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Dr. Who to the rescue

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A British science-fiction series called Dr. Who is playing an unlikely — but crucial — role in raising the $150,000 WXXI, Channel 21 seeks in its current fund drive.

Pitches for money are made and pledges received by telephone at the public television station before, during and after some programs. And in some solicitations made around Dr. Who, director of development Craig Brush promises the station needs money to buy new episodes of the program.

The promise produces pledges. By the time the drive ends Monday, WXXI expects to have raised nearly $15,000 around Dr. Who. The only shows which match Dr. Who's record of pledged support are the more widely known Nova, National Geographic, All Creatures Great and Small and Masterpiece Theater, according to station program director Robert Owens.

SOME SEE that as proof Dr. Who has attracted a cult unlike any television series since Star Trek.

Much of the show's appeal has to be based on Dr. Who himself. With two hearts, a body temperature of 60 degrees, a life span of several hundred years, encyclopedic knowledge and an ability to travel at will through time and space, "the Doctor" can hardly be called a human being. He's a Time Lord, a member of a super human race from another galaxy. Nevertheless, it's his vulnerable humanity that makes him so intriguing.

According to the latest A.C. Nielsen Ratings Book, 6,000 Rochester households (about 14,000 people) watch Dr. Who every Saturday night at 11. The program is shown on more than 100 PBS stations and attracts more than seven million viewers across the country. That may not sound like much compared to the 40 to 50 million who watch Dynasty or Dallas. But Dr. Who enjoys longevity — almost 20 years — and inspires

Channel 21 is finding that the cult following for this sci-fi program is boon to fund-raising loyalty network presidents dream about.

The show is seen over the world; more than 100 million people watch the program. It is one of the few television series dubbed from English into both Hebrew and Arabic.

Although the series has been shown in the United States since the mid-1970s (it debuted on Channel 21 in 1977), in Great Britain it has been on the air since November 23, 1963 — the day after John F. Kennedy's assasination. According to Advertising Age magazine, Dr. Who is the longest-running series in television history.

In England, the program is a national institution. More than two years ago, the announcement that Peter Davison would replace Tom Baker in the title role took precedence on the television news over Ronald Reagan's inauguration as the 40th president of the United States.

MOST AMERICANS, however, have seen only the Dr. Who episodes starring Baker, the fourth Dr. Who, which ran in Great Britain from 1974 to 1981. And a contract with Lionheart Productions, distributor of Dr. Who, specifies WXXI will receive the episodes starring Baker until late 1984.

But Whosies — as Dr. Who fans call themselves — will get a preview of what's to come on a special program tomorrow night at 11. It will include interviews with stars of the show, including Peter Davison, the new Dr. Who, and the show's producer of the past six years, John Nathan-Turner.

It doesn't bother most Whosies, who are enamored of Tom Baker, that they will have to wait nearly 60 weeks to see Davison's episodes. What annoys them, however, are tangles — which neither Lionheart nor Channel 21 seem able to explain — that mean the Baker episodes are shown out of order in Rochester. Owens blames Lion-heart, which, he says, sends the episodes out of order. Lionheart spokeswoman Stephanie Steffko insists Channel 21 should have been receiving episodes in the right order for several months.

DR. WHO BEGAN in Great Britain as a show aimed at children. But the greatest number of viewers tend to be college-educated people in their 20s and 30s.

Speaking by telephone from Wales, where the show's 20th anniversary program is being filmed, Dr. Who's producer John Nathan-Turner said the premise of the show is "that you can enter a call box (a telephone booth) which inside is as big as a football stadium."

The Doctor's call box is actually a TARDIS (Time And Relativity Dimensions In Space). He can fly it anywhere in the universe. But he's not a very good pilot. Once the Doctor tried to fly to equatorial Africa, only to end up in Antartica.

With his heavy Edwardian wool overcoat — which he wears whatever the season —his floppy fedora and 17-foot multicolored scarf, Baker cuts quite a figure. He's a cosmic combination of Albert Einstein, an impulsive 8-year-old and Sherlock Holmes.

Like Holmes, the Doctor has his Moriarity, an arch-rival and enemy Time Lord known as "the Master." In fact, it's hard to know if the Master's ambition is really to achieve domination of the universe or merely to humiliate the good Doctor, whose occasional bumbling successes infuriate the Master because they seem — to him at least — so undeserved.

Baker has been only one of five extremely successful Doctors. The latest Doctor, Davison (who plays the bumbling veterinarian on All Creatures Great and Small), began watching the program as 12-year-old, and his ratings in England have surpassed even those of Baker. Judging from clips in tomorrow's special, Davison plays the role very differently than Baker. IA plot twist that involves the regeneration of Dr. Who just before he dies accounts for the physical and personality changes in him.) He's a younger, better-looking and even more innocent Doctor. Baker's scarves, hats and overcoat have been replaced by a Victorian cricketeer's uniform — a frockcoat with a corsage over a tennis sweater.

Since the popularity of the show has survived five different incarnations of the title character, the reasons for its enduring appeal go deeper than the charm and skill — however formidable — of the lead actor.

Nathan-Turner admits that with limited budgets made available by the BBC (each full-length episode costs less than $500,000) there isn't much location work and high-tech special effects. But the producer argues that "the limitations of the budget make us all the more inventive."

The writing is often so witty that it overcomes the cheeriness of the decor. When Tom Baker saves London, for example, from a Loch Ness Monster, looking for all the world like Godzilla-man-que, by throwing it an electronic transmitter, he cries, "fetch it, fetch it."

And Dr. Who's hard-to-follow, labrynthine plots are unfailingly imaginative.

Sometimes Dr. Who's writers successfully parody seemingly every horror film made. At other times, they appeal to ancient myth — and to writers as various as Homer and Shakespeare — strike deep chords in the human psyche.

BUT PERHAPS the deepest source of the geographically wide-ranging appeal of Dr. Who to the three very different generations of the '60s, '70s and '80s is the idea of traveling freely through time and space.

it seems to say there's a thread running through all times," says Kevin Maul, a freelance musician living in Geneseo.

Dr. Who satisfies human curiosity to see all things in all times. That translates as the desire for immortality, which is, after all, humankind's most fervent wish.

At the same time, Dr. Who reassures one — in its humane, often bumbling way — that no matter how far removed in time and space we are from what we know, we are never really very far from home.


Caption: Dr. Who, played by Tom Baker, and a fellow time-traveler fend off an unfriendly being during the "Seeds of Doom" episode.

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.: Wigler, Stephen (1983-03-18). Dr. Who to the rescue. Democrat and Chronicle p. 1C.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Wigler, Stephen. "Dr. Who to the rescue." Democrat and Chronicle [add city] 1983-03-18, 1C. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Wigler, Stephen. "Dr. Who to the rescue." Democrat and Chronicle, edition, sec., 1983-03-18
  • Turabian: Wigler, Stephen. "Dr. Who to the rescue." Democrat and Chronicle, 1983-03-18, section, 1C edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Dr. Who to the rescue | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Dr._Who_to_the_rescue | work=Democrat and Chronicle | pages=1C | date=1983-03-18 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=9 December 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Dr. Who to the rescue | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Dr._Who_to_the_rescue | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=9 December 2019}}</ref>