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Doctor Who - The story so far... Part 1: Christmas specials and the Hartnell years

As fans of the Doctor eagerly await another Christmas special, the Courier's resident Doctor Who expert, Craig Lightowler, charts the Time Lord's story from the very beginning in this three-part feature.

"And incidentally, a very happy Christmas to all of you at home!"

A line, ad-libbed, by actor William Hartnell at the end of an episode of a sixties story from the television series Doctor Who.

He broke the fourth wall by addressing the audience directly and momentarily, but, hey, it was broadcast on Christmas Day 1965, during an epic story featuring the dreaded Daleks, so it could well be forgiven.

So would anyone have guessed that forty years on, that very same Time Lord, in that very same, battered old looking police public call box shaped Time Travel capsule (or TARDIS to you and me) would be a regular fixture of the Christmas Day TV highlights?

For the past two years our favourite Time Lord has been brought to our screens on that very festive day, ever since the series was brought back to life in 2005.

The first Christmas special featured a newly-regenerated Doctor, now in his 10th physical form, played by David Tennant.

Literally crash landing the TARDIS on the Powell estate in London, from which his companion Rose had come, the Doctor promptly collapsed before the eyes of Rose's mother Jackie and on-off boyfriend Mickey.

While recovering in a coma from the trauma of his body change, it is up to Rose to try and defend Earth, alongside the Prime Minister, Harriet Jones, from the mighty Sycorax.

After a drink of tea, the Doctor finally stabilises, fighting a deadly sword fight, losing his hand and almost the Earth's future, all while wearing borrowed pyjamas and dressing gown. His last burst of regenerative energy meant he could grow back his hand and defeat the Sycorax leader.

By the following Christmas, the Doctor and Rose had had many more adventures together. Ultimately though, Rose was torn from the Doctor's side by becoming trapped in a parallel version of Earth, cut off completely from her Time Lord friend, after an epic encounter between the Cybermen (these ones originating on the parallel Earth, not the Mondas as from the previous series.)

Not that the Doctor had a chance to grieve the loss of his best friend. A bride, in full wedding gown, materialises inside his time ship. Donna had become tainted by the man she wanted to marry, with an alien potion that made her body teleport aboard the TARDIS, much to the Doctor's shock. During a spectacular sequence the TARDIS is seen literally flying along the motorway in pursuit of Donna in the taxi she grabbed to get to the church on time!

Events culminate in a stand off between the Doctor and the Empress of Racnoss, an ancient spider type creature with humanesque torso, who unleashes deadly forces from her web ship orbiting the Earth. The Doctor manages to use the weapon against the Racnoss, drowning her young, now awakened from their hibernation. A tank destroys the Racnoss' ship, and the threat is averted. Donna decides against travelling with the Doctor...this time...

****

Devised as an educational and entertaining programme to fill the slot after Grandstand on a Saturday tea-time, Doctor Who won the imagination of children, offering up the likes of the Daleks and Cybermen, Yeti, Autons and more. It spanned 26 successive years, two film versions brought to life by Peter Cushing, whose Doctor was more of an eccentric inventor from Earth, not the Time Lord we knew on the telly, though these two stories were based on the first two Dalek serials of the show.

When William Hartnell became too ill to carry on in the lead part, the writers began exploring the idea that the Doctor was alien, making the bold decision to recast the part completely and not to try and hide the fact, but embrace it as just something the Doctor could do. This contributed to the longevity of the show, meaning that whenever an actor wished to finished the role, the series could carry on regardless.

The show has recently spawned two spin off series, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, both prominently featuring former companions of the Doctor. K-9 also got his own show, sharing the lead with Sarah Jane Smith, whom the Doctor had left K-9 Mark III with as a present.

So who is the Doctor? Well he is originally from Gallifrey, a planet in the constellation of Kasterborous. Physically he looks as humans do, but his cardiovascular system features two hearts rather than one, and his body temperature is considerably lower than that of us humans. His age at various times seems to fluctuate, although it is the general consensus that he is more than 900 years old.

He attended the academy of Time Lords, attaining only meagre grades. Not that this reflected his intelligence, rather his boredom with the whole ethos of his fellow kind.

Time Lords harnessed the power from a super nova to enable their experiments in time travel. This stellar engineering enabled Time Lords to study and observe other planets, without intervention. The Doctor couldn't just observe, his morality meant that he felt the need to get involved. Through events shrouded in mystery, he left his home planet with his granddaughter, Susan, and became a renegade, breaking ranks from his own people in a 'borrowed' Type 40 time travel capsule, an antique by Time Lord standards.

Our first screen encounters with the Doctor (as portrayed by William Hartnell 1963-66) saw him as a rather brusque older man, with white flowing hair and Edwardian clothing. He didn't suffer fools gladly and could be rather aloof and stern in his manner, though he did mellow as time went on.

A scientific man, whose knowledge far exceeded that of the people of Earth, he used his intelligence and wit to fight evil, rather than conventional weapons.

Two teachers at a London School in 1963 became curious enough to follow one of their pupils 'home' one evening, and stumbled upon the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space) in a junkyard.

They were whisked away to the stone age by this mysterious ship, against their will. And as the Doctor had lost his hand-made notes on operating the TARDIS, there were several misadventures as he tried to get them back home.

After a while they became true friends with their pupil's crusty old grandfather. Susan eventually elected to leave her beloved grandfather, opting to stay on Earth after it was invaded by Daleks, in 2164.

After 'adopting' a young girl called Vicki from Earth's distant future, the two school teachers were finally taken, more or less, to where and when they belonged on Earth. The Doctor's later travelling companions came and went and his adventures took them to many bizarre distant planets.

After the Doctor's first encounter with the Cybermen, (huge robotic men, once like humans but with all their emotions removed, whose attempt to take over the Earth the Doctor helped thwart) he announced to his companions at the time that his body was 'wearing a bit thin'.

As the TARDIS dematerialised, the Doctor slowly began to change physically...

Part 2: Patrick Troughton to Tom Baker

Part 3: Peter Davison to David Tennant

 
 
 

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