When I was little, I didn’t know anything at all about what was playing on the television sets of people thousands of miles away. These days, however, I get the feeling that I have a very good idea. There is currently rising trend of appreciation among Americans for British TV shows, and I number myself among these anglophiles and fanatics. The BBC show Doctor Who has been one of my absolute favorites for almost five years now, and it has been rising in popularity, especially among America viewers. But why does a show about a time-traveling alien in a weird blue box from the 1960’s have such an appeal to modern viewers? How has this story arc lasted through riots and social change, and the emergence of a completely different world?
It is truly remarkable how Doctor Who has remained relevant since its pilot in 1963. Despite a mild lull in the nineties, the show has enjoyed wild popularity since its conception. This is unusual for any television show, but especially for a science fiction series. Though there are probably a variety of reasons for this success, I think it comes down to the cleverness of the writing and the characters.
In the first place, Doctor Who is a television company’s dream because it literally never has to end. It is set in the beginning and end of time itself, and every moment in between. The entire universe is the location. But I think the cleverest part of the show is the aspect of regeneration. For anyone who has not yet seen it, the next few sentences are a little bit of a spoiler. You have been warned. The main character of the show is the Doctor, an alien from the planet Gallifrey. He is incredibly smart and has two hearts, but one of the coolest tenets of his alien DNA is the fact that when killed, he is able to regenerate. Every cell in his body renews itself, and he becomes a whole new Doctor, with the same memories and the same soul. If the goal of a television show is to perpetuate itself, this gimmick is the perfect way to do it. Every time an actor gets old, has to leave, or their contract ends, the old Doctor is scrapped and a new one takes his place. There is a limitless supply of protagonists, and therefore a never-ending story. Because the setting is the entire universe, anything that can be imagined by the writers is possible. The universe is unlimited, which means that there is no reason why a planet populated entirely by intelligent soap-bubbles couldn’t exist. There is no end to the adventures that the undying hero could have.
The storyline of Doctor Who has featured more themes and motifs than most would remember, but one thing the modern seasons have focused on is the nature of humanity. The importance of life and the appreciation of the unique aspects of every single being is something that isn’t highlighted very often on TV. Rather than being bombarded with images of perfect icons who would be impossible to imitate, or being shown the utmost depravity of human beings, viewers of Doctor Who are given something in between, a detailed analysis of the complexity of humanity and the circumstances behind the choices every individual makes. The heroes and heroines in Doctor Who are those you meet every day, the secretary at the office, the girl who words in the retail store, regular people who perform extraordinary acts when given the opportunity. Viewers begin to recognize the potential in themselves and everyone around them to affect change across the universe. Doctor Who calls its viewership to act as if they are a part of something bigger than themselves, and this is why I love it so much. It shows us how much good there could be in the world, if only we would try.