Staff writer Joe Breuer provides an insight and history into the fantastical world of Doctor Who in light of its 60th anniversary.
The Last of the Timelords. The Lonely God. The Oncoming Storm. These are but some of the many names I have given myself in the mirror before a night out. Last week marks the 60th anniversary of Britain’s greatest export and cultural achievement, “Doctor Who” (alongside The Beatles and the period drama). Jokes aside, the actual chances that you are at the very least aware of the series already are quite high. Having first appeared in 1963 and proceeding to span 60 years’ worth of television, 3 spin-off shows, literature, comic books, radio, and a handful of television movies of questionable quality, at this point the longevity of the series is frankly indisputable. As Vice-President of the KCL Doctor Who Society (the proudest of my achievements), I have taken it nobly upon myself to catch you up with everything you need to know so that you don’t miss out on this momentous occasion.
Even if you’ve been living either under a rock or not in your parent’s basement, let me give you a brief rundown. “Doctor Who” follows the titular protagonist, known simply as just “The Doctor”, an introduction which is followed swiftly by the pun “The Doctor? Doctor Who?”. Alongside a rotating cabinet of companions, The Doctor travels in both time and space. They do so using a TARDIS, a craft stuck in the form of a pop-culture icon and a 1960’s police telephone box, one which is infinitely larger on the inside than it appears. A fugitive from the alien planet Gallifrey, home world to the godly Timelords, The Doctor’s adventures are of a near infinite possibility.
Imagine Superman meets Sherlock Holmes, the Doctor is a flawed bastion of hope and kindness in a cruel universe. Armed with a plethora of powers, tricks, wit and a trusty “Sonic Screwdriver”, they’ve taken on androids, cyborgs, ghosts, rhino space police, vampiric time travelling angels made of stone, real dictators, space dictators, time dictators and more Daleks than you can shake a ruddy stick at! Not to mention, “Doctor Who” as a series finds its historic success in the ability to adapt to the times, having been a frontrunner for television representation since its revival. Not unlike the Doctor, the show’s kooky nature has never shied away from real world issues and experiences through the lens of its deeply human (and often non-human) cast of familiar characters, each face as memorable as the last.
If that’s too much information to take in or you simply don’t care, please do not panic, neither did my exes. I’m used to it by now.
In celebration of the anniversary, 3 special episodes shall be airing in the coming weeks, every Saturday. What distinguishes these from your typical episode, is not only their sheer scale but the return of veteran “Doctor Who” actor David Tennant, reprising the titular role. Through the power of immortality, cellular regeneration and narrative convenience, the Doctor’s species can change shape upon death to take on new forms, actors, and interpretations. This also means that the Doctor themselves is not bound by race, gender or sexuality. At least they won’t be going forward. The specials are also set to see the return of beloved companion Donna Noble, played by Cathrine Tate (whom I unrelatedly met in a Pret A Manger 3 weeks ago) and ancient villain, the Celestial Toymaker, played by Hollywood actor Neil Patrick Harris.
If you aren’t caught up with the last 60 years/39 seasons, there is nothing to fear for every single episode and spin-off is now available on BBC iPlayer. Which is perhaps the best use of your taxes if you ask me. Otherwise, every episode is available on Britbox, albeit behind subscription. If, for whatever reason, you can’t be bothered to watch precisely 424 hours of a doddering old man explore the galaxy, you can instead dive in with the brilliant 2006 revival series, permanently streaming on BBC iPlayer, featuring a refreshing, flawed and grounded take on the Doctor for the modern age. Now a whole new generation, our generation, could cower behind the sofa on a Saturday night from whatever grotesque beast of the week the Doctor faced on exotic planets. This only gives you a mere total of 5 straight days of “Doctor Who” as opposed to the overall 18.
Even if that’s far too arduous, then the newest series coming in 2024, featuring star of stage and ‘Sex Education’ Rwandan-Scottish actor Ncuti Gatwa as the Doctor, is intended to act as a new jumping off point, an even newer Who for the newer generation. If you ask me, there’s really no excuse. It’s serialised science fiction of epic proportions. However, I should warn you that if you are intent on popularity, then this show may not be for you; if you’re not too fussed, then feel free to explore the aptly named “Whoniverse”.
The upcoming series, beginning with a special this Christmas, marks the refreshing return of beloved showrunner Russel T. Davies and stars Gatwa as the show’s second black actor to take on the lead role (following Jo Martin in 2020), with another series already in production! Set to be scripted by duo Kate Herron and Briony Redman, known for such work on Marvel’s “Loki” series and Netflix’s “Sex Education”, it’s no doubt that the two will capture the action-packed, mind-bending science fiction and the sharp wit of layered characters that have kept the show feverishly consistent.
Now seems like a good time to mention that these new series will be financed by Disney in a major deal for the franchise, in exchange for exclusive international streaming rights. Bringing with it a profound increase in scope and production quality, whilst maintaining the charmingly camp sincerity of the series for longtime viewers.
And that should be everything that you need to know! There truly is no better time to lose yourself to the wondrous and strange mythology of the world of “Doctor Who” this Saturday with the first of 3 specials – “The Star Beast” at 6:30pm on BBC One and iPlayer, or you can come to Strand Campus where the society will be watching them. Please pardon the shameless self-promotion.