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Television - Doctor Who - An Introduction

Updated on September 18, 2012

Television - Doctor Who - An Introduction

Doctor who is one of the most popular British sci-fi television shows in history. It is a unique action packed drama show with takes place in an alternative 'Doctor Who' universe.

The show focuses around the doctor, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey who travels around the universe and through time in his Tardis. He usually travels with a human companion and gets them into tricky situations in which he ends up having the balance of a planet, a race, or the whole universe in his hands.

The show has been running since 1963 and has also created several spin-off shows including Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures. In this article I am going to explore some of the key aspects of the show and try to give you a little history into the doctor, his life and the show.

The Eleven Faces of the Doctor
The Eleven Faces of the Doctor

The doctor

The doctor is the central character of the show and has been always been shrouded in mystery. He is a traveller who explores time and space; and he has a very high level of intelligence and battles evil and injustice constantly.

It is clear that the doctor doesn’t like being a leader, and is secretly very timid and shy. He doesn’t like to make big decisions, but he’s always left in situations where he has to. Interestingly he ran away from his race of people and stole his tardis. The doctor himself has very similar biology to humans. The main noticeable difference is that he has two hearts.

The race of Time Lords; from the planet Gallifrey have the ability to regenerate their body to avoid death. This has allowed the long running show to switch lead actors without causing serious effect to the shows continually. It was initially indicated in the 1996 feature length movie that a Time Lord can regenerate a total of twelve times, implying a Time Lord can have thirteen faces, and different personalities. It was later discussed by the directors that this was not correct, and that Time Lords could regenerate an indefinite amount of times. This meant there was no limitation to the show's future. Every time the doctor regenerates he completely changes. His body is fresh and new, he has a new face, a new accent, new bodily organs and a new personality. Currently on screen we see the Eleventh doctor portrayed by the actor Matt Smith. Every time the doctor regenerates he is weakened for an indefinite amount of time, but comes out stronger.

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The doctor is a strong minded independent man (well, if you can call him a man), who is often forced to act as a leader. He often lands in situations where he is need of saving by his companion, but always returns to the forefront to save the day. There have been situations travelling through time where he meets himself in a different regeneration form. This does not seem to cause any universal problems, but in other cases crossing himself with his own regeneration can cause a major effect with the universal Time continuum.

The doctor is usually very concerned about the progression of the Space Time continuum. Even though he interacts with several events through history he never changes the outcome of anything major. He believes this would rip apart the fabric of time itself. It is hinted at many times that his race of people, The Time Lords would control Time travel and ensure people did not meddle with fixed time lines. The doctor spends his life travelling. It is implied that he started travelling to avoid his home world as he was on the run. As the show progressed he appears to enjoy travelling more and more and shows no sign of tiring in the life style.

The Doctor's most recent Sonic Screwdriver
The Doctor's most recent Sonic Screwdriver

The doctor is a very lonely man and is very rarely seen travelling with other Time Lords. He usually chooses a human companion to accompany him on his explorations. The first companion of the doctor was in fact his granddaughter, implying at one point he had a family. It also becomes apparent that he marries Professor River Song (although in an alternative reality); the daughter of two of his travelling companions.

The title of the show Doctor Who begs the most important question. Although we have learned a lot about the doctor and his personality we still don't know who he is. It has been illuminated that the doctor's name can never be revealed and that it holds all the answers to the universe.

The doctor always carries with him a sonic screwdriver. This small tool allows his to access computer systems, control a variety of technological systems, open electrical doors and cause high frequency damage to enemies. Interestingly the sonic screw driver has no effect on pre-digital equipment such as wooden doors.

Gallifrey & the Time Lords

Gallifrey, the home of the Time Lords is located far away from our galaxy and in an unknown time. Due to the doctors ability to time travel it is difficult to say when it existed in comparison to modern day earth. From above the planet is seen to have a yellow – orange tone and is protected by an impregnable barrier. The planet was said to have a burnt orange sky at night and a blue sky during the day. Gallifrey is a planet full or bright colours; with fields of deep red grass, purple and gold rocks and silver leafed trees that looked like a forest on fire.

The planet of Gallifrey has numerous areas, the most important being the continent of Wild Endeavour. On this mass of land stands the legendary Citadel of the Time Lords and is where the capital is also located. All time lords lived within the citadel city, but other people from Gallifrey who refused to be part of the community live elsewhere on the planet.

