Bigger on the Inside: Why I Love Doctor Who

The TARDIS. Iconic!

There are some things that you bring with you from childhood, some things that you just never grow out of. Tantrums, laughing at farts and pulling stupid faces, to name but a few. But for me, and for many of us Brits, there is also Doctor Who. The 50th Anniversary of this very British sci-fi show is fast approaching (okay, it’s still two years away, but when you’re nearly 50 that isn’t very long). With such a lengthy life there are very few these days who didn’t grow up with this unusual, time-travelling alien forming part of their childhood, and for many their adulthood, too.

For those of you who have no idea who or what I’m talking about, allow me to illuminate. The Doctor, as he calls himself, is a member of an old and significantly advanced race known as the Time Lords. Disgruntled and bored with the Time Lords’ policy of observation and non-interference in the affairs of the universe, The Doctor ‘borrows’ a TARDIS (a vessel for travelling through time and space) and roams the cosmos righting wrongs, fighting evil and generally poking his nose in where it doesn’t belong. The TARDIS is bigger on the inside, almost infinite, and is supposed to be able to change appearance to match its surroundings. However, The Doctor’s TARDIS is stuck in the shape of an old police phone box (something that was a common sight on the London streets when the series first aired in 1963). You with me so far? Excellent.

Dalek. Iconic!

When I was a kid, back in the seventies and beyond, Saturday nights were all about the next episode of Doctor Who, of that glorious half-hour spent cowering behind a cushion as the renegade Time Lord faced down Cybermen, Sontarans, Autons, Zygons and, of course, the iconic Daleks. Those must have been more innocent times because my son now finds it incredible that entire generations of children could have found moving pepper-pots with wobbly protuberances scary. But hey, we also though the Atari was the coolest piece of technology known to science. Trust me, when you’re that naive there’s nothing scarier than a wobbly protuberance. Stop sniggering at the back. Anyway, now I’m an adult (probably) and I must confess that, while I no longer find the Daleks scary, Saturday nights are still defined by the next episode of the show. I don’t know why it has endured the way it has. That is the secret formula that TV producers have always been searching for (and if I knew that I’d be watching Doctor Who while cowering behind a huge pile of cash). However, I can tell you what I love about it.

Doctor Who was always a masterclass of writing over production. Perhaps not so much these days, since it has returned with a much increased budget, but back in the day the show consistently overcame its meagre means with razor-sharp scripting, great performances and an abundance of creativity. So what if the sets were often flimsy and some of the monsters looked like they were created for a local school pantomime. It didn’t matter because with the boundless conviction of Tom Baker or Jon Pertwee at the centre of events, delivering superlative dialogue, you believed it completely. Yes, even the Daleks and their wobbly protuberances.

70s Title Sequence. Iconic!

Doctor Who is just a little bit offbeat and there is something quintessentially English about it. The central character is eccentric, well-spoken and, with his peculiar taste in clothes and often quirky features, far removed from the conventional image of a hero. Time Lords have the handy ability to cheat death by regenerating their bodies, resulting in a change of appearance and, to a degree, personality. There are certain traits that always remain the same, however. The Doctor is extremely intelligent, slightly unhinged, scientifically gifted and passionately opposed to violence. He abhors weapons, refusing to pick up a gun and preferring instead to use his brain as his most effective attack. It is an amazing feat that so much action and adventure has been consistently created around a character who is essentially a pacifist.

Anti-authoritarian and rigidly individualistic, here is a champion for misfits everywhere. The Doctor is a rebel with a brain, bringing down tyrannical governments and seemingly invulnerable despots for fun. He is always the smartest man in the room (and the first to point that out) and, let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to be in that position whenever possible?

Perhaps it is these qualities that have made Doctor Who so popular for so long. He is certainly the kind of role model you would want your kids growing up with and I’m forever grateful to have grown up with him myself.

Splendid chap. All of them.

Of the eleven incarnations of The Doctor so far, here are my top five. Are you a fan of the show? If so, who are your top five Doctors?

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5) Patrick Troughton – The 2nd Doctor

1966 – 1969

“Your leader will be angry if you kill me. I’m a genius!”

Scatterbrained, fretful, mercurial and manipulative. When William Hartnell, the 1st Doctor, quit the role the notion of regeneration was introduced into the character to keep the popular show going. Enter Patrick Troughton who, while retaining the character’s core identity, delivered a very different personality. The 2nd Doctor was the classic hidden genius, an inter-galactic Columbo masking his great intelligence beneath the facade of a bumbling fool. It became a defining trait for The Doctor, adopted by many of the subsequent actors.

Trademarks: Playing the recorder, the woolly coat, ‘Oh, my giddy aunt’.

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4) Sylvester McCoy – The 7th Doctor

1987 – 1996

“Anybody remotely interesting is mad in some way.”

Enigmatic, dark, brooding and something of a clown. Sylvester McCoy brought an air of mystery back to the character, with his story arc often hinting at untold secrets in The Doctor’s past. You could say he put ‘who’ back into Doctor Who, while contrasting the gloom with sudden outbursts of circus trickery. McCoy got a raw deal when the show was cancelled in 1989, only to make a brief appearance when it returned for a one-off movie in 1996, and he was regenerated into Paul McGann. A shame because there were still depths to mine.

