Significant characters and concepts
The sonic screwdriverFirst used by the Second Doctor in "Fury from the Deep", this has now become an iconic item carried by the Doctor and has had at least seven different versions to date, not counting future ones. Basically a fancy tube with a light in prop form, it has a wide variety of functions including opening most locked doors, accessing computer information and actually being a screwdriver. What it doesn't do is triplicate the flammability of port. Neither does it do wood. Yes this is ironic. The importance of this device is that it's the Doctor's primary tool and that it is not a weapon, but something designed to mend or alter. This plays directly into his overall persona as a technical pacifist.
UNIT, Torchwood Institute, etc.
The Evolving ShowFirst, a quick note: Classic Who tends to be referred to by serial, not by episode. A serial is a multi-episode story. For most of the show's history—aside from a little experimentation with 45 minute episodes—episodes lasted 25 minutes (give or take a few minutes). From the early '70s onwards, serials were usually four episodes in length, with six or two episode serials here and there. During the McCoy years, when the series had its number of episodes halved, the production team instituted a mix of three episode and four episode serials. A few one-off epic serials lasting 8 (The Invasion), 10 (The War Games), 12 (The Daleks' Master Plan) and even 14 (Trial of a Time Lord) episodes were also broadcast. The 14-episode The Trial of a Time Lord arc was officially split into 4 stories, however all 14 episodes carried the single title, and "Part 10" , "Part 13", etc. Generally, serials weren't continuity-heavy; one self-contained story ended and another began. Some might be loosely linked: by a common villain, for instance. But sometimes serials followed on very closely, and are thematically linked to such an extent that a Story Arc takes up a whole season. The whole of season 16, for instance, is informally called "The Key to Time", and Season 23 was presented as a single fourteen episode story, "The Trial of a Time Lord", though it was, in fact, made up of four separate stories with a Framing Device. The show isn't formatted into serials since its return. It follows the more recent pattern of The X-Files, Buffy, etc., of standalone episodes (sometimes with two-parters and even one three-parter) that develop a season-long (or longer!) arc. Doctor Who serials vary wildly in its style and tone, depending on writers and executive producers. Serials and episodes range from comedic to gothic or nihilistic, and the Science Fiction goes all over the place on Mohs Scale of Sci-Fi Hardness. Officially there have been 224 serials aired to date, counting season 24's The Trial of a Time Lord as one arc, and not counting the abandoned Shada. That Other Wiki has them all numbered at the bottom of this page. Since the series returned in 2005 there have also been 5 canonical mini-episodes broadcast as of March 2011, each lasting no more than 8 minutes, aired as charity specials or during special events. Making matters even more confusing, BBC Radio has also produced or co-produced a number of audio-only Doctor Who serials since 1985. The above number 224 does not include the 2 Comic Relief mini-episodes aired in March 2011, the Children in Need episodes aired in 2005 and 2007, and the mini-episode produced for the 2009 Doctor Who at the Proms concert special, or Shada. If you count Shada and Trial of a Time Lord as four, this makes 228. The mini episodes are rarely counted - if spinoffs are included, that's probably the only time you'll see them. Those aspects of the show that would normally be set by the series creator—style, tone, mythology—are largely the province of the executive producer, or showrunner, who may or may not write episodes. Over its forty years, the show has seen several executive producers (producers in the old days), each of whom has left his or her mark for better or for worse. Every showrunner is, for some fan, the one who ruined it forever. Possibly even Verity Lambert and Sydney Newman, who co-created the show.
