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Editorial: How Much Has Doctor Who Changed in 50 Years?

Doctor Who: A British science-fiction drama created by Sydney Newman, telling the tale of an old man and his time-travelling granddaughter, Susan, journeying through all of time and space. Having first aired in November 23rd 1963 on BBC One, Doctor Who has lasted fifty years and counting on our television screens.

 Since then it has survived it’s own decommission, and having been absent for sixteen years, was soon revived by life long fan and writer Russell T. Davis in 2005. Not only that but this iconic British programme has so far featured thirteen talented actors to play the role of the Doctor, aired eight hundred episodes to date, had it’s very own American film released and is currently the longest running science-fiction drama so far, remaining to be a considerable factor of British culture.

 Throughout the course of this editorial, I will be highlighting some of the major differences between the run of Classic Who and the revival of Doctor Who; New Who, and taking a look at how much has Doctor Who changed since it first began on our television screens.

As mentioned, the role of the Doctor has been played by a large variety of actors. For the majority of Classic Who these actors were all roughly what reasonably old with most of them in their fifty’s. For instance take William Hartnell; The very first man to take up the mantle of the Doctor, the man who would set up the initial blueprint for all others to eventually follow, in some form or another, was at the age of fifty-five upon accepting the part. However Matt Smith who plays the current Doctor in New Who was at the much younger age of twenty six when he first took the role. Within fifty years of Doctor Who the age gap between the two actors is a total of twenty-nine years. This being one of the more noticeable and more importantly, significant comparisons between the two era’s of Who.

One of the more subtle differences in the show’s revival is the change of format to the show, something which has just equal impact as the point mentioned before. Throughout all of Classic Who, the show has had a regular tea-time slot where each episode lasted roughly 30 minutes. Every entire episode will be split into at least Two-Parters or serials, with some episodes consisting of up to seven parts and higher. On the other hand take New Doctor Who: A Series will consist of nine singular episodes and the other four as Two Episode-Parters, all lasting forty-five minutes each.

Personally both have their pro’s and con’s. With New Who, every series has a overall Story Arc. This keeps the viewer enticed and gets them coming back for more. However that being said, the format of Classic Who gives much more time for Character and Story development, constructing the story so it feels a lot less rushed, whilst also providing a cliff-hanger after each serial, giving the viewer a very good reason to tune in next week.

When Russell T. Davis first brought back Doctor Who, he created the character of Rose Tyler, New Who’s first companion. What he established with the role is what a lot of the Classic Who writers didn’t’t manage to do, despite creating memorable and compelling characters at the time: Give the character a intricate back-story. For once in the popular British Sci-Fi we got to look at the life of the companion before they met the Doctor. In her first episode titled “Rose” the writer took us, the audience, into her world. Building up the characterization of Rose Tyler into something much more relatable and easier to connect to than previous assistants. Most of Classic Who’s companions life’s like teenager Susan, the very first assistant, was set in the world of the TARDIS and only there. Therefore we never really got to know the essence of the character at heart.

Technology has increased and grown vast over the years, and we certainly weren’t as primitive as we were all the way back when the very first Doctor Who episode “An Unearthly Child” was created. Let’s go back to the early days of Classic Who; The episodes were entirely aired in rather simple black and white. Now jump back into the year of 2014 and we are greeted with the magnificent full colour spectrum of TV. Not only that but with the ability of CGI (Computer Generated Images) we are now enabled to produce wonders which could never have been achieved, never mind dreamed of, in 1963, since the array of resources available in the production of Classic Who were very limited.

Especially due to the genre of the show, the wide range of technology used today has been a large factor in making Doctor Who a much bigger, better and highly more believable televised drama then it ever could have imagined when it was first formed.

Over the years television has alternated, forming into one thing this year then something entirely different the next, constantly remoulding its look and vision. One of the these substantial status changes in television is the rise of the “Sex Symbol” in TV, as well as film. Gradually since the beginning of New Who, at the time of the early 2000’s, the role of the Doctor and his companion has become something of a “Sex Symbol” icon. Take David Tennant for example, who played the 10th incarnation of the Doctor. In 2009 he was voted “Britain’s Sexiest Man” by thousands of woman in the UK. Note that this was during his time acting in Doctor Who. This information completely contradicts the initial idea of what character The Doctor would be; an old, grumpy, caring Grandfather like figure played by a man of age fifty-five. Throughout Classic Who, the character of The Doctor was always a late middle-aged man of sorts, as far away from the persona of the dashing David Tennant himself. But if you look at Matt Smith, the latest person to have played the Doctor he is young, handsome, charming and quirky, not forgetting bursting with youthful energy. These very two man I have described, William Hartnell and Matt Smith, are portraying the exact same character. The leap in characteristics between the two is so far apart that it would be hard to tell if they were playing the same role in the first place.

Overall, Doctor Who has changed dramatically over the 50 years. It always has and always will. It’s one of the many reasons why its survived so long; Constantly adapting itself to the media and world around it. If Who hadn’t have completely remodeled itself in 2005 with drastic change in a fresh young face like David Tennant, it may not have made it to this day. A William Hartnell Doctor wouldn’t be as say “suitable” or “fitting” for a modern age in which we live in now, despite his mark on the show.  

Doctor Who will never cease to bore the lives those who tune in to watch with each and every generation which comes along. To put it simply Doctor Who reinvents itself for you. Despite its never ending change, Doctor Who will always remain what it once was. What it was which had captured the hearts of so many when it first began all those years ago. No matter how much it changes the actors and the format of it’s stories between Classic and New Who, it will always remain what it set out to be in 1963.

  “Life Depends on change and renewal” – The Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton.