Prologue (series information)
The Prologue section has in depth guides to the Doctors, companions and much more.
- Spin Offs
- Doctors Gadgets
- Recurring Characters
- TV Schedule
- Alien Cultures
- Alien Planets
- Episode Guide
- Reference Guide
- Did you notice?
- Release Schedule
Doctor Who first aired Saturday 23rd November 1963. Airing weekly between 5pm and 6pm, the show was designed to fit comfortably between more adult focused shows such as Grandstand and teenaged focused shows such as Juke Box Jury.
Doctor Who was originally intended to be a family educational TV programme. Two of the original main characters were science and history teachers.
HISTORY OF DOCTOR WHO
Several individuals share credit for establishing Doctor Who in 1963, but it is generally accepted that the original impetus for the series, as well as the establishment of certain aspects, such as the concept of the TARDIS, the basic character of the Doctor and the title Doctor Who itself belong to Canadian-born Sydney Newman, who is also credited with creating another iconic series, The Avengers. Others involved in piecing together the puzzle that became the series include Head of Serials Donald Wilson, writer C. E. Webber, script editor David Whitaker and the show’s first producer, Verity Lambert, the first woman to hold such a position at the BBC.
Two other notable participants in the birth of the series were Anthony Coburn and Waris Hussein, the writer and director, respectively, of the first four-part serial, An Unearthly Child, the first episode of which aired on 23 November 1963. The version of the first episode that was broadcast was in fact the second mounting of that episode; an earlier version (called The Pilot Episode by fans), was taped some weeks before, but rejected for several issues. The BBC allowed a second mounting of the pilot to proceed. The first episode aired the day after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and had to be rebroadcast a week later when power failures disrupted the first broadcast.
Also important to creating the atmosphere of the early series were composers Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire. Grainer wrote the basic melody of the Doctor Who theme, and Derbyshire, with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, transformed it into a pioneering piece of electronica music. There have been several arrangements used of the theme, but the basic melody has remained unchanged throughout the show’s history. No new piece of music has ever been commissioned as a theme, making it one of the longest-serving signature tunes in television history.
An Unearthly Child introduced the first incarnation of the Doctor, played by character actor William Hartnell. Supporting him were William Russell and Jacqueline Hill as Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, respectively, and Carole Ann Ford as the Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan Foreman. These four would form the core cast of the series throughout its first season and into the second.
After the first episode introduced the characters and concept, the remaining three episodes of An Unearthly Child encompassed a modest storyline involving a group of cavemen in prehistoric times. The series began to find its voice as a science fiction series with the second serial, The Daleks by Terry Nation. It introduced the Daleks, the single most iconic recurring enemy of the franchise. The series began to really take off in popularity with this serial, which helped launch “Dalekmania” in the UK, leading to toys, the first novelisation Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks, the movie adaptation Dr. Who and the Daleks, and many televised sequels, beginning with The Dalek Invasion of Earth.
EARLY CAST CHANGES
The Dalek Invasion of Earth was also notable for featuring the series’ first cast change. Carole Ann Ford left the series. She was replaced the following week by Maureen O’Brien as Vicki, establishing the pattern of the Doctor’s companions changing. The other original actors, William Russell and Jacqueline Hill, left the series a few months later at the conclusion of The Chase, making way for another new companion, Steven Taylor, played by Peter Purves. Over the decades, the length of service of different companions has ranged from as little as a few weeks (with some being considered companions after appearing in only a single episode), up to several years. Some actors have returned to reprise their roles years and even decades later (most notably Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith).
A CHANGE OF IDENTITY
The next major turning point in the series occurred in 1966 when the actor playing the First Doctor, William Hartnell, left the series. Rather than introduce a new leading character, replace Hartnell with no explanation or simply cancel the series, the producers, with input from Sydney Newman, chose to establish the Doctor’s ability to regenerate into a new person when injured or near death. This led to the dramatic — and successful — transition to Patrick Troughton as the Second Doctor at the conclusion of The Tenth Planet, a serial that was in itself notable for introducing the franchise’s second most popular recurring villains, the Cybermen.
The experiment of regenerating the Doctor occurred again in 1970 with the introduction of one-time comic actor Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor, a move that also coincided with the series changing to colour production. Once again, this was successful and Doctor Who continued to establish itself as a British TV institution, although it remained virtually unknown in American markets.
