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Dr Who escapes again for a birthday reunion

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1983-11-28 Sydney Morning Herald.jpg


YOU either love it or hate it. But few people under 35 with a television would have failed to see at least one or two episodes of Dr Who.

On Tuesday, December 13, the ABC will screen the 20th anniversary show, called The Five Doctors, of the series which began screening in England on November 23, 1963. It wasn't until January 15, 1965, that the ABC screened the first episode in NSW. (In other States the series began later.)

Over the years, The Doctor and his assorted companions have travelled the dimensions of time and space without much regard for many of the cliched science fiction heroes. Because above all, The Doctor is an old-world character with a belief in life and knowledge that has pervaded each interpretation of the character by five actors in his lifetime.

The series has been given the ultimate scope for imagination. The central character, The Doctor, can travel to any time or place in his TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space) which is shaped like an old British police box and behaves like a well-loved but unreliable old car.

The Doctor's chances of ending up where he planned are a little like the throwing of dice for a double six but he appears to relish the haphazardness of his trips and the adventure.

He is no ordinary doctor either. He is a Time Lord, one of a race from the planet Gallifrey who are the guardians of time travel. In addition, he has two hearts and regenerates in differing forms (very handy for when a new actor assumes the role) for a lifetime that spans hundreds of earth years. He is also very likable.

My earliest memories of the series was as a child watching Dr Who battle the Daleks ("We will exterminate"). It was originally screened on Friday nights and it was with some excitement or fear that we would tune in at 6.30 pm to see how he would escape some approaching peril.

By the time we had finished our fish and chips, The Doctor would have escaped, only to be enmeshed in another seemingly impossible situation before the closing music and titles started.

Of course, we tuned in the following week and, of course, he escaped to battle the Daleks again and win. But it was not the end of the Daleks, who return again and again to harass The Doctor.

For me and many other Dr Who fans, the strongest image is of The Doctor facing the Daleks — It Is also my favourite. Other threats, however, have been equally frightening and recurrent. The Cybermen (humanoid robots), Ice Warriors (from Mars) and Ogrons (alien mercenaries) have all been faced by The Doctor, who has put a stop to their evil plans.

Sometimes The Doctor's battles have been personal feuds. The Master, a fellow but evil Time Lord from Gallifrey, can also travel through time and space and has a tendency to internipt The Doctor's good intentions. Unlike other perils in the series, The Master goes about his work in a charming, polite manner — often causing The Doctor to shout rudely in righteous indignation.

The series can be criticised on many aspects. Sometimes the sets and special effects arc laughable. Every desolate planet resembles the same disused quarry somewhere in England and too many of the monsters that appear with aliens look like men in a pyjama horse. Scenes of space ships tend to show the vessels moving at irregular speeds like toys on sticks.

The Doctor, an inherently passive figure, has been forced to work alongside the military in too many episodes and this sits uneasily with the philosophy that The Doctor espouses — not to interfere with the self-determination of peoples or their history and the pursuit of knowledge. The Doctor is not ideologically sound.

But despite the obvious flaws, Dr Who survives because the series is unique in its dramatic style. Its strength is in its plots and characterisation, unlike too many gadget-oriented macho US series.

The Doctor is not accompanied by stupid, tizzy, well-coiffured beautiful people, but by a variety of assistants ranging from a vulnerable grandchild and a tartan-toting Scot to an equally disrespectful Time Lord and an Australian airline hostess.

While the odd assistant has not hesitated to show a thigh or two, the gives The Doctor a protective role in his adventures. He has never seen them as a love interest. Rather, fashions and attitudes that make up the assistant's character. Nevertheless they maintain the series' contemporaneous outlook.

As for The Doctor, he has tended to adjust with each change of actor. Five actors have played him up to now. William Hartnell (1963-1966), Patrick Troughton (1966-1969), Jon Pertwee (1970-1974), Tom Baker (1974-1981) and Peter Davison (1982-1984) have all added something to Dr Who.

The new Doctor, Colin Baker, will appear next year.

Like a Rasputin of space, Dr Who has appeared dead, only to be resurrected by another actor with more eccentricities, doubts and fears. Despite his longevity, he appears as mortal as any human and doesn't hesitate to reveal his fears or concern for himself and his assistants. He has remained as one Doctor despite the variations.

According to Antony Howe of the Dr Who Fan Club in Sydney, there is no consensus as to the "best Dr Who." Like myself, he favoured the earlier doctors, William Hart-nell and Patrick Troughton, but he said it generally depended on who was The Doctor when you started watching the series. Accordingly, many of the younger addicts preferred Tom Baker or Peter Davison.

Few people I know preferred Jon Pertwee although he was The Doctor in one of the series' highest rating periods. And he is popular with the fan club.

Despite the length of time that the series has been shown, Mr Howe believes the ABC has confused Dr Who fans by indiscriminate repetition of episodes and by using the episodes as a filler for the poor 6.30 pm slot in competition with the commercial stations' news broadcasts. The seemingly endless repeats often run into a new series with no announcement of the change, only to switch back to the same repeated episodes again.

The fan club will be celebrating 20 years of Dr Who with a party in the Stephen Roberts Theatre at Sydney University at 1.30 pm on Sunday, December 11. And fans will be welcome and their special guest will be the actress Katy Manning, who played the assistant Jo Grant and who now lives in Australia.

Interested fans can contact Antony Howe at PO Box 191, Gordon. NSW 20720

Over the 20 years there have been more than 120 stories in the series, written by about 80 writers.

The anniversary episode, The Five Doctors, is 90 minutes long and features four of the original actors playing The Doctor. The late William Hartnell, the first Doctor, is played by a lookalike actor, Richard Hurndall.

Tune in and meet The Doctor — all five of him.

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to

  • APA 6th ed.: Kettle, Stuart (1983-11-28). Dr Who escapes again for a birthday reunion. The Sydney Morning Herald p. The Guide, p. 3.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Kettle, Stuart. "Dr Who escapes again for a birthday reunion." The Sydney Morning Herald [add city] 1983-11-28, The Guide, p. 3. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Kettle, Stuart. "Dr Who escapes again for a birthday reunion." The Sydney Morning Herald, edition, sec., 1983-11-28
  • Turabian: Kettle, Stuart. "Dr Who escapes again for a birthday reunion." The Sydney Morning Herald, 1983-11-28, section, The Guide, p. 3 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Dr Who escapes again for a birthday reunion | url= | work=The Sydney Morning Herald | pages=The Guide, p. 3 | date=1983-11-28 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=31 March 2023 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Dr Who escapes again for a birthday reunion | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=31 March 2023}}</ref>