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Rants and Raves: Doctor Who Turns 50
November 25, 2013 8:49 a.m.
Beth Accomando, Author of the Blog Cinema Junkie
Related Story: Rants And Raves: Doctor Who Turns 50
ALISON ST. JOHN: And stay with us, coming up, Dr. Who is a cult figure for many. I watched him as a kid in the UK; it's the 50th anniversary of Dr. Who show this month. We will hear about a Christmas special coming up tonight to introduce us to the 12th incarnation in a long line of doctors.
BETH ACCOMANDO: That is the theme from Dr. Who in the 1960s. I didn't get introduced to Dr. Who till 2005 when the show rebooted and the person who introduced me as Dr. Ramie Tateishi. I'm sitting in Ramie's living room with his 50th anniversary display of Dr. Who figures. He keeps the Dr. Who figures stored in boxes labeled monsters, aliens, friends and Daleks. I recently collected my first Dr. Who toy at the doctor Who experience at Cardiff Wales where they shoot the show. I took full advantage of the site visit they were offering and had the great geek thrill of getting to walk onto the set of the TARDIS. You don't know what a TARDIS is? We are here to fix that. Ramie, give us a little background on Dr. Who.
RAMIE TATEISHI: Sure Beth. Dr. Who was a British science-fiction television series, the longest-running science fiction television series of the world. It started in 1963 on the BBC British broadcasting Corporation. It took a hiatus for a while, but then came back with a new series in 2005 and has just been continuing. What really struck me and is probably now more popular than it ever has been and it's a show about an alien, time Lord, from a race of people who have mastered time travel and all the laws and intricacies of time and basically travels around getting into adventures and fighting monsters and encountering strange creatures and exploring how wonderful the universes. He does this through a time machine called a TARDIS that can disguise itself as anything, but in the first episode in 1963 the mechanism broke so the TARDIS has been stuck in the form of a British police call box. These call boxes were ubiquitous throughout London at the time the show was made but gradually were phased out so now it's kind of this anachronistic thing to see the box flying around through time and space but that's part of the charm of the show as you see this old beat up British relic in all these strange situations.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Ramie, what initially attracted you to the show and what is the first time you actually saw one?
RAMIE TATEISHI: Back in early 70s and they brought Dr. Who to America and it didn't do very well. I remember catching one of those and being really terrified but I was strangely fascinated by the show it was unlike anything on American TV and they tried it again with the fourth Dr. in the late 70s in those episodes became really successful and they were trying to show these really incredible scenarios and science-fiction stories with monsters and robots and aliens in distant planets but doing it with very little money but the thing I loved about it is they didn't let that confine their imagination only were these really credible stories but you just realized on a very shoestring budget and sort of the audacity of doing that was just so appealing.
BETH ACCOMANDO: You brought a clip that shows some of the qualities you like in the show. Can you set this up for us?
RAMIE TATEISHI: The clip that that was from the first Dr. Who story 1962 he's talking to two people who would later become friends and companions what it's like to experience the wonders of the universe that is both wonderful and terrifying.
>> But it is ridiculous. Time doesn't go round and round in circles. You cannot get on and off whenever you like in the past or the future.
>> Really where does time go then?
>> It doesn't go anywhere just happens and then it's finished
>> You are not as doubtful as your friend I hope?
>> I can't help it, I just believe him.
>> If you can touch the aliens and hear the cries of strange birds and watch them wheel and another sky would that satisfy you?
>> Now see for yourself.
>> It's not true.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Tell a little about about the doctor in the sense that it is one character, but he's had up till now 11 faces. We are on number 12, so what does that mean?
RAMIE TATEISHI: Whenever the actor gets tired of playing the role of the producers feel the need to change the introduce the idea that the Dr. has regenerated and this means that the doctor suffer some sort of crisis that normally would've resulted in his death but what happens is the cells in his body to regenerate and this results in the Dr. taking into physical form but the regeneration process also effects him mentally so it allows each different actor to bring their own unique characteristics and quirks to the part. The idea regeneration did, about till 1973 with the third Dr., for a long time Dr. who in the 60s particularly it was just a very mysterious show, very mysterious character. We didn't know much about it and as the show went on the budget [inaudible] when onboard microgeneration as part of the development talking regeneration there's this clip I really like when David Tennant regenerated this is the 10th Dr. and in this clip he's talking about the idea of regeneration and he's reflective about the process and so he's, it introduces this emotional element.
