Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Doctor is in

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If you’ve lived within range of popular media within the past 50 or so years, you’ve probably heard of Doctor Who. If not, you might fall for the most common joke about the nameless protagonist of the series, and ask: Doctor who? That was a question many were asking over the last couple of months.

But first, some history. Doctor Who is a British television program listed in the Guinness Book as the longest-running science fiction program in the world. Created in 1963 as an educational program, using far-off settings in time and space to give people a lesson in history, science, or politics, it initially ran until 1989. During that time, it firmly embedded itself as an aspect of British culture that runs deep even today. Set up a locked blue police call box in London and you’d see. It’s his space ship.


In 2005 production for the series resumed and new episodes began to air, to high acclaim. It has since gained popularity in America on the SciFi Channel. So, with such a long-running series, there have to be changes that throw off the audience, right? It’s hard to find a show these days that isn’t plagued by changes in staff, producers, or even actors.

But Doctor Who is almost magical for its ability to adapt. Adaptation is actually one of the foremost aspects of the Doctor himself. He is a Time Lord, a race of exceptionally long-lived humanoids who have the power to Regenerate when they die, coming back to life in a new body. This is how the lead actor of the series can change over the show’s lifetime, yet it still holds mass appeal. Each new actor brings something new to it, simply adding to the mythos and culture surrounding the story.


Throughout the show’s history, there have been a total of ten different actors to play significant parts as the Doctor. William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, and Paul McGann were the early series stars, and each is important in their own ways to the formation of the current Doctor character — but that’s all history. What about the future?

Christopher Eccleston took the role of the Doctor in the 2005 restart of the series, and while his time there wasn’t long compared to others (Chris only starred as the doctor for 2005, compared to Tom Baker’s seven year run), Eccleston paved the way for the current Doctor, David Tennant. Tennant fit the bill perfectly and to many, he has all the charm and charisma to keep the old Doctor alive.

A pity, then, that he’s leaving. As he announced in 2008, after the four specials in 2009, he would no longer be the Doctor. And so the guessing game began. Who would replace Tennant as the Doctor? The answer, as they revealed in the UK on great outdoor TVs and BBC1, is this guy:


Matt Smith is a relative unknown to, well, most everyone. He’s young, he’s British, and he’s the eleventh Doctor. Frankly, the announcement was frightening. At first glance, Smith doesn’t fit any of the core aspects the Doctor holds. He looks a bit gloomy, for one. And that hair! (Hopefully at least he combs the wing.)

Still, our shining ray of hope that Matt will turn out all right is Steven Moffat, who is the other big change to the cast and crew of Doctor Who. A writer for the show, Moffat is taking over the role once held by Russell T Davies, that of lead writer and producer. Moffat wrote some of the best episodes of the revived series, including "Blink" and "The Empty Child," both of which won Hugo awards. And he himself picked Matt Smith for the role, saying, "The Doctor is a very special part, and it takes a very special actor to play him. You need to be old and young at the same time, a boffin and an action hero, a cheeky schoolboy and the wise old man of the universe. As soon as Matt walked through the door, and blew us away with a bold and brand new take on the Time Lord, we knew we had our man."

The general consensus is that Moffat knows what he’s doing. So, will Matt Smith do the Doctor justice, or will his era mark the decline of the series once again? Stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath; the series is on semi-hiatus, having only four specials, including the 2009 and 2010 Christmas specials. Matt Smith becomes the Doctor in 2010, giving him plenty of time to learn the part and get a trim around the ears.
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