Children's or Family ShowTechnically, the BBC classify (and have always classified) Doctor Who as a drama series, created under the aegis of BBC Drama, rather than a children's series under the aegis of the BBC Children's department - although Children's was in a short period of not existing when the show was created. The Beeb has no such thing as a "Family Show" department. That said, one of the most controversial discussions in fandom is whether Doctor Who is a (to quote a line from a newspaper article which used to explain the show's appeal on the blurbs of the novelizations) "the children's own program that adults adore", a "family show" or a "dark and edgy show like Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) meets The X-Files, at midnight in an unlit cellar! Constant death and misery! Pain! Lots of pain!" That Doctor Who can plausibly be described in all of these terms is a possible key to its long-term appeal. In the opinion of Steven Moffat it's fundamentally a children's programme that adults can appreciate; if an episode of Doctor Who isn't keeping kids entertained, it isn't doing its job properly. A large part of this disagreement is down to the fact that most American Who fans would have discovered the show as teens or adults, while many older Brits remember the show as a ubiquitous childhood favorite. An examination of broadcast schedules for the show around the world reveals the schism in its audience: in the UK, the show traditionally airs around the supper hour on Saturdays. In the US, Canada, and other countries the "classic" series is often shown late at night, and newer episodes often air in prime time, often at "late hours" such as 8 and 9 PM. Doctor Who was originally intended to be an educational show explaining science and history to children in an entertaining science-fiction context (this is why two of the first three companions were a science teacher and a history teacher). However, the popularity of the outer-space romps and outlandish aliens (particularly the Daleks) eventually shifted the series' emphasis from education to adventure. The TARDIS' police box appearance was, apparently, a matter of budget. Just as the Star Trek transporters papered over the Enterprise's budgetary inability to send shuttles, the TARDIS' supposed shape-shifting circuit was jammed from the outset to avoid having to create a new TARDIS prop for each episode. The First Doctor acts as if this is the first time it's happened: "It's still a police box! Why hasn't it changed? Dear dear, how very disturbing." Since the beginning, the show has had a high number of deaths which are unpleasant in many cases (the show has been mild on blood since it returned). However, sometimes the level of violence and gore can be downright brutal, ranging from stabbing to graphic dismemberments, impalements, blood squibs and implied decapitation. The show occasionally features difficult subject matter such as implied rape, racial hatred, genocide, drug use and very discreet references to child molestation.
Missing EpisodesIn The Sixties and The Seventies, BBC policy was to junk or overwrite the media of television programs that had already aired. 6 The upshot is that, out of around 800 episodes filmed, 97 are lost, with William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton's eras being the most affected, though audio tapes of all missing episodes still exist from fans who made recordings of the show when it aired (the BBC has released most of these commercially on cassette and CD, and occasionally have also produced reconstructions of missing episodes for DVD using them). Every Jon Pertwee onwards episode still exists, though a number of them existed only in black and white despite being filmed in colour. The colour signal was eventually recolourised through various means for all of those stories. A life-size Dalek is being offered for anyone who can find a missing episode. There is also a lot of material on episodes that weren't made (such as the original Season 23, which would have included the return of the Celestial Toymaker, the Autons, and the Ice Warriors), some of which has been used by Big Finish, a production company that since 1999 has produced more than 100 BBC-licensed and sanctioned Doctor Who audio dramas featuring original cast members. In 2006, the BBC and animation studio Cosgrove Hall released an animated reconstruction of Parts 1 and 4 of Patrick Troughton serial "The Invasion", using remastered audio tapes and the original stage notes. For the next few years, fans were disappointed that no similar reconstructions were made, with the company in charge of releasing episodes to DVD claiming that it was too expensive to hire an animation company to do a couple of one-off episodes. However, in 2011 it was announced that "The Reign of Terror" would be released in 2012 with two missing episodes similarly reconstructed. Subsequently, "The Ice Warriors", "The Tenth Planet", and "The Moonbase" were all released on DVD with animated reconstructions of missing episodes.
Theme TuneNo discussion of the show is complete without mentioning its Theme Tune, which has a number of variations (as do the logos and Title Sequences). The original 1963 version of the Doctor Who theme is a hallmark of pre-synthesizer electronic music and, when paired with the trippy feedback titles, looked forward to late-60s psychedelica. Ron Grainer composed the music, and Delia Derbyshire, working in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, realized it by taping a variety of electronic tones and distorted instruments, and splicing the tapes together by hand over many hours. It was so popular that it was one of the Trope Codifiers of early Electronic Music. The original theme recording was used, with various edits and mixes (including the introduction of an "electronic scream" at the beginning of the closing theme in the 1970s, a version of which has been used on all subsequent versions) until 1980, when a totally new recording was made by Radiophonic Workshop member Peter Howell. Subsequent remixes were provided by Dominic Glynn, Keff McCulloch and John Debney (Debney arranged the theme for the American TV movie). All of the themes since the show returned have been arranged by Murray Gold, with the first (Series 1-3) remixing the original recording with orchestral and electronic embellishments, and was extended for the start of Series 2 to include a tribute to the 'Middle Eight' section of the original theme. Another version was recorded for Series 4, this one with more of a rock-n-roll feel (electric guitar, bass and drumkit). This theme was remixed for the four specials that transitioned from Ten to Eleven with an orchestral backing. There's a rather different one for Series 5, featuring electronic instruments in a more central position as well as a strong brass sound at the beginning. A playlist of all thirty-one (so far!) versions of the opening theme officially used as a title theme for the television show.