>> I'm going to die.
>> I thought when I saw you before you said that your people could change, like your whole body.
>> I can still die. If I'm killed before regeneration I'm dead. Even then, even if I change it feels like dying. Everything I am died. Some new man those sauntering away. And I'm dead.
BETH ACCOMANDO: What are some of the qualities that define who the doctor is?
RAMIE TATEISHI: One thing that I love about the character of the Dr. and I'd say this has stayed the same throughout the show from the beginning till now is is really eccentric sort of individuality, his ability to not be afraid to be himself and if you see something that is wrong he will write in and I brought along a clip that shows a sense of individuality that's help define him and this is from the fourth Dr. Tom Baker this would've been in the late 70s.
>> I think we should interfere.
>> Interfere of course we should interfere always do what you are best at, and [inaudible].
BETH ACCOMANDO: But because of the idea of interfering with things because he travels through time and space he has the ability to change the future or change the path so this raises questions of morality, so how does that play out in some of the shows?
RAMIE TATEISHI: There's a really great moment one of the most well-known episodes Genesis Genesis of the dogs once again this is the fourth Dr. he's debating the morality of whether or not she should destroy the dogs. The dogs are probably just as iconic as the Dr. himself or the TARDIS, and it's such a great moment to listen to him vocalize these thoughts that a lot of times this kind of issue just sort of goes unexplored.
>> What are you waiting for?
>> The touch these two stones together and the Daleks are finished. Have I that right?
>> To destroy the Daleks, you can't doubt it.
>> But I do you think see some things could be better with the Daleks. Future worlds will become allies just because of their fear of the Daleks.
>> It doesn't work like that.
>> The final responsibility is mine and mine alone. Listen, if someone who knew the future could point out a child to you and told you that child would grow up totally evil to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives, could you then kill the child?
>> We are talking about the Daleks, the most evil creatures ever invented. You must destroy them, you must complete your mission for the time lords.
>> Do I have to right to simply touch one wire against the other and that's it, the Dalek ceased to exist? Hundreds of millions of people, thousands of generations can live without fear in peace and never even know the word Dalek.
>> Then why wait? If it was a disease or some sort of bacteria you would destroy them. You would not hesitate.
>> What if I care what about all intelligent life form than I become like them. I'd be no better than the Dalek.
>> Think of all the suffering you will see if you don't it.
RAMIE TATEISHI: Another quality of the Dr. the character that I think is really appealing and helps to account for the appeal of the show overall these years it's another one of these qualities that I think has stayed the same from 1963 until now is the doctors love of humanity and his love of the human race in the sort of optimism that the character has and ultimately to show itself has. The doctor is this alien who unabashedly loves humanity and has these best friends companion to travel with them who are all humans he's constantly coming back to earth and trying to help humans and I think it's possible positive depiction of community coming from the alien perspective and I think that's [inaudible].
BETH ACCOMANDO: Let's hear a little bit about the fourth Dr. expressing his love for humanity.
>> Homo sapiens, what an inventive invincible species. It is only a few million years since they crawled up out of the mud and learned to walk. Puny defenseless bipeds. They survived flood, famine and plague. They've survived cosmic wars and holocausts. Now there they are out among the stars waiting to be given new life. Waiting to out-sit eternity. They are indomitable. Indomitable.
BETH ACCOMANDO: I'm Beth Accomando and I'm speaking with Ramie Tateishi, assistant professor of English and film studies at National University. Ramie one of the things I like about the show is that it ponders serious issues but never loses its sense of humor.
RAMIE TATEISHI: Something especially interesting about it is it's a simple format yet became a complex show that develop this really complex mythology behind it but it's hard it's a really simple complex just a time traveler getting to a bunch of adventures because of that you can have stories that are very serious and very dramatic or you can have straightforward science-fiction or these historical dramas or you can have comedy. There's not a lot of comedy in Dr. Who.
BETH ACCOMANDO: The show definitely appeals to adults and kids but there are moments that there's the episode of the weeping Angel where the statues kind of move without you being able to catch them moving.
