Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Doctor (Doctor Who)
The Doctor is the only known name of the central character in the long-running BBC television science-fiction series Doctor Who, and also featured in a vast range of spin-off novels, audio dramas and comic strips connected to the series.
This article is specifically about the character of the Doctor. For a more general overview of the series, please see the main Doctor Who article. For more about the production history of the show, please see History of Doctor Who.
Who is The Doctor?
The Doctor is a Time Lord, an extraterrestrial from the planet Gallifrey, who travels in a time machine called the TARDIS - Time And Relative Dimension (or Dimensions) In Space - that allows him to reach any point in time and space and is larger on the inside than on the outside. The TARDIS originally had the ability to disguise itself according to its environment, but became "stuck" in the form of a police box after landing in London in 1963 and has remained in that shape ever since.
For the most part, and usually because the vessel's navigation system is old and unreliable, the Doctor explores the universe at random and uses his extensive knowledge of science and advanced technology to heroically avert the crises that he encounters. The Doctor has, at various times, been accompanied by companions who have chosen to travel with him for a variety of reasons.
The Doctor is considered a renegade by the Time Lords for his penchant of getting "involved" with the universe, in direct violation of official Time Lord policy. However, most of the time his actions are tolerated, especially when he has saved not just Gallifrey, but the universe, several times over. His standing in Time Lord society has waxed and waned over the years, from being a hunted man to even being appointed Lord President of the High Council (an office he did not assume for very long and eventually was removed from in his absence). In the end, though, he has always seemed quite content to remain a renegade and an exile. Ultimately, the Doctor found himself, by the time of his ninth incarnation, the last known surviving Time Lord.
As a time-traveller, the Doctor has been present at or directly involved in countless major historical events on the planet Earth and on other worlds -- sometimes more than once. For example, in the 2005 series episode Rose, the Ninth Doctor is said to have been instrumental in preventing a family from boarding the Titanic prior to her fateful voyage; in the very next episode (The End of the World) it is stated that the Doctor -- presumably at some point prior to his ninth incarnation -- was also aboard the Titanic itself and survived the sinking. Many historical figures on Earth have encountered the Doctor. For example, the story City of Death revealed that the Doctor had known both Leonardo da Vinci and William Shakespeare and that the first folio of the latter's Hamlet was transcribed by the Doctor himself. In Timelash, he met a young H.G. Wells, while Marco Polo was the subject of an adventure of the same name during the first season. Most recently, the Doctor shared an adventure with Charles Dickens (for whom he expressed great admiration).
The character was first portrayed by William Hartnell in 1963, who played him as an irascible, grandfatherly figure. When Hartnell left the series, the role was taken over by Patrick Troughton in 1966. To date, nine actors have played the Doctor on television, with perhaps the most enduring incarnation being the fourth, played by Tom Baker. Christopher Eccleston currently plays the Ninth Doctor in a new series, which was first aired on 26 March 2005.
When the series began, nothing was known of the Doctor at all, not even his name. In the very first serial, 100,000 BC, two teachers from the Coal Hill School in London, Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton, became intrigued by one of their students, Susan Foreman, who exhibited high intelligence and unusually advanced knowledge. Trailing her to a junkyard at 76 Totter's Lane, they encountered a strange old man and heard her voice coming from inside what appeared to be a police box. Pushing their way inside, the two found that the exterior was actually camouflage for the dimensionally transcendent interior of the TARDIS. The old man, whom Susan called "Grandfather" but simply termed himself "the Doctor", subsequently whisked them away on an adventure in time and space.
In the first episode, Barbara addressed the Doctor as "Doctor Foreman," as the junkyard in which they find him bore the sign "I.M. Foreman". When addressed by Ian with this name in the next episode, the Time Lord responded, "Eh? Doctor who? What's he talking about?" Later, when Ian realized that "Foreman" was not his name, he asked Barbara, "Who is he? Doctor who?" Although listed in the on-screen credits for nearly twenty years as "Doctor Who", the Doctor is never really called by that name in the series, except in that same tongue-in-cheek manner. For example, in The Five Doctors when one character referred to him as "the Doctor", another character asked, "Who?" The only real exception was a computer in the serial, The War Machines, which commanded that "Doctor Who is required."
In The Gunfighters , the First Doctor used the alias Dr. Caligari. In The Highlanders the Second Doctor assumed the name of "Doctor von Wer" (a German approximation of "Doctor Who"), and signed himself as "Dr. W" in The Underwater Menace . In The Wheel in Space , his companion Jamie, reading the name off some medical equipment, told the crew of the Wheel that the Doctor's name was "John Smith". The Doctor subsequently adopted this alias several times over the course of the series, often prefixing the title "doctor" to it.
