Britain has given us many questionable things over the years. Kidney Pie, Simon Cowell, transvestite comedy sketches. But one show makes up for all of that.
Doctor Who began life as a quasi-educational children's program on the BBC television network in 1963, starring acclaimed British film and stage actor William Hartnell in the lead role. Called simply "the Doctor", he began simply as a mysterious old man travelling alone with his 14 year old granddaughter. Thankfully this was before Dateline NBC existed, so no one felt a need to put a Nanny-Cam in the Tardis to watch him.
The series began with his Granddaughter's History and Science teachers being nosy gits and following her home, and ending up unintentionally hitching a ride in the Tardis, or Time And Relative Dimensions In Space, a time travelling spaceship hidden inside a Police Public Callbox. This concept would later be stolen by Keanu Reeves, except without the roomy passenger space.
Hartnell's Doctor was at first curmudgeonly, his condescending arrogance almost bordering on cruelty, and softened into a beffudled endearing grandfather type over his three years in the role. He also forgot his lines constantly, forcing his castmates to improvise around him. This would forever change the life of a young Clive Anderson when he still had hair.
Doctor Who was the biggest ratings hit the BBC had ever had, with the alien menace called the Daleks becoming a hugely popular national sensation despite being little more than shrill voiced watering cans. In an irritating bit of foresight, Dalek Creator Terry Nation kept creator owned rights to his murderous dustbins, and Doctor Who can only use them if they pay his widow the phat cash. This foresight also meant we had to suffer the disgrace of a Dalek losing to Bugs Bunny.
Many episodes from Hartnell's tenure no longer exist because of the BBC's then common practise of erasing tapes to reuse for filming under the belief nobody anywhere ever would want to watch a show more than once per episide.
The show almost died after only three years when William Hartnell's health and memory began failing him, making the gruelling low budget "One take or fuck it" shooting schedules of the time more than he could handle. The show survived by expanding on the Doctor's fictional race, the Time Lords, by introducing the idea of Regenerating, although it would be several years until the concept was actually named.
Veteran stage actor Patrick Troughton, most famous in America for managing to keep a straight face through the entire duration of Jason And The Argonauts despite acting against badly animated clay puppets, became the second Doctor, and made the role his own, mostly by being deceptively clownish and appearing to be a gay spinster after taking on the dreamy boyish charm of Scottish soap star Fraser Hines as his companion Jamie McCrimmon.
Troughton's era as the Doctor did away with the long chaptered periodical stories and educational subtext of theshow, making it a straight Sci-Fi adventure. His tenure as the Doctor is most notable for it's Cybermen stories with ever evolving costumes, introducing recurring military team UNIT and their Colonel then Brigadier General Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, introducing the Time Lords on screen for the first time and generally making no goddamn sense.
Troughton was a joy to watch though, and managed to keep the series strong in the ratings. Not wanting to be typecast in the role however, despite the fact that every rolehe ever played was essentially the same character, Troughton quit Doctor Who after only three seasons. He was so terrified of typecasting that he reprised the role three times more before he died and did the convention circuit in full costume.
Roughly half of Troughton's episodes, like Hartnell before him, do not exist anymore because the BBC were cheap bastards unwilling to by a few extra videocassettes.
Doctor number 3 was acclaimed character and comedy actor Jon Pertwee, most famous to me for looking exactly like my stepfather when they were both 20. Sadly my stepfather now looks like modern day Robert Plant and Jon Pertwee is dead, so my childhood is a dark, desolate lonely pit in my soul, salvaged only by my love of Doctor Who. And no, I still won't sleep with you.
Pertwee's Doctor was a man of action, in that he actually got off his ass and kicked some from time to time, using the old Sci-Fi cliche of taking a normal earth thing and claiming it's a version of it from another world, something Star Trek the Next Generation would someday beat into the ground like Mister Ed had lost it money. In Pertwee's case it was his mastery of "Venusian Aikido".
Pertwee's Doctor is most noted for introducing the Moriarty to the Doctor's Holmes in rival Time Lord the Master, a shining example of over-reaching and underacheiving nicknames. This is akin to The Joker if he was referred to as "The badass raving psycho who should easily be able to kill you all but somehow still always gets tossed by Batman".