RAMIE TATEISHI: That was terrifying, yeah.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Yeah that really do tap into some primal fears.
RAMIE TATEISHI: Yeah, Dr. Who has gotten in trouble for the excessive horror in the 60s it was the cyber men probably like the most famous monsters of to the Daleks and the Cyberman are humanoid people who so we have their parts replaced with cybernetic parts but I think it's either that would be sort the Cyberman that elicited all these phonecalls from parents is that their kids were scared and I think it was (inaudible) had to go on a BBC talk show and address complaints from other parents.
BETH ACCOMANDO: When you've analyzed Dr. who on an academic level but you also are a real fan and you possibly are some of the doctors.
RAMIE TATEISHI: Cos play is the term that's dressing up when you go to conventions you know here in San Diego we've got the great big Comicon and people walking around in costumes you see on the news that is called cosplay and I didn't really start cosplaying I just went in doctor Who clothing items just to wear. Just in everyday life and so my mom maybe a Bigfoot 18 ft.² eventually on the way I picked up the frilly shirt but eventually I had enough to make an entire Dr. Who costume. So I have other Dr. forth Dr. seventh Dr. and 10 Dr. costume that I wear to things like Comicon.
BETH ACCOMANDO: And you actually have one of your 10th Dr. props here. Can you tell me what this is?
RAMIE TATEISHI: If you are dressed up as the 10th Dr. Who you have to have the sonic screwdriver which is the tool that could just about everything the sonic screwdriver actually started back in 1968. I don't know how to describe it started off looking like it might and eventually became something like a tire pressure gauge with the more recent series in 2005 they try to turn it into something that looks a little futuristic so now it is a prop that lights up and makes this noise. And it is the doctors multipurpose tool that can, well it is a screwdriver it is supposed to unscrew screws but also opens doors and trips landmines it can pretty much do everything that the writers want it to.
BETH ACCOMANDO: In addition to the iconic screwdriver there are some other iconic sounds that with Dr. Who. Tell us a little bit about the starters sound.
RAMIE TATEISHI: That her sound had is really amazing to listen to the groaning sort of noise of the engine engine and what could be in the way they created that back in 1963 was to take, there are differing accounts of what the object was maybe a letter level or a key, but the object was wrapped up and down the base string of NLP and on up you know Frank. It's funny it's a very similar way to how the Godzilla soundtrack was created. That's how Godzilla swore was creating an so they recorded that and manipulated it, so to down and added reverb and that's how we got the wonderful noise that's kind of indescribable.
BETH ACCOMANDO: One of the things that create a lot of excitement for Dr. Who fans is when the doctors change over. The latest doctors is Peter Capaldi. How does he represent either how the show has been evolving or how it is reflecting back on some of its old traditions or values?
RAMIE TATEISHI: Peter Capaldi is such a great choice to play the Dr.Who in the recent series of Dr. who that started in 2005 the actors have been younger. When a they've been progressively getting younger and younger from Christopher Eccleston to Tenant to Matt Smith and now with Peter Capaldi we are back to an older actor. So this is really going back to the 60s Peter Capaldi when he was cast as the Dr. the same age 55 years old is the very first actor was William Hartnell. I think it's going to be great. It creates a new dynamic between the Dr. and his human assistant which the idea of having older man is a throwback to the 60s but I'm sure we will get a much more modern contemporary take on the old 60s type of Dr. who character.
BETH ACCOMANDO: Can someone come to the show brand-new without having seen the 600 some episodes that came before and still enjoy it?
RAMIE TATEISHI: Yes I think they can that's part of the wonderful thing about Dr. Who again because it works on so many levels it's something that's very simple and yet something very complex with all the mythology and you can break into it at any time and just enjoy the adventure and the enthusiasm that this character has, the power of friendship and adjust his love of whatever he's doing. That's always going to be a really endearing quality I think.
BETH ACCOMANDO: I've been talking about Dr. who with Ramie Tateishi, assistant professor of English and film studies at national University. To go out, let's go out with the latest theme from Dr. who.
ALISON ST. JOHN: That was KPBS arts and culture reporter Beth Accomando. You can catch the 3D IMAX encore screening of Dr. Who tonight at select theaters. I'm Alison St. John thank you for listening to Midday Edition here on KPBS.