By Maria Judnick
People on public transit wearing over-sized, whimsically-striped scarves; coworkers who in the mid-2000s became Saturday night shut-ins because there was “some show” on the BBC they absolutely needed to catch; license plate covers referencing some other vehicle called a TARDIS. These are not isolated incidents; in fact, they’re part of the more-than-50-years-in-the-making British cultural phenomena that began on Saturday, November 23, 1963 (the day after the assassination of JFK) with the television debut of Doctor Who.
While the show’s extensive history may overwhelm some wannabe viewers lured in by the recent #newtoWho Twitter campaign, here are seven reasons to give Doctor Who a chance:
1. The show is aimed at the casual viewer: With more than 600 episodes from the original 1963-1989 “classic” Doctor Who, new fans might feel that it’s impossible to catch up. Luckily, the current show runner, Steven Moffat (himself a die-hard childhood Whovian), purposely tries not to rely too extensively on Who history. While each season under Moffat tends to feature elaborate puzzles that aren’t explained until much later in the series, each episode’s arc generally stands alone. Unlike shows like Lost or The Wire, which are so intricately crafted that viewers practically need to take notes, Doctor Who often builds in backstory and explanations for any characters or plot devices viewers need to recall.
2. It’s more than just sci-fi: Despite the fact that Doctor Who features aliens of more variety than you’d find even on the craziest mushroom trip at Burning Man, the show isn’t just focused on gaining science fiction credibility. Because the Doctor travels through both space and time, on any given week, his adventures often take a historical turn. In recent series, the Doctor has met the likes of Agatha Christie, Vincent Van Gogh, Winston Churchill, and Queens Victoria and Elizabeth I, offering amateur historians gleeful hints of alternate world timelines. And history is just the tip of the iceberg; the Doctor could experience just about every storyline imaginable because he literally has the universe, in all its horrific, dramatic, and mysterious vastness, to explore.
3. “Sherlock is Doctor Who an hour later:” If the name Steven Moffat seems familiar to you, it’s because he co-created another popular British television series, Sherlock, starring fan-favorite Benedict Cumberbatch. And Moffat’s not the only connection; fellow Who writer Mark Gatiss helped create Sherlock and acts as Mycroft Holmes on the show.
4. There are a dozen Doctors to fall in love with: When the first Doctor, William Hartnell, faced a series of health problems, the writers of the show came up with a unique solution to keep Doctor Who on air: regeneration. So, when the Doctor falls victim to a fatal injury, he can return to life in another body (played by another actor) and explore a new facet of the Doctor’s character. With all these changes (12 men have played the hero during the series’ history), fans often loyally stick to their favorite Doctors and companions, leading to endless good-spirited debates on the Internet.
5. You’ll be part of a fan community that includes famous people: Besides sparking debates about the best Doctor on the internet, Doctor Who has spawned an entire community devoted to the show. There are conventions to attend, newsletters to write, art to create, homes to decorate, etc. Moreover, a few famous writers and directors have been invited to share their talents with the Who universe. Neil Gaiman, for example, has written two episodes. Other famous guest writers in the classic series include Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) and Richard Curtis (Love Actually). Peter Jackson is rumored to be interested in directing an episode.
6. It bridges the generation gap: Doctor Who isn’t just for adults. Originally, the show was intended to be targeted towards children, but producers quickly realized the more universal appeal. Thus, three generations (3G) of families might be watching the show together on the sofa each week.
7. Doctor Who will give you hope: More than a few critics have noted that Doctor Who often offers a larger metaphor for our times. For example, one of the newer villains — weeping angels — are statues who come to life once you blink or close your eyes, sending you back in time and then “consume the energy of all the days you might have had,” providing an interesting comparison to the hyper-vigilance in our post-9/11 world. But, as the plot lines provide these darker metaphors for a vulnerable Britain, the Doctor serves as an unconventional hero who pointedly never carries a weapon and is known as the “man who can make a difference.” In a world such as ours, it’s nice to be able to place our faith in an alien who still has hope in humanity.