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Prepare for The Day of The Doctor with a crash course on Doctor Who

Doctor Who will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, honoring the eleven Doctors.
Doctor Who will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, honoring the eleven Doctors.
Image courtesy of BBC

The Day of the Doctor is upon us, and it has been fifty years in the making. The longest-running sci-fi series in television history, Doctor Who is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary with a cinematic event that will screen in theaters across the country, including nineteen theaters in Colorado on Monday, November 25.

Fifty years of Doctors, companions, villains, timelines and back story are a lot to catch up on for the uninitiated. Fortunately, the British series allows newcomers to pick up the show at different points along the way. For Whovians who want to refresh their memory, Newvians who want to learn about the show's history, or people who don't know about the show but want to attend this milestone event, here is a crash course..

See also: Doctor Who: The Day of The Doctor

Let's start with the basics. The Doctor is a Time Lord who upholds the laws of time in the Universe. At one time, there were many Time Lords from a planet called Gallifrey, but Doctor Who is the last of his kind as the result of the Time War. He travels through time and space in the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space), a time machine that is meant to blend into it's surroundings but got stuck in the shape of a British 1960s blue police box. It's like a phone booth, but don't be fooled, it's bigger on the inside.

Anywhere The Doctor travels, he encounters evil aliens who usually seek power by destroying another race. He tries to implement justice and has saved the Universe countless times. The Doctor has a soft spot for humans, believing they can achieve more than the rest of the Universe gives them credit for. He saves the Earth time and time again, but his presence in major catastrophic events leads those who are watching him closely to believe that wherever this Time Lord goes, death and destruction follow.

The Doctor also brings humans along on his adventures. One of the most accurate descriptions of the character used in the series is "The Lonely God." He has all this power to change history and save the Universe, but the loneliness of being the last of his kind leaves The Doctor in need of a companion to keep his sanity.

He picks a human who seems ordinary, but has the capacity to be extraordinary, and shows them the wonders of the stars. The companions also serve as a type of John Watson to Sherlock Holmes, taking the viewer's point of view, asking questions to help understand what's happening and moving along the plot. Some companions appear in multiple seasons, while some only appear in a single episode.

Unfortunately, for those who get emotionally attached to the characters, companions can't last long. The Doctor is not exactly immortal, but when he is in mortal danger he can go into the TARDIS and regenerate into a new body and new personality -- that's how they've managed to keep the show alive for so long.

The Doctor is more than 900 years old, meaning he would outlive all of his companions and have to suffer the pain of their death. So after a while he lets his companions move on with their lives -- something they can't easily do after all they've seen and done. Many of them continue their efforts to save the world, using their knowledge of aliens and the Universe to help secret organizations.

This not-so-brief explanation might seem convoluted -- and it doesn't even cover some of the more mysterious plot points like the Bad Wolf, the name of the Doctor and what really happened in the Time War -- but the series is actually easy and fun to watch. It's full of British humor, a great cast and heart-warming moments.

Continue reading for a list of the Doctors and information on the fiftieth anniversary special.

 

To further prepare for the fiftieth anniversary special, here is a list of each incarnation of The Doctor, their companions and main enemies.

The First Doctor - 1963-1966 Actor William Hartnell was the first to embody The Doctor on the series premier on Nov. 23, 1963. The first episode was eclipsed by the new of John F. Kennedy's assassination and had to be re-aired. Hartnell has been the oldest actor play the role so far, having started at the age of 55 (Peter Capaldi, who was recently announced as the Twelfth Doctor, is also 55). When Hartnell's health began to interfere with his performance, producer Innes Lloyd introduced the concept of "regeneration," hoping the series would survive the loss of its main actor. Companions: Susan Foreman (his granddaughter), Barbara Wright, Ian Chesterton, Vicki, Steven Taylor, Katarina, Sarah Kingdom, Dorothea (Dodo) Chaplet, Polly, Ben Jackson Main enemies: Daleks

The Second Doctor - 1966-1969 The regeneration concept seemed to work, as the series' success continued when Patrick Troughton replaced Hartnell. Season Six became one of the most important thus far. The Earth-based team UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Task Force) was created to revamp the series, and more of the Doctor's history is revealed as they visit his then-unnamed planet and learn about his flee from the Time Lords. Companions: Polly, Ben Jackson, Jamie McCrimmon, Victoria Waterfield, Zoe Heriot, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (also known as Brigadier, he is the longest-running recurring character in the history of the series), John Benton Main enemies: Daleks, Cybermen

The Third Doctor - 1970-1974 Jon Pertwee's Doctor sees some changes in the series, as the character is banished to Earth, changing the format of the series now primarily set in modern-day Earth. The plot became more targeted toward teenagers an adults, as more violence and horror was introduced. The Master makes his first appearance in this era of The Doctor. This was also the first time the series was shot in color. Companions: Liz Shaw, Brigadier, Josephine (Jo) Grant, The First and Second Doctors (they join the Third Doctor in the tenth anniversary special "The Three Doctors"), Sarah Jane Smith (the only companion to appear in the classic and the modern versions of the series, along with her robot dog K-9) Main enemies: The Master, Daleks

