A Brief History of Doctor Who and his Timey-Wimey Stuff
As referenced in the question, space and the stars have long been a fascination for mankind, and this is especially true in the television series Doctor Who. Doctor Who is one of the most popular British sci-fi programmes of all time, due to its fantastic plotting, credible actors and wonderful storylines.
To give a little bit of background on the programme, I’ll briefly go into what Doctor Who is about, and just ‘who’ the Doctor is. The first episode aired on the 23rd November 1963, with William Hartnell playing the first incarnation of the Doctor. Between that date and the 6th December 1989, seven actors played the Doctor, and a myriad of companions alongside him. In 1995, there was a Doctor Who Television Movie, starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. The series lay dormant for a further ten years, before being revived in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston reprising the role of The Doctor, and Billie Piper as his companion. The New-Who is now in its third series, with more planned for forthcoming years.
The series follows the adventures of a time-travelling alien, mysteriously named The Doctor. He doesn’t look alien to our eyes however – he has the appearance of a man, and the only physical difference between that of a human seems to be his binary-vascular system (two hearts). The Doctor travels around the universe and through time, coming up against foe after foe, evil overlord after evil overlord, and always alongside him is a trusty companion.
So how is it that ten actors have played The Doctor? Well, there’s a handy Timelord trait – regeneration. When The Doctor’s current life ends, instead of dieing, he will regenerate into a new body, that retains his memories but looks and acts different.
How does this relate to the subject matter of astronomy? Well, as I have mentioned, The Doctor and his companions travel around the universe, from planet to planet, meeting all kinds of mysterious creatures along the way. They travel in The Doctor’s spaceship-come-time machine, the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space). The TARDIS is designed to camouflage itself with present surroundings – so, if it landed in a forest, it should look like a tree. But something is wrong with The Doctor’s TARDIS’s chameleon circuit, meaning that it is stuck looking like a 1950’s Police call box.
No matter though – as The Doctor says, it has charm – and like all things of Gallifreyan design – it’s bigger on the inside.
So where has The Doctor been in his TARDIS? I can only speak of New-Who, but I’ll give a quick rundown of the adventures he’s had off in the far-flung reaches of the universe.
In Series One, The Doctor takes Rose to ‘The End of the World’ – a viewing platform far above the Earth, and far into the future, so that they can watch its eventual death. But all is not as it seems, for someone is lowering the heat shields, meaning the sun can penetrate into the platform…
Also in this series, we see aliens come to London and a giant museum filled with alien artefacts deep beneath the surface of Utah near Salt Lake City.
However, the only other episode in series one that takes place in Space is the series finale – Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways. This takes place on Satellite Five, which broadcasts game shows down to earth. But an old enemy of The Doctor’s soon arrives and puts everyone’s life in jeopardy…
There are slightly more episodes taking place in Space in Series Two: including the series opener ‘New Earth’. This takes place on a planet that has been colonised as a new earth, but the race living there are very different from humans…
We’re also taken to a lone spaceship in this series, where The Doctor and Rose have to come face to face with their fears and the mysterious Ood, a very weird and tentacley alien race.
Finally, in Series Three, we’re whizzed off to the Moon – which has for a long time been a fascination for the human race. We’re back to New Earth again in series three, where a motorway with a difference takes center stage. A further episode takes place on a spaceship that is orbiting dangerously close to a sun – can The Doctor and his new companion Martha find a way of helping the ship before it plunges to its death?
Finally, the episode entitled ‘Utopia’ takes place in the year three trillion, at the end of the universe, where even the stars have gone out. The alien landscape we see here is rough, hewn rock overrun with savage cannibals.
I’m sure that in the Classic series, The Doctor visited even more far-flung solar systems and planets, because he is definitely a man with a thirst for adventure and a passion for knowledge.
Space, the stars, alien worlds and planets – and to a slightly lesser extent – astronomy play a massive part in Doctor Who. He is a man who has no fixed abode, but is relentlessly travelling the universe through space and time in his TARDIS. He picks up companions (not as seedy as it sounds, I assure you!), and then lets them go. He rarely allows himself to get too close, in his words “I don’t do domestic,”. Of course, there are several exceptions to this, most notably that of Rose Tyler, the companion for the first and second series of New Who.
The Doctor is a man who doesn’t really need to extend his knowledge of the universe. He is a Timelord, and they are a race who govern space and time, who have a vast knowledge of the way things work and how they work the way they do. However, The Doctor is (seemingly) the last of his kind, and so he alone is the purveyor of all this knowledge. Yet it is true – he is forever learning – as is shown from the way he is advised by such great and ancient beings as the Face of Boe.
Doctor Who is at its core, an adventure story. But it is an adventure mixed with raw emotions, humour, some genuine scientific fact (and some not so genuine, note the Doctor’s recent explanation of time as “…a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff.”) There are some major surprises, and moments when you’ll scream and shout at the screen, times when you’ll gasp at a big revelation, and even cry at an unfair ending.
Doctor Who delighted one generation during the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, and now it is delighting a new generation in the noughties. And whilst The Doctor’s regenerations are capped at thirteen, let’s hope this doesn’t prevent him from continuing his life as one of the most popular aliens of all!