s.

IN 1975, Tom Baker, perhaps the most well known of those to have played the loveable Time Lord, stepped into the role. Baker, a stage actor who had worked with Laurence Olivier, was relatively unknown prior to his portrayal of Doctor Who. Up until that time, his largest roles were as the evil sorcerer in "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad" and Rasputin in "Nicholas and Alexandra."

Baker's stint as Doctor Who encompassed 41 stories over a period of seven years. He brought to the part a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek humor, as well as a certain madcap flamboyance. First syndicated by Time-Life in 1978, Baker's adventures as the Doctor contributed to the birth of a small, but vocal, "Doctor Who" fandom in the United States.

In 1981, Baker chose to move on. Since then he has played Sherlock Holmes in the Once Upon the Classic adaption of "The Hound of the Baskervilles."

BBC chose the young actor Peter Davison as his replacement. Davison, best known for his role as Tristan in the "All Creatures Great and Small" series, first appeared as the Doctor in January 1982.

Davison's youthfulness, a greater emphasis on special effects and tightly paced, complex science fiction stories gave the program a new life and an even larger audience. As a result, BBC plans to take cast and crew to shoot one of next year's episodes on location in Holland.

ON the eve of its 20th year, the key of "Doctor Who" success deserves to be studied. If the realization was not always impeccable, especially in its early days, the characterizations and the sheer imagination contained in its stories have made the series an institution. The eager fan reception in this country has shown that this appreciation has been carried across the Atlantic.

Doctor Who, like Tarzan or Sherlock Holmes, appeals to all of those who truly love epic adventure in the grand of classic tradition.

KLRN-TV, channel 9, will be airing a 3 1/2-hour "Doctor Who" festival on Thursday. Starting at 7 p.m., the station will feature the four parts of "The Android Invasion" episode, which will be followed by the four parts of "The Brain of Morbius" episode.

Caption: Peter Baker as the Doctor meets a Zygon in an episode of the PBS series "Doctor Who."

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  • APA 6th ed.: Lofficier, Randy (1982-12-05). Doctor Who captures American imagination. San Antonio Express-News p. 6-B.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Lofficier, Randy. "Doctor Who captures American imagination." San Antonio Express-News [add city] 1982-12-05, 6-B. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Lofficier, Randy. "Doctor Who captures American imagination." San Antonio Express-News, edition, sec., 1982-12-05
  • Turabian: Lofficier, Randy. "Doctor Who captures American imagination." San Antonio Express-News, 1982-12-05, section, 6-B edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Doctor Who captures American imagination | url= | work=San Antonio Express-News | pages=6-B | date=1982-12-05 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=16 September 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Doctor Who captures American imagination | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=16 September 2019}}</ref>