Doctor Who and Doctor Who

Doctor Who (1963-1989)
Doctor Who (2005-    )
Type: Regeneration
Group: 27

   Doctor Who, the show that even before it spun off itself... kinda already spun off itself every couple of years.

   Doctor Who started out as a Brit sci-fi show aimed mostly at kids that ended up with folks of all ages watching. Now technically, the main character is not named Doctor Who, he is simply called the Doctor, no name. So the title is really closer to people's reaction to meeting him ("Doctor Who?").

   The Doctor is a time traveling Timelord from the planet Gallifrey. He travels through time and space in a ship called the TARDIS. TARDIS isn't the name of the Doctor's specific ship but rather is the "model" of timeship used by the Timelords. The exterior of a TARDIS can be set to look like anything imaginable so that wherever it lands it can blend right in. Wild west? Set your TARDIS to look like a teepee. Unfortunately for the Doctor, his TARDIS is... quirky. Some people might say sorta "broken". Its chameleon circuits don't really work. As a result it is stuck looking like a British police callbox - a small, blue, wooden emergency phone booth. I don't think they generally even exist anymore. Regardless, it doesn't exactly "blend in" in 99% of the places the Doctor travels to. But the oddness of is appearance also gives the Doctor's TARDIS charm and personality. Another thing about the TARDIS? It's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Way bigger. A callbox is just a bit bigger than a phone booth. But inside there is a main control room and an almost infinite number of ancillary rooms and hallways. Impossible? More like impossibly cool! Okay, that last turn o' phrase was NOT cool but the TARDIS is.

   Back to the Doctor. He would travel all over time and space finding adventure. Being a time traveler meant that the writers could also have him travel back in time to see important historical events - meaning they could slip some educational content in on the kids watching or send him on more fantastical, less educational adventures. Guess which were more popular.

   The Doctor was accompanied on his adventures by a rotating group of "companions", people he would meet on his adventures who would tag along for awhile but always would eventually end up leaving. Maybe it's just me but for the run of episodes I watched most it almost always seemed new companions would end up being people whose whole life or world would get destroyed. Having little to nothing left, they'd head off with the Doctor.

   There wasn't just a revolving door on the companions though. The funkiest thing about Doctor Who is that there was a revolving door on the Doctor himself. You see, Timelords have the ability to regenerate. Whenever they reach the point of death, their bodies transform into a whole new person. So whenever the current actor playing the Doctor would quit they could replace him without any problems. When the Doctor regenerates, the new Doctor is still the same guy in as much as he still has the same memories but each new Doctor would also have his own unique personality and quirks. Timelords can regenerate 12 times meaning they can have a total of 13 "lives".

   I should also mention the Doctor's "rogues gallery. In his journeys the Doctor acquired quite a number of enemies. To name just a few...

   Let's start with the Daleks. Daleks look like robots. Sort of giant, rolling mechanical fire hydrants. But the Daleks are not robots at all. Their "exterior" is actually a dangerous mechanical"tank" they tool around in with the Dalek itselves contained inside. The Daleks are fanatical "master race" types convinced that they are superior to everyone else and that all other races must be destroyed (leading to their constant mechanical yells of, "EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!!!!").

   Second up, the Cybermen. The Cybermen were the Borg before there were Borg. They would kick the Borgs' shiny asses. The Cybermen started as a race much like the human race. In the name of progress though, the Cybermen's race had their brains transferred to robot bodies and their emotions removed. If you're not a Cyberman, they either want to turn you into one or they want to kill you. Given their being created at an earlier time and on a lower budget, the Cybermen have a much more retro look than the Borg.

   The top of the rogues heap would have to be the Master. Like the Doctor the Master was also a Timelord, only one who was evil and out for himself. He's the Doctor's opposite number. Every good hero needs one. In any of his regenerations the Master was just a whole mess of trouble. He was also hard to see coming because the Master's TARDIS worked properly and could be disguised as anything. No tip off he was in town like with the big blue callbox.

   Time travel, TARDIS's, companions, regenerations aand crazy villains...that's a big ball of wacky to build stories around (and I mean that as a total compliment). And that's just what they did for a loooong time. 26 years is an INSANE run for a show. For a "kid's show" to run that long and end up a worldwide phenomenon is amazing. And we're not talking a big budget show here. You can see they had a limited budget but solid writing, good characters and the audience's willingness to suspend disbelief carries the show. But after 26 years, Doctor Who did leave the air. I don't think when the show ended anyone really imagined that that was it for the Doctor. With a property that well known it was just a matter of, ahem, time before the Doctor would return. The only question was when and how.

