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Happy 50th, Doctor Who

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A new book by Graeme Burk and Robert Smith? lists the TV show's greatest hits, writes PETER ROBB. If you don't yet know Doctor Who, you are in for an intellectual and visual treat.

Graeme Burk and Robert Smith? are at it again with a second book celebrating the TV series that keeps reinventing itself. Who's 50: The 50 Doctor Who Stories to Watch Before You Die

Why this book?

Graeme: During the time we were interacting with fans after the publication of our first book, Who is the Doctor, we were constantly asked, "What episodes should I watch?" In this 50th anniversary year, there's a real hunger for Doctor Who and its rich history, but the question is how do you make 50 years of television history accessible?

Robert: We think that Doctor Who is the greatest show on television! But there's so much of it and some of it is missing, so we wanted to provide an easy way for people to get into the show. Whether they're fans of the new series, total newbies or diehard fans, we wanted to write a book that would appeal to everyone.

When did you decide to do it?

Graeme: We came up with it in the spring and summer of 2012, but we were talking for a long time as to what the followup book should be. Robert suggested we try to focus on 50 stories for the 50th anniversary year.

Robert: We decided to create a sort of "bucket list" of Doctor

Who stories.

Tell me a bit about yourselves.

Graeme: I've worked as a writer for the past 15 years, mostly as a communications professional (I work for SOS Children's Villages, an international children's charity). I've done some screenwriting and have a couple of film projects in development hell.

Robert: I'm a professor of disease modelling at the University of Ottawa. In my day job, I use mathematics to study diseases and try to predict how they'll spread, who'll get infected and what we can do about it. I grew up in Australia, but moved to Canada to do my PhD and ended up staying. I'm also the braaaiiinnnsss behind the 2009 academic paper on the spread of a zombie virus that got a lot of attention. Oh, and I'm the author of seven books, covering Doctor Who, zombies and a textbook on mathematics.

When did you get turned on to

the Doctor?

Graeme: I grew up in Oakville, Ont. and was watching WNED in Buffalo. I was home sick and my sister left the TV on. At 6 p.m. Doctor Who came on. It was the second episode of the Tom Baker story Pyramids of Mars and I loved it.

Robert: I was five years old and I saw Jon Pertwee's Doctor fighting off a giant fly. I never looked back.

Why did that happen?

Graeme: I was 14 and it just pressed all the buttons of all the things I loved: it was funny, witty, the drama was pitched right and it was really, really imaginative.

Robert: My father had been a fan of William Hartnell, who played the first Doctor. So he was watching Doctor Who for old times' sake. I thought the idea of giant maggots hatching into a giant fly was the most exciting thing imaginable. I kind of still think that.

Why has this show endured? To some it might seem hokey.

Graeme: I challenge the notion that it was hokey at all. It's about a guy who goes through time and space in a time machine disguised as a telephone booth that's bigger on the inside. Who uses humour, wit and intelligence to solve problems. And wins out against monsters in dark places. That's not hokey, that's frankly awesome. It was budgetarily constricted, particularly in the 1970s, but frankly so was the bulk of British television at the time. It's a bold, imaginative show that's about, as Craig Ferguson put it: "The triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism." That sounds like a mission statement I can get behind. That's why it's endured I think.

Robert: The secret to Doctor Who is its ability to diversify. Each week, you don't know what type of story you're going to get. A comedy? A space opera? A horror story? It can appeal to people across an enormous range of tastes. And the secret to the show's longevity is its ability to regenerate: every few years, the show tosses out everything that's working and starts again, both in front of the camera and behind. Doctor Who is like the weather; it's endlessly discussable and if you don't like what's happening right now, something else will be along shortly.

Who is your favourite Doctor?

Graeme: Tom Baker. And when Tom is busy, David Tennant. And when they're both on holiday, Peter Davison. Tom Baker because he made the Doctor alien just by being detached. He has a way of looking at the world at a 45-degree tilt from the rest of us. I love his eccentricity. Tennant because he did some of that but also made the Doctor human and accessible and made those emotions seem larger than life. Davison because he's an amazing actor.

Robert: One does not simply "have" a favourite Doctor. I don't have a favourite sibling either. The different incarnations of the Doctor are all fascinating facets of a central personality. It's possible to enjoy Tom Baker's alien-ness, Matt Smith's whimsy and Christopher Eccleston's darkness all at once.

Favourite episode?

Graeme: The first episode I saw in 1984, Pyramids of Mars (from 1976). It was beautifully evocative and imaginative. It's a story set on a country estate in Edwardian England where the Doctor is trying to repel an Egyptian demi-god with robot mummies. It's a mad, bold premise but it works because everything exists within the desperate reality of trying to stop this threat from destroying the universe and the acting is not played for laughs, it's played for real, and it has all these very ordinary details, which makes the horror of it stand out all the more.

Robert: My favourite is probably 1988's Remembrance of the Daleks. It deconstructs the very essence of Doctor Who, taking the show apart to see what makes it tick, and asking difficult moral questions of the audience ... while nevertheless being a rip-roaring adventure with sharp dialogue and witty byplay.

Do you think it will continue on?

Graeme: The second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, once said he thought the reason the show was so successful was that babies keep on being born. And I kind of agree with it. It's supremely entertaining and always enthralling.

Robert: I think the 2005 revival of Doctor Who has shown that the series is immortal. It may not always remain a television show, but it will continue in some form or other, so long as there are stories to be told. And even if the show falters, then, in a generation's time, some kid who's watching it now will grow up to be a TV producer and be in the right place at the right time to bring it back.

Caption: Authors Graeme Burk and Robert Smith? have given Doctor Who fans two books on their favourite subject.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Robb, Peter (2013-11-23). Happy 50th, Doctor Who. Ottawa Citizen p. H1.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Robb, Peter. "Happy 50th, Doctor Who." Ottawa Citizen [add city] 2013-11-23, H1. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Robb, Peter. "Happy 50th, Doctor Who." Ottawa Citizen, edition, sec., 2013-11-23
  • Turabian: Robb, Peter. "Happy 50th, Doctor Who." Ottawa Citizen, 2013-11-23, section, H1 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Happy 50th, Doctor Who | url=,_Doctor_Who | work=Ottawa Citizen | pages=H1 | date=2013-11-23 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=13 April 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Happy 50th, Doctor Who | url=,_Doctor_Who | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=13 April 2024}}</ref>
  • Title: Doctor Who is one of the immortals
  • Publication: The Gazette
  • Date: 2013-11-28