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Peaking after 51 years on TV, 'Dr. Who' trots out a new lead actor

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The - Doctor is on

For 51, the Doctor is in great shape.

Saturday night, "Dr. Who" officially welcomes Peter Capaldi to the lead role on the series, an event being broadcast worldwide, including here on BBC America, that is expected to draw tens of millions of viewers.

It's a remarkable achievement for a show that began life in 1963 as a children's program and spent nearly 20 years in limbo.

But today, well into the 21st century, "Dr. Who" is enjoying a new peak of popularity.

The show concerns an alien known as the Doctor (despite the title, there is no Dr. Who), a "time lord" from the planet Gallifrey who travels through space and time in a vehicle known as a TARDIS, which is disguised as a British police call box.

As with most alien heroes, the Doctor has a peculiar affection for the people of Earth, and can usually be found with one or more of us accompanying him on his adventures. The Doctor also periodically "regenerates," shedding his old body for a completely formed new one – which also comes with a wholly new personality.

It's that last bit that has allowed "Dr. Who" to last so long. With the freedom to cast a new lead every few years, each with a different interpretation of the role, "Dr. Who" can periodically reinvent itself.

"It offers a moment of renewal not just for the characters, but for the audience and for the whole show," said Piers Britton, an associate professor of visual and media studies and art history at the University of Redlands and an expert on "Dr. Who."

Of course, rejuvenation and regeneration alone can't explain why a television series lives for more than half a century, surviving a 16-year gap in the process.

The Doctor, Britton explains, brings the enduring appeal of many mythical characters, strangers with magical powers who arrive, solve problems and change people's lives. The Doctor is much more fairy tale than science fiction, bearing more in common with the Wizard of Oz than Captain Kirk.

Critically, in the days when science-fiction was often the pursuit of boys who tended toward academics rather than sports, the Doctor was not quite an action hero. As Britton points out, when Kirk and James Bond were shooting guns and fistfighting, the Doctor was defeating enemies with trickery and wit.

When the BBC revived "Dr. Who" in 2005, though, science-fiction and fantasy no longer were fringe interests.

"Back in the 1980s, 'nerd' and 'geek' were insults," said Aaron Cistrelli, president of Time Meddlers, the Los Angeles "Dr. Who" fan club. "Now, nerd is a compliment."

The revival succeeded in large part by adapting the show to the modern audience. Instead of older, odder actors as the Doctor, he has been played by younger, good-looking men – Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith –who gave the Doctor a certain sex appeal.

His companions have changed, too. They're young women who don't shirk from danger and are as likely to rescue the Doctor as vice versa.

"It's the post-Xena, post-Buffy version of the companion who could take care of herself," Britton noted.

That has broadened the audience, allowing "Dr. Who" to reach new levels of popularity around the world. Even in the U.K., where at its peak in the 1970s "Dr. Who" was reaching nearly 12 million viewers an episode, the new series is doing nearly as well despite the shrinking size of television audiences in general.

In the United States, the show's popularity is at an absolute peak – now that it shows in first run on BBC America, and not in reruns on PBS stations as the old series did.

Cistrelli notes that the annual "Dr. Who" convention in Los Angeles, called Gallifrey One, has steadily gained in popularity since the show's revival. This year, tickets for the event sold out in 75 minutes.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Hewitt, Michael (2014-08-19). Peaking after 51 years on TV, 'Dr. Who' trots out a new lead actor. The Orange County Register .
  • MLA 7th ed.: Hewitt, Michael. "Peaking after 51 years on TV, 'Dr. Who' trots out a new lead actor." The Orange County Register [add city] 2014-08-19. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Hewitt, Michael. "Peaking after 51 years on TV, 'Dr. Who' trots out a new lead actor." The Orange County Register, edition, sec., 2014-08-19
  • Turabian: Hewitt, Michael. "Peaking after 51 years on TV, 'Dr. Who' trots out a new lead actor." The Orange County Register, 2014-08-19, section, edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Peaking after 51 years on TV, 'Dr. Who' trots out a new lead actor | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Peaking_after_51_years_on_TV,_%27Dr._Who%27_trots_out_a_new_lead_actor | work=The Orange County Register | pages= | date=2014-08-19 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=15 October 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Peaking after 51 years on TV, 'Dr. Who' trots out a new lead actor | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Peaking_after_51_years_on_TV,_%27Dr._Who%27_trots_out_a_new_lead_actor | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=15 October 2019}}</ref>