When I was a young teen, every Saturday night I would tune in to my local public television station to watch the adventures of an ancient Time Lord – a benevolent alien who travels through space and time in his TARDIS to battle menaces across the galaxy. Back then, the special effects were pre-Star Wars. Each planet looked like a London quarry pit and the aliens sported theatrical makeup and silvery jump suits.
The stories are what drew me in every time. Doctor Who used his wit, humor and Sonic Screwdriver to rescue the universe. With each week being a cliffhanger, I was anxious to see how the Doctor would get himself out of his latest predicament.
The premiere of Doctor Who on Nov. 23, 1963, makes it a few months younger than I am, but it has aged very well, even with all its bumps and bruises. The first Doctor started out as an old man (the character is over 900 years old), but he has regenerated many times - a plot device that allows the lead actor to leave the series every few seasons. Today the series features the 11th doctor, played by the awkwardly batty Matt Smith, and its rating success has solidified its place as a British cultural icon enjoyed globally.
One of the Doctor’s distinguishing characteristics is that he loves the human race. He celebrates us in quite a giddy fashion. He protects us and even chastises us when we get it wrong. The Doctor also runs a lot. He never uses a gun. He has no power. He thinks his way out and battles with his brain. He has sacrificed himself for the earth and for the universe at least 11 times. And we get to see him renewed and ready to fight the next alien threat. The TARDIS doesn’t take him where he wants to go, but where he needs to be.
Any fictional character with these qualities of redemption, restoration and suffering might be seen as a Christ figure. Others have claimed he is the ultimate humanist. For my part, I appreciate the way Doctor Who makes me ask important questions. What defines us as human? Who is my neighbor? Why do bad things happen? From where does my hope come? What makes this series unique is that these questions have continued to intrigue us for the past 50 years.
The future of Doctor Who looks bright, what with a new doctor, Peter Capaldi, scheduled to be introduced in the annual Christmas episode. I look forward to more adventures of a mad man in a blue box righting terrible wrongs, all while showing us a good time.