Series: Doctor Who

aka: Dr Who

"It all started out as a mild curiosity in a junk yard, and now it's turned out to be quite a great spirit of adventure."

The longest running science-fiction series in the world, first airing on BBC TV on 23rd November 1963. It takes place in and established the Whoniverse, which has a continuous and constantly adapting story involving many different timelines. It also spawned the truly vast Doctor Who Expanded Universe.

The premise of the show is simple enough: it follows the adventures of a renegade Time Lord, the Doctor, and his various companions through time and space. He travels in his living and sentient time machine, the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space), and meets many foes, ranging from heavily armoured robots to killer microbes and pollen to — well, members of his own race. Part of the longevity of the series is that when an actor leaves, the show gets around this by killing his character off, only to "regenerate" the Doctor into a new form played by someone else (sometimes by someone significantly older or younger). As a result, the same character has appeared in the series from the beginning, but his new personality and new tastes give a show a distinctly different atmosphere with each regeneration.

The show originally ran from 1963 to 1989 (with an 18 month hiatus in 1985-6 caused by Executive Meddling, during which it "rested" and saw only a radio drama air). In the wilderness years when it was off the air (1990-2004), independent productions ranging from direct-to-video companion adventures minus the Doctor, stories about monsters from the series, spoofs, in-name only stories featuring former Doctors on the show, licence-restricted stories featuring no familiar characters from the series, audio releases, and anniversary specials technically kept the show alive.

A Made-for-TV Movie aired in 1996, in which the Seventh Doctor returned at the end of his life and regenerated into the Eighth. This was created as a pilot for a revival, but although the Eighth Doctor became part of the continuity as a whole, no actual return of the series resulted. Between 2001 and 2003, The BBC produced a series of webcasts which it considered in every way an official continuation of the series (insofar as the Beeb ever indicates what is and isn't canon). It is possible more would have been made but for a very exciting development on the television front: in 2005, the BBC regenerated the show. This new revival series is a direct continuation of the old series, rather than being a Continuity Reboot, and the Ninth Doctor was a successor to the classic series incarnations. The revival series has radically upgraded production values (the original series is notorious for its often rubbery monster prosthetics and bad Chroma Key), shorter story arcs but much more continuity throughout, and it introduced deeper Character Development and romance to the series. As such, 2013 marked the show's 50th anniversary. The original show lasted 26 "seasons", whereas the new annual runs of episodes are called "series": officially, the show went from Season 26 to Series 1, and so on. Even subtracting the 16-year "interregnum," the show still holds the record of longest-running English-language sci-fi series, with its nearest rivals being the 10-season runs of the US series Smallville and Stargate SG-1 and the UK series Red Dwarf.

Doctor Who is a British institution and considered a key part of British culture: even Her Britannic Majesty is a fan, and threw the show a birthday party in her palace for its 50th anniversary in 2013. In addition, the Royal Mail honoured the show's anniversary with a set of stamps one for each Doctor (and the TARDIS) plus the show's villains.

The original 1963-89 episodes are now considered such an important part of the BBC's home video output that they have their own freelance Restoration Team, devoted to restoring and remastering vintage episodes to as much of their former glory as possible. In the process they have pioneered a number of brand new restoration techniques, such as Reverse Standards Conversion (recovering PAL footage from NTSC copy), Chroma Dot Colour Recovery (using leftover dots to recolour a black and white copy) and Vid FIRE (increasing the frame rate of a film copy to that of the original video), which have since also been applied to other vintage TV shows. Until 1978, the BBC had a policy of junking episodes they no longer needed; as a result, many episodes that aired from 1964 to as late as 1974 were in fact destroyed. Since 1978, a concerted effort by fans and the BBC itself has resulted in many episodes being recovered, as recently as 2013. At present, 97 of the 253 episodes from the 1960s remain missing from the BBC archives, though it is widely speculated that a number of episodes have been located. Fortunately, audio recordings survive of all the missing episodes, and all of the incomplete or missing storylines have also been adapted as novels over the years.

The show has spawned several spinoffs within its canon Whoniverse, which have occasionally crossed over with the main series. Except where noted, these take place in (then-)present day Earth.

  • K-9 and Company (1981), a failed Pilot Episode with the Doctor's former companions Sarah Jane Smith and K-9. The episode aired as a Christmas special in 1981.
  • Big Finish Doctor Who (1999 - present), prominent audio stories overseen by Nicholas Briggs, starring virtually all the surviving original TV actors. Takes place in a variety of eras and worlds, as with the TV series. Although considered canon by the BBC from the start (and explicitly as of 2013's "The Night Of The Doctor"), Big Finish also has many different timelines/continuities, and includes adaptations of existing works from the Doctor Who Expanded Universe. Due to the audio series' sheer size and complexity, it plays by the rules of the Doctor Who Expanded Universe: the TV series sometimes contradicts or overwrites the audio stories, or adapts them for the televised continuity.
  • Torchwood (2006 - 2011), a Darker and Edgier (as well as Hotter and Sexier) story starring companion Captain Jack Harkness. On indefinite hiatus after four seasons as producer/show runner Russell T Davies is currently focusing on other projects.
  • The Sarah Jane Adventures (2007 - 2011), a Lighter and Softer spinoff. K-9 put in semi-regular appearances. The Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, and original-series Who characters The Brigadier and Jo Grant guest-starred in one serial each. The series ended production with the death of star Elisabeth Sladen.
  • K9 (2010- ?), an Australian children's show (produced by a company other than the BBC) which continues in the spirit of The Sarah Jane Adventures. It takes place in a late-21st-century Dystopian London and features an upgraded version of the robot dog that had been Put on a Bus back in the 1977 story "The Invasion of Time." A single season aired in 2010; it has been officially in pre-production for Series 2 ever since, but as of early 2014 no announcement has been made as to when or if it will return.

There are additionally many adventures in almost all types of media, often made by the cast and crew of the TV series, which freely contradict each other. Collectively, these are known as the Doctor Who Expanded Universe. (The BBC rarely comments on their, or for that matter the TV series', canonicity, causing a fair amount of debate and Epileptic Trees.) Stories outside the TV series tend to be Darker and Edgier, and often tackle themes that the TV series can't dive into for any reason, as well as story ideas that were proposed but simply never developed for television. Quite a few stories from the Expanded Universe ended up referenced in or even adapted for the revived TV series.

The series also had three behind-the-scenes Companion Shows. The longest-running was Doctor Who Confidential which debuted in 2005 and was canceled in 2011 due to budget cuts (a scaled-down version called Behind the Lens has since been featured on DVD releases), and Totally Doctor Who, a kid-friendly version of Confidential that aired two seasons from 2006 to 2007, the latter of which featured an exclusive animated serial titled The Infinite Quest. In 2014, the BBC launched a scaled-down version of Confidential titled Doctor Who Extra.

There is also a frequently updated Match Three Game full of continuity porn known as Doctor Who: Legacy.

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Recurring examples (that don't fit in one of the three categories listed above):