In The Armageddon Factor , the Time Lord Drax addressed the Fourth Doctor as "Thete", short for "Theta Sigma", apparently a University nickname. In the 1988 serial Remembrance of the Daleks, the Seventh Doctor was asked to sign a document, which he did using a question mark. Later he also produced a calling card with a series of Greek letters inscribed on it (as well as a question mark). The Eighth Doctor briefly used the alias "Dr. Bowman" in the 1996 Doctor Who television movie, known informally as Enemy Within. He has also been mocked by his fellow Time Lords for adhering to such a "lowly" title as "Doctor".
In many spin-off comic strips, books, films and other media, the character is often called "Doctor Who" (or just "Dr. Who") as a matter of course, though this has declined in more recent years. From the first story through to Logopolis (the last story of the 18th season and also of the Tom Baker era), the lead character was listed as "Doctor Who" (or sometimes "Dr. Who"). Starting from Peter Davison's first story, Castrovalva (the first story of the series' 19th season) to the end of the 26th Season, he was credited simply as "The Doctor". For the 2005 revival the credit reverted to "Doctor Who".
Some fans have speculated, taking off from the fact that the full name of the Time Lady Romana is Romanadvoratrelundar, that the first syllable of the Doctor's true name is "Who". It should be noted that, although it is often asserted that "Doctor Who" is not the character's name, there is nothing in the series itself that actually confirms this. In the first episode of The Mysterious Planet, the Doctor was about to give a name after the title "Doctor..." but was interrupted.
In the 2005 series premiere, Rose, when asked his name, the Doctor replies, "Just the Doctor." New companion Rose Tyler later finds a website devoted to the Doctor on the Internet, run by a conspiracy theorist who has been tracking the Ninth Doctor's appearances throughout history, carrying the title "DOCTOR WHO?".
Nine actors have officially played the Doctor on television to date. The changing of actors playing the part of the Doctor is explained within the series by the Time Lords' ability to regenerate after suffering mortal injury, illness, or old age. The process repairs and rejuvenates all damage, but as a side-effect it changes the Time Lord's physical appearance and personality semi-randomly. This ability was not introduced until producers had to find a way to replace the ailing William Hartnell with Patrick Troughton and was not explicitly called "regeneration" until Jon Pertwee's transformation to Tom Baker at the climax of Planet of the Spiders. On screen, the transformation from Hartnell to Troughton was called a "renewal" and from Troughton to Pertwee a "change of appearance".
The actors who played the Doctor in the series, and the dates of their first and last television appearances, are:
- First Doctor - William Hartnell: (November 23, 1963–October 29, 1966)
- Second Doctor - Patrick Troughton: (November 5, 1966–June 21, 1969)
- Third Doctor - Jon Pertwee: (January 3, 1970–June 8, 1974)
- Fourth Doctor - Tom Baker: (December 28, 1974–March 21, 1981)
- Fifth Doctor - Peter Davison: (March 21, 1981–March 16, 1984)
- Sixth Doctor - Colin Baker: (March 22, 1984–December 6, 1986)
- Seventh Doctor - Sylvester McCoy: (September 7, 1987–December 6, 1989, and May 27, 1996, in the Doctor Who television movie)
- Eighth Doctor - Paul McGann: (May 27, 1996) - in the Doctor Who television movie
- Ninth Doctor - Christopher Eccleston: (March 26, 2005–end of 2005)
- Tenth Doctor - David Tennant: (2005–-?)
Despite the fact that the Doctor is supposed to be the same person throughout his regenerations, each actor to play the Doctor has purposely imbued his incarnation with distinct quirks and characteristics. These distinguish one incarnation from the other, not just in physical appearance but personality as well. For example, the Second Doctor was a superficially clownish figure while the Third was an action-oriented adventurer and the Fourth more bohemian in his manner. The Fifth Doctor was a human, vulnerable figure, while the Sixth was bombastic, the Seventh at first clownish, and later darker and more manipulative, and the more romantic Eighth Doctor possessed of an infectious enthusiasm about the universe.
The Ninth Doctor, so far, is a more enigmatic figure, almost manic on the surface but hiding a deep sadness and a colder personality, perhaps hardened by the "time war" that has destroyed Gallifrey and left him the last of the Time Lords sometime prior to Rose. At his core, however, the Doctor continues to be a heroic figure, fighting the evils of the universe wherever he finds them, even if his values and motives are sometimes alien. The Tenth Doctor's personality has yet to be revealed.