In 1973, Target Books reissued a trilogy of novelisations from the mid-1960s, and in 1974 began to issue its own adaptations of televised episodes. In a time before home video recorders and commercial release of TV series on tape and DVD and when rebroadcasts were rare and many old episodes were thought lost, the Target line became a popular and valued aspect of the growing Doctor Who franchise; the books would be published into the mid-1990s. A unique feature of the Target line (in fact dating back to the first novelisations published by Frederick Muller) is that many of the books were written by either the original scriptwriters or by individuals with strong behind-the-scenes connections to the series, such as Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks, David Whitaker, etc., all of whom worked in script editing or producing capacities on the series. In the late 70s, about a dozen of the Target novels were reprinted in American editions by Pinnacle Books, with introductions by noted science fiction author Harlan Ellison, who added to the franchise’s prestige by placing it higher in his estimation than Star Trek.
THE TOM BAKER YEARS
The series continued through the 1970s, with Tom Baker taking on the role of the Fourth Doctor in 1974. Baker became the most iconic, and arguably most popular actor of the classic series. This was due in part to the frequent rebroadcasts of his episodes in the United Kingdom, which began during his tenure. He was the first “young” Doctor and played the role for more seasons (seven) than any actor to date. Other actors have been considered the “current” Doctor for longer, but without regular television appearances. Near the end of the Tom Baker era, the BBC attempted a spin-off series, K9 and Company, but it never went beyond a pilot episode, A Girl’s Best Friend.
The US broadcasts of Doctor Who were initially poorly done, with some broadcasters airing a version with narration explaining the plot. By the late 1970s, however, the series was firmly entrenched in the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), which would air the show repeatedly over the next three decades and air the revived series after 2004.
THE JOHN NATHAN-TURNER ERA
Peter Davison succeeded Baker in 1981 as the Fifth Doctor with new producer John Nathan-Turner. Only twenty-nine when he was cast, Davison was, until the appointment of Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor in 2009, the youngest actor ever to play the Doctor officially. The TARDIS crew of the Fifth Doctor skewed younger and featured the first long-term companion’s death when Adric died at the end of Earthshock. Two short-term companions had died earlier in one serial, The Dalek’s Master Plan, but they had not been on the show more than a few weeks; Adric was on the series for about a year.
Davison’s era was marked by experimentation by the BBC in terms of broadcast scheduling. The series moved to airing twice a week on weeknights, away from its traditional Saturday slot. Initially, this appeared to be a successful gambit. The ratings for Davison’s early stories were on par if not higher than Tom Baker’s later stories. It was during Davison’s era that the series marked its 20th anniversary with the feature-length episode The Five Doctors. This featured all the actors who had played the Doctor to that time (although Hartnell and Tom Baker were shown in stock footage).
Colin Baker followed Davison as the Sixth Doctor in 1984. The BBC further experimented with the format, moving from twenty-minute to forty-five-minute episodes. Nathan-Turner also experimented with the characterisation of the Doctor, intentionally making the Sixth Doctor initially unlikeable in order to create a new dynamic. Neither experiment was successful. Colin Baker’s tenure was marked by a serious threat to the show’s survival when the BBC, citing low ratings, announced it was ending the series after the 1985 season, its 22nd. Following immediate outcry, this decision was modified to become an eighteen-month hiatus. During the hiatus, fan efforts were launched to get the show back sooner. These included the recording of a charity record called “Doctor in Distress” by cast members. BBC Radio tried to fill the void by producing the first made-for-radio Doctor Who serial, Slipback, starring Colin Baker.
The series returned in 1986 with a season-long story arc, The Trial of a Time Lord, but with greatly reduced screen time. Fourteen episodes were allotted for the season, up from thirteen the previous season, but with episode lengths returned to twenty-five minutes. This was roughly half the storytelling time of recent seasons.
END OF AN ERA
Although the show’s return garnered sufficient ratings for the BBC to grant a stay of execution and renew it for a twenty-fourth season, Colin Baker’s contract as the Doctor was not renewed and he ceded the role to Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor in 1987.