Spin-offsAlong with countless books and semi-canonical audio/video releases, the show has three official television spin-offs: Darker and Edgier Torchwood (bisexual alien hunters in Cardiff); the (somewhat) Lighter and Softer The Sarah Jane Adventures (beloved ex-companion and a handful of Meddling Kids fight aliens in London); and K9 by Park Entertainment, which was filmed in Australia and initially aired in Scandinavia in early 2010 before being broadcast on a UK cable network in the summer of 2010 and a terrestrial network there in the autumn; a US broadcast has yet to occur. It also falls into the Lighter and Softer category. A fourth spinoff, K-9 & Company, was stillborn in 1981, only producing a pilot episode. A fifth, Rose Tyler: Earth Defence, was actually given space in the BBC budget before the production team went back on the idea. There is also a behind the scenes documentary series called Doctor Who Confidential which has immediately followed every episode since "Rose" on BBC Three. An additional behind the scenes series, aimed more for children, was titled Totally Doctor Who and aired for two series; its primary claim to fame was broadcasting the first-ever animated Doctor Who serial for television, The Infinite Quest, in 2007.
Expanded UniverseSee Doctor Who Expanded Universe.
The pop culture impactThe TARDIS and the Doctor's recurring enemy the Daleks have become British cultural icons and it is fair to suggest that the overwhelming majority of Britons would instantly recognize both. It is, in fact, difficult to over-state the extent to which Doctor Who, ostensibly a slightly daft children-oriented sci-fi show, has become a part of the British cultural landscape. It casts as much a shadow over British culture, as one Anthropology Professor put it, as Star Trek casts over American culture; more so, in fact, as while acknowledged fans of Star Trek are still rather consistently made fun of by mainstream culture, Doctor Who is beloved by Britons of all ages and demographics. Including, as it happens, Her Majesty the Queen. It has to be remembered that, during its most successful periods, the show has had a huge UK level of popularity, well above stereotypical "cult TV" or SF genre audiences. Current audience figures are regularly about 7 to 8 million an episode (with about 10 million for Christmas specials), often putting it within the top twenty or even ten broadcasts of the week, equivalent in US terms to something like 40 million viewers based on proportion of the population- some episodes from the classic series have clocked more than that, with "City of Death" getting an average of 14.5 million, although ITV was suffering from a strike at the time, and there were only three channels back then. It is beaten consistently in the UK only by Talent Shows and major sporting events (though "Journey's End" trounced Wimbledon), and often holds its own against Soap Operas (though this wasn't the case in the waning days of the classic series in the late 1980s when it was constantly beaten by Coronation Street). It is probably the only non Talent Show or Soap Opera to regularly have spoilers (accurate or not) appear in the mass market tabloid press. The show, because of its heyday in the seventies and eighties, has resulted in children growing up and starting careers for the sole purpose of working on the show: Russell T Davies started his screenwriting career with a (failed) submission to the BBC; David Tennant has confessed that the show got him into acting; and Steven Moffat has joked that he applied to be the executive producer when he was seven. Other people on the show also work so their kids can see their parents in something that's not inappropriate, such as John Simm, known more for gritty dramas before taking the role of the Master 7 . Even if an actor wasn't a fan when he was a kid, it's almost certain their little kid will be. The Daleks themselves are the show's most famous villains and instantly recognizable to any Briton. There was a major bout of "Dalekmania" in 1964-65, which nearly resulted in a Dalek-themed US produced show. Unfortunately, in the United States, the show isn't as widely popular and is often considered the territory of nerds and public television. The 1996 movie was partially an attempt to gain enough American recognition to warrant an American co-produced revival of the series (which failed). Since its revival in 2005, the show has been acknowledged by the mainstream television press as among the best shows on television, and pulls consistently high ratings for a basic (when it was on Sci Fi Channel) and digital (now that it's on BBC America) cable television show. In fact, "The Impossible Astronaut" is the highest rated BBC America programme in the network's history. Since "A Christmas Carol" at Christmas 2010, the show now airs in the United States only a few hours after its original British airing (except for "The Almost People" and "A Good Man Goes To War", both delayed one week due to Memorial Day weekend). Compare this to the weeks or months of wait that Sci Fi Channel imposed on fans when they aired the first four revival series. Examples of the show's slow acceptance into American pop culture include the mentioning of the series on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (being the only host on a US late night talk show that has talked to three of the Steven Moffat-era main cast, complete with making a song and having a miniature TARDIS prop), and the parody Inspector Spacetime, which appeared as a Show Within a Show on the third season premiere of the sitcom Community, which has become a bit of meme here at TV Tropes (sadly, given Community's own low ratings and cult status, that isn't exactly a mainstream mention just yet). TV Tropes is proof of how much of a phenomenon the series has become - we have a page for guessing if characters are members of the Doctor's race. Perhaps you'd like to try your hand at writing Doctor Who?