The Citadel of the Time Lords, Gallifrey
The Citadel of the Time Lords, Gallifrey

Time Lords are a race of humanoids that are very technologically advanced, and are the first race in the Doctor Who universe to be able to travel through, and manipulate time. They became the masters of time after one of their scientists, Omega, created an energy source to power experiments that went horribly wrong. He attempted to manipulate a star, and inadvertently flared it into a supernova and collapsed it into a black hole. Omega was transported to an antimatter universe beyond the black hole’s singularity which is more commonly known as the Time Vortex. From here he could choose where and when he re-entered into the physical universe.

The founder of the Time Lord Society was Rassilon. He is feared and revered by all Time Lords and is said to have placed the singularity atop the citadel. In the early days, the Time Lords were ruthless, and really abused their ability to manipulate time on lesser species. The Time Lords entered a horrific war against the “Great Vampires” and decided from there on out that they would avoid violence. At one point, the Time Lords interact with the Minyos civilization and give them advance technology. This results in them destroying themselves in a nuclear war. As of this action the Time Lords swear they will remain neutral and non-interfering.

The Time Lords followed a strict line of observation for many centuries but even through that time they made enemies. The most noticeable enemies were the Daleks, who bought with them the end of the Time Lords. A war raged on between the two communities, and the war raged not only in space, but through Time. Through History the war became known as the Great Time War, and ruined the life of millions of species. Most Daleks were destroyed, but enough survived to rebuild their race post time war. Time Lords became more and more delusional through the war, and eventually decided the only way to come out victorious over the Daleks would be to destroy the universe and all life in it. They planned to live on as pure energy forms. The Doctor strongly disagreed with this and as a result locked all the events of the war in a Time Lock isolating them from the rest of Time and Space. In effect he killed all the Time Lords, and trapped them somewhere they could never escape.

Since the start of the Doctor Who television drama series many other Time Lords have featured in the show. Some of the most noticeable ones have been outlined below. Please note there are many more I have not included in this list.

Susan Foreman: The Doctors granddaughter, and first on-screen travel companion.

Jenny: A clone created from The Doctor’s DNA. She identifies herself as the Doctor’s ‘daughter’. The Doctor believes she died and did not regenerate, but on screen we see her survive.

The Meddling Monk: A Time Lord who travelled through time and enjoyed meddling with history and the development of species.

The Master: A Time Lord who acted as The Doctor’s nemesis. He wants to conquer the universe and control all life forms. The master appears fairly often through the Doctor’s travels and is usually at odds with him. Whereby the Doctor is a compassionate soul with a love for life and high morals, the Master is the exact opposite.

Rani – A Time Lady Scientist who enslaved planets just to have a large selection of test subjects.

Romana – A Time Lady who travelled with the doctor for a short while.

The Tardis

TARDIS, Time And Relative Dimension In Space refers to the Doctor and other Time Lord’s transport vessels. This is an advanced piece of technology created by the Time Lords that allows the occupants to travel anywhere in Time and Space. The Time Vortex is a dangerous place that would rip apart and burn up anything travelling through it without protection. The Tardis is a vessel that allows people to travel through the Time Vortex safely.

The interior of the Tardis is much larger than the outside. This is due to the Time Lords ability to manipulate space and time. The Tardis also has a chameleon circuit that allows the outside to transform into anything that will fit into its local surroundings. In the case of Doctor Who’s Tardis, the chameleon circuit has been damaged, and the doctor has decided not to repair it as he likes the “Blue telephone box” look it is stuck on. From the outside a Tardis could be any size or shape. Logic dictates it should be big enough for people to enter, but beyond that it does not seem to have any size constraints.

The Tardis
The Tardis

The inside of the Tardis is vast and infinite in size. Once entering, you step into a large control room, which is the most common view on camera. This is the room where Time Lords interact with the heart of the Tardis, and control its flight through Time and Space. There are several bedrooms, a dining room, a kitchen, swimming pool, bathrooms and anything else the doctor wants inside. The doctor has the ability to completely redecorate and change the whole ambience and style of his Tardis. He can really mould it to his individuality. You will often see after the Doctor regenerates with a new personality, he will remould the Tardis to match his new persona.

The Doctor’s Tardis, an old TT Type 40 Mark 3 is an old and desolate model when the doctor stole it. At the time it was in an antiques museum. Since then newer Tardises had evolved tremendously. The Tardis appears to be both mechanical and organic in design. The Tardis has been identified as a living organism several times, and it appears that Tardises are grown, much like organisms and can take years to complete development. They feed from the power of the singularity, an artificial black hole in the Doctor’s home world. When out and about; the Tardis can refuel on energy from a rift in time and space.

