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Here's to you, Doctor Who and all your regenerations

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The Doctor is back in the house.

Doctor Who?

Exactly.

One of science fiction's greatest characters has returned to the small screen with the Sci Fi Channel broadcast of new episodes of the legendary British series "Doctor Who."

But who is Doctor Who? And how did he become such a cult icon?

Well, first of all, his name is simply the Doctor, which always begs the question, "Doctor ... Who?"

Debuting a 30-year-run on the BBC the day after President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, "Doctor Who" was originally a children's show. A serialized version of H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine," the series' young target audience was treated to stories of a grandfather-like time traveler and his police-box shaped spaceship, the TARDIS. Plots alternated between history and science fiction.

Over the years, the teatime series became a British cultural mainstay, maturing with its audience but never shedding its appeal to children.

"One of the great strengths of the program is that it is imbued with a Britishness which is neither camp, nor satire, yet gives it a markedly distinctive charm," Jean-Marc Lofficier, author of the "Doctor Who Programme Guide" and "The Nth Doctor," said via e-mail from France this week.

Many Doctors, and each one unique

The Doctor changed with the times, quite literally. Ten actors have played the Doctor on television.

When the series' first star, William Hartnell, left in 1966, the role was not just recast, but the character itself was regenerated in the radically different form of actor Patrick Troughton.

Radical change affected the story line, as well. As Troughton departed in 1969, fans learned the mysterious time traveler was actually a renegade Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey.

In 1970, a third Doctor was created in the dashing, karate-chopping form of Jon Pertwee. The Doctor now was confined to Earth, working as a scientific adviser to the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, Earth's primary defense against alien invasion.

Pertwee was replaced by toothy, curly-haired Tom Baker, the actor most recognizable to Americans. Baker's Doctor had the longest tenure, from 1974 to 1981. This Doctor traveled with a female Time Lord, Romana, and a kid-friendly, robotic dog, K-9.

The United States had its first TV exposure to "Doctor Who" in the late 1970s on PBS, first with Pertwee and later with Peter Davison. But Baker's Doctor was featured in the bulk of the episodes.

A following until the '80s

By this time, sci-fi fans had been exposed to big-budget spectaculars such as "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Star Wars." Hard-core fans could overlook the show's low-budget style in favor of story substance, but keeping the casual viewer and gaining new fans was more of a challenge.

The Doctor was up for it.

The show's complex universe and ongoing mythology intrigued viewers despite — or perhaps because of — the lack of high-tech special effects.

"Over the years 'Doctor Who' has created a fascinating universe of colorful planets, exciting villains, monsters and aliens, which serve as a running cosmic thread giving the show a feeling of depth," Lofficier said.

But as the series traveled into the 1980s, things changed for the genre's longest-running series. Ratings dipped, and the BBC tinkered with the time slot. Multiepisode plots were not as popular, and the overall appeal of science fiction ebbed on television. Then "Doctor Who" was scheduled against "The EastEnders," further eroding ratings. British airwaves also were being invaded by aliens — in particular, the American syndicated series, "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

After years of cancellation rumors, "Doctor Who" stopped production in 1989, though the series remained on the BBC until its 30th anniversary in 1993.

But even during the hiatus that followed, the Doctor never really left. Novels and radio dramas featured past versions of the character and his adventures, and the long-running Doctor Who magazine (currently on Issue 368) endured.

Back on British TV in 2005

Numerous attempts were made to resurrect "Doctor Who." Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment once held an option for a feature film. Leonard Nimoy was slated to direct another project.

But after Fox broadcast a 1996 television movie that Americanized the character with disappointing results, regenerating "Doctor Who" had to be done with great care. Finally, the BBC approved, and the Doctor returned to the telly in March 2005 with the 13-episode season (dubbed Season One) that is now being shown in America on the Sci Fi Channel.

"Queer as Folk" scribe Russell Davies (who is also one of the executive producers) has succeeded in balancing all of the "Doctor Who" traditions with 21st-century sensibilities. The original theme has been updated spectacularly. The iconic police box that is the Doctor's time vehicle is wonderfully retro; the sonic screwdriver is always at hand; and the character is perfectly whimsical, aloof and mysterious.

The current face of the 900-year-old Doctor is Christopher Eccleston. British pop princess Billie Piper plays the Time Lord's latest companion, Rose.

In the five episodes that have aired so far, the Doctor has battled living plastic, watched the death of Earth, rubbed elbows with Charles Dickens and thwarted an alien invasion of London.

Everything about "Doctor Who" has been restored, including unexpected departures.

At the end of the season's BBC broadcast, Eccleston left after a well-received stint. A special episode that aired in the United Kingdom during the holidays, "The Christmas Invasion," introduced of the series' 10th Doctor, actor David Tennant.

Season Two of the new "Who" premieres on the BBC next weekend. (American broadcast plans have not yet been announced.) Piper remains with the series, and Tennant is signed to portray the Doctor at least through 2007.

" 'Doctor Who' is a unique phenomenon in the world of sci-fi TV," Lofficier said of its enduring appeal. "Unlike that other sci-fi legend, 'Star Trek,' Doctor Who's' flexible format does not limit its stories to straight space opera. 'Doctor Who' is able to encompass many different genres, such as historical stories, fantasy and mild horror."

As the show's 43-year history proves, this is one Doctor with a prescription for longevity.

Bennett is a composition clerk in The Plain Dealer sports department.


