1963 – 2013: Happy Birthday Doctor!!!

doctor who

A l’occasion de son 50ème anniversaire, la mythique série télévisée britannique de sciences fiction Dr Who vient ici nous livrer les secrets de son succès en Grande-Bretagne et dans le monde. Des dizaines de saisons et plusieurs centaines d’épisodes ont su asseoir la série comme une référence incontournable du genre et une fierté culturelle britannique. Tentons d’analyser le phénomène pour comprendre sa formidable évolution spatio-temporelle. Doctor Who, c’est quoi ? Pourquoi ça marche ? Vous saurez TOUT … sur Doctor Who!

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I)  Who are you? I’m the Doctor! Doctor Who ?

Doctor Who is a British science-fiction series produced by the BBC that has been broadcast since 1963 on BBC One. Through his adventures, the Doctor, a Time Lord (time-travelling humanoid alien) travels the universe and time in an original spaceship: a time travelling machine called the Tardis, designed after a British police box.  With a succession of companions, the Doctor faces all sorts of villains in very diverse periods and locations to save civilizations.  The series didn’t become popular right away but it gradually became a proud product of British civilization.

II) Eh, what’s up Doc?

The series quickly gained momentum in Britain to become in a few years very popular for every generation of Britons: Doctor Who became a family show despite its violence, its gory content and all its frightening characters. In fact, the expression “Hiding behind the sofa” entered the dictionary thanks to Doctor Who. The intergenerational audience and the growing success of the series can largely be explained by the profusion of its scenarios, the imagination at stake to create the foes and of course the courage of the good guy(s).

There hasn’t been one, or two, or three … but eleven different actors to embody the Doctor. Once the doctor dies in the series, another actor takes over to preserve the continuity of the show, with a new and original personality and often new companions. The Doctor is a charismatic, offbeat and non sexualized humanoid alien who isn’t afraid to face a whole army on his own, to wear a bow tie and to use no other weapon but his electronic screwdriver and his amazing intellect.

With its British humor, its gorgeous atmosphere, its unusual and now world famous villains and its immortal and eccentric Doctor, this series is no longer a mere TV-show but a fabulous British phenomenon.

III) Doctor Who, a cultural drug Made in Britain

As a real religion in Britain, Doctor Who has become a cult hit worldwide and now has more than 800 episodes. The series is exported worldwide, but cannot be imitated because its Britishness is essential to explain its success. And then there is the pervasive humor, always bordering on the absurd. A special feature of the narrative of Doctor Who is that, regardless of the time when it is broadcast, the hero never interferes with history. The kings are kings, revolutions continue. But sometimes he slips his prints. In an episode, Doctor Who ends up in the Oval Office of the White House, facing newly elected Richard Nixon. Not one bit confused, Nixon thanks him profusely for saving the planet and asks him: “It seems that you come from the future? I hardly dare ask, but do people remember me?” Doctor Who, under the playful features of actor Matt Smith, then replies: ” This is a delicate question. Say they will never forget you!”

Fan clubs were created everywhere – there are now 77 million “official” fans worldwide. Even the British royal family belongs to the club.

Another reason for the international success is that the Doctor is a symbol of Britishness. The series has never been Americanized; nor has it veered from its own tone. Especially because of the character itself: he is eccentric, knowledgeable, witty – many qualities often attributed to the British. An American hero would be more of a manly and violent vigilante. The doctor lives in the world of the mind, he is, in a way, a kind of intellectual, who is, it should be noted, rarely sexualized. He is an unusual definitely British hero.

Could Doctor Who vanish once more from British screens?

Doctor Who already died, at the end of 1989. And he came back to life in 2005, stronger than ever. He will definitely disappear again one day. But he will probably be back when fan pressure becomes strong enough to make the regeneration of the series possible. Moreover, it is not just a series; it is a cultural phenomenon, with novels, audio books, magazines, games, mass merchandising, which never stopped even during the 1990s. This extra-television life will endure long after the doctor’s death … and hopefully it will come back again!

Loïck BOINNARD & Léo BROTIN

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