"There's no clearer demonstration of Doctor Who's extraordinary cultural impact than the fact that The Doctor's time machine is cleverly disguised as an artifact now only recognized as a time machine."

- Steven Moffat, writer and show runner

     He's known around the world as Doctor Who, though that's not his name. He calls himself The Doctor, but that's not his name either. He sometimes calls himself John Smith, but that's just an alias. He does have a name, but we'll never know it. He is more apt to call himself a madman with a box anyway.

     Many years ago, The Doctor borrowed - or stole - a time and space machine known as a TARDIS and left his home planet of Gallifrey to explore the wonders of the Universe. The TARDIS was built to blend in wherever it went, but when the Doctor landed it in Britain in 1963, it disguised itself as a police telephone box, got stuck that way, and The Doctor never got around to fixing it.

     He has many friends, The Doctor does, and many enemies too. He is loved and despised everywhere he goes. He is a hero without super powers, the most dangerous man in the Universe, and despite those many friends, often the loneliest man in the Universe too.

     The Doctor can live a long, long time. If mortally wounded, he has the power to "regenerate", replacing every molecule in his body with new ones, which results in a new face, a new body, and a new personality. But he is still the same person with all the memories of his past.

     He's a Time Lord. He's hundreds of years old. He's your best hope for survival. He's the man who fights the monsters.

     He is... The Doctor.

Pictured above: Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor from the original series.

"Crossing into established events is strictly forbidden. Except for cheap tricks."
- The Tenth Doctor

      Okay, some basic info without all the drama:  Doctor Who is about an humanoid alien who travels in time and space, often with human and/or alien companions. In his travels, he sometimes - okay, almost always - runs into trouble that he must battle his way out of, often using only his wits. He also saves the world, a lot.

     Oh, and in 2018, he regenerated into a woman.

Pictured right: Peter Davison as The Fifth Doctor from the original series.

"What a long strange trip it's been."
- The Grateful Dead

     For a series that has such a long history, Doctor Who came by that history in piecemeal fashion. It started out in 1963 as a weekly television series in serial form, with episodes lasting 25 minutes and almost inevitably ending on a cliffhanger The early Doctor Who was a science fiction show long on imagination but usually short on time, money and special effects. But it was smart, fun, quirky and extremely popular with the British public. Over the course of the original series, seven different actors portrayed The Doctor, starting with William Hartnell, then followed by Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. All good things come to end, though, and in 1989, after an astounding 26 seasons, Doctor Who went off the air.

     In 1996, a Doctor Who TV movie, a joint project between Britain and America, aired in the States and then two weeks later in Britain. Paul McGann starred as the Eight Doctor. It was meant to bring about a revival of the series. It didn't. But it was fun.

     In 2005, writer Russell T Davies, best known at the time for the show Queer As Folk, launched a new Doctor Who series. Each episode now ran approximately 45 minutes and told a complete story, with the former trademark cliffhangers only occurring when a story ran over two or more episodes. Most of the new seasons were only 12 or 13 episodes long. Davies, who loved the original series, made the brilliant decision that this would not be a rebooted or reimagined Doctor Who, but rather a direct continuation of the original series. Thus, the entire history of the show up to that point, from William Hartnell's first appearance to the 1996 Doctor Who movie starring Paul McGann was now officially back story, and the new Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston, was merely the latest in the line of Doctors.  Following Eccleston's one season with the show, David Tennant took over the role, followed a few years later by Matt Smith, then Peter Capaldi. In 2018, Jodie Whittaker became the first female incarnation of The Doctor.

     Oh, yeah, there was also October of 2016.

     What was so special about October of 2016, you say?

     That's where I came in. - John "Jay" Brennan, creator of The Secret Vortex

Pictured above: Rose Tyler and The Doctor watch the Sun explode.

"This is one weird show."
- My thought when accidentally tuning into the end of
a modern Doctor Who episode, a decade before I became a fan.

     In the final months of 2016, I wanted to make sure I got my money's worth from my Amazon Prime account, so I searched for a free series to stream. I settled, rather randomly, on the "new" Doctor Who series. I was just going to sample one or two episodes to see if it was worth watching.

     I was aware of the original series, or "Classic Doctor Who" as it is sometimes called. This is not to say I actually watched the original series, but it was one of those cultural things that you just knew about even if you've never watched an episode. The most I ever got to see of the old series was a few minutes here and there on a local PBS station. So I knew who Tom Baker was. I was also aware that Peter Cushing once battled these things called Daleks in a movie or two long ago. Little bits of Doctor Who were just part of the cultural air.

Pictured above: Christopher Eccleston as The Ninth Doctor.

