10 May 2002 | dr_foreman
a lifetime's worth of entertainment...
Doctor Who ran for 26 years, and its last episode was as fresh and imaginative as its first.
The show chronicles the adventures of a time-and-space traveling alien who wanders the universe battling evil conquerors, ruthless corporations, and other exploiters of the innocent and oppressed. Every few weeks, the Doctor would travel to a different planet or time, allowing the show's cast, setting, and tone to constantly change. Even the Doctor himself was periodically replaced by a new actor, "regenerating" his body whenever he was on the verge of death. This format gave the show an amazing freshness and allowed it to last for over a quarter of a century without becoming stale.
Since the show's cancellation, Doctor Who has been sustained by hundreds of books and radio shows. Although the concept is beginning to seem a bit old now, great "Who" stories are still coming out all the time.
Television remains the ultimate format for Doctor Who, however, and the series has something to offer for just about everyone. The early episodes, starring William Hartnell, were mysterious and realistic in tone, and are terribly underrated by the show's fans. Tom Baker, the most popular Doctor internationally, had a succession of wild and colorful adventures that are more entertaining and a lot funnier than most of the sitcoms on TV today. In its dying days, when Sylvester McCoy was in the lead role, Doctor Who became highly allegorical and politically charged.
Every Doctor's era has some merit, though some are obviously more inspired than others. In the early 70s and early 80s in particular, the show suffered from some poor production values and repetitive plots, but even the bad episodes are fun to watch and often redeemed by some strength good performances, an interesting plot twist, etc.
Lovers of modern, flashy science fiction will probably laugh Doctor Who off the screen because of its modest special effects, but nevertheless it remains one of the most visually inventive TV shows ever made. Episodes like Tomb of the Cybermen and Remembrance of the Daleks contain unforgettable images that stack up to anything Hollywood produced on a 100x bigger budget. If you want to pick the show's visuals apart, you can, but you'll be doing yourself a disservice if you don't suspend your disbelief and allow yourself to be drawn into the Doctor's universe.
I may be in the minority, but I enjoyed the 1996 TV Movie that attempted to resurrect Doctor Who years after its cancellation. I don't buy the argument that Doctor Who couldn't survive in today's big-budget entertainment arena. The intelligence of the X-Men and Spider-Man movies has convinced me that a slick, cerebral version of Doctor Who could be produced today that would be faithful to the not-so-slick, cerebral original. But regardless of whether Doctor Who returns or not, it remains one of the great TV shows of all time. It still wins awards even today, and enjoys widespread popular and critical acclaim. Even Doctor Who's detractors only serve to prove that the show is famous enough to draw criticism!
In short, Doctor Who is smart, fun, and endlessly creative. It has kept me entertained for over fifteen years, and my enthusiasm for it has barely waned. Science fiction is in a dumb rut right now, so you could do a lot worse than look back at this show, one of the genre's crowning achievements.