Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

There's no Who like an old Who

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1988-12-11 Ottawa Citizen.jpg


Here's a juicy tidbit for anglophiles, videophiles and the science fiction subculture: Dr. Who just turned 25.

(The rest of you are already asking "Dr. Who who?" but let's not polish that old chestnut.)

Dr. Who is a BBC television program that takes its title from its hero, a broadly eccentric boffin who criss-crosses the universe righting wrongs in a space-time machine disguised to look like a British police telephone box. No kidding.

In sensibility and entertainment value, the closest North American equivalent is the original Star Trek series. Both are outlandishly moralistic adventure yarns for the pre-teen set; both have endured, in one way or another, since the early '60s; and both have had the good sense to present themselves as parodies of something, without actually specifying what.

But where Kirk and the gang raced about the cosmos in their nifty pyjamas, imposing middle-class American values on the denizens of Class-M planets by virtue of superior fire power (Grenada with warp drive), Dr. Who is a post-Suez, pre-Thatcherite, pre-Falklands protagonist.

Not for him the military muscle of phasers and photon torpedoes. The good doctor prefers to wheedle his way out of extraterrestrial scrapes by virtue of drawing-room banter and brokerage politics. Call him a galactic "Wet."

And then, of course, there's the special effects. Dr. Who really hit its stride at about the same time Harold Wilson promised to remake Britain in the "white heat" of a technological revolution. The gizmos and widgetry that abound in the program send up such vaunted ambition with gleeful abandon.

None of the whoosh that comes from dilithium crystals here. When the doctor's telephone box gears up to go, it groans and wheezes like an asthmatic 19th-century Satanic mill. When he exclaims that "This chromo-porous temporal heliosphere is set to destroy the planet!" what he's referring to is quite obviously an upside-down lawn-mower engine decorated with Christmas lights.

Even the villains capture the British discomfort with things high-tech. Whereas Star Trek's Klingons were thinly-veiled Russkies in vaudevillian stage paint and menacing pyjamas, Dr. Who's arch-bad guys are the Daleks, giant motorized salt and pepper shakers whose metallic voices sound like conversation relayed over British Telecom.

In fact, the program has always been closer to the satire of Jonathan Swift than the whizzbang wonder of Tom.

And all this time you thought it was just low-budget thrills for the kids.

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  • APA 6th ed.: (1988-12-11). There's no Who like an old Who. Ottawa Citizen p. A8.
  • MLA 7th ed.: "There's no Who like an old Who." Ottawa Citizen [add city] 1988-12-11, A8. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: "There's no Who like an old Who." Ottawa Citizen, edition, sec., 1988-12-11
  • Turabian: "There's no Who like an old Who." Ottawa Citizen, 1988-12-11, section, A8 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=There's no Who like an old Who | url= | work=Ottawa Citizen | pages=A8 | date=1988-12-11 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=13 April 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=There's no Who like an old Who | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=13 April 2024}}</ref>