The first episode of Dr Who was aired in 1963, the re-launch began in 2005
Since its 2005 re-launch, Doctor Who has established itself as a popular text with audiences reaching up to eight million viewers per episode. The original series in 1963 was also popular and innovative at the time of production in terms of characters, subject and special effects. Despite the fact the 1963 series and the 2005 series were based around same time-travel plots and characters, they are often regarded as separate texts due to the fact that the show was reinvented in a new cultural and economic climate. Chapman (2005) suggested that the popularity of the current series is “due in large measure to the fact that it was produced, and promoted, as a new series in its own right rather than a continuation of the original series that had run between 1963 and 1989” (p.184). Although there are very clear similarities between the original series and the re-launch of Doctor Who, the series also have very stark differences in terms of production, economic, historical, cultural and social contexts. These differences have lead to the re-launch of Doctor Who having a far more varied audience than the original series. The changing make-up of audiences will be identified by comparing the opening episodes An Unearthly Child and The Cave of Skulls (1963) to The Eleventh Hour (2010) with further comparisons to texts by Kazuo Ishiguro, George Orwell and H. G. Wells and studies relating to the show by Chapman (2005) and Charles (2007).
Contextually, there were many fears in the 1960s about the effects of space travel and nuclear radiation. This can be identified in ‘The Cave of Skulls’ (1963) when the Doctor’s companions Barbara and Ian are visibly dazed and unsteady on their feet due to the nuclear radiation effects of time travel. This was also reflected in, arguably, the main influence of time-travel literature at this point in history, H.G. Wells’ ‘The Time Machine’ (1895). The act of time travel is described as “sickly jarring” (p.21 ‘The Time Machine’) by the scientist in the novel and this is clearly the effect seen on Barbara and Ian. It is thought that the huge fear of radiation and nuclear warfare was as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961, which was only a few years earlier than the first episode in 1963. At the time of production of the show, space travel was a reality; whereas this was not the case in 1895 when ‘The Time Machine’ was written, meaning even more contemporary fears such as the weaknesses oh humans had developed since the novel was published which are clearly reflected in Doctor Who, particularly when comparing human characters to the Doctor. These ideas are reflected through the characters of Barbara and Ian who are extremely hesitant to accompany the Doctor and are represented as weak and unwilling to travel, instead feeling trapped by the Doctor. This can be identified when the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan tells them “he won’t let you go” (‘An Unearthly Child, 1963). The fears of this era are very different to those of the twenty-first century and therefore contribute to how the show has changed.
The main issues and fears of the twenty-first century and are mainly reflective of the influence of technology and also the effects that human actions have on society. For example, since George Orwell’s novel ‘1984’ (1945) there have been many worries and fears about the influence of technology and how much we are being watched by the government and other people. This is very clearly reflected in the 2010 episode of Doctor Who, ‘The Eleventh Hour’ where the Doctor and his companions, Amy and Rory, use mobile phones to photograph their enemy monsters, as well as sending warning signals using radio airwaves and making use of the internet and video messaging services to warn others of the aliens attacking earth. These would obviously not be used in the first series of Doctor Who in 1963 as some of these technological services had not yet been invented. However, it must be noted that in ‘An Unearthly Child’ (1963) “the Doctor and his companions used their superior technology to interfere in the internal politics of a primitive tribe” (Charles, 2007, pg.115), meaning that the technology featured would have been seen as superior at the time, but would be outdated in the twenty-first century. It is also arguable that these elements of technology may be featured more prominently now because a younger audience now watches the show. They can therefore relate to the technology that the Doctor uses and would not understand if his world did not feature these newer, more advanced items, as they have never known people to not use them. The increase of technology used could also be as a result of the fact that in the twenty-first century we live in a globalised culture in which travel is encouraged and we are able to have access to new technology from different parts of the world. As we are more culturally aware, our minds are more broadened allowing us to accept different cultures. This could suggest that we, as an audience, are more open-minded both in terms of the imagined creatures and enemies featured in the show and also the gadgets used by the Doctor, such as the sonic screwdriver.
