by Olivia Knight
For those who didn’t grow up in the UK and who find the terms “Tardis”, “Dalek”, and “sonic screwdriver” mystifying, this isn’t a medical post. It’s not about doctors. It’s about the doctor. Doctor who? Yes, precisely, so that’s what they called the program.
This sets the tone. Although he loves tea, has a Northern accent, frequents London, and thinks no-one should carry firearms, the doctor isn’t actually British – he’s not even human. He’s a Time Lord. (Tea has a complex but beneficial relationship with Time Lord physiology, lots of planets have a north, his assistants tend to be London girls, and guns are for killing people, so he carries a screwdriver, which fixes things. But it is sonic.) His time-machine/spaceship is called the Tardis and had a fabulous cloaking device, but it got stuck on the policebox-setting in the 1950s, so it now looks like this:
It is, however, bigger on the inside – a technology reproduced by handbag-makers across history – so once you step through the door, it looks like this:
Part of being a Time Lord means he doesn’t die so easily – he has two hearts – and if he does die, he regenerates, and reappears, still the doctor, but looking completely different:
Thankfully, he’s got a lot hotter since the show started in 1963, but the current version is still long and thin, untidy-haired, in an ill-fitting suit. So basically, yes – we have a geeky bloke in a blue box which hurtles through space-time, with a screwdriver. And with that out the way, we can get on with sighing mesmerically at the current doctor.
Central to his appeal is the trademark cheeky grin. On a scale of infectious grins, he's the ebola virus. Be it inane, be it wild-eyed, be it slightly alarming, this man takes showing his teeth seriously and you can't help joining in as he cries, "Yes! Yes! That's it!" then spouts some mystifying bollocks that makes you wonder if Her Majesty's Police Force shouldn't consider a well-timed raid on Russell T Davies apartment. (He's the screenwriter, so in a fair world we'd worship him, which I do a bit, but he doesn't get the shrine.)
If he hasn't just resolved something extraordinary, he's probably fascinated by some new aspect of humans. He loves humans. We're great, apparently - fascinating, blithely optimistic, and infinitely endearing in our self-belief, if a little heavy on the slaughter-other-species side.
The doctor doesn't believe in slaughter - hence the screwdriver as his weapon of choice. Did I mention it's sonic? It's sonic. It's a sonic screwdriver. And if you're looking for further explanation, don't. It has blue lights, if you point it at things it makes a high-pitched noise, and it can fix machines, hack computers, weld things shut, weld things open, and - in a serious emergency - avert death.
Wherever the doctor goes, disaster follows. His blue box springs up throughout history - it's inscribed on Egyptian tombs, in surprisingly accurate detail for people who thought other people dislocated their hips to walk, it's referred to in treatises on witchcraft, it's given birth to cults, it even started Torchwood - which before Captain Jack Harkness of the other trademark grin was a Victorian operation designed to work against the doctor.
It's an easy mistake to make - Doctor + blue box = crisis, rather than the other way around - because wherever he is, monsters are close behind.
Sometimes very close behind. He's behind you! (This scarecrow featured in the second most terrifying episode of Doctor Who, where small children played in innocence around creatures they didn't know were alive, and no-one knew where the villagers went... The most terrifying episode was the one with the statues. Nuff said. And because I get scared in Doctor Who, I don't watch The Wickerman.)
Alongside those who blame the doctor, are those who dismiss him - again, easy: he looks geeky and wields a screwdriver. He does not have a cool black coat. He rarely walks heroically with the wind whipping the tails of the coat he does has, which is a bit down-at-heel and tweedy. He flies a box, for crying out loud. People underestimate him.
Like the screwdriver, do not underestimate this man. He's lived for nine hundred years. He's fought battalions of daleks and outwitted species you've never heard of. When the world turns dark and the earth is ripped from its orbit, he's the man you want on your side.
He's fire. And ice. And rage. He's like the night and the storm in the heart of the sun. He's ancient and forever. He burns at the centre of time and he can see the turn of the universe. And he is wonderful.
And of course, the best thing about the doctor is that he travels in space-time - so you can leave behind your life, your loves, and your family, jet off into the galaxies with him, see the dawn of time and the universe's end, rip your heart open, fall at his feet, love him forever - and still be back in time for tea. Now that's a guilt-free fantasy!
P.S. On The Now Show last week, another British staple, one member of the audience made the observation: Why is David Tennant so HOT in Doctor Who and not in anything else? True and profound. (David, if you're listening, I'm willing to test this theory.) Which she then spoilt by saying "He can enter my Tardis any time..." - so it's bigger on the inside...?