DOCTOR WHO – A Retrospective: Part One

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A Retrospective: Part One

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DOCTOR WHO is a British science fiction series produced by the BBC. It first began in 1963. The show features the adventures of a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey who is called The Doctor. Whenever The Doctor introduces himself (or herself) someone asks, “Doctor who?” And that is how the show gets its name. The Doctor is an alien who appears human and explores all of time and space in a ship called the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space). The TARDIS is bigger on the inside than the outside and the outside looks like a blue English police call box. The ship had a chameleon circuit that allowed it to camouflage itself whenever it landed. A police call box was a common sight in England in 1963. Unfortunately the TARDIS’ chameleon circuit broke down and it is now stuck in that shape. Unfortunate for the Doctor but fortunate for us because that blue box is the perfect color and shape for us. Always accompanied by a variety of different companions, The Doctor fights evil aliens, mad scientists, and monsters while striving to save Earth and help people in need.

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I can say without reservation that The Doctor is my favorite fantasy character and I have been a fan for more than thirty years. Why do I love The Doctor so much?

  • He is not a soldier, or a policeman, or a secret agent, or a private eye, or anything like that. He is a doctor plain and simple.
  • He doesn’t work for any government, or organization, or promote the agenda of any group. He helps people in need – it is that simple.
  • He doesn’t ride around in a car bristling with weapons and rockets. He doesn’t fly in a spaceship with death rays and torpedoes. He travels in a call box where people can call and ask for help.
  • He doesn’t carry a gun, doesn’t use a knife, or sword, or any other weapon. He uses a sonic screwdriver – a tool to fix things.
  • He doesn’t have green or purple skin. He doesn’t have a tail or pointed ears. He is an alien but the most alien thing about him is he has two hearts. Maybe that is why he cares so much.

For all these reasons plus his sense of humor and his style of dress, The Doctor is my main Man, or my main Woman depending upon your point of view.

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For fifty-seven years we have been treated to the amazing adventures of The Doctor and he has been played by a variety of different actors each placing their unique stamp on the character. Unlike characters like James Bond, Tarzan, or Sherlock Holmes each new actor portraying The Doctor adds something unique to the mythos. You see, as an alien Time Lord when he dies his body regenerates into a brand new body with a brand new look. This means he can be an old man in one life and a young woman in the other. While remaining essentially the same character each new actor playing The Doctor gets to add something unique. We’re going to take a look at each version of The Doctor starting with the first.

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The first Doctor, as portrayed by William Hartnell, had the appearance of a frail old man. But he did possess hidden reserves of strength and will power. He was a genius about all things scientific but couldn’t successfully pilot his TARDIS. The first Doctor was often patronizing, arrogant, and abrasive. Perhaps the best word to describe him is cantankerous especially to his traveling companions. He was also at times ruthless and was not above lying or even attempting to kill to get what he wanted. On the other hand he had a deep emotional bond with his granddaughter Susan – his first companion. At first the Doctor seemed put upon and appeared to not be overly found of his travels. But he eventually came to enjoy traveling thru time and space acquiring new companions and sad to see when old ones would leave. The first Doctor’s character mellowed and he became a much more enjoyable grandfather/wise old uncle type. As such he became much loved by children and the show became a hit.

William Hartnell’s health failed and he was eventually forced to leave the show. The producers considered replacing him with a lookalike. Instead, in a bit of inspiration, they decided since The Doctor was an alien why not make use of that. They came up with the idea that when he dies he regenerates into a new body – allowing them to hire a completely different sort of actor and take the show in a new direction.

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The Second Doctor, as portrayed by Patrick Troughton, has been called the “Cosmic Hobo.” A younger Doctor this one appeared scruffy and almost childlike. He wore a frock coat several sizes too big and very baggy trousers – which were fixed with a safety pin. His mop of black hair made him like the lost twin of Moe from The Three Stooges. He also played the recorder. The second Doctor was clever and unpredictable always a few moves ahead of his opponents. A schemer he would manipulate people for their own good and would even act the fool to have his enemies underestimate him. But there was a dark side to him and he could be unsympathetic towards others. Despite his bravado and a tendency to panic when things went badly (so different from the first Doctor), the second Doctor always tried to act heroically and morally in helping others. During the run of the second Doctor he meets Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart – a character that would come to have significant importance later on.

Patrick Troughton played The Doctor for three seasons and invigorated the series with new energy. But alas he heeded the call to do other things and left the show. It had been established that The Doctor was a renegade Time Lord and his people finally caught up with him. As punishment the ability to travel was taken from his TARDIS and he was exiled on Earth. Also a regeneration was forced on him sacrificing one of his lives. And so we bid a fond farewell to the second Doctor.

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It is now 1970 and the world is still feeling James Bond fever and this is true for even DOCTOR WHO. The third Doctor, as portrayed by Jon Pertwee, was a more action-oriented Doctor. He was suave, dashing, dapper, and a man of action who used Venusian Aikido. The previous two Doctors were non-confrontational – at least not in a physical way. They preferred talking or running their way out of trouble. Or they let one of their younger companions handle the rough stuff. The third Doctor was not afraid of mixing it up although it never turned into a brawl. The Doctor after all was a man of peace. He would use one or two moves to disarm an opponent or disable them allowing him and his companions to get away.

DOCTOR WHO was now being shot in color – which allowed for a greater range of visual effects that worked well with the new direction of the show. After being exiled to Earth, The Doctor again meets now Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart who is the head of U.N.I.T. (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce later changed to the UNified Intelligence Taskforce) and grudgingly becomes their scientific advisor. The Doctor’s adventures now take place on Earth and during this time he meets and fights his greatest enemy another renegade Time Lord called The Master. The third Doctor had an authoritarian even arrogant manner but despite his perceived arrogance this Doctor genuinely cared for his various companions and started a close friendship with Lethbridge-Stewart that lasted centuries.

It was during the tenure of the third Doctor that the series reached its tenth anniversary. To celebrate there was a special episode teaming the third Doctor with his two previous incarnations. This is after all time travel. DOCTOR WHO fans had all three Doctors together and were ecstatic! The episode dealt with the Time Lords in trouble and needing the help of not just the Doctor but ALL the Doctors. Afterwards, the grateful Time Lords restored the ability to travel to the TARDIS. The Doctor was free to leave – only he didn’t. The third Doctor had made a home of sorts on Earth and real friends. Although he once again began having adventures in time and space he still came back to U.N.I.T. and did so for years.

Jon Pertwee played The Doctor for five years and was extremely popular. Wanting to do other things he left the show and everyone knew he was going to be a hard act to follow. Little did anyone know what was just around the corner.

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There you have it folks a look back at the first three Doctors. Next time we’ll say hello to Doctors four, five, and six. Until then I’ll leave you now with a quote from the second Doctor and never forget these words of wisdom: “When I say run, RUN!”

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