The many faces of the television Doctor:

William Hartnell (1963-66): The good-hearted yet irascible grandfather. (28 stories, 122 episodes)

Patrick Troughton (1966-69): The impish, frumpy Doctor in checkered pants. In times of stress, he played his recorder. (21 stories, 119 episodes)

Jon Pertwee (1970-74): The dashing, silver-haired man of action. Confined to Earth as a scientific adviser, he traveled in his antique car, Bessie. (24 stories, 127 episodes)

Tom Baker (1974-81): The bohemian with a toothy grin, wild curly hair and love for Jelly Babies. Accentuated with a large felt hat and ridiculously long, multicolored scarf, he is the iconic image of the Doctor. (42 stories, 170 episodes)

Peter Davison (1982-84): The youthful, heroic blond in the cricket uniform embodied traits of all the previous Doctors but added an element of vulnerability. (20 stories, 69 episodes)

Colin Baker (1984-86): The multicolor coat was fitting for the unstable Doctor, reflecting the radical changes of the series. (11 stories, 31 episodes)

Sylvester McCoy (1987-89): The clownish hat, vest and question-mark handled umbrella fit this Doctor, who didn't even know who he was. (12 stories, 42 episodes)

Paul McGann (1996): The made-for-America Doctor dressed in a Wild Bill Hickok costume and was in touch with his half-human and romantic side. (made-for-TV movie)

Christopher Eccleston (2005): The crewcut, leather-clad Doctor sports a big smile, but it hides the fact he is the last of the Time Lords. (13 episodes)


David Tennant (2005-present): The 10th television Doctor, who debuted in a holiday special episode.

Others Doctors

Peter Cushing (1965, '66): The veteran Hammer Films horror star portrayed the first Doctor in two theatrical films.

Richard Hurndall (1983): Reprised the first Doctor in a 20th-anniversary special. (Hart-nell died in 1975.)

Rowan Atkinson (1999): Mr. Bean himself starred in the British Comic Relief benefit sketch, "Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death."

Sigourney Weaver: Current season writer and producer Russell Davies has speculated the Doctor could regenerate in the future as a woman, ideally the "Alien" star.


These past story arcs provide a crash course in the "Doctor Who" experience:

The War Games (1969): A new version of World War I is played out, and the Doctor (Patrick Troughton, in his last adventure) is witness. These epic 10 episodes reveal the Doctor to be a renegade Time Lord.

Inferno (1970): The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) is transported to an Earth in a parallel universe.

Genesis of the Daleks (1975): The Doctor (Tom Baker) plans to change history, preventing the Daleks from ever existing. (Story will be released on DVD Tuesday, June 6.)

The Deadly Assassin (1976): The Doctor (Tom Baker) is accused of assassinating the president of his home world, Gallif-rey.

The Pirate Planet (1978): Baker is at his wacky best in a story by Douglas Adams, author of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

City of Death (1979): The highest-rated story arc in the series run. Look for a cameo by "Doctor Who" fan John Cleese.



Arc of Infinity (1983): The Doctor's (Peter Davison) bioprint is stolen. The role of Maxil is played by future Doctor Colin Baker.

The Five Doctors (1983): The Doctor (Davison) and his other selves are being removed from time. A 20th anniversary "Doctor Who" tour de force.

Mawdryn Undead (1983): The companions enlist an old ally (the Brigadier) to search for the Doctor (Davison), who might have had an unsuccessful regeneration.

The current face of the Doctor on Sci Fi Channel broadcasts is Christopher Eccleston. British pop princess Billie Piper plays his companion Rose on the new "Doctor Who."

Meet the Doctors, all of them

Some of the Doctor's infamous adversaries:

The Master: One of the most evil and corrupt Time Lords. He attended the academy with the Doctor and then became his greatest adversary. In later years, an equally malevolent female Time Lord, The Rani, appeared.

The Daleks (pronounced Doll-X): Taller, evil versions of R2-D2. Led by their creator, Davros, their mission was simply to "Exterminate, Exterminate!" Their debut is part of the new DVD boxed set, "Doctor Who: The Beginning."

The Cybermen: Costumed in shiny silver suits and teapots for heads, these humanoid creatures replaced their failing body parts with robotics. When others fought their plans for domination, they often uttered the phrase "Resistance is futile," an amazing similarity to the Borg of "Star Trek" fame.

The Yeti These abominable snowmen were actually robots, originally controlled by an extra-dimensional force called the Great Intelligence.


Oh, the dramas the Doctor's been through

PREVIEW

Doctor Who

What: Season one of the regenerated British television series.

When: 9 p.m. Friday.

Where: Sci Fi Channel.

Also: Season one of the new "Doctor Who" will be released on DVD in July. "Doctor Who: The Beginning Collection," which includes adventures from the initial 1963 season, plus many extras, was released on DVD March 28. All existing "Doctor Who" episodes from the initial 30-year-run have been released on VHS and gradually are being released on DVD.

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.: Bennett, Tim (2006-04-09). Here's to you, Doctor Who and all your regenerations. The Cleveland Plain Dealer p. J7.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Bennett, Tim. "Here's to you, Doctor Who and all your regenerations." The Cleveland Plain Dealer [add city] 2006-04-09, J7. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Bennett, Tim. "Here's to you, Doctor Who and all your regenerations." The Cleveland Plain Dealer, edition, sec., 2006-04-09
  • Turabian: Bennett, Tim. "Here's to you, Doctor Who and all your regenerations." The Cleveland Plain Dealer, 2006-04-09, section, J7 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Here's to you, Doctor Who and all your regenerations | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Here%27s_to_you,_Doctor_Who_and_all_your_regenerations | work=The Cleveland Plain Dealer | pages=J7 | date=2006-04-09 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=22 September 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Here's to you, Doctor Who and all your regenerations | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Here%27s_to_you,_Doctor_Who_and_all_your_regenerations | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=22 September 2019}}</ref>