Following is a list of how each Doctor to date has regenerated. Prior to the 2005 revival, the regeneration was always worked into the storyline. For five regenerations (William Hartnell to Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker, Tom Baker to Peter Davison, Peter Davison to Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy to Paul McGann), the outgoing Doctor was seen regenerating into the next in a symbolic handing over of the role.
- First Doctor: apparently succumbed to old age, steadily growing weaker throughout The Tenth Planet and collapsing at the serial's end.
- Second Doctor: a forced regeneration and exile to Earth by the Time Lords in the closing moments of The War Games.1
- Third Doctor: radiation poisoning from the Great One's cave of crystals at the end of Planet of the Spiders.
- Fourth Doctor: fell from the Pharos Project radio telescope in Logopolis.
- Fifth Doctor: spectrox toxaemia, contracted near the start of The Caves of Androzani.
- Sixth Doctor: suffered unspecified injuries as The Rani attacked the TARDIS and caused it to crash land at the start of Time and the Rani.2
- Seventh Doctor: died on the operating table while undergoing surgery for gunshot wounds.
- Eighth Doctor: Not shown.
- Ninth Doctor: Not known.
In the original series, with the exception of the change from Troughton to Pertwee, regeneration usually occurred immediately following the "death" of the previous Doctor. The changeover from McCoy to McGann was handled differently, with the Doctor actually dying and being dead for quite some time before regeneration occurred. The Eighth Doctor comments at one point that the anesthesia interfered with the regenerative process, and that he had been "dead too long," accounting for his initial amnesia.
The 2005 series begins with the Ninth Doctor already regenerated, with no explanation given. Russell T. Davies, writer/producer of the new series, stated in Doctor Who Magazine that he has no intention of showing the regeneration in the series, and that he believed the story of how the Eighth Doctor became the Ninth is best told in other media. In his first appearance in "Rose", the Ninth Doctor looked in a mirror and comments on his physical appearance, suggesting that the regeneration happens shortly prior to the episode.
After the BBC greenlighted a second series on the strength of the ratings for Rose, they further announced that Eccleston would step down from the role after the 2005 season. At first, the BBC cited fears of typecasting as a reason for his departure, though they later admitted they had failed to contact Eccleston before responding to the press, and had broken an agreement made in January not to disclose his impending depature.
The BBC announced on April 16, 2005 that David Tennant will play the Tenth Doctor. Eccleston will play the role for the final time in a special Christmas episode scheduled to air near the end of 2005. It is not yet known whether Tennant will appear in the special as well, or if a regeneration into the Tenth Doctor will occur at this point.
The Doctor's regenerations
It was established in The Deadly Assassin that a Time Lord can regenerate twelve times before permanently dying, though as with most such "rules" there were occasionally exceptions. For more on this see the Time Lord article.
In The Brain of Morbius (produced shortly before Assassin), it was implied through visual images displayed during a mental battle between the Doctor and Morbius that the Doctor had at least eight incarnations prior to the First Doctor. However, multiple dialogue references throughout the series (particularly in The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors) contradict this, as well as the fact that the Doctor has regenerated four times since Peter Davison. Explanations by fans have included theories that the images were of Morbius's previous incarnations or that they were false images induced by the Doctor.
The Doctor's regenerations are usually as a result of his previous incarnation sustaining mortal injury or (in one case) having the regeneration forced on him by the Time Lords. Other Time Lord regenerations, like Romana's, have not been as dramatic or painful.
Since the regeneration from Troughton to Pertwee, it has become common for The Doctor to experience a period of instability and partial amnesia following regeneration. Some post-regeneration experiences were more difficult than others. In particular, the Fifth Doctor began reverting into his previous personalities and required the healing powers of the TARDIS' "Zero Room" to survive. The Sixth Doctor experienced extreme paranoia and flew into a murderous rage, nearly killing his companion. The Eighth Doctor not only experienced amnesia, but also developed unusually romantic feelings towards his companion. It has yet to be revealed what, if any post-regeneration problems the Ninth Doctor might have experienced.
In the Sixth Doctor story arc "The Trial of a Time Lord", a Time Lord with the title of the Valeyard (played by Michael Jayston) was revealed to be a potential future Doctor, existing somewhere between his twelfth and final incarnations and embodying all the evil and malevolence of the Doctor's dark side. The Valeyard was defeated in his attempt to actualize himself by stealing the Sixth Doctor's remaining regenerations, however, and so may never actually come to exist.
