As many probably know by now, I am obsessed with the BBC tv scifi Doctor Who. I honestly believe it is the best scifi television show ever. Period. And I mean that to include both the original run that began in 1963 and the new revival that began in 2005. (And yes, Star Trek is a very close second.)
Doctor Who began in 1963 in England as a family educational television show with the characters traveling backwards in time in order to teach children about different points of history. However, the writers quickly added in the alien plotlines, which became the more famous and important elements of the show, beginning with the second serial: The Daleks.
The basic run-down is this: The Doctor is an alien from a species called the Time Lords (and Gallifreyans, as they come from the planet Gallifrey), who possess ships known as TARDISes (Time and Relative Dimensions in Space), that allow them to travel anywhere in space and time. The Doctor is a bit of a rebel among his species and stole his particular TARDIS to travel without the restrictions placed on him by the leaders of the Time Lords. The Doctor, who has a strong affection and curiosity for humans, always has at least one human companion with him as he travels around (also sometimes having aliens and robots along as companions as well).
It was not until the first actor to play the Doctor, William Hartnell, became ill and decided to leave the show, that the writers came up with an ingenious way to switch actors while leaving the series continuity and mythology alone: they decided that as the Time Lords have a special ability to heal themselves when dying or gravely injured, a process called regeneration which results in changing into a different body/face each time. Each time the Doctor regenerates, his is played by a different actor, and even his personality changes to some extent or another, but he is still essentially the same person.
Here is a brief explanation of Doctors 1-5:
The First Doctor: played by William Hartnell (1963-1966)
Hartnell’s Doctor was cantankerous, bossy, and occasionally ruthless, though the character was softened slightly and made more paternal in later episodes. He was accompanied by his granddaughter, Susan, who is generally considered to be Gallifreyan and able to regenerate, though it is never explicitly stated in the show. In the second Hartnell serial, we are introduced to the Daleks, a completely non-humanoid alien species who had been mutated by war and were thus fixated on war and the extermination of any species that was not them. The Daleks became the Doctor’s most dangerous enemy, who return again and again throughout the series no matter how many times the Doctor believes he has defeated them once and for all.
The Second Doctor: played by Patrick Troughton (1966-1969)
Troughton’s Doctor was a little more light and comical, though he retained the same passionate desire to fight evil and oppression (perhaps the most identifying character trait of the Doctor throughout the series). He did, however, have a darker side that showed up on several occasions, when he manipulated his friends and those around him to influence the outcome and “for the greater good.” It is during the first serial with Troughton’s Doctor that we are introduced to the Cybermen the Doctor’s second most famous and dangerous recurring enemy. The Cybermen were originally a humanoid species who became to modify their bodies to become mechanical for survival, until eventually everything but their brains was machine, and they lost all emotion and began a mission to convert everyone else. (For the Trekkies out there, yes, this could easily be the inspiration for the Borg.)
The Third Doctor: played by Jon Pertwee (1970-1974)
Jon Pertwee was originally intended to bring his comedic experience to the character. However, Pertwee decided to play the character as a the straight man, and though there were some comedic touches, he kept his Doctor serious. Pertwee also made the Doctor more action-oriented as he liked to ride various vehicles in the show, including a motorcycle, hovercraft, and the Doctor’s vintage roadster “Bessie.” In 1973 the show celebrated the 10-year anniversary with a special called “The Three Doctors” the first of several specials that would show several incarnations of the Doctor working together. Hartnell and Troughton returned to reprise their roles for this special. Also, during Pertwee’s run as the Doctor, we meet The Master he is also a Time Lord, conceived as being like Moriarty to the Doctor’s Sherlock Holmes, he is equal in intelligence and power, but evil (like the Daleks and the Cybermen, he is a recurring enemy throughout the series).
The Fourth Doctor: Tom Baker (1974-1981)
Tom Baker was quite a bit younger than the first 4 to play the Doctor. He is also STILL the actor who has portrayed the Doctor for the longest time (7 years), and arguably the most popular and best-remembered incarnation of the Doctor (though both David Tennant and Matt Smith have been giving him a run for his money in the last couple years). (Baker was my favorite until Tennant came along. I’m sorry, Tom Baker!) Baker’s Doctor was shown to be caring and passionate at time while cold and aloof other times a conscious choice on Baker’s part to highlight the Doctor’s status as alien and essentially non-human. During Baker’s stint, the writers began introducing much more humorous storylines, which Baker played up with wonderful eccentricity.
The Fifth Doctor: played by Peter Davison (1981-1984)
To counteract the enormous popularity of Baker’s Doctor, the writers and casting directors made many changes for the Fifth Doctor. First, Davison was much younger than the first 4 portrayals of the Doctor. Davison gave the Doctor something of an aristocratic air, in opposition to Baker’s more eccentric portrayal. The writers also made this incarnation of the Doctor much more human in behavior, with vulnerabilities that were highlighted and played up in a number of episodes. He also tended to only react to situations, rather than being proactive as Baker’s Doctor often was. (Davison is my brother’s favorite incarnation, as well as David Tennant’s favorite. Tennant even did a special short for a fundraiser in which his version of the Doctor meets Davison’s Doctor, and tells him “you were my Doctor.”)
I had originally intended to give a run-down of all the Doctors here, but it has become so long that I’ve decided to split this post into two. So please come back on Friday to learn about Doctors 6-11.
In the meantime, for those Doctor Who fans out there: which Doctor is your favorite? And why?
Side Note: all images come from the History of Doctor Who wikipedia page.