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Frightfully British Dr like nothing on earth

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Looking Back

DR WHO. Some people thought Dr Who would be lucky to last more than a year or two. Now, 34 years on , he is still a world-wide cult figure. DR WHO is 34. That's quite young for a show starring a character reputedly 900 years old, give or take a century. However, the programme itself debuted on BBC television at the end of November, 1963.

The longevity of the character seemed to mirror the staying-power of the series which soon outlasted original expectations.

William Hartnell, the first of eight incarnations of the Doctor, was scoffed at for predicting it would run for five years. Even he could never have supposed it would run until 1989.

Of course the show did not simply disappear with the last regular Doctor to appear in television episodes -- Sylvester McCoy, No 7.

A radio version recently aired in New Zealand (Slipback, starring Dr No 6, Colin Baker).

The Doctor also appeared in many spinoffs including comic strips in his own magazine, a vast range of novelisations, two or three plays and, in the sixties, two independently produced films, starring another Doctor -- Peter Cushing -- and his most feared nemesis, the Daleks.

When the series left the airwaves in the late '80s, fans kept up constant pressure on the BBC to re-introduce it.

In 1992, a one-off version to be called Dark Dominion, featuring all the Doctors, fell apart while a less-than-satisfactory charity programme screened instead.

Last year, yet another Doctor, incarnated by Paul McGann (No 8) finally appeared in a US-funded tele-movie.

While it was not very successful it did revive interest in the Doctor.

He has become a familiar sight here in several advertisements for an insurance company, played by one of the most popular of the Doctors, Tom Baker.

Today, alongside the incredible effects of such blockbusters as The Fifth Element and the special editions of Star Wars with their computer-generated aliens and effects, the Doctor seems pretty antiquated.

But it was this most quintessentially British of programmes which helped make popular some of the staples of the genre on television and then on film.

Before the battles between Luke and Darth Vader and the evil emperor, there was the Doctor and his dark foe, personified by the enigmatic and evil Master.

Cybernetic adversaries such as the Daleks pre-date the unkillable Terminator while shows such as Battlestar Galactica with its grating-voiced Cylons owe much to the Doctor's de-humanised No 2 villains, the Cybermen.

If anything characterises Dr Who it is its famous theme.

Composer Ron Grainer came up with a score and technicians at the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop built the whole thing virtually note by note using sine and square-wave, white-noise and special beat generators.

When the tracks were mixed and synchronised the result was that familiar drone, at once ominous and exciting which is so hard to get out of your head.

Combined with the original titles, created by using howlaround feedback, the show seemed like nothing on earth.

Which is perhaps appropriate.

  • Jones is an Auckland teacher who writes on film and television

CAPTION: DR WHO ... by Jon Pertwee

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  • APA 6th ed.: Jones, Terry (1997-11-30). Frightfully British Dr like nothing on earth. The Sunday Star-Times p. A9.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Jones, Terry. "Frightfully British Dr like nothing on earth." The Sunday Star-Times [add city] 1997-11-30, A9. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Jones, Terry. "Frightfully British Dr like nothing on earth." The Sunday Star-Times, edition, sec., 1997-11-30
  • Turabian: Jones, Terry. "Frightfully British Dr like nothing on earth." The Sunday Star-Times, 1997-11-30, section, A9 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Frightfully British Dr like nothing on earth | url= | work=The Sunday Star-Times | pages=A9 | date=1997-11-30 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=23 February 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Frightfully British Dr like nothing on earth | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=23 February 2024}}</ref>