The Doclopedia #1,091
Alt. Television: Doctor Who
As far as American television viewing habits go, all Earths are not created equal. Some of them are far better places for a science fiction series.
In 1962, a producer and writer at the BBC proposed a series about a time traveler known as “The Doctor”. The series would be geared towards children and feature episodes that taught them something about world history while still delivering thrills, chills and humor.
It was rejected in favor of a series about a globe hopping archaeologist and his family.
The creators of “Doctor Who” would have just gone back to the drawing board if it had not been for an American newspaper reporter being at the meeting. He had been sent to do a story on the BBC, but told the creative team that he “might know of somebody in Hollywood” that would be interested in their idea.
At this point, insert much wrangling and deal making with the BBC, who actually owned the idea. At any rate, a year later the two Brits stepped off a plane in Los Angeles and pitched their idea to Desilu Studios. The studio agreed with the basic concept and signed a contract. Oddly, the same day, a contract was signed with Gene Roddenberry for Star Trek.
Now insert nearly two years of heavy redesign for both series. Finally, both begin production in spring of 1965. The series would premiere in September of that year as part of NBC’s “Science Fiction Wednesday” concept, along with the anthology series “Strange Science”. The devotion of an entire night of prime time programming to a single type of show was a bold gamble by the network, but mostly paid off. In fact, “Wild West Monday”, “Family Sunday” and “Comedy Thursday” joined Wednesday in topping the ratings for the next five years. “Action Tuesday”, “Movie Saturday” and “Potluck Friday” (used to try out pilots and run limited series or specials), were only slightly less popular.
The time traveling series that debuted that September was very different from the Doctor Who that we know and love. For one thing, he was a human, albeit a rather highly modified one. For another, his code name, used throughout the series, was “Doctor Who”. This was not his real name, which, after almost 50 years, has still not been revealed. Finally, this Doctor almost never left Earth or the inner solar system. The few times he did were when he went to “alternate Earths”, including the ones from Star Trek and Smallville.
In the opening episode, we see gloved hands writing in a diary. In the background, we hear the Rolling Stones singing “Time Is On My Side”. The words in the diary say…
“My mission is, at long last, nearly finished. Soon I will place the final piece of the puzzle that will change history as we now know it. It has been, I must say, a long strange trip.” (Yes, this did find it’s way into a Grateful Dead song.)
The scene then dissolves into a scene in some high tech future complex, with the title “Twenty Years Ago: 2230”. Over the next 15 minutes, we learn that the world of 2230 is a mess. A joint effort by two alien races, the Daleks and the Trigons, aided by the human dictator known only as “Father Mercy”, have conquered the Solar Union (Earth, Mars, Venus, Mercury & the Moon) and pretty much enslaved most of the populace. Only here, in this last sanctuary of the “Science Lords” has a bit of hope remained. By the way, the “here” where the Science Lords are located? Never revealed.
The series plot finds a highly engineered human being sent back in time to 2000 BC on a mission to subtly alter history so as to prevent the eventual success of the conquerors. Along the way, he encounters historical figures, aliens both good & bad, supernatural creatures and his archenemy, the counter agent known as “The Master”. Like our Doctor Who, the series plays well to kids and adults and varies from scary to thrilling to dramatic to goofy.
Basically, the entire series is told as a flashback. As of the current year on this Earth (2014), the flashback has been going on for 49 continuous years. After 49 seasons, there have been 1,584 episodes of the series and all of them are available on a variety of media, including online. In 49 years, Doctor Who has never been out of the Top 25 rated series on American television.
Similarities & differences to our Doctor Who are…
Regeneration: When the first actor to play Doctor Who (Mark Newman) decided to leave the series halfway through the second season for health reasons, producers were prepared. It had been stated all along that the Doctor could be transferred to a new body if his old one died, via “Genetic Regenerators” scattered all around Earth and on the other planets. So, when the First Doctor gave up his life to save a lowly Chinese peasant, we find out, via his sonic screwdriver, that his companions can meet “the new me” in “what will someday become Hong Kong”. However, we did not immediately meet that Doctor, as the next episode started the tradition of hopping about through 4,000+ years of history with different people playing the Doctor. In this case, the handsome young Mark Newman was replaced by a much older Doctor in the setting of 1770’s England and played by Boris Karloff. This story arc lasted for 4 episodes before returning to the “pre-Hong Kong” storyline and a new Doctor played by Doug McClure. Over the years, 102 people, of all races and both sexes, have portrayed Doctor Who. The Master has been played by 77 different actors. Actor who played the Doctor longest: Oddly enough, it was British actor Tom Baker (90 episodes). Actor who played the Doctor for the shortest time: Eve Arden, for only 3 episodes set during World War II.
Companions: Although there have been many episodes in which Doctor Who operates solo, there have been 201 companions, some of them played by very famous actors (Robert DeNiro (7 episodes), Elizabeth Taylor (10 episodes), Christian Bale (18 episodes at age 10, 6 episodes at age 30). The average length of time for a companion to be around: 25 episodes. Average number of companions at any time: 2.
TARDIS: Not “the” TARDIS. This refuge/laboratory/library is always found at a fixed point, Stonehenge, but had entrances all over the solar system. The entrance is only visible to the Doctor or somebody holding the sonic screwdriver. The Doctor usually goes to TARDIS (which is sentient and a bit snarky) once or twice a year, but in the 1978 story arc “The False Doctor”, the entire 8 episodes take place inside it. The Master has a similar TARDIS, but it has a much darker personality and has actually done some things to foil his plans. In the 2000 story arc, “The Werewolf”, it was revealed that both TARDIS were part of a cybernetic hive mind of unknown origin.
K9: He can speak, he’s at least as smart as the Doctor and he has been there since episode three. The big difference is that he is a real dog, not a robot. Like the Doctor, many breeds of dog have portrayed K9 over the years, since he regenerates when the Doctor does. Over the years, there have been nearly 100 episodes in which the Doctor did not appear, with K9 doing the lead role. Fan favorite K9: a tie between the Basset Hound versions and the Border Collie versions.
Daleks: In their first 10 appearances, the Daleks looked like our Daleks, but in the 7 episode arc “Rebirth Of The Daleks”, they got arms and a less conical look. In “Evolution Of The Daleks”, they got somewhat clunky humanoid bodies. Finally, in “Davros Unleashed”, they got bodies that looked more streamlined, but with pyramidal looking heads with “face screens”.
Other Aliens : Cybermen, Sontarans and several others we know have been on the show. All have had multiple appearances. The Weeping Angels made only one appearance, in the 3 episode arc “Blink”, but were destroyed at the end of that story.
River Song: There has never been such a person on this version of Doctor Who.
Gallifrey: The only time this name was used was as a code word for the first meeting of the Science Lords, which took place in 50 BC and was chronicled in the 5 episode story arc “SCIENCE!”
Story Arcs: Just as with our version, stories unfold over anywhere from three to sixteen episodes. The big difference is that the episodes are an hour long. In 1986, the ten episode “Evolution Of The Daleks”, which had 6 versions of the Doctor teaming up over 4 historical periods, absolutely crushed all competition in the ratings. It is rumored that the 50th anniversary story arc will be called “Day Of The Doctors” and will somehow feature all of the doctors and companions. It is possible that the whole thing will be animated.
Tie Ins: Books, toys, radio series, comic books, stage play and computer games are all very popular and number in the thousands. There have never been any Doctor Who movies, mostly because nobody sees the need for one. There have been at least 30 Doctor Who inspired musical groups, ranging from folk to rap.