   In 1996 there was an attempt to regenerate Doctor Who in the form of a TV movie built to serve as a pilot for a new Doctor Who series. This attempt step things up a notch. Forget the low budget effects. The Doctor got the Hollywood treatment. The film was a UK/US co-production and was also meant to serve as a pilot for a new "primetime" Doctor Who which could be aired in the U.K. and the U.S. It was well received in Britain but didn't go crazy in the ratings in the U.S. Since the primary goal for the U.S. production company was to create a hit show for them in the U.S., that version of The Doctor never went became a series. The movie did feature the last Doctor from the series. He showed up long enough to get killed and regenerate. That means the film is clearly in the same continuity as the original series and not some kind of "reboot".

   And so the Doctor was left without a show for around 9 years. Where did he go? What did he do? Likely bowling, lots of bowling. Okay, maybe not.

   In 2005 the Doctor finally returned to the air. Apparently part of the delay was due to some folks wanting the Doctor to move onto the big screen and so stopping him from returning to TV. But you can't keep a good Timelord down. And just like the original series turned lemons to lemonade with the TARDIS having to stay a police callbox, the new series took the Doctor's unfortunate disappearance from the airwaves and turned it into a positive in a number of ways.

   First off, the folks behind the scenes clearly looked around and learned from other shows that popped up in the Doctor's absence. In particular, they really seemed to look at other genre shows and see what worked for those shows. In particular it's clear Buffy The Vampire Slayer had a big influence. Like the Doctor, Buffy's stories almost always had her saving the world from dire peril but with a good dose of humor and fun. Bringing the Doctor up to date for a new audience, the producers clearly made some notes about why folks dug the Slayer.

   Some of those notes ended up being applied to another way the Doctor Who crew took advantage of the Doctor Who's absence from the airwaves. With so many years missing from the Doctor's continuity the folks on the new Who decided to build up a large and mysterious back story for what had happened in those missing years (if a time traveler can have "missing years"). Gonna start spoiling some stuff from here on out so consider yourself warned...

   It seems that between the TV film and the new series a giant time war had occurred between the Timelords and the Daleks over the fate of the universe. The end result was the death of all the Daleks and, except for the Doctor, all of the Timelords. This gave the Doctor a whole different bent, throwing into stark relief how isolated and alone he is, even with companions. He was the last of his kind in the universe, no one else left who could relate to his unique position in the universe, no one else left to help shoulder the Timelords' burdens. This on top of the lonliness he already felt which explained his rotating list of companions. Any given companion would eventually grow old and die while he would live on and on. Allowing himself to get too close to any of them would only mean heartache in the long run. All good stuff, all very Buffy-ish. Buffy was the latest in a long line of Slayers (the Doctor is his own long line of "Doctors"), stuck alone with a burden no one else could carry. Her companions... make that "Scoobies"... could help and support her but in the end she always still felt apart from them.

   The new series opened with a brand new Who jumping right into action. No transition from the previous Doctor. It is clear he has recently regenerated though as right off the bat he is checking out his own reflection and commenting on his face as if he's seeing it for the first time.

   Actually, that's not true. The new Who didn't even start with the new Doctor. It starts with his new companion-to-be Rose. That's very telling. We meet not just Rose but her friends and family as well. Why bother if like past companions she'll be leaving her life largely behind? Because, in another Bufflike move, a supporting crew of friends and family beyond the companions will be important to this version of Who. Rose will also be unlike previous companions in another way. She will be the first one the Doctor lets get really REALLY close to him.

   The first episode's plot actually had me nervous. The doctor fights a being of living plastic that can cause plastic items to become animated, leading to people being chased by mannequins ala The Twilight Zone and eaten by trash dumpsters ala... well ala nothing, that came off a bit silly. As it turns out though they were just getting their footing. The plots picked up. The show also adopted the same plotting technique as many current genre shows including Buffy. Each season is comprised of standalone episodes but with with other longer running plots developing in the background leading up to a reveal of and confrontation with the season's "big bad".

   Speaking of the bad guys, many of the Doctor's old foes came calling in the new show. But the producer's were smart enough to put new twists on the old characters which made them fresh and new. The Daleks for example. The Doctor thought they had all died in the Time Wat. He was wrong, meaning his people had sacrificed everything for nothing. More good pain to play with there. First a single surviving Dalek was found. Then later it turned out the Emperor had survived and had used non-Dalek DNA to build a new Dalek race, a race obsessed with genetic purity who were impure themselves, beholden to the Emperor who created them. They went from a simple hate race to a self loathing cult. Whoah! No matter how hard the Doctor might try to defeat them all, more and more versions of the Daleks just keep cropping up and, well, killing everyone.

