November 23: 50 Years of Doctor Who

doctor-who-stampsAmy Pond, there’s something you’d better understand about me cause it’s important, and one day your life may depend on it: I am definitely a mad man with a box!” -The Doctor

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the debut of one of the most inventive tv series in the history of the medium: The classic British sci-fi program Doctor Who. The show’s premise is simple enough, it’s the continuing adventures of an alien who calls himself the Doctor and travels through space and time in a machine called the TARDIS, picking up (usually human) companions and outwitting the forces of evil.

Now, there are two reasons why Doctor Who has lasted as long as it has. The first is that its basic premise essentially makes it a sci-fi anthology series: One week, the Doctor and his friends could wind up doing anything from fighting off genocidal aliens at the edge of the known universe to traveling to Aztec times and be mistaken for gods or even solving a murder mystery with Agatha Christie. Really, a Doctor Who episode could be about just about anything as long as the Doctor, his companions and the TARDIS make an appearance in the story.

However, the real reason why the series is still running strong 50 years later is due to a constant reinvention of its cast. Although the Doctor has been the series’ main character for the entire run, he’s been played by different actors. Now, this isn’t in that James Bond way where for awhile the part will be played by Sean Connery and then in the next adventure he’s played by Roger Moore without any explanation. No, the 11 actors who’ve played the Doctor have seamlessly transitioned from one to the next thanks to the process of regeneration. You see, during production of the show’s third season, William Hartnell (the actor who originated the role of the Doctor) was becoming gravely ill. The producers of the show wanted to keep the program going, so a clever solution to the problem was created. It was decided that at the end of the third season, the Doctor would die.

However, as the Doctor was an alien, his species would have the ability to rejuvenate themselves when they are on the verge of death. So, as the Doctor (played by Hartnell) lay dying, suddenly he began to glow and transformed into a younger body (played by Patrick Troughton). He may have had a different face and a slightly different personality, but he was still very much the same man with the same world saving goals. Since then, the process (later dubbed regeneration) has been used ten times, and the series is currently on its 11th Doctor (played by Matt Smith), with a 12th (played by Peter Capaldi) coming at Christmas this year.

Of course, the crazy thing about Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary is that just ten years ago there might not have been a reason to celebrate. You see, in the 1980s, the series’ ratings took a progressively downward slide and the program was actually canceled in 1989. Over the ensuing years, fans of the show kept holding out hope that the series itself would experience a regeneration. Then one night in 1996, an American made tv movie aired and there was hope that a new Doctor Who series would come with it. Unfortunately, nothing became of that until 2005 when the BBC accepted writer Russell T. Davies’ pitch to revive the series. Davies, along with a talented team of writers, directors and actors (led by Christopher Eccelston as the 9th Doctor) managed to bring the show back to much applause from fans new and old. The series airs a much anticipated 50th anniversary special today which will feature an adventure featuring multiple regenerations of the Doctor; a very rare occurrence indeed, but will also be simulcast around the world. Although events like the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards have been simulcast for decades, this is the first instance of a tv show airing an episode all over the globe at the same time.

The Doctor doesn’t carry a weapon, other than his cunning mind. Instead, he arms himself with a sonic screwdriver, a device with thousands of capabilities ranging from cutting barbed wire to sealing doors shut. So, in the spirit of the Doctor, today we’ll mix a Sonic Screwdriver. Created by Liz Mulhern of Omaha, Nebraska, this is a charming reworking of the classic Screwdriver cocktail. Mulhern replaced regular vodka with vanilla vodka and orange juice with blue curacao (to keep the orange flavor) and lemon lime soda. This drink is blue, which is quite fitting as for most of the series’ run the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver has emitted a blue light.

Sonic Screwdriver

  • 1 1/2 ounces Vanilla Vodka
  • 1 1/2 ounces Blue Curacao
  • 6 ounces lemon lime soda

Pour over ice in a highball glass and lightly stir.

Tomorrow: D. B. Cooper books a flight.

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