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The mysterious Dr. Who

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1984-04-03 San Francisco Examiner.jpg

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THE BEARDED MAN in the Hawaiian shirt — he always wears a Hawaiian shirt, being English — sat in front of the crowded room and fielded important questions about his show — an odd British thing called "Dr. Who."

The queries concerned the newest actor to take on the role, a youngish chap named Colin Baker, and the resurrection of a particular form of evil known as Daleks. Their very mention was greeted by applause and whistles.

The speaker, "Dr. Who" producer John Nathan-Turner, was in town last Saturday to attend a science fiction and fantasy convention at the Holiday Inn on Van Ness Avenue. While, as is traditional, "Star Trek" fans were much in evidence at this confab, most of those in attendance seemed more interested in the enigmatic "Dr. Who."

Who is Who?

That's a tricky question. Although "Dr. Who" has been one of the most popular shows on British television for 21 years, nobody has ever really explained who Who is. In fact, it was 10 years before they got around to revealing the name of his home planet (Gallifrey). Most folks had just assumed he was English.

But Who is more than a mere man — he is a Lord of Time and Space. As such, he can scout the universe in search of adventure, using a craft known as a Tardis and disguised, for no particular reason, as a British police box.

Even the question of who plays Who has no simple answer. If you turn on Channel 54 any night at 7:30, or Channel 9 at 3:30 p.m. Saturdays, you'll see an actor named Tom Baker in the role. Flick the dial to 54 at 11:15 p.m. on a Saturday, and you'll find Peter Davison in the part. Eventually, that station will be airing a series of "Dr. Who" episodes starring Jon Pertwee in the title role. Elsewhere in the country, you might discover the late William Hartnett or Patrick Troughton portraying "Dr. Who." Meanwhile, in England and Australia, "Dr. Who" is Colin Baker.

The succession of Dr. Whos is explained in the story line by his occasional need to "regenerate," after which the Doctor takes on a new body, new personality and, of equal interest to fans, new costume. Each Dr. Who has his own sartorial quirk. Tom Baker wears a muffler that hangs down to his ankles. Peter Davison favors 19th century striped cricket pants and a sprig of celery pinned to his coat lapel.

Whoever is Who, and however he dresses, the character is always quirky, and therein lies much of the attraction to this, one of the most popular television programs in the world. Another draw is the dry wit brought to the series by the writers. Special effects are definitely not a prime asset to "Dr. Who"; as often as not, you can almost see the zippers down the backs of the monsters. "Dr. Who" is one of those rare series that appeals to kids, who take it as legitimate fantasy science fiction, and to adults, who love its sense of self-satire.

HOW WELL does the show do on these shores? Rich Nardine, a spokesman for San Jose's PBS affiliate KTEH (Ch. 54), noted that "Dr. Who" has been a remarkable fundraising tool for his station.

The highest figure netted by KTEH in a single night during the pre-Who fundraising festivals was $18,000, he explained. But last December, Channel 54 scheduled one pledge drive night to include a special 20th anniversary "Dr. Who" show featuring five actors who have played the Time Lord. They raised — get this — $53,000 in that single evening.

"It's amazing down here," said Nardine. "People in Silicon Valley go crazy over the show."

Not so in San Francisco, where public station KQED (Ch. 9) has never had a good response to Dr. Who on a nightly basis. About 30,000 homes now watch the series each Saturday at 3:30 p.m. and that, said scheduling manager Marie Aranas, is the best it's ever done in this market.

Nationally, "Dr. Who" has become a cult rage, even though most Americans have yet to hear of it. One of the busiest booths at the sci-fi convention last weekend was manned by Ron Katz, a Denver citizen and president of the Dr. Who Fan Club of America. Katz was selling memberships for five bucks a crack and doing quite well at it. He approximates the national membership at 20,000.

"It's the largest Dr. Who fan club in the world," Katz boasted, "and that includes the original Dr. Who Appreciation Society in London."

Katz said members, with an average age of 39, are "professional people, intelligentsia, sleazeballs — it's outrageous, the cross-section that Dr. Who draws. About half the NASA team at Cape Canaveral are members."

Katz feels "Dr. Who" is "a breath of fresh air for American television. It's a much more gentle type of affair. It's a fun thing. It makes young minds think."

If you're tempted to try it, however, be warned that "Dr. Who" is an acquired taste. One viewing will leave you cold. Four might get you hooked. A month of regular watching will have you babbling about Daleks — and that is a mixed blessing.

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.: Dougan, Michael (1984-04-03). The mysterious Dr. Who. The San Francisco Examiner p. B8.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Dougan, Michael. "The mysterious Dr. Who." The San Francisco Examiner [add city] 1984-04-03, B8. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Dougan, Michael. "The mysterious Dr. Who." The San Francisco Examiner, edition, sec., 1984-04-03
  • Turabian: Dougan, Michael. "The mysterious Dr. Who." The San Francisco Examiner, 1984-04-03, section, B8 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=The mysterious Dr. Who | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/The_mysterious_Dr._Who | work=The San Francisco Examiner | pages=B8 | date=1984-04-03 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=19 September 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=The mysterious Dr. Who | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/The_mysterious_Dr._Who | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=19 September 2019}}</ref>