The series survived the hiatus, but never regained ratings needed for ongoing survival, constantly being beaten in the ratings by Coronation Street. Towards the end, it garnered ratings barely in the three million range, compared to eleven million at the peak of the Tom Baker era.
Attempts were made to refresh the ageing series by darkening the character of the Doctor through what was later called the Cartmel Masterplan (named for then-script editor Andrew Cartmel), and by introducing Ace, a companion with an edginess never before seen in an assistant.
The same year that McCoy took over, a fan-produced independent film, Wartime, was released. Taking advantage of a loophole in licensing that allows characters other than the Doctor to be licensed direct from their creators, this film featuring John Benton was the first of what would be a series of fan-made productions that would help keep the Doctor Who universe alive after 1989.
During McCoy’s era, the series celebrated its 25th anniversary on TV. One of the year’s serials, Remembrance of the Daleks, returned the Doctor to 76 Totter’s Lane, where it all began in 1963.
Following production of the twenty-sixth season, Nathan-Turner learned that the show would not be renewed immediately for a twenty-seventh. After having McCoy record a series-ending monologue, the final episode — part 3 of the ironically titled Survival — aired on 6 December 1989, bringing Doctor Who’s marathon 26-year run to a close. The Doctor Who Production Office closed down the following summer.
It has never been made clear whether the BBC ever actually “cancelled” Doctor Who in 1989, or simply put the series on hold. One of the first to state outright that the show was cancelled was co-star Sophie Aldred in the documentary More than 30 Years in the TARDIS.
“THE WILDERNESS YEARS”
The end of active production was made official in 1990. The Doctor Who Production Office was closed. The BBC never officially cancelled the series. It simply didn’t commission any new episodes. This led to the launch of a cottage industry of spin-off work. These included the first long-term range of original fiction (the Virgin New Adventures series). Target Books exhausted all available remaining serials to novelise and the brand was retired in 1994. There were numerous independent video productions with characters and creatures from the series, but never the Doctor himself. Many of their new actors, writers and directors would become involved in the main Doctor Who series, including Nicholas Briggs and Mark Gatiss. In 1993, the BBC made a half-hearted attempt at marking the thirtieth anniversary, first commissioning, then cancelling, a multi-Doctor special called The Dark Dimension. Instead they greenlit a brief, poorly received pastiche, Dimensions in Time which aired as part of a Children in Need fundraiser and as a dubious crossover with the soap opera EastEnders.
For original fiction, Virgin’s New Adventures picked up where Survival had left off. Over the next five years it greatly expanded the world of the Seventh Doctor, and Doctor Who, by featuring stories with more adult storylines than was possible on TV. The books also introduced the character of Bernice Summerfield, who was initially a companion of the Seventh Doctor. Over time she developed her own mini-franchise, which continues to this day.
Virgin also launched a similar series of books called the Virgin Missing Adventures, featuring past Doctors. One New Adventures novel, Damaged Goods, was written by a young writer who would later play a major role in the history of Doctor Who: Russell T Davies. Another future producer of the series, Steven Moffat, contributed short stories to Virgin’s third line of Doctor Who fiction, the Virgin Decalogs. Around this time, Moffat also made his Doctor Who TV writing debut by penning the parody serial The Curse of Fatal Death. It aired as a fund-raiser for Comic Relief and starred Rowan Atkinson, Richard E Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, and Joanna Lumley as the 9th through 13th incarnations of the Doctor.
A false restart
The franchise’s so-called “first interregnum” on television ended in 1996 with an attempt at launching an American-UK co-produced Doctor Who series. A telemovie was produced for the American Fox Network, Doctor Who, in which McCoy handed off to Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. Neither a reboot or re-imagining, the film was a continuation of the original series. While moderately successful on the BBC, it failed to garner sufficient ratings in the US to warrant a new series. McCoy, in a later interview with Doctor Who Confidential, postulated that the film failed in the US in part because viewers unfamiliar with the history of Doctor Who were confused by the first part of the film, which dealt with regeneration.
Back to the wilderness
The “second interregnum” that followed saw more novels (now published by the BBC under its BBC Books logo, featuring the Eighth Doctor), more independent productions, a separate series of Bernice Summerfield novels and, in 1998, the start of a prolific series of officially licenced audio stories by Big Finish Productions.