   The Cybermen also got retooled while maintaining their classic look. Rather than go back to the classic Cybermen we got a whole new brand. The Doctor found himself in a parallel universe on a parallel Earth. In this universe the Cybermen came to being on Earth and the Doctor arrived just in time to get a front row seat. Right off the bat the retool was cool. I always found the "head handle" look goofy. Sorry, just how I feel. I dig all the rest of the look except that. But then they went and made even that work for me. The first step in the new Cybermen assimilation was to get people wearing earpiece style cell phones, one in each ear. The first sign that the Cybermen are even part of the episode comes when character's suddenly have the "handle" thing grow up over their heads out of their ear pieces. Suddenly that head-handle silhouette served as a disturbing hint of what was to come. The new Cybermen also did not have their emotions removed but merely suppressed. If their emotions were not suppressed, they would be unable to deal with what had been done to them. And that made for great drama.

   Finally the Master returned as well. He's the easiest of all the villains to put a new spin on it so much as you can actually just make him over into a new character. In this case he was recreated as a goofy, jerky, and dare I say George Bushish politician. Not sure I totally loved this take on the Master. The comedy was good but a harder flip to true evil menace for his bad guy moments would have been beter for me. Like, really just seeing the evil and fire in his eyes.

   The new Time War back story put an additional spin on the Master as well. Now he wasn't just the evil Timelord, he was also the only other surviving Timelord. The Doctor might hate the Master but now, on some levels, the Master was also precious and important to him. Again, more parallels to Buffy. This take on the Master echoes much from Buffy season 3 (Odd since the master shows up in Doctor Who season 3). First off, the master is Faith to the Doctor's Buffy. Faith was the improbable second slayer (there is only supposed to ever be a single slayer at any time). Buffy had someone like her she could relate to. Only Faith ended up going to the dark side forcing Buffy to destroy her, harming herself in the process. One guess how things go with the Doctor and the Master. The Master's politician incarnation also echoes Buffy's enemy, Faith's boss the Mayor who was also a goofy bumbling politician bent on destroying the world.

   But now I have to back up and make an important point. The new Who brought back many classic Doctor Who elements but for well into season 2 I had to keep asking myself, is this a continuation of the old show or a fresh reboot with a continuity unrelated to the original? Yes, the show had tons of elements from the original show. The count on the regenerations lined up but there was nothing that hard and fast said, yes, this is the same Doctor. I mean, the Doctor himself changes faces as often as his underwear. Who's to say if the current Who is actually directly connected to the old who.

   Then came the second season episode School Reunion. This episode was a mindblower for me in many ways. First of all it's the episode that in no uncertain terms firmly connects the classic Doctor Who to the new series. On top of that, it is also the episode that really let me know I was not imagining the echoes of Buffy. Until this episode I kept thinking, "Maybe it's all in my head." This episode mad it clear it wasn't.

   The episode had the Doctor returning to present day England to investigate strange goings on at a high school. It's the most Buffy story they've ever done. The school's staff are all the sci-fi version of vampires. They're aliens who look like people but can turn into giant bats that can only be destroyed by being splashed with holy wat... I mean by being splashed with a certain oil which causes them to go up in flames. They're using the children of the school for nefarious purposes. Some of them at least. The rest, those that won't be missed, they eat. Hey, turnabout is fair play. On Buffy some of the students turned into animals and ate the principal so in this case the principal... make that headmaster... eats some kids! So what? Oh, did I mention, the headmaster is played by Buffy star Anthony Stewart Head? Heck the town the school was in was even named Deffry Vale, a close sound alike for Buffy's town of Sunnydale.

   The Doctor wasn't the only one on the case though. Also nosing around was a reporter named Sarah Jane Smith. As reporters go she had a good resume towards investigating strange happenings. I mean, she spent years in the 70s traveling the universe with the Doctor as one of his companions. She was in fact one of the audience's favorite companions. If there was a more popular companion it would have to be the Doctor's robot dog K9. Luckily when last seen K9 was with Sarah Jane Smith meaning in this episode he also gets to make a triumphant return. The return of Sarah Jane also worked to expose more of the Doctor's feelings of isolation, of how he feels about his companions and about Rose in particular.

   An additional Buffy parallel note about this episode. Sometime Doctor helper Mickey never feels he is appreciated or is helpful. In this episode he is left sitting in the car with K9 and worries that on the team he's the "tin dog" just as on Buffy Xander worries he is the weak link on the team, that's he's the Zeppo (referencing the "who cares" Marx Brother) on his team.

   And don't even get me started on both Buffy and Doctor Who each ending season two with the world in jeopardy and the love of their life being sucked toward a gateway to hell.

Other Doctor Who Crossover Links
Doctor Who and The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy
Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures
Doctor Who and Torchwood

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