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Why are the British obsessed with Doctor Who?

Richard Jinman

It's been running since 1963 and this sci-fi series is still one of the best things on television

Why are the British obsessed with Doctor Who?
Surrounded ... Doctor Who (Matt Smith, centre) and companions Arthur and Karen. Picture: BBC

IS there anything more British than Doctor Who? The long-running television series –that first went to air in 1963 – embodies the eccentricity and creativity that makes the UK such an interesting place.

The time-travelling Doctor is stereotypically British. He’s been portrayed by 11 actors since 1963, but certain qualities are retained each time he regenerates. He wears rather old fashioned English clothes, cracks jokes in the face of danger and has a curiosity about the darker corners of the universe that recalls the explorers of the Victorian era. Doctor Who is “quintessential to being British,” wrote Caitlin Moran, television reviewer for The Times in 2007.

The great thing about Doctor Who is that the producers have managed to keep the series interesting. The original Doctor Who ran from 1963 to 1989. It relaunched in 2005, with actor Christopher Eccleston at the controls of the TARDIS, and has gone from strength to strength. You could argue the program has never been more popular thanks to doctors ten and eleven: David Tennant and Matt Smith.

The BBC will air the first episode of the seventh series (or the 33rd series if you count all the episodes since 1963) on Saturday 25 August (or maybe 1 September). Whichever date is right, it’s guaranteed a massive audience. The first episode is called Asylum of the Daleks and reportedly features every kind of Dalek that has appeared on the drama since it began. Critics have been sworn to secrecy about the plot, but it’s been revealed it features a first for the show, a “nice Dalek”. Check out the BBC "teaser" trailer for the episode below. 

So, why is Doctor Who so popular? Here’s GB Mag’s suggestions:

The theme tune is amazing

The original theme was created in 1963 at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. It was one of the very first electronic themes recorded for television and after 50 years – and quite a few new arrangements - is instantly recognisable. Check out this version of the theme played by a full orchestra.

The show appeals to adults and children

Doctor Who was one of the scariest shows on TV when it first started. Kids would hide behind the couch when the daleks or the cybermen appeared. The series is still accused of being too frightening for children, but that’s exactly why they like it.

The villains are fantastic

Doctor Who has the best bad guys in the business. The most famous are the daleks and the cybermen, but there are plenty more. We love:

The Master.

Why are the British obsessed with Doctor Who?This renegade Time Lord is Doctor Who’s version of Darth Vader. The Master is a recurring character who first cropped up in 1971. Well-known Brit actors Derek Jacobi and John Simm have both played him. 

The Silence.

If you think you've seen this horrible face before, you have. The appearance of The Silence - a kind of evil religious order - was based on The Scream, the famous painting by Edvard Munch. The scary thing about The Silence is that they can make people forget they've seen them as soon as they look away.


Davros is a mad scientist from the planet Skara and the creator of the Doctor's deadliest enemy the daleks. He's disfigured and unable to move around without his electronic chair - an obvious inspiration for the daleks.


The Earth was introduced to the Zygons when a ship carrying a whole bunch of them crashed into a lake in Scotland called Loch Ness. They're nasty creatures who can take over human bodies if they keep the person alive.

The Beast.

Introduced in 2006 this demon has crimson skin and horns, one of which is broken. He's the inspiration for the devil in many cultures and when he takes someone over their eyes glow red. Nasty.

The relationship between the Doctor and his assistants (or companions) is fascinating

The Doctor is always accompanied a companion, a human being to whom the audience can relate. The companions change as frequently as the Doctor, but the relationship between the Time Lord and his sidekick(s) is always interesting. For a long time, the Doctor had a strictly platonic relationship with his attractive young companions. That changed in 1996 when the eighth Doctor (played by Paul McGann) kissed companion Grace Holloway. Matt Smith, the actor who plays the current Doctor, has described his Doctor as “assexsual”.

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