The Fourth Doctor - 1974-1981 Tom Baker quickly became the most popular incarnation of The Doctor. Scriptwriter Robert Holmes and producer Philip Hinchcliffe also became a popular off-screen team, bringing new life to the story with their unique vision. They took the Doctor back into time and space, reviving his role as wanderer of the Universe. As the series became increasingly darker, they were eventually replaced and the series was given a more light-hearted approach. Companions: Sarah Jame Smith, K-9, Brigadier, Harry Sullivan, Leela, Romana I and II, Adric, Nyssa, Tegan Jovanka Main enemies: Daleks, The Master, Cybermen

The Fifth Doctor - 1981-1984 Peter Davison took over as the The Doctor and he worked twice as much, as the show was now airing twice a week. During this era, many of the characters and elements from the past return. The 20th anniversary special "The Five Doctors," which aired independently from the series, featured all five doctors, eleven companions and four past villains. Companions: Nyssa, Adric, Tegan Jovanka, Brigadier, Vizlor Turlough, Kamelion, Perpugilliam (Peri) Brown Main enemies: The Master, Cybermen, Daleks

The Sixth Doctor - 1984-1986 Portrayed by Colin Baker, this incarnation experienced difficulties on and off the screen. After his regeneration, The Doctor becomes unstable and attacks his companion. This new face of the Time Lord was meant to be a contrast from his predecessors, showing his dark side but eventually regaining the audience's trust. But ratings plummeted as critics said the show was becoming too violent, and Doctor Who went on a hiatus. After the show returned, ratings were still low and the main actor was once again replaced. Companions: Peri, the Second Doctor, Melanie (Mel) Bush, Jamie McCrimmon Main enemies: Cybermen, The Master, Daleks

Continue reading for a list of The Doctors and information on the 50th anniversary special.

 

Matt Smith will portray The Doctor in the 50th anniversary special.
Matt Smith will portray The Doctor in the 50th anniversary special.
Adrian Rodgers BBC

The Seventh Doctor 1987-1989 Sylvester McCoy's depiction of The Doctor brought back good ratings for the series and its 25th anniversary, but this was not enough to save the series. In 1989 Doctor Who went on another hiatus which actually turned out to be a cancellation. But McCoy returned along with all the other surviving doctors and many companions and villains in the 30th anniversary special "Dimensions in Time" in 1993. Companions: Mel, Ace, Brigadier Main enemies: Daleks, Cybermen, The Master

The Eighth Doctor - 1996 In an attempt to revive interest in the franchise and restart the series in America, a Doctor Who TV movie aired in 1996, starring Paul McGann as The Doctor. Although the film was a success in the United Kingdom, it didn't have the same luck in America. The idea was shelved once again until 2003, when it was announced that the series would return in 2005. (See the full story of how Russel T. Davies and Julie Gardner revived the series in the video below) Companions: Grace Holloway Main enemies: The Master

The Ninth Doctor - 2005 More than 15 years after the cancellation of the original series, Christopher Eccleston picked up a sonic screwdriver and brought the character of The Doctor back to life. The first episode--titled "Rose" and introducing one of the most iconic companions in the modern version--was a huge success. Although Eccleston had only agreed to play the character for one year, his performance heralded a new era of the sci-fi classic, and he was absolutely fantastic. Companions: Rose Tyler, Mickey Smith, Adam Mitchell, Captain Jack Harkness Main enemies: Daleks

The Tenth Doctor - 2005-2010 Picking up where Eccleston left off, David Tennant is probably the most popular of the modern Doctors, not just because of his good looks but due to the depth he gives to the Time Lord. With five years to develop the character, he was able to show not only The Doctor's emotional side but his dark side and the mistakes he can make when he doesn't have a companion to keep him grounded. Companions: Rose Tyler, Mickey Smith, Sarah Jane Smith, K-9, Donna Noble (the best temp in Chissick), Martha Jones, Astrid Peth, Wilfred Mott, Captain Jack Harkness, River Song, Jackson Lake, Lady Christina de Souza, Adelaide Brooke Main Enemies: Cybermen, Daleks, The Master

The Eleventh Doctor - 2010-Present As Matt Smith steps into the role, the series starts with a sort of a clean slate with a new Doctor and new companions--even the TARDIS gets a makeover,. This was due to the departure of Russel T. Davies, who was replaced by producer Steven Moffat. Smith is the youngest actor to take on the role, starting at age 27. He will be featured as The Doctor in the 50th anniversary special, The Day of The Doctor. Companions: Amy Pond, Rory Williams, Craig Owens, River Song, Madge Arwell, Clara Oswald Main enemies: Daleks, Cybermen, the Silence

The Twelfth Doctor This past August, BBC announced that Peter Capaldi will portray the Twelfth Doctor. He will be making his first appearance on this year's Doctor Who Christmas special. Capaldi has been on the show before, playing two different characters. Moffat assures that this will be explained in the series.

Doctor Who: The Day of The Doctor will air on Saturday, November 23 on BBC America. It will also screen at a one-night-only 3D event on Monday, November 25, in more than 300 theaters across the U.S., including nineteen in Colorado; that will be followed by "The Day of the Doctor: Behind the Lens," a short look at the filming of the fifteith anniversary special. For a list of theaters in the Denver area and to purchase tickets, visit the Fathom Events website.



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