    I also knew about the new series too ("New Who" as it is sometimes called) which started airing in America on the Sci-Fi Channel in 2005. Over the course of a few years, I caught bits and pieces of random episodes of New Who, but since those bit and pieces usually confused the hell out of me, I didn't stick around to watch more than a few minutes. All I remembered about them were an actor named Christopher Eccleston and and a lovely young woman named Billie Piper, neither of whom I had known before. I knew who David Tennant was, but only from his appearance in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, and I noticed that he was running around with Billie Piper too. Occasionally when I tuned in at random over the years, I saw other women as The Doctor's sidekicks and wondered what happened to Billie Piper, or as I thought of her, "that pretty blond Doctor Who girl".

     Some years later, possibly late 2015 or early 2016, I spent a pleasant afternoon doing some mundane but utterly important writing activity (what it was I couldn't tell you) while a cable channel - BBC America or Sci-Fi - offered an afternoon marathon of Doctor Who episodes old and new, which I tuned into out of curiosity while I worked. I enjoyed all the episodes (I guess I was starting to "get" Doctor Who), but I must admit I wasn't watching very closely. What I recall most about that day is how unperturbed I was at seeing Matt Smith and then Peter Capaldi as The Doctor. I had never seen either one before, but I casually accepted them as The Doctor immediately. However, I still didn't realize that each Doctor was still the Doctor. The concept of regeneration eluded me. I had the idea that there were a bunch of Doctors, like Doctors On Call, and when one Doctor retired or was unavailable, another Doctor would take his place, and was either granted a new female companion or just got custody of Billie Piper.

Pictured above: David Tennant as The Tenth Doctor and Billie Piper as Rose Tyler.

     So that's all I knew about the show before I  began streaming the series on Amazon in October of 2016. I started with the first episode, "Rose", which starred Christopher Eccleston as The Doctor. By the middle of that first episode, I got an inkling that I was going to enjoy this ride. "Rose" was fun, goofy, creepy, action-filled, and it had a cool hero, killer manikins and that pretty blond Doctor Who girl Billie Piper as his sidekick Rose Tyler.

     In the first three episodes of the new series, which I watched all in one night, The Doctor and Rose fought The Autons, those killer manikins I mentioned above, then traveled billions of years into the future where, from a safe space platform, they watched the now-abandoned planet Earth consumed by the Sun. Having seen that, the pair went back in time and met Charles Dickens (how's that for a date, Rose?) How could I not love a show that offered all that  in just the first three episodes alone? So I continued watching the series on Amazon, two or three (sometimes four!) episodes per night...

Pictured above: Matt Smith as The Eleventh Doctor.

     ...and I didn't stop until "The Husbands of River Song", the last available episode on Amazon at that time. I later caught the 2016 Christmas special "The Return of Doctor Mysterio", which got me all caught up and ready for the upcoming tenth season. Somewhere between streaming Seasons One and Two, I realized that I hadn't had this much fun watching a TV series since I similarly stumbled upon Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the late '90s (she also saved the world a lot!) I loved Doctor Who, all of it. I loved Christopher Eccleston's intense Doctor and I loved Billie Piper as Rose Tyler. I was blown away by David Tennant - my favorite Doctor - and immediately fell in love with Martha Jones - my favorite companion - played by Freema Agyeman. Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) made me laugh a lot, as did Matt Smith's Doctor a season later. I adored Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and wished that everybody in the world could have had a pal as steadfast, loyal and true as Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill). Almost needless to say, I loved Peter Capaldi's Doctor as well as his companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman).

Pictured above: Peter Capaldi as The Twelfth Doctor and Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald.

     I had marathoned the entire new series over a period of two months, and then, although I could still stream the episodes any time I wanted, I set about buying each individual season over on disc just in case Amazon ever lost the rights to the episodes. Later, courtesy of some fellow Doctor Who pals, I got to sample episodes of the original series, getting a glimpse of each Doctor at work from those early years. Soon I added several official DVD releases from the Classic Who archives to my collection. Of course, I couldn't ignore the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie, which I found enjoyable.

     Need I say that I have caught up with Jodie Whittaker's take on The Doctor?

     And by February 2018, I finally worked through every available episode of the original Doctor Who series, from William Hartnell's first episode in 1963 to Sylvester McCoy's final episode in 1989, courtesy of BritBox's streaming service.

Pictured above: Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor.

     I am a Whovian. Now it's your turn.

     So grab your sonic screwdriver, bring your Timey-Wimey detector that goes "ding!" when there's "stuff" and check out The Secret Vortex's Doctor Who sections! - John "Jay" Brennan.

     P.S. Don't forget to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow! - J.B.

Next: The Doctors (Timeline 1963 - 1989, 1996 and 2013)

Doctor Who Main Page

The Secret Vortex

"The best thing about a machine that makes sense is you can
very easily make it turn out nonsense."
--- The Second Doctor