Furthermore, there is also more influence on the effects of human emotions and also the humanistic nature of the Doctor in the re-launch of the show. A common outcome of the increase in science-fiction literature has lead to more enemies and extra-terrestrials having humanistic qualities. This can be seen in texts such as Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ (2005) which follows a group of clones, who have the same feelings and emotions as humans. In this respect, the humanistic emotions of the Doctor in the recent series are significant as it allows the audience to view him as a juxtaposed character to his extra-terrestrial enemies. As a result, characters often expect him to react in a different manner to traumatic events than the humans around him would. Although this isn’t seen as much in ‘The Eleventh Hour’ as it is Matt Smith’s debut as the Doctor, it can be seen very clearly in the episode prior to it ‘The End of Time’ (2010) in which David Tennant is seen in very emotional scenes with his companion, played by Bernard Cribbins, when he doesn’t know how to save the human race. Additionally, the emphasis on human downfall could be as a result of the increase of fear surrounding terrorist attacks. The main fear of the twenty-first century is terrorism and this could be a reason why there has been an increase of suggestions in the programme that alien invasions are as a result of human error. Charles (2007) suggests that this may be seen particularly in scenes when the “programmes protagonists take the reins of government” (p.116) as it allows the writers to make sarcastic comments about the flaws of the British foreign policy, again creating humour through human inadequacies. The fears of the time are therefore very influential of the plots shown in the show as they will be reflective of the audience’s thoughts.
The main difference between the original series of Doctor Who and the current one is the obvious differences in production, allowing a faster pace of the show. With developments in technology, new filming options are available. New cinematography options allows obvious changes, such as computer-generated imagery to be added in post-production and new camera angles available to enhance characters and enemies. The Doctor’s enemies can therefore be made more realistic which could attract wider audiences who may have been sceptical about the costumes of previous villains in the earlier series. Furthermore, the show is now filmed in Cardiff, rather than London allowing more filming options and unrecognisable settings for “foreign worlds”. The advancement in technology and production options also allows a vast range of media that can be used for the show in the re-launch. For example, the show now has it’s own ‘behind the scenes spin-off’ Doctor Who Confidential which allows fans of the show to look at how the show was made as well as online games which could attract younger fans. It also was able to reach new audiences before the show was broadcast through using the web with “four Doctor Who ‘webcasts’ broadcast via BBCi between 2001 and 2003” (Chapman, 2005, p.186). As the ‘webcasts’ and the re-launch were viewed as separate texts to the original, new audiences were attracted to the show and therefore anticipated a whole new series. Furthermore, with advancements of franchising in the twenty-first century media, Doctor Who attracts more audiences through its spin-off’s Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures as well as other products such as action figures. In 1963, however, ‘An Unearthly Child’ was seen as technologically advanced, particularly in terms of the theme music. However, in comparison to contemporary texts these production elements are now seen as outdated. This suggests that whilst both texts are seen as innovative and advanced in their time, the original series would be seen as very outdated in comparison to more contemporary texts and as will the current Doctor Who in the future.
