There are many things that make Doctor Who great, the TARDIS, Daleks, Cybermen, Sarah Jane Smith, Rose Tyler, Gallifrey, the Weeping Angels, the Master, Jago and Litefoot, Frobisher, Destiny of the Doctors (yes – top looking at me like that!) and even The Trial of a Time Lord.
But surely the best part of the show, the plot device that was created so many years ago to keep the show going after William Hartnell left, is regeneration.
We’re currently on Doctor eleven; many new viewers who start watching the show this year may only know Matt Smith as the Doctor, their Doctor but a whole new world awaits them full of other Doctors that they will readily accept.
It’s a credit to the show’s creators and writers that Doctor Who can survive, nay, thrive, on such a radical change in a leading man, the only other series that has done this with the same margin of success is James Bond. Take that one in; Doctor Who is as successful as James Bond (Yes! Seriously, stop looking at me like that).
Soaps tend to change actors and actresses from time to time; Ben from Eastenders has changed from a girly manboy into a manboy psychopath, Nick Tilsley from Coronation Street looks suspiciously different these days and the less said about the way that Sam Mitchell has changed her look in the last ten years, the better. But all of these changes didn’t see a different character approaching the same role, merely a change of player doing the exact same thing as their predecessor. Doctor Who on the other hand, fully embraces the change, signalling very clearly that one Doctor is about to finish and a whole new one is about to take his place with a new set of character flaws, idiosyncrasies and allergies. It’s bold, it’s fascinating and it keeps us coming back for more.
Audiences are always keen to tune in for a regeneration story to see the new Doctor, the ratings for The TV Movie, Rose, The Christmas Invasion, Journey’s End, The Next Doctor and The Eleventh Hour all prove this and why not? What other show could offer such a change on such a regular basis whilst still keeping a loyal and large fanbase and keep the stories interesting.
As a child, I was always intrigued by the fact that when I was perusing the video shelves in HMV and inspecting the Doctor Who section, I could pick up three different stories, all with different actors in the lead role and still know that this was the same basic show. There was no difference, it was the Doctor in trouble, saving the day and being generally brilliant, the fact that his face was different didn’t bother me in the slightest.
Part of the reason that Doctor Who has burned so brightly for 50 years is due to regeneration. Every few years, the Doctor will change his appearance and with him the whole show will change too. But never ever does this make Doctor Who any less watchable. Compare The War Games to The Talons of Weng Chiang, The Sun Makers to The Mark of the Rani or Rose to The Eleventh Hour. All very different stories, full of different actors, created by different writers and Producers and yet…we always know that we’re watching Doctor Who. Shining bright through any change, the Doctor is always there to help no matter of his height, weight, hairstyle, chin size or predilection for a hat.
Change is good, change is essential and change can be scary. But Doctor Who uses change so well that it’s become an expected part of the show, it’s turned a problem into a solution.