Also of note in the Pertwee years is the introduction of the first companion who was essentially smarter than him in Sarah Jane Smith, who was eventually abandoned by the Doctor when he realized she wasn't in complete stunned awe of him but in fact humoring him so he'd shut up and do his job.
Pertwee stayed in the role for 5 years, and did a 10th Anniversary special that also featured his predeccesors Hartnell and Troughton in "The Three Doctors", most famous for raping every known law of physics and reality by having people walking around an Antimatter universe inside a black hole unharmed dodging mosters that looked like Andy Warhol vomited bubble wrap.
He left the role just as the BBC reached a syndication deal with American Public TV network PBS, meaningthat America's first exposure to the Doctor would be a set of teeth in a tweed coat with an 18 foot scarf.
Tom Baker is the actor most people worldwide associated with Doctor Who for years. His bohemian mannerisms, rapid fire witticisms, gangly and yet fluid demeanor and otherwordly presence stood out in the minds of viewers trying to figure out if they were high on acid or if in fact Tom did indeed look like that.
Tom had the longest tenure of any doctor, staying on for 7 years, and having some of the best and darkest stories in the show's history, despite having to act opposite a remote controlled lawnmower. He was the Doctor of the inhumanly fuckable companions, some of whom forever shaped my delicate young lesbian sexuality and made sex with any woman not dressed like an extra from a Rachel Welch movie just not worth the effort.
Tom's stories from the middle of his tenure were famous for pissing off Mary Whitehouse, a terrifying creature excavated from the tomb of King Tut that cursed television viewers everywhere with a conscience nobody with a brain or an ounce of sanity wanted around, which of course made her beloved by Christian viewers, thus giving her the unholy power to bully the producers of Doctor Who into cutting off the show's balls for the next ten years.
Tom left the show in 1981 and spent the last 28 years being a pompous twat, forgiven only because he made Little Britain semi-watchable with his quirky voiceovers. He would be succeeded as the Doctor by the first actor people had ever actually heard of.
Peter Davison, noted for his appearance in the miniseries "All Creatures Great And Small" took on the role of the Doctor as, at the time, the youngest to ever take the role. His doctor was angsty and often depressed, and while considered gloomier by many than the Doctor should be, was a damned good actor, which he proved by keeping the show watchable in spite of having to act his first season opposite the template for Wesley Crusher Syndrome in Mathew Waterhouse's Adric, a teenaged math genius who was so irritatingly intelligent he fixed recurring Tardis malfunctions the Doctor had never figured out.
Adric, thankfully, prevented himself from being as forever douchy and hated as Wesley Crusher by having the tact and courtesy to get himself blown up after only two seasons on the show, giving Davison even more to mope about.
In 1983 the BBC ran a one-off Doctor Who tv movie for the show's 20th Anniversary called the 5 Doctors. This movie is famous for being a rewrite of the 3 Doctors since William Hartnell was dead and Tom Baker was in his enduring twat phase and refused to appear in it, and also for Patrick Troughton helping to fuck the show hard in the ass by stupidly convincing Davison to quit after only 3 seasons as he had done, oblivious to the fact that under the immensely retarded control of 80's producer John Nathan Turner, Davison was the only thing on Doctor Who that was even remotely watchable.
Davison came to his senses and tried to change his mind, but by then it was too late and his replacement had been cast, soon to rape our eyes every week with a costume even Andrew Loydd Webber would've looked at and said "Dude that's a bit over the top."
Enter Colin Baker, no relation to Tom, as the 6th Doctor, known to Who fans as "the unspeakable Mid-Life Crisis". Colin is notable for having appeared on Doctor Who before, as Time Lord Gaurd Commander Maxil. He's also notable for wanting the role so badly he agreed to wear an outfit that gave clowns nightmares.
Through no fault of his own, Colin became synonymous with everything that we all universally hated about the 80's in the context of Doctor Who, mostly because John Nathan Turner was a functionally retarded git who thought the 80's would outdo the 60's in people's fond memories decades later and wanted to cram Doctor Who with as much 80's crap as he could.
