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Born November 23, 1963
Still going strong!

The Basics

Doctor Who is a British science fiction adventure television program which is equally appealing to children and to adults.

The main character doesn't really have a name, or if he does have a name, he doesn't tell anyone what it is. He is known simply as "the Doctor." He is the ultimate zany scientist. He looks like a human being, but he is actually a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. The Doctor is from the most technologically advanced alien civilization in the universe, and he is the smartest person in the universe, with an incredible understanding of every branch of science and a brain that is faster than anyone else's. He has a life span that is far longer than a human's. With boundless energy and hardly any need for sleep, he has a zest for life and wants nothing more than to see and to experience as many things, and to meet as many living beings, as possible.

The Doctor has a vessel which can take him anywhere in time and space, almost instantaneously. Want to meet some dinosaurs? Done. Want to visit an Earth colony in another solar system in the distant future? He'll take you there. Want to see the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies come together billions of years from now? Not a problem. However, the Doctor usually has his vessel choose destinations at random, and he has an uncanny knack of finding trouble wherever he goes.

Regeneration

Probably the most amazing thing about the Doctor is his ability to regenerate. It's something his species is somehow able to do. When his body is elderly and worn down, or when he is mortally wounded, he can perform a process called regeneration. His entire body heals itself in a massive discharge of energy, completely remaking itself in a matter of seconds. The regeneration transforms his appearance into that of a new person. When it is finished, the Doctor has a completely different body, face, and personality – basically, he transforms into a new incarnation of himself. (This plot device allows different actors to play the character as the years go by, and also helps to explain the Doctor's long life span.)

Regeneration is not a step to be taken lightly, and is a monumental event in a Time Lord's life, especially since there is no guarantee that a Time Lord will actually survive the process. The Doctor regenerates only if he has no other means of survival. He has no knowledge of what he will look like until the process is complete.

The fact that the Doctor lives through different incarnations (or selves, as he sometimes calls them) makes him incredibly fascinating. Although the Doctor's personality changes when he regenerates – sometimes by quite a lot – his core values, principles, and general quirkiness remain. Each incarnation of the Doctor tends to consider all his other selves to be irritating, to be embarrassing, to possess bad habits, and to have terrible dress sense, in the same way that a human being might look at a 20-year-old photo of himself and cringe at the hairstyle he used to have or the clothes he used to wear.

The Doctor once described regeneration as a process which feels like death, and in many ways it is a death, as an entirely new man emerges on the other side of the regeneration. One facet of the Doctor dies while another is born. Yet, he is the same man. Each incarnation of the Doctor is a different representation of a single unfathomable alien being. The 7th Doctor once put it eloquently: "There are seven of me, but there is one of me."

Once the Doctor regenerates, he's even stranger than usual for a few days. During this time, his body – especially his brain – is still healing, and he's not firing on all cylinders. (It doesn't help that when he regenerates, he's usually in the middle of something urgent.) He must acclimatize himself to a new body, a new face, a new personality, new tastes, new habits, new likes and dislikes. Regeneration is the Doctor's ticket to self-discovery all over again.

But the neatest thing about regeneration is that, because he is a time traveler, the Doctor's different selves can bump into each other as they wander the universe. Fewer things in Doctor Who are more enjoyable than scenes in which multiple incarnations of the Doctor are in the same room.

The Doctor tries very hard never to use time travel to revisit his personal past, because meeting himself would cause all sorts of complications. Nevertheless, there are times when events beyond his control bring him into direct contact with his other selves. These are usually anniversary episodes, when some of the actors who played previous incarnations of the Doctor return for a really big, special story, giving the fans a lovely trip down memory lane.

When the Doctor's selves meet face to face, they get on each other's nerves. They disagree on certain things, bicker with each other, trade friendly insults, and mock each other's dress sense. Each incarnation of the Doctor looks at his other selves and finds it so hard to believe that they are him.

Yet they are. And they are all equally brilliant.

The Doctor's time machine

The Doctor's time machine is called the TARDIS, which is an acronym for Time And Relative Dimension In Space.

The TARDIS is actually a living being. She is a machine which is so advanced, intricate and complex that she has her own consciousness. She is just as quirky as the Doctor, and sometimes just as temperamental.

She does not take off and land like a rocket ship. Instead, when she travels, she simply dematerializes, travels through the time vortex, and rematerializes at her destination.

The TARDIS is bigger on the inside than on the outside. Inside, the ship is enormous, with rooms being created and shifted around as needed. Outside, the TARDIS is not very big.

The TARDIS is designed to change her outward appearance whenever she arrives in a new location, in order to blend in with the environment, thereby not attracting attention. However, the Doctor's TARDIS can no longer do this. The Doctor once visited 1963 England, and the TARDIS chose the shape of a blue police telephone box when she materialized. Then the TARDIS's chameleon circuit malfunctioned, and the Doctor has never been very interested in repairing it. So, wherever and whenever the Doctor goes, his TARDIS still looks like a blue British police telephone box.

Although the TARDIS is a living being, she does not communicate with anyone directly. Since she is intrinsically linked to the fabric of time and space, she often knows things the Doctor does not, and will sometimes behave mysteriously because of this. In one episode, it was established that the TARDIS does not take the Doctor where he wants to go, but instead takes him where he needs to go.

