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Analysis
Educational exposure of ideas, assumptions or hypotheses, based on proven facts" (which need not be strictly current affairs) Value in judgments are excluded, and the text comes close to an opinion article, without judging or making forecasts , just formulating hypotheses, giving motivated explanations and bringing together a variety of data

The impossible (and possible) worlds of ‘Doctor Who’

It’s been 19 years since The Doctor returned to television after more than a decade and a half off the air. That’s but one milestone among the many of this 60-year-old series

Doctor Who
Matt Smith and Andy Tennant, the 10th and 11th Doctors of the current ‘Doctor Who’ series.

It’s not easy to sum up the impact of a series that has accumulated some 60 years under its belt. That’s more time than most of its viewers have spent on this planet. The first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast on BBC on November 23, 1963. The series took a break between 1989 and 2005, but after 39 seasons on the air, its total number of episodes is approaching 900, despite the fact that nearly one hundred have been lost to the sands of time, due to the lamentable fact that the BBC did not preserve the chapters recorded in the 1970s. One of the upsides of six decades of existence means that anniversaries for all tastes may be celebrated. Each fan is free to choose the commemoration they most prefer. And so, since March 26, 2005, saw the return of the series after 16 years of silence, one is most welcome to shout: “The first broadcast of the new Doctor Who is turning 19!”

Not for nothing, such a vast narrative arc may intimidate the uninitiated. But although Doctor Who (whose various seasons and specials are available on Prime Video and on Disney+, where the latest season will debut on May 10) is a series that touches on power, love, death and the weight of time’s passage, at its heart it is a vehicle for entertainment — a crazy and celebratory tale of science fiction in which monsters, aliens, explosions and action abound. On second thought, perhaps this is where the series’ true power lies, in the perfect, absolute symbiosis of contemplation and diversion. If so, let us not hesitate to be carried away by all its nooks and crannies, its memorable quotes and inbreeding.

The Doctor has been played by 12 actors and one actress, with the addition to this list of John Hurt as a parallel Doctor and the imminent arrival of a new actor in the upcoming season. But who is this guy? What makes him so unique? The Doctor is The Doctor. That’s his name, and it is enough. He is the last surviving Time Lord, native to the planet Gallifrey, and although he is not immortal in the strict sense, as far as narrative praxis goes, he certainly counts as such. For centuries, he has traveled through time and space. Yes, he is an old-fashioned knight-errant, and he deals with all sorts of messes, including that of the end of the universe, which he’s already witnessed on multiple occasions. Ah, but more importantly, every so often he regenerates and swaps out his physique (though his memories, knowledge and experiences remain), an amazing plot device that makes the Doctor so much more than one in three — he is one and infinite, and a plethora of faces may yet embody before until he reaches the extinction of humanity itself.

Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor, exiting his ship, the TARDIS.
Peter Capaldi, the Twelfth Doctor, exiting his ship, the TARDIS.

The Doctor never travels alone, but rather, with one or more companions, which makes for varying partners and endless plot twists. As a good Brit, he voyages in a 1970s telephone booth, a special craft that only reveals its true nature once one is inside, and that allows anyone who penetrates its sanctum to let loose one of the series’ catchphrases, the mindboggled “It’s bigger on the inside!” Indeed, the legendary TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimensions in Space) combines the five dimensions of height, width, depth, time and space.

In 2005, after 16 years of absence following the finale of the first eight Doctors’s classic era, the creative genius who is Russell T. Davies, creator of such projects as Years and Years and Queer as Folk, revived the television icon. With the participation of the great Christopher Eccleston as the ninth Doctor, perhaps the most austere version yet, the series’ so-called “Modern Era” began, and continues to this day. And so, we became acquainted with the Doctors played by David Tennant (the most extroverted, witty version, though he did have a pronounced dark side), Matt Smith (the most endearing), Peter Capaldi (who brought along his Scottish accent) and Jodie Whitaker (intelligent, as well as verbose). A woman? But of course! Can’t the Doctor encapsulate all of humanity? Withaker played the 13th Doctor, beginning in 2018, for three seasons. After the three special episodes in which Tennant returned to the series, the 15th Doctor will be played by Ncuti Gatwa, in a Black and openly queer version. As previously noted, opportunities abound for Doctor anniversaries, as abundant in time as the character itself. October 7, 2024, will mark the Doctor’s first regeneration as a woman, and when the new season premieres with Gatwa at the helm on May 10, yet another milestone may be observed.

Admittedly, these considerations may seem trivial to die-hard fans of the series, and indeed, they are. But they could provide incentive to those new to a series as full of tenderness as it is darkness, as flush with action as reflection. A universe to which one must arrive with one’s senses alert, with the eyes of a yesteryear when television was a marvelous box containing multiple worlds. Whoever proves capable of assuming such fascination may well find episodes that capture the imagination. Rest assured that they may be accessed without too much prior knowledge of narrative.

Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt, three Doctors reunited in the ‘Doctor Who’ episode entitled ‘The Day of the Doctor.'
Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt, three Doctors reunited in the ‘Doctor Who’ episode entitled ‘The Day of the Doctor.'Adrian Rogers

Such is the case of the 10th episode of the new era’s fifth season, Vincent and The Doctor, in which the character encounters Vincent van Gogh, one of the greatest television moments of recent decades. On this list too is the last episode of the seventh season, The Name of The Doctor, a collection of adventures and intimate moments that cast a darkness upon The Doctor and his companion Clara, the unforgettable “impossible girl,” who dies and is brought back to life hundreds of times in order to assist the hero. And, backtracking a bit, who could forget the 10th episode of the third season, P, a horror story surely envied by countless denizens of the genre in which the character is confronted with creepy angelic statues that move when one is not looking. Or, the 11th installment of the ninth season, Heaven Sent, a claustrophobic tale in which The Doctor navigates an empty castle that is impossible to escape, a conceptual artifice worth of the very best science fiction.

And to round out this list, we must mention the monumental feat that is The Day of The Doctor, with which the series celebrated its 50th anniversary, airing on November 23, 2013, with Steven Moffat as showrunner, the man who brought Doctor Who to some of its most sublime heights, although also to its most polemic. The monumental episode brought together three Doctors, the 10th (Tennant), the 11th (Smith), and a parallel Doctor, The Doctor of War (Hurt), in addition to a brief cameo by the 12th (Capaldi). It is episodes like The Day of The Doctor that maintain the love that fans harbor for a series this audacious, at times even megalomanic, but that also knows how to play with lightness and fun. In effect, Doctor Who is many series in one. Just like The Doctor himself, it is one hundred, thousand, million times reborn. It is imagination itself. And as such, it addresses a good portion of existence. As Truffaut once said, “life was the screen.”

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