In a recent episode, the consciousness from the Tardis is separated from the Machine, and is able to communicate openly with the doctor for the first time. She tells the doctor that he didn’t steal the Tardis, but the Tardis stole him. She wanted to see the universe and the Doctor would be able to enable that for her. The Tardis rarely gets the Doctor where he wants to go, but always gets him where he needs to go. The Doctor has an intimate relationship with his Tardis and they are telepathically linked. There is a key for the Tardis, but all the Doctor needs do is click his fingers and the Tardis will respond. The Tardis has a life of her own, and ultimately she is in control of the Doctor’s fate.

The Tardis does not move in the traditional sense, but dematerialises in one location, and appears in another. It journeys through the Time Vortex without travelling through physical space itself.

The three female companions of the 10th Doctor. Rose Tyler, Donna Noble, Martha Jones.
The three female companions of the 10th Doctor. Rose Tyler, Donna Noble, Martha Jones.

His companions

Through the long running series the doctor has travelled with several companions. Time Lords have a very different life span in comparison to Humans and other Alien species, as their body has the ability to regenerate. The Doctor can never spend his life with another species, but they can spend their entire lives with him. The age of the Doctor is heavily debated by fans, as throughout the show’s history the brief information given about his age in inconsistent. In the Doctor Who feature film of 1996, he calculated his age to be around 1125; but in a more recent episode he states he is only 903 years old. At one point he mentions that he adjusts his age based on different year lengths in different parts of the universe.

Due his incredibly long life span he has travelled with several companions in his life in the Tardis. Some time his companions have been male, other times female and other times non human beings. A noticeable non human entity was K-9, a robot dog that was often seen as a science laboratory on wheels. The doctor often travels with multiple companions and often gets emotionally attached to them, even though he tries not to.

Companions only stay with the doctor for a few years, or a few seasons on-screen. Usually when the Doctor regenerates he chooses a new companion. The doctor does not like getting too emotionally involved with a companion, and makes it very clear that he is giving them the opportunity to see the universe, not to become his “mate”. For some companions their journey ends in death, but most go on to live a very happy life although nothing can ever compare to seeing the universe.

Alien Species

Beside Time Lords and Humans there have been several hundred different species identified in the Doctor Who universe. Some have been seen on screen, some have been merely mentioned and others have been featured on Spin off Shows such as Torchwood.

In this section I am going to give a brief introduction into two of the most important hostile Alien civilizations featured in the show that recur throughout the shows history. There are many more species and I hope to follow up with a more comprehensive list in another article.

The Creature that resides in the Dalek's outer shell
The Creature that resides in the Dalek's outer shell

The Daleks

These creatures originate from the planet Skaro and were created by Davros to end a war with a rival people, the Thal. Daleks are mutated creatures that resemble octopuses. In their naked form they are weak and powerless but have only one thing on their mind: Total control and the destruction of other species. They get their power from their robot like suit which are almost indestructible and has a huge array of weapons. They have the ability to levitate, and destroy planets and star systems very effectively and quickly. They are huge in numbers, and can replicate quickly and fear none but the Doctor. The Doctor is the only one who always stands in their way at every turn. Daleks today have become a pop-culture species and are known for their relentless use of the work “Exterminate!” as they come in for the kill.



Cybermen are another species that have been created, and are not naturally born. Cybermen throughout history and throughout different universes have been created as a means to prolong life that has gone wrong. In the recent reboot of Doctor Who, John Lumic, a philanthropist was dying of a variety of ailments and decided to create a robotic body to sustain himself. The result was placing the human brain into a metal body that would never age, never die, and never be slowed down by emotions such as fear. The concept of the Cyberman took over, and soon there was no humanity left inside. Cybermen grew in numbers and power and always attempt to have universal control. Much like the Daleks they believe other species are inferior, but instead of killing them, they attempt to upgrade them into a Cyberman. Cyberman use human logic and understanding compounded with computer and shared data knowledge to become a ruthless and powerful enemy.

I hope my article has given you an introduction into the Universe of Doctor Who, and I hope you get a chance to catch some episodes. A lot of the older episodes have unfortunately been lost through time; but if you can they are all worth a watch, especially some of the older ones.


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