Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

The Doctor Is On

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For 51, the Doctor is in great shape.

Saturday night, "Dr. Who" officially welcomes Peter Capaldi to the lead role on the series, an event being broadcast worldwide, including here on BBC America, that is expected to draw tens of millions of viewers.

It's a remarkable achievement for a show that began life in 1963 as a children's program and spent nearly 20 years in limbo.

But today, well into the 21st century, "Dr. Who" is enjoying a new peak of popularity.

The show concerns an alien known as the Doctor (despite the title, there is no Dr. Who), a "time lord" from the planet Gallifrey who travels through space and time in a vehicle known as a TARDIS, which is disguised as a British police call box.

As with most alien heroes, the Doctor has a peculiar affection for the people of Earth, and can usually be found with one or more of us accompanying him on his adventures. The Doctor also periodically "regenerates," shedding his old body for a completely formed new one - which also comes with a wholly new personality.

It's that last bit that has allowed "Dr. Who" to last so long. With the freedom to cast a new lead every few years, each with a different interpretation of the role, "Dr. Who" can periodically reinvent itself.

"It offers a moment of renewal not just for the characters, but for the audience and for the whole show," said Piers Britton, an associate professor of visual and media studies and art history at the University of Redlands and an expert on "Dr. Who."

Of course, rejuvenation and regeneration alone can't explain why a television series lives for more than half a century, surviving a 16-year gap in the process.

The Doctor, Britton explains, brings the enduring appeal of many mythical characters, strangers with magical powers who arrive, solve problems and change people's lives. The Doctor is much more fairy tale than science fiction, bearing more in common with the Wizard of Oz than Captain Kirk.

Critically, in the days when science-fiction was often the pursuit of boys who tended toward academics rather than sports, the Doctor was not quite an action hero. As Britton points out, when Kirk and James Bond were shooting guns and fistfighting, the Doctor was defeating enemies with trickery and wit.

When the BBC revived "Dr. Who" in 2005, though, science-fiction and fantasy no longer were fringe interests.

"Back in the 1980s, 'nerd' and 'geek' were insults," said Aaron Cistrelli, president of Time Meddlers, the Los Angeles "Dr. Who" fan club. "Now, nerd is a compliment."

The revival succeeded in large part by adapting the show to the modern audience. Instead of older, odder actors as the Doctor, he has been played by younger good-looking men - Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith -who gave the Doctor a certain sex appeal.

His companions have changed, too. They're young women who don't shirk from danger and are as likely to rescue the Doctor as vice versa.

"It's the post-Xena, post-Bully version of the companion who could take care of herself," Britton noted.

That has broadened the audience, allowing "Dr Who" to reach new levels of popularity around the world. Even in the U.K., where at its peak in the 1970s "Dr. Who" was reaching nearly 12 million viewers an episode, the new series is doing nearly as well despite the shrinking size of television audiences in general.

In the United States, the show's popularity is at an absolute peak - now that it shows in first run on BBC America, and not in reruns on PBS stations a' the old series did.

Cistrelli notes that the annual "Dr. Who" convention in Los Angeles, called Gallifrey One, has steadily gained in popularity since the show's revival. This year, tickets for the event sold out in 75 minutes.

Caption: Peter Capaldi takes on the role of the Doctor beginning Saturday on "Dr. Who."

Caption: Peter Capaldi (with Jenna Coleman) is the latest actor to play benevolent alien the Doctor on "Dr. Who," a series that is as strong as ever after 51 years, numerous actors in the lead role and a lengthy hiatus.

Caption: Paul McGann was the eighth incarnation of the Doctor.


The actors who have played the Doctor on television over the years. (Peter Cushing played the character in two movies in the 1960s. but is not counted in the official rolls.):

William Hartnell, 1963-66 - The initial Doctor was a gruff but kindly old man with surprising strength and will.

Patrick Troughton, 1966-69 - The decision to let Troughton give the Doctor a very different personality paved the way for the show to reinvent itself indefinitely.

Jon Pertwee, 1970-74 - A suave and authoritative version of the Doctor had more than a little dose of James Bond.

Tom Baker, 1974-81 - The longest-running and by far most popular of the early series. Baker helped expand the adult audience.

Peter Davison, 1981-84 - Already a popular actor in the U.K., Davison was asked to replace the beloved Baker and make the character a bit more serious.

Colin Baker, 1984-86 - The most condescending and unlikable of the Doctors nonetheless retained a sharp wit.

Sylvester McCoy, 1987-89 - The last Doctor of the original run, and the most overtly comical.

Paul McGann, 1996 - Played the Doctor in a television movie and subsequent audio books.

Christopher Eccleston, 2005 - The first Doctor of the revival dressed in a black leather jacket and rarely smiled. Eccieston lasted just one season, but he successfully relaunched the series.

David Tennant, 2005-10 - Tennant returned some of the goofiness to the character. The second-longest run, after Baker's.

Matt Smith, 2010-13 - The producers had an older actor in mind, but Smith blew them away at his audition.

John Hurt, 2013 - Hurt was introduced as a "lost" incarnation of the Doctor last season. In the show's chronology, he would have been the ninth incarnation

Peter Capaldi, 2014-? - At 56, Capaldi will be the oldest actor to begin the role: he's a few months older than Hartnell was in 1963.


The Los Angeles-area fan club maintains a website at, produces a newsletter and meets the third Sunday of every month in Van Nuys. For more information, visit the website or the club's Facebook page.


What: Season 8 premiere

When: 5:15 p.m. Saturday; repeats at 9 p.m.

Where: BBC America

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  • APA 6th ed.: Hewitt, Michael (2014-08-19). The Doctor Is On. Santa Ana Orange County Register p. Show, p. 1.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Hewitt, Michael. "The Doctor Is On." Santa Ana Orange County Register [add city] 2014-08-19, Show, p. 1. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Hewitt, Michael. "The Doctor Is On." Santa Ana Orange County Register, edition, sec., 2014-08-19
  • Turabian: Hewitt, Michael. "The Doctor Is On." Santa Ana Orange County Register, 2014-08-19, section, Show, p. 1 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=The Doctor Is On | url= | work=Santa Ana Orange County Register | pages=Show, p. 1 | date=2014-08-19 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=27 November 2022 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=The Doctor Is On | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=27 November 2022}}</ref>