The most recent episode of BBC’s 49-year phenomenon Doctor Who played fast and loose with the passage of time in the episode, dispensing with the usual Unities (while reintroducing UNIT) but perhaps it is one of the best parallels for our own relationship with The Doctor. For nearly five decades, the Time Lord of many faces has infiltrated living room TV sets, books shelves, magazine racks, and now the internet. The Doctor comes and goes from our lives, but whenever he makes an appearance, more often than not we put down whatever we are doing to join him on another adventure.
That is the power of The Doctor, and of the eleven actors who have carried his legacy. When William Hartnell collapsed to the TARDIS floor in 1966, and Patrick Troughton stood up in his place, an unprecedented narrative legacy was born. Doctor Who, via a (usually) brilliant combination of improvisation and compromise, has become one of the largest and greatest studies in character of all time. The individual talents of actors, from Troughton’s musical abilities to Tom Baker’s natural zaniness and Smith’s footballer skills, have all been incorporated into each reincarnation, while echoes of every one carry through, reminding us always that this is the same man: this is our Doctor. He is at times a sad man, a happy man, an angry man; a gleefully inquisitive child in an adult body, an old man in a young man’s body; he can be gruff or brutal or kind, but he will always be a good Doctor.
The development and legacy of The Doctor (‘The definitive article’ as Tom Baker’s Fourth incarnation once quipped) has been condensed into a ten-week course offered by Continuing Education at The University of Liverpool, entitled ‘The Many Lives of Doctor Who’. Classes will meet every Thursday from 4-6pm at the University. Enrollment closes October 1st. Download an enrolment form here, phone 0151 794 6900 with a debit or credit card, or register in person at 126 Mount Pleasant, Liverpool.