For 60 years, Doctor Who has entertained fans on the British Broadcasting Network, and then later, around the world. It’s just the tale of a centuries-old Time Lord who hops through time and space in the TARDIS, a blue Police Call Box, that is of course hugely on the inside and sometimes can be sent precisely where and when the Doctor wants to, but often goes to random locations and eras. And then the Doctor saves the day. For succeeding at this absurd premise, Doctor Who joins the Pop Culture Hall of Fame for 2023 as a Franchise.
Doctor Who is a mind-bending adventure through time and space where specific rules of science and fiction are adhered to closely unless they can conveniently be tossed aside with a shrug because that’s how things work now.
The show debuted on the BBC in 1963 with William Hartnett, the First Doctor, exuding a charming old professor vibe to kick things off. When it was time for him to be replaced, the series relied on the idea that the character every now and then just… regenerates into another form and keeps on going. The regeneration has become a spectacular event in recent years, often part of a year-end/Christmas special.
Each actor brought a unique style to the character, not caring one bit about continuity except where it mattered. Tom Baker brought colorful scarves and floppy hair to become one of the most popular and iconic iterations of the Doctor. The show went through nine Doctors until it ended in 1989…
Until it didn’t. In 2005, after a long hiatus, Christopher Eccleston brought a thuggish, modern charm for his one season in the TARDIS. David Tennant, who replaced him sometimes wore a fez, which needs no explanation in such a weird universe. Also, he was probably the most charming of all of them that he briefly regenerated for a short 60th anniversary bit to great acclaim. This makes him the Tenth Doctor as well as, briefly, the Fourteenth. Jodie Whittaker recently wrapped her run as the first female doctor, a major character shift that James Bond really can’t pull off. Ncuti Gatwa will be the first Black actor in the role when he steps out of the TARDIS for the first time.
The villains and monsters of the franchise are also iconic and long-lasting. The Daleks, Cyber-Men, and Weeping Angels have made appearances over the entire span of the show’s run. They may have gotten a fresher, higher-budget facelift now and then, but their core values and appearances make them even more stable than the main character.
Looking back at old episodes can be challenging. Not because they are kind of primitive and low on special effects and set design. Those things are fine and add to the old timey-wimey charm of the early ones. They’re hard to watch because the BBC actually recorded over the tapes of a huge number of the original ones. One would think a major network would have the budget to buy new tapes and store them, and also the historical mindset to preserve them. Sadly, that was common practice in the ‘60s and ’70s. Ouch.
Through the miracle of the internet, occasional old episodes are discovered on film reels or in storage and shared when found. Wouldn’t it be great if the Time Lord could just travel back to the BBC and warn them not to erase those tapes? For now, the TARDIS can be found at the Pop Culture Hall of Fame with the latest Inductee, Doctor Who.