William Hartnell played The Doctor in ‘An Unearthly Child’ (1963)
The Doctor’s characteristics vary greatly from the original 1963 series and the episodes since the re-launch in 2005. Whilst the Doctor in 1963, played by William Hartnell, is aggressive and resentful towards humans, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith, who have respectively played the Doctor since 2005 have adoped a more caring role and show compassion towards the human race. Although certain characteristics of the Doctor change through regenerations, some qualities have remained the same. All of the Doctors since 2005 have been slightly over-the-top and have shown comedic elements but still have their flaws and bad qualities, which are quite often shown as their weakness and often lead to their downfall. This could link to why the perceptions of the doctor are fundamentally different between the two series. Whilst people are intrigued by him both in the 60s and the twenty-first century, the reasons as to why people are fascinated by him appears to have changed over fifty-years. In ‘The Eleventh Hour’ Amy Pond, played by Karen Gillan, is immediately in awe of the Doctor when they first meet during her childhood and he remains a huge influence until they meet again when she is an adult. Since the re-launch, a common trend is a sign of romance between the Doctor and his companion. This suggests that the more recent series is being marketed towards women as well as men and isn’t being classified as a “science-fiction” show. Furthermore, this could link to the fact that the abilities of the Doctor have differed in the fifty years between the series. Whereas the Doctor in ‘An Unearthly Child’ (1963) is seen as a scientist, the Doctors shown post-2005 is primarily seen as explorers. This could, again, link to the fact that the viewers of the later series are more interested in travel as we now live in a more globalised culture.
The characteristics of the Doctor’s companions have also changed between 1963 and 2010. Barbara and Ian, the companions of the Doctor in the original series are professional scholars who are hesitant to join the Doctor in time-travel, however, they are mocked for not knowing as much as the Doctor’s grand-daughter, Susan. Susan is seen as the main heroine of the series and is modelled on pin-ups of the 1960s including Twiggy and Helen Shapiro. Although Susan is seen as a fairly independent character, she relies on her grand-father, the Doctor, to direct her and teach her knowledge of the world. In comparison, Amy Pond, the companion of Matt Smith’s version of the Doctor in 2010 is an underachiever whose job involves objectifying her body as a kiss-o-gram. Mulvey (1975) commented on her theory of the “male gaze” that females are objectified for the advantage of males and that women gain a boost of self-esteem from males attention. However, it is noticeable that she lies about her job to her neighbours, suggesting she is ashamed of her profession, which could contribute to why she is so adamant about going travelling with the Doctor as an escape. Amy is, however, seen as a heroine, and is often the one who saves the Doctor from being captured. This could be as a result of the increase of female heroines in twenty-first century media such as Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider (1996) videogames and subsequent movies that formed its franchise. It could be suggested that as women have gained more rights and have established themselves as more dependant, they are still being objectified, leading to an increase in these dominant, sexualised female characters. These ideas and values have been represented in the media to correspond with the contemporary values of the time.
Overall, there are many differences and similarities between the ‘An Unearthly Child’ (1963) and ‘The Eleventh Hour’ (2010) that appear to be as a result of being made in a different era for different types of audiences. Although both episodes are part of the same show, it has to be noted that in 2005 Doctor Who was launched as a new programme in order to meet new younger audiences. The distinguishable differences are mainly with regards to production, characters and the context in which the show was made and placed. However, there are similarities with regards to the format including the fact that the Doctor has a companion and is a time-traveller. The fact that the show has changed to such an extent suggests that audiences have changed and developed in terms of being more of an active audience and more open minded. Furthermore, the recent series is thought to reach wider audiences including children, this is identified through the children’s toys and merchandise available alongside the series. It is evident that the changes made to the series were necessary to be accepted to the new audiences, yet there is still reference to the original series for previous fans of the show.
- Chapman, J., 2006. Second Coming 2005. Inside the Tardis: The Worlds of Doctor Who: A Cultural History. P.188-201. UK
- Charles, A (2007) From Butler, D, Time and relative dissertations in space : critical perspectives on Doctor Who pp.108-122, UK,: Manchester University Press.
- Doctor Who, Episode 1, An Unearthly Child. 1963. BBC 1963 Nov 23.
- Doctor Who, The Eleventh Hour. 2010. BBC. April 3.
- Ishiguro, K., 2005. Never Let Me Go. United Kingdom: Faber and Faber
- Orwell, G. (1945). 1984. London: Penguin Classics.
- Tulloch & Alvarado., 1983. Mystery: Television, Discourse and Institution. Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text. P13-58. UK: Macmillan
- Wells, H. G. (1895). The Time Machine. London: Penguin Group.