It’s hard to find a casual Doctor Who fan. Either you’re completely obsessed with the show and can spend hours analyzing each of the Doctors’ subtle character quirks over the cult classic’s five-decade history, or else you know nothing about the show and feel left out and confused when avid Doctor Who fans (aka ‘Whovians’) start throwing around terms like “Dalek,” “Tardis,” and “Time Lord.”
Doctor Who may seem like a niche interest, but it’s gaining momentum as a huge mainstream hit in the U.S. In fact, the 50th anniversary special was the highest-rated telecast ever for BBC America, and Doctor Who was the No. 1 television show on Twitter and Tumblr. The global simulcast of the anniversary special, Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor, also earned a Guinness World Record for the largest-ever simulcast of a TV drama, after the episode was broadcast in 94 countries across six continents.
As Doctor Who mania picks up, don’t get left in the dust! For all the Who novices out there, here are answers to five questions about the show you may have felt too sheepish to ask your Doctor Who-obsessed friends:
1. What exactly is Doctor Who about?
Doctor Who follows the adventures of a time-traveling humanoid alien known as the Doctor. The Doctor is a Time Lord, meaning he or she has increased physical resilience to various hazards, including radiation, suffocation, electrocution, and extreme temperatures. Time Lords also have the ability to regenerate their bodies if their current body is fatally wounded. Twelve actors have played the Doctor throughout the years, each actor playing a newly regenerated version of the same Doctor (though his personality traits do shift with each new incarnation). The Doctor travels the universe in his TARDIS (short for Time and Relative Dimension in Space), a time-traveling space ship that looks like a blue British police box on the outside. Alongside his companions, the Doctor fights to rescue civilizations and restore good in the universe.
2. How long has the show been running?
Doctor Who first aired in 1963 on the BBC and ran continuously until 1989. The show took a long hiatus throughout the ‘90s, though several non-TV Doctor Who franchises flourished during that time, including a Doctor Who magazine and comic strip and a series of original books, The New Adventures of Doctor Who. In 2005, the series successfully relaunched on the BBC, drawing a new generation of devoted fans. The revamped series inspired multiple hit TV spinoffs, including Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, which both aired from 2006 to 2011.
3. What are these Daleks everyone keeps talking about?
The Daleks are an extraterrestrial race of cyborgs that are unable to feel compassion or remorse, and their main goal throughout the series is to purge the Universe of all non-Dalek life. They are the Doctor’s greatest enemy throughout much of the series, and their favorite saying, “Exterminate!” has become a popular catchphrase in British pop culture.
4. I heard there’s a new Doctor.
Indeed there is. The first female incarnation of the Doctor will be Jodie Whittaker, who will join Doctor Who in the 2017 Christmas special episode “The Doctors.” Read more about the new Doctor here!
5. Why is Doctor Who so popular?
A true Whovian could no doubt write paragraphs on this topic, but from a layman’s perspective, fans love Doctor Who for its endearingly eccentric humor and charming, sharp-witted hero. “It’s all about the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism,” said The Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson in 2011. And as video producer and self–professed nerd Neil McNeil told Forbes, “I think the series has gone on for so long because it’s a new take on the fairytale genre, something that people can picture themselves being a part of. The show examines human existence while still bringing viewers to fantastic, faraway places they never could have imagined.”
Are you a Doctor Who fanatic? Let us know in the comments!
This article was originally published in December 2013.
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