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Rants And Raves: Doctor Who Turns 50

Exploring The Popularity Of The Long-Running BBC Sci-Fi Series

Above: Dr. Ramie Tateishi with his 50th anniversary display of "Doctor Who" figures.

Aired 11/25/13 on KPBS Midday Edition.

GUESTS:
Ramie Tateishi, Assistant Professor of English and Film Studies at National University

Beth Accomando, Author of the Blog Cinema Junkie

Transcript

Sonic screwdrivers, weeping angels, a flying TARDIS… enter the world the world of "Doctor Who," the wildly popular BBC sci-fi series that turns 50 this year.

The popular BBC TV series celebrates its 50th anniversary this month with the television special, "Day of the Doctor." The show was simulcast around the globe on Saturday, and coming up in December there will be a Christmas special that will introduce of the new 12th doctor, Peter Capaldi. All this Whovian excitement prompted me to call upon my friend Dr. Ramie Tateishi, an assistant professor at National University of English and film studies and a Doctor Who cosplayer. Tateishi is the one who introduced me to the show when it rebooted in 2005. Not only does he dress up as four of the now 12 doctors, but he also keeps his Doctor Who toys neatly organized in boxes labeled monsters, villains, friends and Daleks.

If you are unfamiliar with the show, the basic premise is that you follow the adventures of a time-traveling alien and Time Lord known only as The Doctor. In his now-1,200 years of traveling through space and time he has fought many enemies and saved the Earth on many occasions. Tateishi said one of the most appealing aspects of the character is his love of the human race. The Doctor generally is paired up with a human companion and together they travel around in a blue TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space).

The show appeals to a wide and devoted audience. The show debuted in 1963, took a hiatus in the late '80s and '90s and rebooted in 2005 to increase success in the U.S. Although The Doctor remains a constant character, he has been played by 11 actors with No. 12 making his official debut next month. I had the pleasure of joining a bunch of Whovians at a gathering on Saturday to watch "The Day of the Doctor" special. It was the perfect crowd. They reacted with enthusiasm to each nod the show made to a past doctor or episode, and many arrived in costume as their favorite incarnation of The Doctor or companion.

Credit: Beth Accomando

Gary Dexter of CAPE, April Taie of Geek Girls of San Diego, and Juan Lias of the Doctor Who Meetup, joined forces for a gathering of fans on Saturday for the global telecast of the 50th Anniversary Doctor Who special.

Gary Dexter, of CAPE (California Association of Pop Culture Enthusiasts), was the key organizer of the event. After the special was over, he said "I thought it was extremely well done, in fact I was thinking to myself as I watched it that this was probably the best television I’ve seen since the end of 'Breaking Bad.' Very impressed."

Juan Lias, who heads the Doctor Who San Diego Meet Up Group, added, "the turnout was fantastic, we had about 150 some people sign up and most actually came."

"We were worried we weren’t going to be able to fit them all in but we did," he said. "I thought the special was fantastic, I thought they knocked it out of the park, I was worried they were going to get too complicated but for the most part it was pretty straightforward and it kind of sets it up for the future now and you get to enjoy what is it now 13th, 12th, at this point I don’t know Doctor next December and then we know what the mission going forward is going to be so that’s pretty cool for the first time."

April Taie, of Geek Girls of San Diego, was the third organizer of Saturday's event.

"I really enjoyed seeing it in a group where everybody was reacting to the same thing I was, oh yay they get my jokes. It was awesome," Taie said, adding she is especially excited about Capaldi taking over the role.

"I’m really looking forward to it because I feel like the last two Doctors (David Tennant and Matt Smith) have been not exactly the same but a lot of very similar, a lot of overlap, so it’ll be nice to go sort of back and have a different kind of Doctor," she said.

Lias considered the popularity of the show and thought its diversity was its greatest asset.

Credit: BBC

Matt Smith, David Tennant, and John Hurt join forces in "The Day of the Doctor."

"Rather than just classifying 'Doctor Who' as sci-fi," Lias said, "I think it’s just really good storytelling because the show wouldn’t last this long if the stories were terrible and fans wouldn’t be as rabid as they are if that were the case and the fact that you can do just about anything, anywhere, anytime, you have an infinite amount of stories you can tell and the actors are all strong and so are the companions and you get to see that little by little. Some of the best stories in 'Doctor Who' are the ones that deal with the gray areas where there isn’t a right or a wrong necessarily, it’s just a character making a choice and people can identify with that because in many cases we’ve all gone through similar situations, maybe not saving the universe of course, but in effect many decision you make are based on basic human emotion decisions in most encounters in our lives and people relate to that."

Dexter agreed: "I think it’s diversity is one of the things that keeps it going. When you have a story structure and a mythology where you can actually change the lead actor and continue the story even stronger than it was previously I think that’s a core strength of it but the notion of traveling through space and time and infinite number of story possibilities. Also, 'Star Trek,' the other sci-fi institution, and 'Doctor Who' share the strong moral backbone in common and I think it comes out in the storytelling."

Tateishi, like his fellow San Diego Whovians, admitted to tearing up at the end of the special with its guest cameo. Going forward the show is generating a lot of excitement with the casting of "The Thick Of It's" Peter Capaldi.

There will be an encore theatrical screening of the 50th Anniversary special, "The Day of the Doctor," tonight through Fathom Events. And if you have never watched "Doctor Who" before, have no fear. You can jump in any time and still enjoy the show... although you might not appreciate some of the details.

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