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‘A madman with a (police) box’

Posted: November 22, 2013 9:55 a.m.
Updated: November 22, 2013 9:36 a.m.

Back at the beginning of September, in a column about my sons’ “sci-fi education,” I mentioned that Doctor Who was about to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Well, Saturday was it, “The Day of the Doctor,” the 50th anniversary special, teaming up current 11th Doctor, Matt Smith, with 10th Doctor, David Tennant, and -- a surprise revealed at the end of the last regular episode -- a bearded John Hurt as the War Doctor, a “missing” incarnation.

Now, I’m writing this celebratory column prior to watching the special with my sons. The BBC made the special available simultaneously not only in Britain and America, but around the world and even via download through services like iTunes.

They even went so far -- and I suppose I could have sprung some cash for this -- as to release it as a 3D movie in select theaters, including here in the Midlands. We opted to download it and play it back Sunday.

So, I can’t tell you much about the special except that I expect it to be glorious.

At least two Doctor Who anniversary specials have linked up previous incarnations of the character. “The Three Doctors” celebrated the kick-off of the serial’s 10th season back in 1973 and featured, primarily, the Second and Third Doctors (Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee) with a monitor screen-only assist from the original Doctor (William Hartnell).

Ten years later, 1983, the BBC produced a 20th anniversary special at the end of that season called “The Five Doctors.” Yup, you guessed it, they somehow managed to feature the first five Doctors despite the fact that William Hartnell had died. Also, the Fourth Doctor (and my favorite of the originals, Tom Baker) declined to participate since he had just wrapped up a whopping seven years on the show. What did the BBC do? Splice in footage from an unfinished and unaired episode. Oh well.

So far I’ve counted four, right? That left then current Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison. Davison, also one of my favorites, is an interesting case. He had already become very well known as Tristan Farnon in the television adaptation of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. In more recent years, he’s regained fame as David Braithwaite on At Home with the Braithwaites and Henry Sharpe on the UK version of Law & Order.

And here’s some timey-wimey trivia for you latecomers to the Whoniverse (hold on because this is complicated): during David Tennant’s run as the 10th Doctor, there was an episode called “The Doctor’s Daughter.” In it, the Doctor is inadvertently cloned, producing a young woman who ends up being called Jenny, played by actress Georgia Moffett.

Moffett and Tennant took a liking to each other. They actually got married. Her father? None other than Davison. So, the 10th Doctor married his own “daughter” and ended up with the Fifth Doctor as his father-in-law.

Is your brain hurting yet?

Despite 50 years of television history, there are several things that have kept Doctor Who ... well, Doctor Who.

The Doctor’s from the planet Gallifrey. He’s a Time Lord, able to travel through time and space using a living craft called a TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension in Space) and regenerates whenever his body “dies” (he’s 1,200 years old now). The TARDIS is bigger on the inside than the outside and stuck in the shape of a 1950s blue London police box. The Doctor’s most handy hand-held device isn’t an iPad but a sonic screwdriver that can do anything from identifying bits of alien glop to opening locked doors of almost any variety.

The Doctor has enemies -- every hero has to have them. His include the Daleks, who want to “Ex-ter-min-ate!” everyone; the Cybermen who want to either “upgrade” or “Delete!” everyone; and, most notably, the Master, a fellow Time Lord who basically went bonkers as a child after staring into a space-time vortex. There are more -- way more -- and one of the great things about the show is that it has, sort of, stuck with its 1960s feel to the creatures the Doctor encounters. Since I didn’t lock on to the show until my mid- to late teens in the 1980s, I was never very scared, but I understand hundreds of thousands of British children have been creeped out by Doctor Who monsters for generations.

Every hero also needs sidekicks. The Doctor has almost always had those in the form of Companions, usually, but not always, pretty young women. The first was the Doctor’s own granddaughter, who (I believe) took the Earth name Susan Foreman. The greatest companion is, arguably, Sarah Jane Smith, played by the late Elisabeth Sladen. She accompanied Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker’s Doctors, returned for an episode with Tennant’s 10th Doctor and then spun off into her own show.

The Doctor even had a dog -- K-9, a robotic dog that could do, well, almost anything. He ended up on Sarah Jane’s spin-off, too.

In the “modern” era, Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), Companion to the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) and Tennant’s 10th, fell in love with the Doctor and is considered up there with Sladen’s Sarah Jane. We’ve also enjoyed British comedienne Catherine Tate as Donna Noble, Karen Gillan’s performance as Amy Pond and, current Companion Clara Oswald, played by Jenna Coleman.

Alas, change ever comes with the Doctor. The events of this weekend’s special will lead into a Christmas special a month or so from now and Smith (whose version of the character once described himself as “a madman with a box”) will regenerate into Peter Capaldi, the 12th -- or is it 13th? -- Doctor.

Onward, TARDIS!

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