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A Mad Man With A Box

Updated on November 27, 2012

This week, something extraordinary happened. I'm not referring to a successful preseason game for a football team, or the reuniting of a loving couple, or even a political rally, thou those things too undoubtedly happened. I'm talking about the return of Doctor Who.

For the uninitiated, Doctor Who is a British science fiction series that started all the way back in 1963. Keep in mind, 1963 was not exactly a bumper year for science fiction. The heyday of films like THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, FORBIDDEN PLANET and EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS was long past, Star Trek had yet to air an episode, and the juggernauts like STAR WARS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS were far off in the future. So, without a built in audience, this was considered quite the gamble. Add to the mix that Doctor Who started (and in many ways remains) a children's show. Dedicated to tossing in some education with it's entertainment, many early episodes traveled back to historical Earth, and encounters with The Aztecs, or The Romans were common place. The show enchanted, captivated and scared the little ones.

And it's been doing it for nearly fifty years. It ran continuously on BBC from 1963 to 1989, when it was put on hiatus... and never returned. A co-produced TV movie for FOX television was made in 1996, (Steven Spielberg had a hand in bringing it back) with the idea of a new series launch, BUT, it was up against the episode of Roseanne where Dan had a heart attack. Viewing figures were not kind in the states. But it did well enough that hope remained for the show to return. Finally, it did in 2005. Not a reboot, but a continuation from where we left off, though with a faster pace and better effects. This is the longest break between episodes since the show was revived. Partially because of the summer Olympics in London, partially because current show runner Steven Moffat has something planned for the last half of this season, which will actually air NEXT year in 2013 for the show's 50th anniversary. Current episodes air Saturdays on both BBC and BBC America. So naturally, there's a huge amount of hype built up right now, and many people are wondering, why?

The show is pure magic. Unlike Star Trek, which almost prides itself on it's techno-babble, there are times when the Doctor just gives up. An example: "We're just entering conceptual space. Imagine a banana. Or anything curved. Actually, don't, because it's not curved or like a banana- FORGET THE BANANA!" and then the matter is dropped. Most episodes deal with the Doctor and his friends landing on Planet X to discover Problem Y which must be solved by Time-Frame Z. The odd thing, is that at any point in time, the Doctor could just climb back into his ship and fly away. They've made jokes about it. But he doesn't, because he's curious, and because we wouldn't have a show if he did. A hero who runs from trouble just isn't all that exciting.

I co-host a Doctor Who Podcast, Traveling The Vortex so I’ve been talking to a lot of newbies about the show, which is riding a crest of unprecedented popularity at the moment (last season it had the highest number of downloads from iTunes). I frequently find myself repeating some of the same things (not that I mind). So here’s my list of the 5 things you MUST know about Doctor Who, and the 5 things you MUST know before you sit down and try to delve into the new Series 7:

5 Things you NEED to know about Doctor Who

1) The Doctor is the last of the Time Lords, a race who understands, and can travel through time and space. He does this via his TARDIS, which stands for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space. It’s bigger on the inside, and its outside appearance is locked into that of a 1960’s London Police Box thanks to it's cloaking device--called a chameleon circuit that disguises itself as something in the environment around it--or it would before it got stuck in that form.

2) Time Lords have two hearts and the ability to Regenerate their bodies depending on the extent of the injury, resulting in a new body (although sometimes the process is unpredictable). To date, 11 different actors have played the Doctor (Matt Smith is the newest), each bringing a unique set of quirks and personality to the role, but it’s always the same man.

3) The Doctor usually travels with one or more companions.

4) The Doctor is beyond intelligent, often making “Sherlock Holmes” like deductions with very little available information. Sometimes these are explained, sometimes you just roll with it.

5) Yes, there are nearly 50 years of history associated with the program, but don’t let that deter you. For the most part if you really need to know, they’ll let you know, and there are always plenty of fans to ask!

5 Things you NEED to know before you start Series 7…

1) Amy and Rory are the current companions, and are married.

2) The Doctor is presumed dead by most of the universe at the moment, which he is only too happy to play into, believing he's gotten too big for his britches as there are legends about him.

3) One of those legends is about the First Question "It's all still waiting for you. The fields of Trensalore, the fall of the eleventh, and the question. The First Question. The question that must never be answered. Hidden in plain sight, the question you've been running from all your life... Doctor... WHO?" The legend says that silence will fall when the question is asked, leading many to believe it will be the Doctor's REAL death.

4) The show is unpredictable and quirky, and unlike most science fiction, the “WHOniverse” has things that may not be explainable. Roll with it.

5) The show is British; yes they have accents, yes sometimes they talk fast and are hard for the untrained ear to understand. Just roll with it and stick with it!

If you are really interested but afraid to jump into the middle even with the primer, then I suggest "series one" or the 2005 relaunch as an excellent jump off point to familiarize yourself with the show. And since British shows run shorter seasons, there's only thirteen episodes for you to digest in a block.

In the words of the first... "One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine."

Welcome back, Doctor. <>

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