Unlike the independent made-for-video productions, Big Finish could use Doctors and companions from the series. With the exception of Tom Baker, who wouldn’t join Big Finish until 2012, and earlier Doctors now deceased, the audios featured the original actors. In particular, Big Finish produced a long-running series of programs continuing the adventures of McGann’s Eighth Doctor. Big Finish also produced a prolific series of audio dramas featuring Bernice Summerfield (and began publishing novels featuring her once Virgin ended its series of books) as well as other spin-off series featuring other parts of the Doctor Who universe, such as Dalek Empire, I, Davros, Sarah Jane Smith and Gallifrey. Many of the writers, directors, and voice actors involved in this project also went on to work on the TV series proper.
The BBC also created new Doctor Who-related media projects during this time, creating several original webcast productions in conjunction with Big Finish, and making several Virgin-era Doctor Who novels available as e-books on its website.
THE TRIUMPHANT RETURN
In 2003 for the 40th anniversary, the BBC released the 6-part webcast Scream of the Shalka, in which Richard E Grant was introduced as the Ninth Doctor. Intended to be an “official” continuation of the television series, this version of the character was quickly relegated to non-canon status with the 2005 series revival. The BBC stunned fans by announcing in 2003 that its Welsh production office, BBC Wales, had been given the go-ahead to produce a brand-new series of Doctor Who. The series would be produced by Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner. Davies, since his days writing Doctor Who fiction for Virgin, had gone on to create the critically acclaimed series, Queer as Folk.
In the following months, details of the new series emerged. Fans still questioned if the new series would be a continuation of the original series (a twenty-seventh season), or a reimagining (as had recently occurred to great effect with Battlestar Galactica). Would the Paul McGann movie or Scream of the Shalka count? There was initial controversy when pop singer Billie Piper was cast as the new companion. The new series logo riled some fans; BBC News reported that some on the production team had received death threats over it.
The BBC’s decision to restart the numbering of the series with series 1 in 2005 fueled the debate over whether the new show would be a continuation. The BBC indicated it was strictly a commercial decision, and part of an overall strategy not to alienate new viewers by suggesting they needed to know twenty-six years of backstory.
Doctor Who returned to television in the spring of 2005. Christopher Eccleston took over from McGann as the Ninth Doctor. After initial uncertainty, it was soon established the new series was a continuation of the old. The new episodes returned Doctor Who to levels of popularity not seen since the 1970s, and garnered awards the original series never saw. Eccleston’s brief era marked the return of UNIT, the Autons, the Nestene Consciousness, the Daleks and the Dalek Emperor to television, as well as the introduction of Jack Harkness, who would become a recurring character during the Russel T. Davies era. In March 2006, the new series was first broadcast in the United States on the SciFi Channel. Audiences embraced the new series, with Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler, in particular.
The show stumbled slightly with the announcement days after its premiere on 30 March that Eccleston was leaving after a single season. The BBC later apologised for the timing of this announcement. The tenure of his replacement, David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, was dominated by the relationship between the Doctor and Rose Tyler, a closer bond than even the “Mentor” type relationship shared between the Seventh Doctor and Ace. Tennant’s era also saw the return of Sarah Jane Smith in School Reunion, the episode most cited as the one that established once and for all that “nuWho” was a direct continuation of the 1963-89 series. This was followed by the Children in Need mini-episode Time Crash, in which Peter Davison reprised his role as the Fifth Doctor.
Tennant’s era also saw the reintroduction of the Cybermen, albeit a parallel version. Related to this, the series began delving into the multiverse concept with Rise of the Cybermen, a topic that would dominate the final episodes of the fourth series in 2008.
Since the show’s return to TV, Doctor Who has become a major franchise. It spawned two successful spin-off series in quick succession: Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures; both centred around the adventures of former companions. There was a third, non-BBC spin-off, K9. Two documentary series were launched with the return of Doctor Who: Doctor Who Confidential, (2005-2011) and Totally Doctor Who (2006-2007). The last series also produced the first animated-for-television Doctor Who serial, The Infinite Quest, which aired in 2007 and featured Tennant. A second animated serial, Dreamland, aired in 2009.
