Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Birthday, Doctor Who (Belated)! Part 1

On Nov. 23, 1963, Doctor Who debuted on the BBC, making this past Sunday its 45th anniversary!

As my favourite science-fiction television series of all time, I've got to give the show its props as it heads into middle-age. Time for it to buy a sports-car, grow a pony-tail and start dating a younger genre franchise - maybe Firefly or Lost.

In honour of the franchise, we're going to salute all the Doctors, from William Hartnell to David Tennant. We'll look at the first five Doctors in Part One.

The First Doctor (William Hartnell) - The guv'ner. The guy who started it all. When the series debuted, viewers knew almost nothing about the Doctor save that he was from another planet and traveled in time and space in his TARDIS. He began as more of a slightly sinister selfish anti-hero, but soon evolved into a irascible wiardly eccentric with a steadfast dedication to righting wrongs wherever he found them. From him came a lot of the traits still seen in the character today; the mood swings, the mystery and the moral authority.

The Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) - Stories vary as to exactly why Hartnell left the series in 1966; some say his worsening health made the punishing shooting schedule too demanding while others claim he wanted too much input into the series and was becoming difficult. The production team came up with the original concept of the Doctor regenerating and this allowed Troughton to step into the role. His Doctor is my fave; a scruffy anarchic "cosmic hobo" that improvised his way out of scrapes, he often seemed almost overwhelmed by the situations he finds himself in. Troughton's so much fun to watch, even if his era is mostly missing, junked by the BBC's criminally short-sighted technique of wiping old episodes from their archives.

The Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) - Pertwee took over in 1970, during a time of upheaval for the series. In Troughton's final story, the Doctor is finally caught by his own people, the Time Lords, and tried for violating their law of non-interference. He is sentenced to exile on the planet Earth in the late 20th century, and is forcibly regenerated. The Third Doctor worked with a paramilitary organization called UNIT, investigating alien menaces. He was more dashing and physical than his predecessors, employing alien forms of martial arts and numerous gadgets to subdue foes. Although he was still anti-authority, the Third Doctor was much more authoritative, and he exhibited a higher degree of arrogance and self-rightousness than before; traits that would remain to greater or lesser degrees in most subsequent incarnations.

The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) - In 1974, Baker took over the role, beginning a seven year stint as the character. During his tenure the show would become a world-wide success thanksgreatly to his wonderfully eccentric and distinctive take. He played the Doctor as a strange traveling bohemian, subject to incredible mood swings and possesing an indefatigable wit. Funny, eccentric and totally original, the Fourth Doctor was the most alien of all the Doctors. Baker's portrayal was so iconic that each actor that subsequently took on the role had to emerge from his shadow.

The Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) - After seven years of the aloof, alien, eccentric Fourth Doctor, Davison chose to make his Doctor more approachable, creating a vulnerable, more sensitive and relatable Doctor. Drawing primarily from Troughton as his inspriation, Davison's Fifth Doctor was an improvisor more than capable of seeming over his head when battling enemies. He wasn't too nice, however, he was still quick to anger when dealing with fools, bullies and annoying companions.

In our next post, we'll move on to the most recent Doctors!

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