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Sheer simplicity the key to Doctor Who's popularity

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For almost 23 years Doctor Who has stayed unashamedly low-tech and low-budget.

There's no sleek, hypersonic space cruiser such as Star Trek's U.S.S. Enterprise.

Dr. Who, an immortal "time lord," and his sidekick travel in a British police phone-booth, which makes a noise like an elephant trumpeting as it zaps back and forth through time and space. By a convenient - and never fully explained - dimensional miracle, the interior of the Tardis, as it is called, is a great deal larger than its blue exterior, giving the occupants plenty of room.

Outside shots in the show tend to resemble the English countryside or, if an alien planet is called for, a stone quarry. Weapons are of the silver-painted hairdryer variety and the doctor's enemies are usually humanoid - though his most popular foes, the Daleks, look like pimply garbage cans with turrets. Sheer simplicity

But it's the sheer simplicity of Doctor Who that has made it the world's longest-running science-fiction TV series, says Katy Manning, who played the doctor's plucky girl companion, Jo Grant, during the late 1960s/early '70s.

"It started out as a very low-budget series for kids," Manning told The Star. "It demanded a lot of belief from its audience and the BBC found that adults were sitting down too and giving it just that. They loved it for its simplicity and apparently they still do."

The series - created by Toronto native Sidney Newman - began in England on Nov. 23, 1963, and is still going strong. Metro audiences can see reruns Monday through Friday at 6 p.m. on Buffalo's Channel 17 and every Saturday on TVOntario's Channel 19 at 7 p.m.

Manning now runs her own production company in Sydney, Australia. She'll be at the Buffalo Civic Centre Sunday with the Doctor Who Festival, which is touring the United States to raise money for public television.

"I spent three very warm and happy years on Doctor Who," she said. "It was only my second acting job. I was very young, very naive, and I worked with some wonderful, very experienced actors - Jon Pertwee in particular."

Pertwee, a top British character-actor, played the third of six doctors the series has had so far (when a time lord's carcass wears out, or his host body's contract is up for renewal, he can wriggle his psyche into another actor). Occasionally, several doctors-gone-by will be summoned through time to appear in a TV special.

The later doctors in the series sometimes have had several companions with them in the Tardis. But in the first few years it was always one young woman.

"I don't know exactly what the relationship was supposed to be," Manning said. "It differed with each doctor but it was always something very proper, I'm sure!

"Jo Grant and the doctor had a working relationship, ostensibly anyway. Jo was supposed to be 18, just out of school - whether I really was 18 and just out of school is another story - and attached to a British army security division known as UNIT.

"I was very much a girl of the times, in micro-miniskirts and lots of clunky jewelry. Viewers watched me grow up into a woman. Those shows can still be seen in various parts of the world, and I always have to laugh when people think I've just done the series.

"I say, 'Do you really think I'd wear those strange shoes and tiny frocks now?' But, of course, it was perfect then. There was me, definitely a bit dotty in those days, doing lots of wide-eyed acting. Watching the old shows is like kitchen-sink history or social studies."

Dr. Who's main nemesis in Jon Pertwee's day was the mephistophelian Master, played by the late Roger Delgardo.

"He looked so evil but he was the sweetest man," Manning said. "He always played baddies. The Master was a time-lord too, but Roger was the one-and-only person for the part. You could never have changed him. He could have gone on for as long as the series lasts."

The latest Dr. Who is played by Colin Baker. Manning doesn't see the show as often as she'd like but she is impressed by the way it has stayed true to its origins. Use imagination

"In the early days there was no high-tech, it didn't exist. Nowadays they can do amazing things, it's all Star Wars stuff. But even though the BBC has upped the budget for Doctor Who, the producers have resisted the temptation to put in what the show never had.

"That's very hard, I think, when a program has taken off the way Doctor Who has. But I'm sure keeping it simple and straightforward is the main reason it's still around. They're not showing the audience everything, they're saying, 'Create it in your own mind. Believe in it.'

"People like having to use their imagination. When it's all there in front of them, they lose interest. Doctor Who could probably run for another 23 years."

GRAPHIC: Photo Katy Manning

Spelling corrections: Roger Delgado, Sydney Newman

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  • APA 6th ed.: Taylor, Bill (1986-08-20). Sheer simplicity the key to Doctor Who's popularity. Toronto Star p. B3.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Taylor, Bill. "Sheer simplicity the key to Doctor Who's popularity." Toronto Star [add city] 1986-08-20, B3. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Taylor, Bill. "Sheer simplicity the key to Doctor Who's popularity." Toronto Star, edition, sec., 1986-08-20
  • Turabian: Taylor, Bill. "Sheer simplicity the key to Doctor Who's popularity." Toronto Star, 1986-08-20, section, B3 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Sheer simplicity the key to Doctor Who's popularity | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Sheer_simplicity_the_key_to_Doctor_Who%27s_popularity | work=Toronto Star | pages=B3 | date=1986-08-20 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=20 October 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Sheer simplicity the key to Doctor Who's popularity | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Sheer_simplicity_the_key_to_Doctor_Who%27s_popularity | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=20 October 2019}}</ref>