Fifty years of The Doctor

Dave Bartlett
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Space airs 11 ‘Doctor Who’ specials — one for each Doctor

A couple of friends have recently told me they are interested in watching “Doctor Who,” but don’t know where to begin.

Jon Pertwee was the third actor to assume the role of the
Doctor in the BBC’s classic “Doctor Who.” The world’s longest-running sci-fi series is celebrating its 50th anniversary with specials about each of the 11 Doctors.

I think I’ve said before that approaching the longest-running science-fiction series in history can be downright intimidating, no less so as The Doctor celebrates 50 years this year.

To mark the occasion, BBC America (and the Space network in Canada) is airing a series of specials, one for each of the actors who has played the time-travelling title character.

I have also revisited the series recently, starting from its 2005 relaunch, and have been watching mini-marathons on Sunday mornings — before my PVR kicks in to record several hours of the series, which currently lays claim to Space’s broadcast schedule for much of that day each week.

It’s like church for nerds.

While I’ve been watching, and laughing and crying, I’ve been thinking about good starting points for newbies to join the series.

When the two-part episodes “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit” aired, I decided not to delete these from my PVR. These were the first two episodes of the series I ever watched, back when CBC was airing them.

While the episodes are strong and feature my favourite Doctor (No. 10, David Tennant) and companion (Rose Tyler, played by Billie Piper), they are probably not the best episodes to begin with, although they are really amazing episodes and feature the first appearance of the creepy looking, yet largely benevolent, Ood.

I’ve also saved “Blink” from the third season of the modern era, again with Tennant as The Doctor and Martha Jones, MD (Freema Agyeman) as his sidekick, though the two are barely featured in the episode.

That being said, it is an incredibly good place to begin watching as you discover The Doctor, and how time works in the show, through the eyes of a young woman from the modern era who finds a mysterious message painted underneath the wallpaper of an abandoned house.  The message is addressed to her.

“Blink” also features the first appearance of the creepiest of all Doctor Who villains, The Weeping Angels.

Ultimately, starting with Episode 1 of the 2005 relaunch — called “Rose” — is probably the best place to begin becoming a “Doctor Who” fan.

It’s a strong episode and features the return of The Doctor to TV after almost a decade. Here’s where I should note that while the series debuted in 1963, it has not been on the air continuously for all that time.

“Rose” is made for newcomers who missed the early years spanning the black-and-white era to the made-for-TV movie in 1996, the only appearance of Doctor No. 8, Paul McGann. The ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, is “Fantastic!” as the series begins again and “Rose” also introduces Piper as The Doctor’s new companion. The Doctor usually travels with an earthling and it’s that character who we relate with through all the chaos, aliens and historical calamities that The Doctor and his mates seem to stumble across as they travel time in a blue box called The Tardis.

That’s a time machine and spaceship wrapped into one, and it’s much bigger on the inside than on the outside. That’s really all you need to know.

I do advise against trying to go back and watch the original series, at least at first. There are a couple of reasons. First, not all the episodes exist anymore, and though the BBC has found some of the lost episodes recently, several have been taped over. Largely, the original series is a little dated and the hollow sound-stage audio often makes it hard to follow at times.

As a fan of the modern era, I have been enjoying the tributes to each of the past doctors (I’ve watched four so far). Each of the tributes begins with about a 30-minute documentary with interviews from past cast members and crew, and then plays a complete story of four or so episodes, featuring that Doctor.

I have to say while the fourth Doctor (Tom Baker, the guy with the really long, multi-coloured scarf) is the iconic and most well-known from the original series, and the man who played the character the longest, the third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, is my favourite.  In fact, his introduction in “Spearheads from Space” (The only early episode I’ve watched twice) is also a great place to get to know The Doctor. It’s the first episode in colour, too, and I believe it’s also the first one shot on film, away from the sound stage.

Pertwee was known as the most James Bond of Doctors, as he stayed on Earth and worked for the military to stave off alien threats. I want to see more from his era.

Questions/comments and sightings of a strange blue police box

can be sent to Dave Bartlett at talkingtelevision@gmail.com.

Organizations: BBC America, CBC

Geographic location: Canada

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