Colin tried his best to raise scripts literally written on horse shit with cowpie pencils to something watchable, but even Anthony Hopkins couldn't have saved Colin's Doctor stories. Ratings for Doctor Who dropped considerably, forcing the show to take almost a year off to try and regroup. When it came back, it was with a season long story that epitomized everything that now sucked about Doctor Who, including the villain being a future version of the Doctor but not quite trying to steal his own remaining lives so he could live longer despite the fact that doing so would kill him long before he could live to steal them, and for the Doctor leaving at the end with a woman he hadn't actually met yet, making brains all over Britain implode.
In the universal tradition of management assraping their product into oblivion with complete idiocy, this horrible failure of a period in Who history was of course blamed solely on Colin, who was fired by courier. He is sadly the Doctor most hated by Who fans, in spite of the fact that he did his absolute best with absolute crap. His Doctor was just so unlikable he may as well have been the Spencer Pratt of Doctor Who.
With Colin Baker so angry at being the scapegoat for JNT's retarded management as producer, the 7th Doctor was ushered in with the lamest regeneration so far; he fell off his exersize bike and hit his head. This was done to accomodate Colin's refusal to come backand film a regeneration scene, so they just put a curly blond wig onto 7th Doctor Sylvester McCoy and hoped no one would notice the loss of a foot's height and about 100 pounds before the superimposed yellow glow signified regeneration.
McCoy began his tenure as the Doctor playing a slightly less irritating copy of Patrick Troughton, but with the death of ancient Egyptian curse Mary Whitehouse, was soon allowed to give the Doctor a dark edge again, portraying him as more mysterious and manipulatrive than ever before, including having the balls to wipe out the home planet of the Daleks, despite Tom Baker's previous refusal to in earlier years.
McCoy's Doctor was enjoyable and, despite a cardigan covered in cheesy question marks, (because apparently JNT didn't think the audience could tell the Doctor was mysterious without wearing question marks as if he was the Riddler's weird uncle), McCoy made Doctor Who watchable again. Sadly there was no one left TO watch after JNT's decade of raping the show's cold dead corpse, the show was put on indefinite haitus in 1989.
In 1996, in their first attempt to revive Doctor Who, the BBC for reasons known only to Satan teamed up with the Fox Network in America to co-produce a backdoor pilot tv movie of Doctor Who, with better sets and special effects. Sylvester McCoy even returned to do a regeneration, and the set for the Tardis interior is widely considered the single most fucking badass sci-fi vehicle control room ever.
Paul McGann, famous for being the only convict on the prison planet in Alien 3 who didn't want to rape Sigourney Weaver, took on the role of the 8th Doctor and aquitted himself admirably. Even Eric Roberts as the Master did a wonderful job. So what went wrong?
Well first of all no one could overlook the fact that Eric Roberts was playing the Master. This would be comparable in American terms to Carrot Top playing The Joker in Batman 3. You know he could probably actually pull it off, but he'll never be as good as Heath Ledger and you'd never see anything but Carrot Top on your screen.
Then Fox meddled, as everyone but the BBC expected to happen, and fucked up half the storyline and dismembered the Doctor's already iffy continuity by changing things already established in the original run in ways new viewers would never comprehend and Who Fans would pitch fits over. Finally they filmed it here in beautiful Vancouver BC Canada and tried to pass it off as San Fransisco, despite clear shots of the Skytrain above-ground LRT system and the Harbor Centre Tower, both of which have nothing even remotely similar as far as landmarks go in San Fran.
While the film did boffo ratings in Britain, in America it flopped, having been put head to head with Darlene and David's wedding on Roseanne. And we all know American's will watch a fat mouthy redneck lunatic over intelligent British Sci-Fi any day.
Also, the brief cameo in the opening credits of Alvin and the Chipmunks screaming "EXTERMINATE" in the background really just pissed us all off.
In 2005, Doctor Who finally returned to our tv's, and life was good. The special effects were vastly improved, as was the budget, and the new companion was beautiful and intelligent. Unfortunately the 9th Doctor was played by Christopher Eccleston, who quit the show before the first episode had even aired so he could come to America and do glorified Yoda cameos on Heroes.
At the Time Eccleston was best known for playing the asshole British Army commander in 28 Days Later. Today he's best known for being the second worst bastardization of the original G.I. Joe in the new movie, right behind the Baroness not having a Russian accent.
Eccleston's Doctor was loud, pushy, nihilistic and irritating, and it was only Billie Piper's Rose and later the introduction of gorgeous pansexual eye candy Captain Jack Harkness that made the first season of the revival watchable. Eccleston is above only Colin Baker on most fan lists of favorite doctors in order. He and his hideous giant ears were thankfully gone after 13 episodes.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire introduced most of the world to the man who would be Doctor. In 2006, David Tennant, a lifelong hardcore Who fan who swore he'd someday play the role, debuted in a 7 minute long mini episode for the BBC's annual Children In Need charity telethon. His first full episode of the series was the first ever Doctor Who Christmas Special, which oddly he barely appeared in, being onscreen for less than 15% of airtime.
Unlike Eccleston's aggressive, hateful and borderline violent take on the character, Tennant nailed it from the get-go, with his Doctor showing traits of all Doctors before him. Combining these various traits he still made the role his own, and his love of the character showed, to the point where it accomplished miracles.
First it magically ended two decades of Tom Baker's post-Who douchery, with Baker humbly admitting Tennant was a better Who than even he had been. Second, it made a lot of people suddenly stop caring about homosexuality. Third, it gave Anthony Stuart Head a post-Buffy gig that didn't involve horribly bad drag.
Tennant has stayed with Who for the past four years, and as I write this has only 4 episodes remaining. 3 Who specials and one story on September's third season of spin-off the Sarah Jane Adventures, starring Elisabeth Sladen as the best goddamn MILF in the fucking universe.
Tennant is leaving Doctor Who now while he's still young, or he's convinced he'd die on the Tardis set an old man. He acheived three dreams during his tenure on Doctor Who.
1- He got to play the role to begin with.
2- He got to act opposite Peter Davison in a short mini-episode, a dream come true for David who as a boy wanked to Davison's Doctor.
3- Got to royally fuck Davison's incredibly hot daughter Georgia Moffat. (Okay that one is MY dream but I'm writing this Topic so deal.)
David will be missed. But if all goes well, American Audiences will see him soon enough, as he is currently offering Christopher Nolan head to be cast as the Riddler in Batman 3.
(UPDATE: He also has an NBC pilot in the works for the fall 2010 season.)
David is thus far the only Doctor to appear in more female drawn Yaoi and female written slash than any character played by Johnny Depp.
11th Doctor Matt Smith has only even been filming his first episides for a month, and he won't be seen onscreen as the Doctor until Tennant turns into him this January, but already he's polarised Who fans.
Firstly he looks like Robert Smith's even Gayer kid brother. His hair alone has kept gel companies in business during our current hard economic times.
Secondly the preview photos from his first day of shooting show his Doctor costume to be the clothing of the 70 year old breast grabbing pervert who taught Social Studies in my high school. It's fucking horrid.
In his favor, his interview on Doctor Who Confidential about landing the role made him come across as already being an arrogant yet light-hearted motormouth alien to begin with, so most of us are willing to give him a fair chance. He's now officially the youngest actor to ever play the Doctor.
In fact he's so young my biggest fear is that his first line as the Doctor is going to be "I am in ur Tardis, pwning ur Daleks".
Doctor Who has lasted for nearly a half century. It rivals Star Trek in every way. Like Trek, it has successful spin-off series. Like Trek it has several hundred novels based on it. There are more than a hundred audio dramas by Big Finish Entertainment starring actual Who cast members. Paul McGann, despite appearing only once as the Doctor on TV, has 5 seasons worth of stories on Audio.
Doctor Who is seen in over 50 countries in several languages. It's won numerous awards and outlasted Trek on TV. Before Enterprise was cancelled there were actually plans for a Who/Trek crossover in Enterprise's Season 5 which sadly never happened. There's a big screen Doctor Who movie in the works, and Whovians are perhaps the only Sci-Fi fans as rabid as Trekkies, although Browncoats and Galacticons are coming dangerously close. I don't know what Stargate fans are called but they don't count since Stargate is the bastard lovechild of Star Trek and Doctor Who anyway.
I love Doctor Who. I have since I was a little girl. And it was my pleasure and priveledge to write this Topic for Cracked. I hope you enjoyed it, and I'll see you in November when I torrent "The Waters of Mars".