The Tennant era also saw the start of a new tradition in late 2005: the Doctor Who Christmas Special, holiday-themed episodes aired separately from the regular seasons. As of December 2013, nine such specials have been aired. The series has also contributed several mini-episodes, such as the aforementioned Time Crash, to the Children in Need Appeal and the BBC Prom concert series (Music of the Spheres).
The conclusion of the fourth revived season in 2008, which linked all four series together and featured the return of Rose and other companions, saw Doctor Who garner its highest ratings in nearly thirty years. It was followed by the 2008 Christmas special, The Next Doctor, which included a scene — the first of its kind — in which all ten Doctors, including the debated Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor, were shown, firmly establishing the Eighth Doctor’s place in his personal history.
The year 2009 was a transition year for Doctor Who in terms of both production and releases. The series had only four episodes, aired as specials in April, November and on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day 2010. These specials and an animated serial, Dreamland, marked David Tennant’s final appearances as the Tenth Doctor. The decision for the series to take a break following series 4 was, according to Davies’ book The Writer’s Tale, planned as far back as Tennant’s first year. Davies devised the break to smooth the transition between his term as show-runner and that of Steven Moffat, whom he invited to take over his post as executive producer and lead writer when the series returned as a weekly programme in 2010. Tennant took advantage of this break to appear in a high-profile stage production of Hamlet co-starring Star Trek icon Patrick Stewart, which some media erroneously indicated was the reason for the break.
The announcement of the gap year was followed by the announcement that Davies and Julie Gardner would be stepping aside as executive producers of Doctor Who following the specials. Moffat, who won the Hugo Award three years running for his Doctor Who scripts, was appointed new head writer and executive producer. Also appointed executive producers were Piers Wenger and Beth Willis.
The question of whether Tennant would stay on was a hot topic in the UK media for much of 2008. On 19 October 2008, Tennant, while accepting his National Television Award for Favourite Actor, announced he would leave the role after the specials. After months of speculation, it was announced on 3 January 2009 that twenty-six-year-old Matt Smith would join the series in 2010 as the Eleventh Doctor, smashing Peter Davison’s record as the youngest Doctor ever.
The end of Series 4 and the start of the specials marked a “changing of the guard” for international broadcasts of the series in the US and Canada. In the US, the SciFi Channel relinquished first-broadcast rights to BBC America. In Canada, the CBC’s controversial handling of the series (which had seen a marked decrease in network interest and destructive editing of the Series 4 finale for commercials) came to an abrupt end when the cable network Space adopted the series. Both began airing the series with The Next Doctor in the spring of 2009 and announced they would air the weekly series in 2010.
The first gap-year special, Planet of the Dead aired during Easter 2009. Planet of the Dead was the first Doctor Who episode to be filmed in high definition and, subsequently, the first to be issued to Blu-ray.
Meanwhile, Torchwood aired its third series in July 2009, now on BBC One, but in a different format: a single, critically acclaimed, five-episode story entitled Children of Earth. It also aired to acclaim and high ratings on BBC America and Space. The Sarah Jane Adventures began its third series in October 2009, with David Tennant playing the Doctor in two episodes. Work on a non-BBC spin-off series, K9, also progressed through the year.
The second special of the “gap year”, The Waters of Mars aired on 15 November 2009, and an animated adventure, Dreamland, was broadcast serialised on the BBC’s Red Button service before being aired as one programme by the BBC proper.
During the Christmas season, Tennant appeared as the Doctor in a series of Christmas idents for the BBC. Finally, the era of the Tenth Doctor ended with the two-part special The End of Time. Part 1 aired on 25 December 2009 and the conclusion, with David Tennant handing over the role to Matt Smith, aired on 1 January 2010.
The new man
Production of the first Matt Smith episodes commenced in July 2009. Writers recruited for the new season included Richard Curtis (co-creator of Blackadder and writer of Four Weddings and a Funeral) and Toby Whithouse (creator of Being Human). Noted fantasy writer Neil Gaiman was rumoured to be involved in the new season. These rumours proved to be incorrect, but he did end up penning The Doctor’s Wife the following series. Michael Moorcock, another noted fantasy novelist, also announced he was writing a Doctor Who novel for publication in 2010.