Trademarks: Question marks everywhere, rolling R’s, juggling and magic tricks.

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3) Jon Pertwee - The 3rd Doctor

1970 – 1974

“What’s wrong with being childish? I like being childish.”

Suave, avuncular, petulant, haughty and dependable. The show’s first Doctor to be seen in colour was the one that you would probably choose to travel with. You would always feel safe with Jon Pertwee, who delivered the character at his most heroic and dynamic. Swordplay and Venusian Aikido ranked among the many skills in this Doctor’s repertoire and no other incarnation was quite this dashing. Pertwee was the Time Lord as a perfect gentleman, impeccably attired and mannered but with a razor-sharp tongue for those who earned his ire.

Trademarks: The cloak, frilly shirts, various gadgets and his car, Bessie.

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2) Matt Smith - The 11th Doctor

2010 – Present

“I am a mad man with a box.”

Gangly, energetic, childish, bewildered but confident. The current Doctor has brought the character back to his outlandish best. At 26, Smith is the youngest actor to take on the role but has all the natural personality quirks to portray the Time Lord the way he should be. After years of David Tennant’s often overplayed and forced eccentricities, Smith makes it all look so easy and is the most assured and funniest Doctor to come along for years. Some actors are just a natural fit for the character, getting it right from episode one. So it is with Matt Smith.

Trademarks: Bow ties (are cool), Jammie Dodgers and a Fez.

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1) Tom Baker – The 4th Doctor

1974-1981

“First things first, but not necessarily in that order.”

Slightly insane, irritable, stubborn, unpredictable and hilarious.  For almost everyone of my generation Tom Baker is the quintessential Doctor. His unhinged, effortless and often improvised portrayal of the Time Lord was helped in no small part by the fact that Baker is just as eccentric in reality, perhaps even more so. Baker set the standard by which all other incarnations are measured, with ‘not as good as Tom Baker’ an overused judgement of subsequent actors. Who else has ever disarmed their enemies by offering them Jelly Babies?

Trademarks: Long scarf, Jelly Babies, K-9 and that toothy grin.

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18 people thought reading “Bigger on the Inside: Why I Love Doctor Who” would be a good idea. Stranger still, they left messages...

  1. joem18b

    I’ve seen two or three incarnations of the Doctor. Netflix has six seasons worth and I found some more at the library.

    Did you mention, and did I miss it, the fact that he always has a young female assistant in tow? Or does he?

    Reply
    1. Richard Post author

      Usually, yeah. Although they aren’t always female. My favourite was Romana, who was also a Time Lord. She had an amusing relationship with him since she was a little smarter than he was.

      Reply
  2. King Uke

    Nice post Rich. Like you, I watched Doctor Who as a kid and it was simply part of the routine. I hear what you’re saying about hiding behind the settee. My particular aversion was the Daleks. Boy were they scarey! Can’t say that I’ve watched much since the early-mid 80s… doesn’t big budget go against the grain? There’re lots of fans, so maybe not!

    My kids are more into the Sarah Jane Adventures so I’m more likely to see that than the Doctor himself. Thinking about it…. You didn’t mention the spin-offs… there’s a whole new industry in itself!

    It turns out that an old school-friend of mine writes scripts/stories and is still obsessed with Doctor Who. So, here’s a shameless plug on his behalf. He’s Matt Fitton and you can buy his latest CD here: http://bigfinish.com/150-Doctor-Who-Recorded-Time-and-Other-Stories. Buy it… you know you want to…. Help the poor guy to feed his family… Ha ha…

    Reply
    1. Richard Post author

      I have actually listened to some of those Big Finish CDs, and I’ll be sure to check out your pal’s. Thanks for the link. Since we’re promoting old friends that are Doctor Who fanatics, this is the YouTube channel of my oldest friend: http://www.youtube.com/user/BabelColour. He creates loads of Who videos and also colourises the old black & white episodes. Who knows, maybe your old friend and my old friend know each other! :-)

      Reply
  3. Custard

    HAHA!!!

    Great post this one Richard. I bloody love the Doctor. I know the Tennant had a special place in history in re-igniting the love for the younger generation, but I am very happy he did not make your list.

    I actually prefer Matt Smith, ‘its a bow tie, bow ties are cool’. His energy and style is a great antidote for the pouting and brooding Tennant.

    Thanks for posting matey!!

    Custard

    Reply
    1. Richard Post author

      I had a feeling you’d be a Who fan, C. I also found Tennant underwhelming. He was popular with the teenage crowd, but for me he was a little too eccentric-by-numbers and put on a stupid mockney accent, too. It was like casting Jamie Oliver as the Doctor. I was on the verge of giving up with the new series but Matt Smith completely won me back. He’s like a return to the insanity of the old Doctor Who.

