As many people in the UK know, a long awaited dream for many SF fans is finally happening. I speak of course about the forthcoming series/resurrection of Doctor Who, which is due to air on the BBC later this year.
Doctor Who is one of the mainstays of British Science Fiction. The tv show detailed the adventures of an eccentric Time Lord who traveled in a wonky ship (called T.A.R.D.I.S. – Time And Relative Dimensions In Space), which – thanks to a malfunctioning camoflague chip – resembled a Police Box from the 1960’s. (This of course, didn’t hamper the inside, as it was larger than it looked – there were several moments in the show when the bad guys wandered into the TARDIS only to dissappear for good, lost forever more in the its myraid corridors and rooms).
Doctor Who ran from 1963 to 1989, and while the special effects were sometimes less than stellar, it more than made up for it with a high level of creative imagination and a willingness to have storylines take hours to tell (A single story could take over thirteen solid hours of television time to unravel). Indeed, the episodes were more like chapters of a large pulp SF novel, with the Doctor and his assistants about to get killed in the closing seconds, only to manage an escape in the opening minutes of the next episode. It was nail-biting stuff.
Sometimes the Doctor didn’t survive an encounter with the bad guys. Several times he found himself killed by his foes. When that happened there would be a mixture of calamity and excitement in the air.
We would be getting a new Doctor.
The Doctor, despite his human looks, was actually an alien from another planet. When killed, rather than just give up the ghost, he was, as a Time Lord, able to regenerate into another version of himself. This was great for everybody, as it would allow the show to continue if the principal actor wished to leave it, and it put the fans on tenderhooks as they knew that the Doctor they loved could bite the bullet at any time.
With each transformation the Doctor’s personality would also change. While all of them maintained an air of the outsider, each incarnation took on various ticks and traits that made them different from the each other. One would be sour, the other would be jovial, while another would be arrogant or thoughtful.
My favourite Doctor was the fourth incarnation. Played by Tom Baker, he brought a dark, mischeivous quality to the role. Quoting from another site (http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Dimension/7312/fourth.html):
“The Doctor’s fourth incarnation was one of his most eccentric, and ironically also one of his longest-lived. Taking the lifestyle of the wanderer to bohemian extremes, this Doctor’s shrugs at near death and wisecracks to power-crazed madmen were clearly heartfelt. Fond of sweets and ginger beer, but not of saying good-bye, he had an alien character lying only slightly below an air of general bonhomie: he was approachable, but never fully comprehensible.
The Fourth Doctor found ways of turning certain doom into a pleasant tea-time, and of treating the most dangerous villain as a naughty schoolboy. And in doing so, he showed us the absurdity in all our battles of good versus evil.”
For this character, some of the affectations Tom took on are the stuff of legend. He was never without his long scarf (see these links for some cool pics – http://www.geocities.com/Area51/Zone/3746/Scarf.html – http://www.brimelow.thinkhost.com/scarf/index.html), and he always had a ready bag of jellybabies on hand, which he offered to friend and foe alike.