Minor competition for Smith arrived in January 2010 when broadcasts of the non-BBC series K9 began in parts of Europe. The UK, which had seen a preview of the first episode on Halloween 2009, saw the series debut on Disney XD on 3 April 2010, a few hours before the start of the fifth series.
After months of intense publicity, the Matt Smith/Eleventh Doctor era officially began on 3 April 2010 with the broadcast of The Eleventh Hour on BBC One. In a show of international support for the series, broadcasts in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand were scheduled within a few weeks, the first time the programme’s biggest international markets had coincided their broadcasts in this way.
The fifth series ran for thirteen weeks, concluding with The Big Bang on 26 June 2010. Before the first episode of series 5 was broadcast, the BBC announced that a Christmas special had been commissioned for 2010, and a sixth series of the revived series was scheduled to enter production that summer for broadcast in 2011.
Series 6 aired in two parts; the first half aired in the spring and the remaining episodes aired in the autumn. The BBC claimed the split was to accommodate a story arc with a mid-season cliffhanger, the arc being the revelation of the identity of River Song. Steven Moffat was said to have requested the split.
Series 7 aired in two parts as well, although this time the first half aired in the autumn and the second half aired in the spring, with a Christmas special in between. Broadcasts began in September 2012, with Asylum of the Daleks.
Following the series 7 finale, The Name of the Doctor, The Day of the Doctor aired on TV and in cinemas on 23 November 2013 to celebrate the programme’s 50th anniversary. This heavily featured a new Doctor, played by John Hurt, who was revealed to be the true ninth incarnation of the Doctor. The Christmas special The Time of the Doctor was broadcast a month later on 25 December. Time featured the Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration into Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth; Capaldi was announced as the Twelfth Doctor in a live special months earlier on 4 August.
A common contention among fans and producers of the series is that a large part of the Doctor’s appeal comes from his mysterious and alien origins. While over the decades several revelations have been made about his background — that he is a Time Lord, that he is from Gallifrey, among others — the writers have striven to retain some sense of mystery and to preserve the eternal question, “Doctor who?” This backstory was not rigidly planned from the beginning, but developed gradually and haphazardly over the years, the result of the work of many writers and producers.
Understandably, this has led to continuity problems. Characters such as the Monk were retroactively classified as Time Lords, early histories of races such as the Daleks were rewritten, and so on. The creation of a detailed backstory has also led to the criticism that too much being known about the Doctor limits both creative possibilities and the sense of mystery. Some of the stories during the Seventh Doctor’s tenure, part of the so-called “Cartmel Masterplan”, were intended to deal with this issue by suggesting that much of what was believed about the Doctor was wrong and that he is a far more powerful and mysterious figure than previously thought. In both an untelevised scene in Remembrance of the Daleks and the subsequent Silver Nemesis it is implied (to quote an excised line from “Remembrance”) that the Doctor is “far more than just another Time Lord.” The suspension of the series in 1989, however, meant that none of these hints were ever resolved, at least on television. The Virgin New Adventure novel, Lungbarrow, did resolve these hints and explain the Doctor’s origins. However, not all fans regard the spin-off novels as canon or accept the revelations made in that particular story.
The 1996 television movie created even more uncertainty about the character, revealing that the Doctor had a human mother and he remembered his father. Fans, however, seemed to be more upset about the fact that the Eighth Doctor kissed Dr Grace Holloway, breaking the series’ longstanding taboo against the Doctor having any romantic involvement with his companions.
The revelation in the 1996 television movie that the Doctor was half-human is often considered to be a continuity error as the Doctor is considered by most to be a full Time Lord, causing fans to attempt to find alternative explanations about why the Doctor claimed to be part human.
While some fans regard discontinuities as a problem, others regard it as a source of interest or humour — an attitude taken in the book The Discontinuity Guide. A common fan explanation is that a universe with time travellers is likely to have many historical inconsistencies.
The revived series has tackled this issue head on by suggesting that “time is in flux” and with the exception of certain fixed points in time, most anything can be changed. Recently, some fan interpretations of the series 5 finale, The Big Bang, have suggested a potential reboot of Doctor Who continuity in toto, but there is also evidence in opposition to this view.