The Doctor and the TARDIS have travelled together for so long that they are symbiotically linked. They feel and understand one another.

Since the interior of the TARDIS is a pocket universe, the TARDIS can make it look like whatever she and/or the Doctor wants. The console room's design changes every so often. Rooms are shuffled around as the internal topography changes, sometimes simply due to the TARDIS's mood, or due to the Doctor's mood. Yet, no matter what the console room looks like, and no matter where any given room is on any given day, the Doctor always seems to know intuitively where everything is and what every switch and button does (or at least, he pretends to).

Since the TARDIS was built by the most technologically advanced race in the cosmos, it is almost indestructible, but colossal forces can hurt it. When the TARDIS is badly damaged, rather than needing to be repaired, she really just needs time to heal and remake herself, which usually results in the console room undergoing another random design change.

The TARDIS is to Doctor Who what the flying carpet is to fairy tales: a living magical thing which can take people anywhere.

The Doctor

The Doctor tries as hard as he can to be nonviolent. He thinks weapons are repugnant and therefore does not carry any (but he can use them when he absolutely has to). He cherishes life and tries to see the goodness in people wherever he goes, and is in an almost constant state of celebration, even (or especially) in the heart of danger. He always seems to land right in the middle of trouble. Using his vast knowledge and his supremely quick brain, he fights evil and tyranny, strives for peace and understanding, and protects planets like the Earth from being overrun by nasty alien conquerors.

Because the Doctor has lived for so long, he is not just intelligent, he's also very wise in many ways. Even so, he sometimes doesn't grasp aspects of human relationships at all, because after all, he is an alien. Also, deep inside, he carries a great sadness due to all the injustice and suffering he has witnessed.

The Doctor is one of the most fascinating and complex characters in the history of fiction, in any medium. As he is a man with an extremely long life span, and a man with such an incredible knowledge of the universal big picture, and – most importantly – an alien being whose psychological makeup is not the same as a human's, the Doctor is a very challenging and dynamic role for any actor, and he cannot be categorized like other fictional characters. The Doctor is a knight in shining armor, a con artist, a spiritual wise man, a thief, and a wizard, all at the same time. He can psychoanalyze an opponent, solve a mystery with keen observation and deduction, defuse a nuclear device, perform a magic trick, negotiate a peace agreement among empires, fight with a sword, stand up for all that is noble, pick a man's pocket, offer a helping hand to the most downtrodden of people, command an armada in a space battle (and win, obviously), hypnotize someone, demand peace, smoothly finagle his way into important meetings by pretending to be someone else, and tell galactic rulers to treat all people with equality and dignity, all in the same day, and none of this is contradictory for his character. As another character once told him, "You think like a warrior but you do not act like one! It is most perplexing!" Queen Victoria knighted the Doctor and banished him from the British Empire on the same day.

The Doctor almost always has companions who accompany him on his travels. These companions come and go as the years go by, and they share in the Doctor's adventures and do their part to defeat the bad guys. His companions are almost always humans from present-day Earth.

Summary

Because of the Doctor's silly personality and quick brain, Doctor Who can be hysterical when written well. The adventures – especially the ones involving time travel as a plot device – can be just the kind of interwoven, delightful and highly complex stories that a science fiction fan dreams of experiencing. With all of time and space as its playground, Doctor Who can do more, and take us to more places, than any other work of fiction.

The brilliant author Douglas Adams once said it best: "Doctor Who should be complex enough to hold the attention of a child, but simple enough for an adult to understand."

The Doctor's life is a truly magical story.

Miscellaneous

Doctor Who existed as a television program from 1963 to 1989 and briefly in 1996 (all of which is now known as the "classic series"), and again from 2005 to the present (the "new series"). It is the longest running science fiction program in the world. Its first six years were filmed in black and white. Two color film adaptations starring Peter Cushing were produced in the 1960s. There have been several spinoff television series and radio programs, as well as hundreds of original novels, short stories, audio adventures, and comic strips. All of these separate works, including the television serials, total well over 500 tales of adventure, more than enough for even the most die-hard fan to keep up with.

Due to bureaucratic misunderstandings and media constraints of the time, until the early 1970s, the British Broadcasting Corporation regularly destroyed film reels and video tapes without realizing that they were destroying all known copies of many films and television programs. This practice affected hundreds of television programs, including Doctor Who. Many episodes of Doctor Who from the 1960s exist today only as audio recordings because the video tapes and film reels were destroyed. The only hope of seeing these episodes again is the possibility that copies survive in private collections or in the libraries of foreign television stations to whom copies were sold, and will be rediscovered some day. This is the way many other destroyed episodes have already been recovered. List of Doctor Who missing episodes.

Doctor Who has a cast turnover rate that is almost certainly greater than any other television program in the world, fiction or nonfiction. Any two episodes of Doctor Who which are more than two years apart have an extremely good chance of featuring a different set of companions. Any two episodes more than four years apart have a very good chance of featuring a different actor in the lead role, as well as a different executive producer and script editor. People in show business don't like to stay in one place for very long, but the story never ends, so everyone who works on the show simply passes the baton proudly to the next set of people when they leave. The only constant in the program is the TARDIS, our trusty old police box.

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