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TV show 'Dr. Who' has large fan base, rich history

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A flash of light streaks across the middle of a grainy, black-and-white screen. A rhythmic beat plays in the background as low-budget psychedelic effects dance. A swooshing noise accompanies the white swirls, forming two words.

“Doctor Who.”

On Nov. 23, 1963, over 4.4 million viewers unknowingly witnessed a historic moment.

“An Unearthly Child,” the first episode of one of the sci-fi genre’s most beloved shows, “Doctor Who,” featured William Hartnell as the Doctor and Carole Ann Ford as Susan Foreman, the Doctor’s granddaughter.

Fifty years later, over 70 million watch the show worldwide.

The Doctor, a thousand-year-old Time Lord, travels through time and space in a blue police box called the TARDIS. Because of his ability to regenerate after suffering mortal wounds, the writers keep the show running by introducing new actors as the Doctor.

Remade in 2005, the original show aired from 1963 to 1989. But throughout the years the central theme remains: a mad man with a box.

“(I love) the eternal creativity of the format,” said Don Smith, associate professor of physics and “Doctor Who” fan, or “Whovian,” in an email interview. “The writers and producers can tell literally any kind of story.

“There have been ‘Doctor Who’ westerns, murder mysteries, historicals, spaceships, action, military, closed-room dramas, comedies and on and on. And then every few years they get a new producer that takes it in a new direction and completely reinvents it.”

Over the past 50 years, the show has presented 11 Doctors, 93 companions, 56 historical figures, 321 aliens and 523 astrological locations. The longevity of the show has influenced a generation of British actors, many of who have been on the show.

“I was a huge fan all through my childhood, so when it came to audition for the Sontarans the first time, it did feel as though I’d done about 30 years worth of homework in preparation,” said Dan Starkey, who plays Strax on the show, in an email interview. “I was able to dig out my VHS copies of ‘The Time Warrior’ and ‘The Sontaran Experiment,’ and I did get reprimanded during the filming of ‘The Sontaran Stratagem’ for trying to introduce some unpleasant, but authentic, Sontaran tongue acting into my scenes.”

Recently, more episodes have taken place in America, as viewership in the U.S. rises.

“(In the U.S. in 1982), they were showing episodes from 1975 and 1977, because it took years for episodes to make their way across the Atlantic,” said Smith.

How times have changed. Over the years, the U.S.’s relationship with “Doctor Who” has grown exponentially.

“Every time we go to America, we are always surprised by the response from American fans and just surprised at how big it is getting over there,” said Arthur Darvill, who previously played companion Rory Williams, in an interview with RadioTimes.

“The Day of the Doctor,” the show’s 50th anniversary special, will air in U.S. theaters Nov. 23 and 25, and on BBC America on Nov. 23 at 2:50 p.m. and 8 p.m. EST.

Avi Dintenfass, a CCE sophomore and Whovian, bought tickets over two weeks ago. Although excited, she showed concern for the movie.

“I think the series is at a juncture,” said Dintenfass. “This anniversary could catapult it to greater following and fame — or it could be the day that leads to its decline.”

Her concern is very legitimate. A backdoor pilot for the new series premiered in 1996, starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. But because of the low ratings the movie had in the U.S., the show did not return until 2005 with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor.

However, considering the large fan base that “Doctor Who” has accumulated over half a century, it seems very unlikely that the movie could be anything but glorious for Whovians.

In fact, fans clamored after Paul McGann’s unexpected reappearance on the show with the mini-episode prequel “The Night of the Doctor.”

“Doctor Who,” however, is not simply your run-of-the-mill sci-fi and fantasy show. According to Connor Wilson, sophomore and longtime fan of the show, it is life changing.

“‘Doctor Who’ is more than a TV show … it is designed to make you question and think about your life in … the context of the world, the galaxy, the whole universe,” said Wilson. “It’s tough to get your head around, but it’s a journey, and you don’t have to travel far to find others.

“Everyone is there to share your tears, your laughter … It’s worth it. A thousand times it’s worth it. Why are you still reading this? Go watch ‘Doctor Who.’”

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