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It was the right place to be for Whovians

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You could tell by the line of people outside the Tampa Theater that the Doctor must be in. Doctor who, you ask? The fictional hero of the long-running British science fiction television series "Doctor Who," which has attracted the kind of cult following in the 1980s that surrounded "Star Trek" in the 1970s.

About 1,400 Whovians gathered March 8 in Tampa to see episodes of the show and talk with John Nathan-Turner, the current producer of "Doctor Who," and Peter Davison, one of six actors to have played the Doctor (never referred to as Dr. Who) in the last 22 years.

The Doctor is an alien, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey who travels through time and space in his TARDIS. a ship that has the form of a British police call box. Not an "E.T." alien, however; the Doctor looks like you and me and speaks with a British accent.

He also battles galactic no-goods such as the Daleks, the mechanical beings who want the universe safe for other Daleks; the Cybermen. a robot race; and the alien Sontarans.

The show, which combines science fiction plots with a wry sense of humor and outlandish creatures, is seen locally on WEDU, Channel 3, the Tampa public television station. Last week's "Doctor Who" festival was timed to coincide with WEDU's fundraising activities, and the Doctor Who Fan Club of America, which sponsored the Tampa Theater event, donated $2,000 to the station to help keep "Doctor Who" on the air.

And many of the people attending the festival came dressed as characters in the show.

Enthusiastic fans

It's that kind of enthusiasm that has impressed producer John Nathan-Turner, who has become a familiar face at "Doctor Who" conventions around the country.

"British fans can watch it, and if they think it's been a classic adventure, they perhaps give a wry smile at the end of it, or they might manage a small bit of applause," says Nathan-Turner. "American fans, If they like something. are tremendously demonstrative. They're very generous with their cheers, their applause, their praise, their feelings."

In England, he will hear compliments on doing a good job, says Nathan-Turner. American fans "will give you a doll made in your own image and tell you you're the best thing since sliced bread."

Nathan-Turner, 37, has been producer of "Doctor Who" for the last 5 1/2 years. Previous to that he was the show's production unit manager (an associate producer).

The basic premise of the show —the idea of the Doctor and a sidekick, often a female companion, traveling around time and space in a London police box that's bigger on the inside than the outside and fighting evil —is, lie says, "outrageous.

"If you suggested it now, I think you'd probably be committed."

But the same basic premise has probably been the key to the success which was first broadcast the day after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

"It has no confines," says Nathan-Turner. "The time and space element is what's so superb about it. It's unlike 'Dallas,' which concerns a family woo live on a ranch and deal in oil and has only so many permutations of the conflicts between the individuals' concerned. If you do a series about a hospital, there are only so many permutations of illnesses and love interests with doctors.

"We don't suffer from that. 'Doctor Who' has never become repetitive despite its 22 year run, other than the fact that usually the Doctor wins."

With the time and space elements, "We can do historical stories, pseudo-historical stories, sci-fi-historical, totally futuristic, totally fantastic —there's limitless combinations. If you stuck to the history vein, you could still run for a hundred years and not be stale because there's so much of history that's available to use as a backdrop to your story."

Nathan-Turner has been producer of "Doctor Who" for the longest period of time but credits the show's past eight producers with contributing to its survival. "Each has taken the show in a completely different direction," he says. "Combine that with six different actors who have played the part and you can see it's a process of constant development and change. It has moved with the times."

Very popular In England

In England, "Doctor Who," which is seen only three months out of the year, has attracted an average audience of between 6 million and 9 million people this season, he says. While not a Top Ten show in Britain, its following was demonstrated when an independent network moved the American import "The A-Team" against "Doctor Who," which is broadcast on the BBC. "The A-Team," which had been one of the most watched shows in England, lost enough viewers to drop it out of the Top Ten and was eventually moved to a different time slot.

Yet, despite being a tradition on British television, the decision has been made to cancel the next season of "Doctor Who," which would have begun filming in May. The budgeted money for "Doctor Who" is being used instead to develop new drama series for the BBC, says Nathan-Turner.

"Of course, it's sad to lose a whole season; no one in their right mind would say it wasn't." But he insists the future of the show is "absolutely secure."

"Doctor Who" is scheduled to begin shooting again in early 1986 and will return to British television in the fall of that year after an 18-month hiatus. The controversy over canceling the next season generated such interest that a record producer released an album in support of the show called "Who Cares?"

Popular in U.S., too

Meanwhile, the show continues to find fans in the United States through episodes that are syndicated primarily to public television stations such as WEDU.

Peter Davison, who was the fifth actor to play the Doctor, is known to many American viewers for his role as Tristan Farnon on the British-produced "All Creatures Great and Small," which is also seen on PBS stations.

Although he is no longer playing the Doctor (he left the series in 1904), Davison, 33, is comfortable talking about the show, particularly in America, where episodes from his three seasons are the most recent ones available. The situation is different from when he first appeared at a Doctor Who convention in Tulsa, Okla., in 1980.

Then, Davison had just accepted the part, following in the footsteps of Turn Baker, who played the role for seven years and is still the actor most identified with the series.

"That was a bit odd, to be promoting 'Doctor Who' before anyone had actually seen me and wouldn't see me for about two years," he recalls. "Tom had just left and thy showed his last story and everybody fell about crying. When I was introduced, I thought they might stone me to death. But everyone was very nice."

Having been off the show for a year. Davison says he still watches it. "It's much better now because I don't know what's going to happen in the end."

Davison is the youngest actor to have played the Doctor and was seen in a costume derived from outfits worn in the game cricket. He decided to leave the show after three years to avoid what happened to Baker, he says.

"I think Tom got stale, got sick of the series and felt he had had it up to here, and I didn't want to feel that."

Part of the physical nature of a Time Lord, such as the Doctor, is that he can "regenerate" to a new body. Which is convenient when a new actor is needed to step into the role.

Davison thinks one reason the show has been such a continuing success is that "Doctor Who" wasn't originally intended to run beyond six or so episodes. No one sat down to decide what a successful formula might be for a long-term science fiction series. It just worked.

A dual appeal

And "Doctor Who" has always attracted an audience of both adults and children.

"it does have that dual appeal," says Davison. "Douglas Adams (a former 'Doctor Who' script editor and author of 'Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy') once said to me the secret of 'Doctor Who' is making it simple enough for the adults to understand and difficult enough to hold the children's attention. Because it really is the younger people, generally, who have the patience to sit down and actually figure out what the hell is going on. The fans understand it, but in Britain the general viewer can watch it as a tradition without understanding what's going on."

Davison anticipates his daughter watching "Doctor Who" much as he did when he was a teen-ager.

"I expect her to love the Doctor Who who is Doctor Who when she grows up and never think of me as Doctor Who at all, unless I sit down with videotapes and brainwash her at a very early age."

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  • APA 6th ed.: Turner, Steve (1985-03-15). It was the right place to be for Whovians. Lakeland Ledger p. 1C.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Turner, Steve. "It was the right place to be for Whovians." Lakeland Ledger [add city] 1985-03-15, 1C. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Turner, Steve. "It was the right place to be for Whovians." Lakeland Ledger, edition, sec., 1985-03-15
  • Turabian: Turner, Steve. "It was the right place to be for Whovians." Lakeland Ledger, 1985-03-15, section, 1C edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=It was the right place to be for Whovians | url= | work=Lakeland Ledger | pages=1C | date=1985-03-15 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=29 November 2022 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=It was the right place to be for Whovians | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=29 November 2022}}</ref>