The idea of an "in-between" version of the Doctor has its precedents. In Planet of the Spiders, a Time Lord's future self (described as a "distillation" of the future incarnation) was shown to exist as a corporeal projection that assisted his then-current incarnation. In Logopolis, a mysterious white-cloaked figure known as the Watcher assisted in the transition between the Fourth and Fifth Doctors. Nyssa commented that the Watcher "was the Doctor all the time," but there is no real evidence to back up this assertion and the actual nature of the character has never been made clear.
The relevation in the 1996 television movie that the Doctor was half-human proved controversial among fans, and some have suggested that only the Eighth Doctor was half-human due to the particularly traumatic circumstances of his regeneration, rather than the Doctor having been half-human all along. (The evidence for or against this in the series is, typically, equivocal.) The Time Lord ability to change species during regeneration is referenced by the Eighth Doctor in relation to the Master in the television movie, and is supported by Romana's regeneration scene in the 1979 serial Destiny of the Daleks .
The Doctor's age
Due to their ability to regenerate, Time Lords can experience immensely long lifespans. In The War Games, the Second Doctor stated that Time Lords could live forever, "barring accidents."
The Doctor's age has been stated (or estimated) in several stories. In the serial The Tomb of the Cybermen the Second Doctor told Victoria that he was around 450 years old. The Second Doctor was also seen to carry around a 500-year diary in which he kept notes.
By the time of The Brain of Morbius , the Fourth Doctor was stated to be 749 years old ("something like 750 years" in the prior Pyramids of Mars). In The Ribos Operation , the first Romana said the Doctor was 759 years old and had been piloting the TARDIS for 523 years, making him 236 when he first "borrowed" it. In Revelation of the Daleks the Sixth Doctor was 900 years old, and in Time and the Rani, the Seventh Doctor's age was the same as the Rani's, namely 953. In Remembrance of the Daleks the Seventh Doctor said that he had "900 years experience" rewiring alien equipment. In the 1996 television movie, the Eighth Doctor kept a 900-year diary in his TARDIS.
The large gap in years between the Fourth and Sixth Doctors can be partially covered by the fact that the Fourth Doctor travelled alone for a time or with an equally long-lived Time Lady as a companion, allowing for several decades or centuries of untelevised stories to take place. There was also a gap just after The Trial of a Time Lord which can account for the Doctor's difference in ages between Revelation and Time and the Rani. While the Fifth Doctor was never seen without a companion, there was a period where he was travelling with Nyssa of Traken, who, not being human, may not have aged normally.
In the spin-off novels, the Seventh Doctor celebrated his 1000th birthday in Set Piece by Kate Orman, and the Eighth Doctor declared his age to be 1,012 in Vampire Science by Orman and Jonathan Blum. The Eighth Doctor also spent nearly a century on Earth during a story arc spread over several novels.
In the 2005 series, the Doctor's age is stated in publicity materials as 900 years, and in Aliens of London, he says, "Nine hundred years of time and space, and I've never been slapped by someone's mother." Rose follows up by asking him if he is 900 years old, and he replies affirmatively.
How this figure is to be reconciled with the Doctor's age in the rest of the series and other (arguably non-canon) sources is uncertain. Possibilities include the Doctor estimating his age or lying about it out of vanity (in The Ribos Operation he gave his age at 756, although Romana insisted it was 759). Another possibility is that the Doctor is simply referring to the years he has been travelling for simplicity's sake, which, if he began at 236, would make him 1,136 years old. This figure does fit roughly with the Eighth Doctor's period as chronicled in the spin-off media.
All this also presupposes that the figures given all correspond to Earth years and not Gallifreyan.
The Doctor's clothing has also been equally distinctive, from the First Doctor's distinguished Edwardian suit, to the Second Doctor's slightly rumpled, Chaplinesque appearance to the frilly shirts and velvet coats of the dashing Third Doctor's era. The Fourth Doctor's long coat and trailing scarf accentuated his bohemian image, the Fifth's cricketer's outfit suited to his youthful, more aristocratic air and the Sixth's multi-coloured and mismatched jacket reflecting the excesses of 1980s fashion. From the Fourth Doctor onwards, the question mark became a motif of the Doctor's clothing, usually on the shirt collars or in the case of the Seventh Doctor, on his jumper.
The Seventh Doctor's clothing was more subdued, also sporting an umbrella with a question mark for a handle and in later seasons a dark brown jacket as his personality grew darker and more mysterious. The Eighth Doctor harkened back to the Edwardian dandy of earlier Doctors, and had a Byronesque air about him appropriate to his more Romantic personality.