There has been much fan speculation on exactly which aspects of the television series, books, radio dramatisations, and other sources are considered canon. This has been made more complex by the fact that at least one novel, short story, comic, and audio have all been adapted for the TV series. Additionally, the events of at least one novel have been referenced on screen. For their part, the BBC have never issued a firm edict as to what counts as “canon”. Thus, Doctor Who stands in stark contrast to the more formalised canons of Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings — and, indeed, most every other fictional universe.
When the series begins, nothing is known of the Doctor at all, not even his name. In the very first serial, An Unearthly Child, two teachers from the Coal Hill School in London, Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton, become intrigued by one of their students, Susan Foreman, who exhibits high intelligence and patchy, unusually advanced knowledge. Trailing her to a junkyard at 76 Totter’s Lane, they encounter a strange old man and hear Susan’s voice coming from inside what appears to be a police box. Pushing their way inside, the two find that the exterior is actually camouflage for the dimensionally transcendental interior of the TARDIS.
Susan calls the old man “Grandfather”, but he simply calls himself the Doctor. When he fears Ian and Barbara may alert the local authorities to what they’ve seen, he whisks them all away to another place in time and space.
In the first episode, Ian addresses the Doctor as “Doctor Foreman,” as the junkyard in which they find him bears the sign “I.M. Foreman”. When addressed by Ian with this name in the next episode, the Time Lord responds, “Eh? Doctor who? What’s he talking about?” Later, when Ian realises that “Foreman” is not his name, he asks Barbara, “Who is he? Doctor who?” Although listed in the on-screen credits for nearly twenty years as “Doctor Who”, the Doctor is never really called by that name in the series, except in that same tongue-in-cheek manner. For example, in The Five Doctors when one character refers to him as “the Doctor”, another character asks, “Who?” The only real exception has been the computer WOTAN, in the serial, The War Machines, which commanded that “Doctor Who is required.”
In The Gunfighters, the First Doctor uses the alias Dr Caligari. In The Highlanders the Second Doctor assumes the name of “Doctor von Wer” (a German translation of “Doctor of Who”), and signs himself as “Dr. W” in The Underwater Menace. In The Wheel in Space, his companion Jamie, reads the name off some medical equipment, and tells the crew of the Wheel that the Doctor’s name is “John Smith”. The Doctor adopts this alias several times over the course of the series, often prefixing the title “Doctor” to it. This has continued to the Tenth Doctor, and was famously referenced to in the 1996 television movie, where even though the Doctor is unconscious, a complete stranger, seemingly at random, writes the name John Smith on the Doctor’s hospital admission papers.
In The Armageddon Factor, the Time Lord Drax addresses the Fourth Doctor as “Theet”, short for “Theta Sigma”, apparently a University nickname. In the 1988 serial Remembrance of the Daleks, the Seventh Doctor is asked to sign a document, which he does by using a question mark, and produces a calling card with a series of Greek letters (or Old High Gallifreyan script) and a question mark inscribed on it. The Eighth Doctor briefly used the alias “Dr Bowman” in the 1996 television movie. He has also been mocked by his fellow Time Lords for adhering to such a “lowly” title as “Doctor”.
In many spin-off comic strips, books, films and other media, the character is often called “Doctor Who” (or just “Dr. Who”) as a matter of course, though this has declined in recent years. From the first story through to Logopolis (the last story of Season 18 and also of the Tom Baker era), the lead character was listed as “Doctor Who”. Starting with Peter Davison’s first story, Castrovalva (also the first story of Season 19), the lead character is credited simply as “The Doctor”.
Doctor Who writer Terrance Dicks offered the theory that Time Lord names were “jawbreakers,” long and extremely difficult to pronounce, and this was why the Doctor never revealed his true name. However, River Song, one of the few people ever to know his name, was able to whisper it in his ear in a very short time. Some fans have speculated, taking off from the fact that the full name of the Time Lady Romana is Romanadvoratrelundar, that the first syllable of the Doctor’s true name is “Who”. It should be noted that, although it is often asserted that “Doctor Who” is not the character’s name, there is nothing in the series itself that actually confirms this. On at least one occasion the Doctor is about to give a name after the title “Doctor…” but is interrupted. Interestingly, the BBC novel, The Infinity Doctors mentions an ancient Gallifreyan god named “OHM”. When this name is turned upside down, the result is “WHO.” This idea originated in early drafts of The Three Doctors by Bob Baker and Dave Martin. The character of “Ohm” eventually became Omega.
