Nov 232013
 

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On this date in 1963 Doctor Who was broadcast on BBC television for the first time, so today is the 50th anniversary.  Big day for Whovians worldwide. Doctor Who is a British science-fiction television program produced by the BBC. The program depicts the adventures of a Time Lord—a time-traveling humanoid alien known as the Doctor. He explores the universe in his TARDIS (acronym: Time and Relative Dimension in Space), a sentient time-travelling space ship. Its exterior appears as a blue British police box, which was a common sight in Britain in 1963 when the series first aired. The interior, however, is huge, and is always a shock when new people enter it for the first time. It was supposed to be a chameleon, blending in wherever it went (hence a police box on earth 1963). But a technical hitch prevented it from transforming when it left earth after the initial serial, and it has been, outwardly, a police box ever since – icon of Doctor Who. Along with a succession of companions, the Doctor faces a variety of foes while working to save civilizations, help ordinary people, and right wrongs.

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The show has received recognition as one of Britain’s finest television programs, winning the 2006 British Academy Television Award for Best Drama Series and five consecutive (2005–2010) awards at the National Television Awards during Russell T Davies’s tenure as executive producer. In 2011, Matt Smith became the first Doctor to be nominated for a BAFTA Television Award for Best Actor. In 2013, the Peabody Awards honored Doctor Who with an Institutional Peabody “for evolving with technology and the times like nothing else in the known television universe.” The program is listed in Guinness World Records as the longest-running science fiction television show in the world, and as the most successful science fiction series of all time—based on its overall broadcast ratings, DVD and book sales, and iTunes traffic. During its original run, it was recognized for its imaginative stories, creative low-budget special effects, and pioneering use of electronic music (originally produced by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop).

This takes me back:

I was 12 when the first episode aired and was an instant fan.  The electronic music and effects, now so tame and dated, were enthralling in 1963. When I went to college I lost interest, but got back involved when the new sets of series began. My son was a teenager when they first aired and we would watch together – perfect father/son moments.  Then he went off to college and infected his dorm mates. Now he is a bigger fan than I am.  He has bought me DVD sets of the original series, though, for birthdays, and I still very much enjoy them. Another era.

Here is the beginning of the first episode. Full episodes of all surviving series are easily found online.

Doctor Who first appeared on BBC television at 17:16:20 GMT on 23 November 1963, following discussions and plans that had been in progress for a year. The Head of Drama, Canadian Sydney Newman, was mainly responsible for developing the program, with the first format document for the series being written by Newman along with the Head of the Script Department (later Head of Serials) Donald Wilson and staff writer C. E. Webber. Writer Anthony Coburn, David Whitaker, a story editor, and initial producer Verity Lambert also heavily contributed to the development of the series. The program was originally intended to appeal to a family audience as an educational program using time travel as a means to explore scientific ideas and famous moments in history. On 31 July 1963 Whitaker commissioned Terry Nation to write a story under the title “The Mutants.” As originally written, the Daleks and Thals were the victims of an alien neutron bomb attack but Nation later dropped the aliens and made the Daleks the aggressors. When the script was presented to Newman and Wilson it was immediately rejected since the program was not permitted to contain any “bug-eyed monsters.” The first serial had been completed and the BBC believed it was crucial that the next one be a success, however, The Mutants was the only script ready to go so the show had little choice but to use it. According to producer Verity Lambert; “We didn’t have a lot of choice — we only had the Dalek serial to go … We had a bit of a crisis of confidence because Donald [Wilson] was so adamant that we shouldn’t make it. Had we had anything else ready we would have made that.” Nation’s script became the second Doctor Who serial – “The Daleks” (aka “The Mutants”). The serial introduced the aliens that would become the series’ most popular and most enduring monsters, and was responsible for the BBC’s first merchandising boom.

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The BBC drama department’s Serials division produced the program for 26 seasons, broadcast on BBC 1. Falling viewing numbers, a decline in the public perception of the show and a less-prominent transmission slot saw production suspended in 1989 by Jonathan Powell, Controller of BBC 1. Although (as series co-star Sophie Aldred reported in the documentary Doctor Who: More Than 30 Years in the TARDIS) it was effectively, if not formally, cancelled with the decision not to commission a planned 27th series of the show for transmission in 1990, the BBC repeatedly affirmed that the series would return.

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While in-house production had ceased, the BBC hoped to find an independent production company to relaunch the show. Philip Segal, a British expatriate who worked for Columbia Pictures’ television arm in the United States, had approached the BBC about such a venture as early as July 1989, while the 26th series was still in production. Segal’s negotiations eventually led to a Doctor Who television film, broadcast on the Fox Network in 1996 as a co-production between Fox, Universal Pictures, the BBC and BBC Worldwide. Although the film was successful in the UK (with 9.1 million viewers), it was less so in the United States and did not lead to a series.

