Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

What? How? Where? Decoding 'Dr. Who'

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Here's the latest in my ever-expanding list of things Not Recommended. Never try to catch up on a complicated, 50-year-old British science-fiction television series by watching the 50th-anniversary episode. You will, as I did, wind up with more questions than answers.

My daughter Shorty discovered the joys of "Dr. Who" about a year ago. I was intrigued to learn that Saturday's historic broadcast was a worldwide simulcast. I watched the episode just to be part of that club. I'm a joiner. What can I say?

After a thorough examination of "The Day of the Doctor," my head was spinning. I requested a brief tutorial from Shorty. She gave me the CliffsNotes version. She said that Dr. Who is a time-traveling alien (he has two hearts) known as a Time Lord, who is on the run from his own people in a galaxy called Gallifrey. He travels through time in an old-fashioned (though popular when the show first aired in Britain in 1963) police box that resembles a blue phone booth and is called TARDIS, which stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space.

The Doctor has the ability to regenerate himself into a new person whenever he nears death. Actor Matt Smith plays the current and 11th Dr. Who in the series. The actor Peter Capaldi, the 12th Dr. Who, will soon replace him. Dr. Who No. 10 was played by David Tennant and was Shorty's fave so far. Over the course of time, the Dr. Whos have become younger and more dashing. Publicists for the show insist that every age has its own Dr. Who. It's a pretty nifty device to extend the life of a television show.

Dr. Who always has a "companion" who is usually an attractive, normal human woman who represents a kind of proxy for the audience because she travels with the doctor on all of his amazing adventures through time. He never gets romantic with her. And he has never regenerated as a woman or a minority person, which has been raising some eyebrows among fans recently, indicating the good doctor needs to get a little more progressive to be in step with the times.

Dr. Who is forever saving Earth and humans from alien attack. The two most significant enemies of Earth are aliens called the Daleks and the Cybermen. Originally Daleks resembled robots made at RadioShack. Really tacky. The Cybermen look like the Tin Man from "The Wizard of Oz." But not as cute.

There are also some wise, old aliens called Oods who are friendly to the doctor. When an Ood speaks, it holds its brains in a little orb it carries. When one speaks, the orb lights up. An Ood looks squiddish, if that's a word. Like one of those underwater buccaneers from "Pirates of the Caribbean." The Oods all look as though they have a pound of linguine hanging out of their mouths. But they also have perfectly normal human hands. It's like the costume budget ran out right at the wrists. Kinda funny.

Dr. Who carries with him a penlike device called a Sonic Screwdriver. Shorty tells me it can open any door but a wooden one. I've also been told writers use the tool to solve any plot situation that presents a problem. Shorty has a plastic facsimile of the screwdriver. It has a green light and buzzes, just as a Sonic Screwdriver should. She keeps it with her Harry Potter wand and Hogwarts tie.

She's read all the Tolkien and C.S. Lewis stuff, too. The kid is a science-fiction/fantasy nerd through and through. And she's proud of it. I don't know whether I have what it takes (the brain power) to become a true Whovian. The episode Saturday involved three Dr. Whos all combining their powers to prevent the Earth's destruction. I needed a program, flow chart and both hands to follow the plot.

Now that I know a little bit more, I have another dilemma. Not about "Dr. Who," but about Shorty.

Do I dare tell her about "Star Trek"?

Caption: Matt Smith (left) as the Eleventh Doctor, David Tennant (center) as the Tenth Doctor, and John Hurt (right) all star in the 50th Anniversary Special - The Day of the Doctor. (Adrian Rogers/BBC/MCT)

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