It is interesting to note that, while spin-off media is known to “fill in the blanks” regarding aspects of Doctor Who lore — for example, several novels “revealed” The Master’s real name — no officially licensed media has ever seriously attempted to solve the riddle of the Doctor’s real name. Notwithstanding early spin-off media that treated “Doctor Who” as his name, of course.
During Matt Smith’s reign as the Eleventh Doctor, it was revealed that the oldest question in the universe was “Doctor Who?” and considering how desperate the Silence, a religious order devoted to destroying the Doctor, are to keep him from revealing it, the consequences of him telling anyone his real name must be catastrophic. The Tenth Doctor, played by David Tennant, has stated that there was only one reason and one time that he would or could reveal his true name.
In The Bells of Saint John, the Eleventh Doctor asked Clara to repeat the question, and stated that he didn’t realise how much he enjoyed being people asking him “Doctor Who?”
In 2000, in a poll of industry professionals, the British Film Institute voted Doctor Who #3 in a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes. Since its return in 2005, the series has received many nominations and awards both nationally (UK) and internationally. This includes BAFTAs, the National Television Awards and the Hugo Awards. American accolades have been fewer and farther between, although in 2007 it broke a barrier by receiving a nomination for the 2008 People’s Choice Awards, although it did not win. The series’ revival found its highest ratings not in the UK but in South Korea. The Guinness World Records have recognised that Doctor Who has broke, accomplished and set many different records.
Even the “gap year” season of 2009-2010, which consisted of only four specials (five if the 2008 Christmas special, The Next Doctor is included), wasn’t enough to slow down the train of awards given to Doctor Who. On 20 January 2010 the series won Best Drama and David Tennant won Best Drama Performance at the 2010 National Television Awards.
To build upon the success of Dalekmania the series had created in Britain in the 1960’s, two feature films were produced (Dr. Who and the Daleks, and Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.) and released world-wide. Although both were adapted from the William Hartnell television stories The Daleks and The Dalek Invasion of Earth respectively, they feature Peter Cushing as a Human scientist named Dr. Who who invents a TARDIS, and as such are not considered to be canonical.
In 2011 it was announced that a new feature film would be released, to be directed by Harry Potter director David Yates. Although initial news reports suggested that the film would “start from scratch” in terms of continuity, Steven Moffat subsequently clarified that “any Doctor Who movie would be made by the BBC team, star the current TV Doctor and would certainly not be a Hollywood reboot.” He later reiterated, “There will not come a time when there’s a separate kind of Doctor Who. What was talked about there was that there would be a separate Doctor and a different continuity. Of course it won’t. That would be silly. Everyone knows that’s silly. The BBC knows that’s silly, and is not going to do that.”
Although Doctor Who originated as a television programme, it has become much more than that. Starting with “Dalekmania” in the 1960s, a great deal of merchandise has sprung out of Doctor Who. Some of that merchandise has continued the story of the Doctor’s adventures. Over the decades, Doctor Who has appeared on stage, screen, and radio, and in a variety of novels, comics, full-cast audio adventures and webcasts. Beginning in the late 1980s, independent production companies such as BBV Productions and Reeltime Pictures took advantage of a loophole in the BBC’s ownership of Doctor Who to licence individual characters and monsters from the series directly from their creators and build original film and audio dramas around them; this reached its height after the original series ended in 1989. Many of these productions involved original cast members from the series. Meanwhile, since 1991, a prolific series of original novels rivalled only by the Star Trek franchise (in terms of quantity) have been published. Many of these productions and novels are highly regarded by some Doctor Who fans. Several of the writers of the 2005 series previously wrote or scripted adventures for the Doctor in other media.
In terms of non-fiction works, Doctor Who ranks among the most intensely chronicled entertainment franchises in history. Since the publication of The Making of Doctor Who in the early 1970s, the number of books detailing the production, personnel, and even philosophy behind Doctor Who has numbered well into three figures. In addition, a growing number of actors connected to the series have published autobiographies (in several cases more than one volume of memoirs), ranging from 1960s-era co-stars such as Anneke Wills and Deborah Watling through to more recent actors such as Billie Piper and John Barrowman.