A Daft Old Man: Who Stole A Magic Box And Ran Away

[WARNING: If you don’t know what Doctor Who is, then stop reading. This will be of no interest to you.]

The nature of television is such that the landscape is constantly changing. Any show, at any time, for any reason (see previous post) can be cancelled. So, when a television show makes it to the half century mark, you have to wonder what the secret is. When a show becomes a recognisable part of popular culture, you have to examine the ‘why.’

When Doctor Who premiered on 23 November 1963, its existence was overshadowed by the assassination of a US president the day before. The fervour and die-hard fans that the show experiences today were only a dream when ‘The Unearthly Child’ premiered. A science fiction show was far less important to the world than the early and violent death of a American president. By the second episode, however, the game was forever changed. The introduction of the Dalek, a creature who would become one of The Doctor’s greatest foes, ignited the imagination of children (and adults) and would propel Doctor Who into a legendary science fiction cult show (not the ‘don’t drink the KoolAid’ kind of cult.. the ‘go to conventions and not miss an episode’ kind of cult). Over the last 50 years, Doctor Who has become an icon of British culture, and has emerged in the mainstream as an acceptable addiction. It has created whole worlds, taught children to dream, and encouraged imaginations. Doctor Who saw many industry firsts, things science fiction fans take for granted today… including one of the first female producers in British cinematic history. But more importantly  the show itself created an atmosphere steeped in intrigue, history, politics and the story of a man who should never be alone.

In ‘The Idiot’s Lantern,’ The Doctor quips “this is Churchill’s England, not Stalin’s Russia!” continuing a long line of episodes which utilise political themes (in this particular instance, Ten was making a comment about secret agents and hidden holding cells). However, integration of political history isn’t the only political talking that shows up in Doctor Who. Throughout the serious, an established political timeline existed. In ‘The Green Death’ we learned that the PM’s first name was Jeremy, in ‘The Claws of Axos’ we’re shown the depth of the government’s involvement in the Axonite scandal and Operation Golden Age (and seriously, Doctor Who writers should moonlight for the DoD…they’re way better at coming up with op names), and in ‘Terror of the Zygons’ we’re introduced to ‘madam’ Prime Minister. Politics in Doctor Who is so prevalent, both real and imagined, that it’s impossible to not see and connect the past, the present, and the that-which-will-be. 

The thing about having a magical box that travels in time and space is that you get to visit time. According to The Doctor, there are some things in history that are unchangeable, and some which are. While relying on Doctor Who for your historical education is not advisable, the extent to which history and politics play a key plot roll in the show is admirable. Not only actual history (the stuff that really happened), but also The Doctor’s history. All good scifi shows incorporate a great deal of created history to explain their world. Doctor Who has, over the last half century, created the history of worlds and races and places and time. The problem with being a Time Lord, we’ve been told, is that you can see all of time: what is, what was, and what is yet to be. It would have been easy enough to incorporate information as necessary to drive the plot of a specific episode, or the arching plot of a series. Instead, Doctor Who has created entire histories; histories complete with politics, war, heroes, anti-heroes and a past that shapes all who come in contact with it. Never before had a show, of any kind, created such detailed and thorough background of things that didn’t exist. The political history of Doctor Who is so extensively that one could easily write a master’s thesis on it (and someone probably has). Doctor Who created its own world, and while viewers today have the luxury of seeing the history of The Doctor and the worlds he visits as something they expect, it’s a half-century long creation of an entire universe; an entire history without which The Doctor wouldn’t be the renegade Time Lord who stole a museum artefact and ran away…from his home, from his people, and right into his own destiny.

Since its inception, Doctor Who has seen 11 incarnation, roughly 50 companions, and 34 series (seasons). With no end in sight, you have to be grateful that 3 generations have imagined what it would be like for The Doctor to show up in his blue police box and take you on an adventure. G.K Chesterton has famously been quoted as saying that fairy tales don’t teach a child that dragons exist, they teach him that dragons can be killed. In ‘The Big Bang,’ the Eleventh Doctor tells Amy Pond “I’ll be a story in your head. But that’s ok: we’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?” The thing about being a Time Lord, with a TARDIS, is that you never have to see an end. For half a century, The Doctor and his TARDIS have fuelled the imagination of children, and adults, making them wonder what they’d see when they stepped through infamous blue doors and took their first trip with The Doctor.

So here’s to 50 more years of Time Lords, foes and Saturday evenings… and that three more generations of children will grow up believing that one day The Doctor will come with his blue box and take them on their own adventure. 


The Day of the Doctor will be simulcast in 76 countries on 23 November at 1950BST (1450 ET, 1150 PST, 0650 24 November AEDT…use a world clock to figure out when it’s airing at your location)]

[The actual quote from G.K. Chesterton is: What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. -Tremendous Trifles (1909)]


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