Doctor Who is a science fiction television series that first beamed into the homes of unsuspecting Brits in November 1963. The title character was a mysterious alien from a distant planet, who traveled anywhere and everywhere in time and space via the Tardis (an acronym for Time and Relative Dimension In Space). The show ran until 1989, with multiple actors making the part their own (thanks to the character’s ability to regenerate into a new form to stave off death). An American made-for-TV movie was released in 1996, but the proper show wouldn’t return until 2005, and it has been going strong ever since.
If all that sounds like a bit too much to wrap your head around, don’t worry. The series is designed in such a way that new viewers can pop in for most episodes with no working knowledge of what came before and still follow along. The show has everything you could want from a piece of entertainment because the show can be anything. From quiet, intimate stories about characters finding each other across time and space, to terrifying horror stories that make you want to watch between your fingers (via The Guardian), and all the way to proper, epic space opera — Doctor Who has all the bases covered. With that in mind, we’re exploring why now (regardless of when you read this) is the perfect time to start watching.
As mentioned before, the Doctor (that’s the main character’s name, by the way) can travel anywhere their hearts desire (the Doctor has two hearts) in time and space. The Tardis (which looks like a small, blue, police box on the outside, but is vast within) travels backward and forward in time and hops across galaxies with ease (unless it’s breaking down). This means that the writers of the series are free to explore any interest that strikes their fancy. If there’s a time in history they’re fond of, the Doctor can go there. If they have some bonkers sci-fi idea they’re dying to explore, the Doctor allows them to do so. Therefore, there is a limitless supply of stories ensuring that the series will never run out of gas.
Another reason the show has existed so long is that (as mentioned) the Doctor’s alien anatomy allows them to regenerate. Say an actor is tired of playing the part. The writers simply write a story where the Doctor almost dies, and they regenerate into a new actor. Exactly how many times the Doctor has regenerated is constantly in flux, but when it comes to the lead actors of the series (and not guest stars playing various other versions of the Doctor), there have been (at time of writing) 13. This number consists of 12 men and one woman, all of whom made the part their own, keeping the series fresh for new viewers.
Most long-running sci-fi franchises have managed to stand the test of time thanks to various spinoffs. The biggest examples of this would, of course, be Star Trek, Star Wars, and the Marcel Cinematic Universe. Doctor Who is no different, though the amount of other shows set in the same universe is considerably smaller than the others we’ve mentioned, but that is going to change.
The first official attempt at a spin-off was a series called K-9 and Company in 1981. It starred the Doctor’s brilliant robotic dog named K-9 and his former traveling companion, journalist Sarah Jane Smith. Sadly, the series didn’t go anywhere, and only one episode aired. Sarah Jane didn’t go away, however. When Doctor Who was revived in 2005, she got her own series aimed at a younger audience called The Sarah Jane Adventures. At the same time, an adult-oriented series called Torchwood also hit the airwaves. In 2016, a young adult series set in an iconic high school from Doctor Who called Class got one season.
The writer responsible for bringing Doctor Who back, Russell T. Davies, stated in an interview that Doctor Who needed its own universe like Marvel. When he returned to take over the series again, he made it very clear that more spin-offs were in the works and fans of the show could look forward to more adventures in the Whoniverse going forward. If you’re someone who loves to get lost in a fictional world, then now is the time to jump in since the world of Who is expanding (via GQ).
Doctor Who fandom has existed all over the world since the early days. However, in some countries (like the United States), it took a lot of work to keep up with your favorite show. During the 1970s and 1980s, it could take more than a year before a new Doctor Who story was broadcast in America, and figuring out what time it was going to air on your local PBS station wasn’t exactly easy. Then, when the series returned, American broadcasts were still sporadic and difficult to catch. That changed when BBC America began airing the show on the same day as in the UK.
Now, it will be even easier to hop in the Tardis thanks to a distribution deal with Disney+. While the BBC America distribution was huge for Whovians, it still didn’t have the kind of major visibility it needed to bring in new viewers since the network could be tricky to find and their promotion was far from stellar. With one of the largest streaming platforms in the world agreeing to host new episodes, Doctor Who will be much easier to find and enjoy, meaning you have no excuse not to watch.
At the time of this writing, Davies is hard at work making sure the new season of Doctor Who is as good as he can possibly make it. As mentioned above, he was the man in charge of bringing the show into the 21st Century by modernizing the format and telling emotionally gripping and visually dazzling stories on a regular basis. Although the show continued to be a powerhouse in his absence — despite what trolls, who don’t understand that viewing numbers on initial broadcast are lower across the board thanks to the advent of streaming and do not necessarily reflect the quality of the show, want you to believe (via Variety) — his return is a signal to fans that the show is going to take off to a whole new level.
Prior to Doctor Who, Davies created the groundbreaking and celebrated series Queer as Folk, and he built on that foundation to create even more television that pushed boundaries and shattered taboos. During his time away, he won a ridiculous amount of awards for shows like the bleak, dystopian series Years and Years, and the heartbreaking look at the AIDS crisis during the 1980s with It’s A Sin in addition to other incredible shows exploring humanity and society. As a writer who continues to challenge himself and get even stronger as he goes, having him at the helm once again means fans new and old are in for some extraordinary television.
One of the problems plaguing various fandoms over the years is the concept of gatekeeping. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it basically breaks down like this: individuals who have devoted their time to loving a particular franchise assume an unhealthy sense of ownership over it and have become increasingly volatile to anyone whose fandom they see as inferior. This can result in harassment, bullying, and even death threats simply because of a misplaced feeling of entitlement because they liked something before somebody else.
There are some shows that are so heavily serialized and mired in lore that it makes it more difficult for new viewers to jump in. In that way, it’s even easier for the fans who have been watching since the start to label themselves “true fans” and feel justified in attacking others. Thankfully, Doctor Who is so open and welcoming to new viewers that the gatekeepers who do exist haven’t got a leg to stand on.
Yes, there are gatekeepers who take it upon themselves to make the lives of anyone who isn’t like them a living hell, but at least there is no boundary to entry on the show’s part. The structure of the show does not reinforce the same bigotry. The Whoniverse wants viewers of all ages, genders, races, and creeds to feel welcome, as can be evidenced by the amount of positive representation the series has been pushing for years. Having a woman (Jodie Whittaker) play the Doctor is only the tip of the iceberg, and with an overtly progressive writer like Davies taking the reins once again, the show will only continue to guarantee everyone is made to feel seen and loved. That’s what fandom is supposed to be about: loving something and finding community. All are welcome through the doors of the Tardis, and if you find the occasional gatekeeper trying to keep you down: remember, what they do is not in the name of the Doctor.