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The Doctor will see you now

A guide to time and space

by Ahmad Dixon, Staff Writer

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Premiering in November of 1963, “Doctor Who” is one of the longest running television shows in the history of the medium.

First conceived as an educational program for young children, the show would go through several transformations, changing its lead 13 different times and replacing its supporting cast even more frequently. With Jodie Whittaker becoming the first woman to take on the role of the Doctor, I think it’s time to take a look back on the shows history and examine the first three Doctors.

The First Doctor.  

The First Doctor was played by William Hartnell who had the role from 1963 to 1966. Markedly different than his successors, Hartnell was the oldest actor to portray the Doctor until Peter Capaldi was cast in 2014.

This Doctor lacks many of the shows future hallmarks. Possessing no sonic screwdriver and lacking the title of Time Lord, this Doctor acts like a crotchety old grandpa whose heart softens over time.

Writers at the time saw it fit to have the character be as mysterious as possible and have the main focus be on the situations the Doctor and his companions found themselves in rather than the Doctor himself.

This Doctor travels with science teachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, and also Susan Foreman, the Doctor’s granddaughter who acts as the audience surrogate.

The show would often have Ian explain scientific concepts that the crew would encounter and Barbara would give historical context when traveling to the past.

The show would famously break format in its second story when the Doctor faced his alien arch-enemy the Daleks.

This would start the slow shift from “Doctor Who” being educational to being a science-fiction show about fighting monsters.

If you’re only familiar with the modern Doctors and have never watched the older episodes this era is probably not a great place to start.

The pacing is extremely slow and the special effects aren’t great.

I do recommend the episode an “Unearthly Child.”

It’s the first episode of the series and allows you to see how far the show has come in 54 years. It also has a great atmosphere accentuated by the black and white photography.

The Second Doctor

When William Hartnell’s health was starting to become an issue during production, he was replaced by Patrick Troughton in a serial titled “The Tenth Planet.”

This era is where the show found its voice.

All remaining attempts to be educational were eschewed with the focus being on fighting monsters.

Most of the stories followed the “base under siege” format with an alien villain—i.e. the Ice Warriors, the Yetis and the Cybermen—attacking a human outpost and the Doctor and companions opposing them.

Patrick Troughton’s Doctor had a goofy exterior with a scheming interior. He commonly deceived his enemies into thinking he was clueless while orchestrating their demise.

This Doctor would be the inspiration for Matt Smith’s portrayal of the character and was instrumental in the creative socialization of a young Neil Gaiman, writer of “Sandman” and occasional contributor to “Doctor Who.”

Unfortunately many of the second Doctor’s best stories, including his debut story, were wiped by the BBC.

Of the ones that survived, I recommend “The Mind Robber.” In this episode, the Doctor is lost in the Land of Fiction, and the recently rediscovered Web of Fear, where the Doctor encounters Yetis in the London Underground.

The Third Doctor

The transition from the Second Doctor to the Third Doctor is probably the most drastic in the show’s history.

The show is finally in color and to save money on production costs, more of the stories take place on Earth in the modern day.

The Third Doctor was portrayed by Jon Pertwee, who brought much more physicality to the role than his predecessors.

Sharing more in common with Adam West’s Batman and James Bond than any of the other Doctors, the Third Doctor wasn’t afraid to use his signature fighting style of Venusian Akido against his enemies and would often save the day using a plethora of gadgets and gizmos.

Although some of the mystique and atmosphere was lost when the show made the jump to color, it was replaced with early 1970’s style.

Wearing frilly shirts and velvet jackets, this Doctor is nothing if not fun to watch.

Pertwee’s interpretation of the character isn’t as comedic as Troughton’s but it’s just as memorable.

For introductions to the Third Doctor I recommend “Spearhead from Space,” and Pertwee’s first serial, “Inferno,” where the Doctor accidentally transports himself to an alternate dimension where England is ruled by a fascist regime.

I also recommend “The Three Doctor’s,” the shows 10th anniversary special which features the first three Doctors working together to stop an evil Time Lord.

As we look toward the future of “Doctor Who,” it’s also important to take the TARDIS for a quick trip into the past.

Each actor and each era builds on earlier ideas and I’m excited to see what the thirteenth Doctor has in store for us.

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