      Thanks, as ever, for reading. :-)

      Reply
      1. Custard

        Am I that predictable? HAHA Although it has got very scary over the past few years…those statue things freaked me right out…

        ‘it’s a Fez, Fez’s are cool!”

        C

        Reply
        1. Richard Post author

          That’s one of the things I’m enjoying about this new series. The new producer is really pushing the scary, and when I was a kid Doctor Who was all about scary! :-)

          Reply
  4. Helen

    “Doctor Who” was a programming staple of PBS stations in the mid ’80s, when I was just at the right age to be captivated by it. It was happy family viewing time on Saturday night for several years. My parents, brother, and I all loved the Doctor and eventually saw all of the original series seasons in re-runs. (I gave up on the new iteration in the first season, but people tell me it went up from there so I may go back to it someday.)

    The American re-broadcasts started with the Fourth Doctor years and Tom Baker remains my sentimental favorite. He vies with the unjustly maligned other Baker as my top favorite doctor. The Sixth Doctor’s tenure was short and his scripts were variable (also an acute issue for his successor), but I always enjoy his manic energy and acerbic edge, a welcome change after the agreeable but anodyne Fifth.

    Reply
    1. Richard Post author

      Both Colin Baker and Peter Davison were up for 5th place in my list. Your description of Davison as ‘agreeable but anodyne’ isn’t too harsh, but he had a certain nobility, not to mention the impossible task of taking over from Tom Baker. Colin Baker was irritating at first but he really grew on me in retrospect. You’re right about the inconsistent quality of the scripts for the 6th and 7th Doctors. There were still some classics in there, among the dross, though. And I rememeber how good it was to see Sylvester McCoy again, however fleetingly, in the movie.

      Reply
  5. claire

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    Reply
  6. Anna

    This is something I’ve been meaning to get into for years; it has all the ingredients for me to like it, but I just haven’t gotten round to it. I borrowed a dvd box from a friend of the first season of the reboot but just couldn’t get past the first episode. Maybe there’s something about it that makes it hard for you to start watching when you’re older, not having those childhood memories of it. Nice to see that you’re into Smith, where I’ve been living everyone’s loving Tennant (obviously since am in Glasgow haha).

    Reply
    1. Richard Post author

      I guess that’s understandable, but Glaswegians must have found Tennant’s mockney accent even more irritating than I did. I don’t know why he couldn’t have just used his natural accent.

      Actually, in a way, having those childhood memories of the show makes it harder to watch as an adult because you have so many expectations. Like watching the Star Wars prequels. But I’m glad I stuck with this new series because it’s finally started delivering.

      Reply
  7. MarkusWelby1

    I must admit to only barely remembering watching a few episodes with the Tom Baker doctor when I was much younger. My wife and I recently started watching the Matt Smith version and are completely loving it…..especially the stuff with the weeping angels. Do you know if the angels are recurring villains much like the Daleks? sorry…such a noob. Hope Smith stays on for a while.

    Reply
    1. Richard Post author

      Don’t worry, Markus, you’ll find no noob persecution here. ;-)

      The Weeping Angels appeared in one episode before the Matt Smith two-parter. Check out the episode called ‘Blink’ during David Tennant’s run. I’m pretty sure they’ll be back sometime, too.

      Matt Smith has apparently indicated that he’d like to be around for the 50th anniversary in two years, so hopefully that means another two years of his excellent Doctor.

      Thanks for commenting. :-)

      Reply
  8. Val

    I’ve been meaning to comment on this great post of yours for weeks! My fave doctor was Tom Baker, I liked David Tennant, and Jon Pertwee, and Christopher Eccleston and could just about tolerate Patrick Troughton, but I never got into Sylvester McCoy or Colin Baker or the current one, Matt Smith… the latter three just didn’t seem solid enough and I like my doctor Whos (or should that be doctors who?) to be both serious and comical, not leaning too far in either direction. (Though Eccleston did overdo the ‘serious’ I think).

    I am old enough to remember having watched the first ever episode. My sister – older than me – alerted me to the fact there was a new programme about to start and we both watched it together. My dad (a real doctor) was curious about it too… I have a suspicion he liked the idea that a doctor could also be a time traveller!

    I never hid behind the sofa for doctor who… I’m afraid I did that for the Sooty Show! ;)

    Reply
    1. Richard Post author

      Thanks for reading, Val. What I like in a Doctor is that otherwordly quality, an actor who could very well be an alien. Tom Baker had it in spades, but Matt Smith also has it. He’s been a revelation and totally revived my interest.

      I thought Eccleston actually overdid the wackiness. It just didn’t seem to come naturally to him. The same with David Tennant, whose ‘mockney’ accent just drove me insane toward the end.

      Talking about the Sooty Show, I always thought Sweep would have made an excellent Doctor Who. ;-)

      Reply
  9. Margaret Reyes Dempsey

    I just downloaded episodes from Netflix and watched the one with the creepy mannequins. It was definitely fun and I’m looking forward to continuing my Dr. Who education. There’s a part of me that hopes I don’t love it too much. Fifty years’ worth is a lot of episodes to catch up on.

    Reply

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