Licensed media such as novels and audio plays provided new stories, but as a television program Doctor Who remained dormant until 2003. In September of that year, BBC Television announced the in-house production of a new series after several years of attempts by BBC Worldwide to find backing for a feature film version. The executive producers of the new incarnation of the series were writer Russell T Davies and BBC Cymru Wales Head of Drama Julie Gardner. It has been sold to many other countries worldwide.

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Doctor Who finally returned with the episode “Rose” on BBC One on 26 March 2005. There have since been a number of series that continue to the present, and Christmas Day specials every year since 2005. No full series was filmed in 2009, although four additional specials starring David Tennant were made. In 2010, Steven Moffat replaced Davies as head writer and executive producer.

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The 2005 version of Doctor Who is a direct continuation of the 1963–1989 series, as is the 1996 telefilm. This differs from other series relaunches that have been reimaginings  (for example, Battlestar Galactica and Bionic Woman) or series taking place in the same universe as the original but in a different period and with different characters (for example, Star Trek: The Next Generation and spin-offs).

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As a Time Lord, the Doctor has the ability to regenerate his body when near death. This notion was introduced into the storyline as a way of continuing the series when the writers were faced with the departure of lead actor William Hartnell in 1966. It has continued to be a major element of the series, allowing for the recasting of the lead actor when the need arises, and in turn allows for redesigning the feel of the show to maintain variety and interest. The serials “The Deadly Assassin” and “Mawdryn Undead” and the 1996 TV film have established that a Time Lord can regenerate 12 times, for a total of 13 incarnations. The BBC Series 4 FAQ suggests that now the Time Lord social order has been destroyed, the Doctor may be able to regenerate indefinitely: “Now that his people are gone, who knows? Time Lords used to have 13 lives.” “Death of the Doctor,” a 2010 story of the spin-off series The Sarah Jane Adventures, has the Doctor claiming that he can regenerate 507 times, but episode writer Russell T Davies later indicated that this was intended as a joke, not to be taken seriously. However, with the twelfth incarnation of the Doctor coming up in 2014, you will likely see some hints in the series that the thirteenth incarnation will not be the last.

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The Doctor has gone through the regeneration process and its resulting after-effects on ten occasions, with each of his incarnations having their own quirks and abilities but otherwise sharing the consciousness, memories, experience and basic personality of the previous incarnations.  Below are listed the actors who have played the Doctor, with links to Wikipedia articles on each of the Doctors and the actors.

The Doctor

Portrayed by

Tenure

First Doctor William Hartnell 1963–1966
Second Doctor Patrick Troughton 1966–1969
Third Doctor Jon Pertwee 1970–1974
Fourth Doctor Tom Baker 1974–1981
Fifth Doctor Peter Davison 1981–1984
Sixth Doctor Colin Baker 1984–1986
Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy 1987–1989, 1996
Eighth Doctor Paul McGann 1996, 2013
Ninth Doctor Christopher Eccleston 2005
Tenth Doctor David Tennant 2005–2010
Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith 2010–present

The BBC has announced that Matt Smith is to leave the show after the 2013 Christmas special, to be replaced by Peter Capaldi.

Whovians sometimes have themed parties when they gather to watch Doctor Who.  There is cookbook to help.

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Some of the treats are food versions of well known objects from the show such as the TARDIS and the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver.  One of two are inspired by the Doctor’s tastes.  The fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, was addicted to jelly beans, for example.

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But no Doctor Who party would be complete without fish fingers (fish sticks) and custard.  When the eleventh doctor, Matt Smith, appeared after regenerating he is hungry so he asks a young Amy Pond to cook him something.  He hates everything until he settles on fish fingers and custard. Here is the priceless scene:

Fish fingers and custard.

I have never been moved to eat this dish, but my son has. He told me it wasn’t horrible, but he would not want to eat it too often.  I am going to give you three general ways to approach this dish for your next Doctor Who party.

Method 1.

The most obvious. Do what Matt Smith does. Grab some fish fingers and custard.  Cook the fish fingers and put the custard in a bowl and dip away.

Method 2.

Make a savory dish of fish fingers with saffron flavored white sauce as the custard.  Prepare the fish fingers in the usual way.  Prepare the “custard” by melting 1 tbsp of butter in a skillet and adding 1 tbsp of flour and whisking over medium heat to make a roux.  Do not brown.  Slowly add ½ cup of fish stock, whisking all the time.  Add ½ cup of cream or whole milk and whisk as it heats through. Add ¼ tsp of powdered saffron (or a few threads).  Stir until the sauce is evenly colored. Put the “custard” in a bowl and dip away.

Method 3.

Make a dessert dish using cake for the fish.  Cut white pound cake into sticks resembling fish fingers. Roll them in beaten egg and then in panko (or breadcrumbs) to coat on all sides.  Shallow fry in vegetable oil, turning to brown on all sides. Put regular custard in a bowl and dip away.

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