In contrast to the distinctive looks of his predecessors, the Ninth Doctor wore a non-descript, worn leather black leather jacket, V-neck shirt and dark pants. Eccleston stated that he felt that such definitive "costumes" were passť and that the character's trademark eccentricities should show through their actions and clever dialogue, not through gimmicky costumes.
Reprising the role
On a few occasions, previous Doctors have returned to the role, guest-starring with the incumbent:
- Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton with William Hartnell in a minor role in The Three Doctors. Originally Hartnell's role had been intended to be more extensive, but his health had deteriorated to the extent that he could only make a limited appearance. In the end, it turned out to be his last television role.
- Troughton, Pertwee with Davison in The Five Doctors, the twentieth anniversary special, with another actor, Richard Hurndall, standing in for the late William Hartnell. The story began with a clip featuring Hartnell. Tom Baker declined to appear, feeling that the role came too soon after he had left the programme (a decision he later said he regretted) and the narrative was reworked to use clips from Shada, an intended six-part story from the Fourth Doctor's era that was never completed due to industrial action. A waxwork dummy of Baker was used in the publicity photographs.
- Patrick Troughton with Colin Baker in The Two Doctors.
- Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Colin Baker, Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy — with rubber dummy heads standing in for William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton — in Dimensions in Time, a charity special in aid of Children in Need in 1993, the programme's 30th anniversary year.
A common contention among fans and producers of the series is that a large part of the Doctor's appeal comes from his mysterious and alien origins. While over the decades several revelations have been made about his background - that he is a Time Lord, that he is from Gallifrey, among others - the writers have often strived to retain some sense of mystery and to preserve the eternal question, "Doctor who?" This backstory was not rigidly planned from the beginning, but developed gradually (and somewhat haphazardly) over the years, the result of the work of many writers and producers.
Understandably, this has led to continuity problems. Characters such as the Meddling Monk were retroactively classified as Time Lords, early histories of races such as the Daleks were rewritten, and so on. The creation of a detailed backstory has also led to the criticism that too much being known about the Doctor limits both creative possibilities and the sense of mystery.
Some of the stories during the Seventh Doctor's tenure, part of the so-called "Cartmel Masterplan", were intended to deal with this issue by suggesting that much of what was believed about the Doctor was wrong and that he was a far more powerful and mysterious figure than previously thought. In both an untelevised scene in Remembrance of the Daleks and the subsequent Silver Nemesis it was implied that the Doctor was more than "just" a Time Lord. The suspension of the series in 1989 meant that none of these hints were ever resolved. The "Masterplan" was used as a guide for the Virgin New Adventures series of novels featuring the Seventh Doctor, and the revelations about the Doctor's origins were written into the novel Lungbarrow by Marc Platt . However, the novels are not considered canon by most fans.
The 1996 television movie created even more uncertainty about the character, revealing (among other things) that his mother was human. Fans, however, seemed to be more upset about the fact that the Eighth Doctor was shown kissing Dr. Grace Holloway, breaking the series' long-standing taboo against the Doctor having any romantic involvement with his companions.
While some fans regard discontinuities as a problem, others regard it as a source of interest or humour (an attitude taken in the book The Discontinuity Guide ). A common fan explanation is that a universe with time travellers is likely to have many historical inconsistencies. There has also been much fan speculation centred on exactly which aspects of the television series, books, radio dramatisations, and other sources will be considered canon in the new series which began in March 2005.
- We do not see Patrick Troughton turn into Jon Pertwee's Doctor. The War Games had Troughton spinning away into nothingness as the serial ended and the next time we saw the Doctor in Spearhead from Space it was Jon Pertwee who stumbled out of the TARDIS. This left a possible gap between War Games and Spearhead which some have inserted a hypothetical "Season 6B" for the Second Doctor as an agent of the Time Lords (see The Two Doctors).
- Colin Baker did not actually appear in the regeneration scene from Time and the Rani, as he declined to participate. Instead, Sylvester McCoy was seen briefly from behind in a blond wig before he regenerated into the Seventh Doctor.
- Howe, David J; Stammers, Mark & Walker, Stephen James (1996). Doctor Who: The Eighties (1st ed.). London: Virgin Publishing. ISBN 1-85227-680-0.
- Howe, David J & Walker, Stephen James (1998). Doctor Who: The Television Companion (1st ed.). London: BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-40588-0.
- Parkin, Lance (1996). Doctor Who: A History of the Universe - From Before The Dawn of Time and Beyond The End of Eternity. London: Virgin Publishing. ISBN 0-426-20471-9.
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