WHO IS THE KING OF THE WORLD: A Brief Survey of _Doctor Who_ in 
the Media

By John Kenneth Muir
28 November 2000

     In the closing years of the twentieth century, a veritable 
slew of celebrities publicly claimed eminence on the global pop-
culture stage.  Trash talking radio personality Howard Stern 
wrote a best-seller, _Private Parts_, that became a hit film, 
all while starring in a popular nightly TV show.   Consequently, 
he was anointed "the king of all media."  James Cameron, 
Hollywood director, was crowned "king of the world" when his 
newest film, _Titanic_, shattered all previous box office 
records and won him a slew of Academy Awards.  And then there 
was Michael Jackson, _Captain Eo_ himself, the self-crowned 
"king of pop."  Yet, despite all these declarations of 
dominance, the aforementioned talents are surely but pretenders 
to the pop culture throne.  The real king of popular culture is 
no flash in the pan (like Stern), no rapidly fading fad based on 
teeny-bopper whim (like _Titanic_), but rather a long-lived, and 
unlikely, science fiction franchise that for nearly 40 years has 
conquered visual, aural, and print media.  And - to the horror 
of Hollywood, no doubt, this franchise isn't even American!  The 
franchise in question is, of course, _Doctor Who_, a low-budget, 
British, science fiction TV series that premiered in 1963, ran 
for 26 years, and has since become the BBC's most profitable 
     For those who don't have a close familiarity with the 
_Doctor Who_ TV series, it is a galaxy-ranging, epoch-hopping 
saga.  It is the adventure of a time traveling alien renegade, 
and his unending quest to combat injustice throughout the 
multiple layers of what we quaintly refer to as "reality."  But 
the boob tube is merely a launching pad for this character.  
Step by step, _Doctor Who_ has expanded beyond its TV heritage 
to enthrall audiences around the world in a variety of formats.  
The core concept became a film franchise in the late 1960s, a 
series of popular "Who" novels are still being published in 
2001, and the TV program has been a source for spin-offs, stage 
productions, radio broadcasts, toys, and merchandise galore.  
Today, it is part of the American pop-culture lexicon, bolstered 
by internet and fan support from around the world.
     Any meaningful survey of _Doctor Who_'s impressive media 
conquest must begin with the production of the TV series itself.   
Created by Sydney Newman and produced by Verity Lambert, the 
series began airing on BBC in late November of 1963, and then 
ran, with only few broadcast interruptions, until December of 
1989.[2]  To place that duration in a meaningful historical 
context, _Doctor Who_ ran on TV from the Kennedy assassination 
to the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall.   
That's an impressive span for any TV series, let alone one in 
the notoriously difficult science fiction genre.    By the time 
_Doctor Who_'s last multi-part serial (ironically entitled 
"Survival") aired, the series had been broadcast for 26 years, 
featured 159 individual stories, and headlined seven different 
actors in the title role of "the Doctor."  On the basis of the 
TV series alone, _Doctor Who_ wins some kind of endurance or 
stamina record.  By contrast, consider that _Star Trek_, the 
original series, ran only three years on network TV.  Even its 
spin-offs (_The Next Generation_, _Deep Space Nine_, and 
_Voyager_) have lasted only seven years a piece.  Though the 
contemporary hit, _The X-Files_ has lasted eight years (so far), 
it too has a long road to hoe if it hopes to reach the Doctor's 
near-miraculous TV stretch.  Bluntly stated, _Doctor Who_ is the 
longest-lived science fiction series in television history. 
     But television is just the cornerstone of the impressive, 
multi-faceted _Doctor Who_ dynasty.  In the early 1960s, one of 
the Doctor's recurring nemeses, the robotic Daleks, became 
incredibly popular with British children.   The Daleks, often 
described as mobile, malevolent pepperpots, not only frightened 
children with their ubiquitous metallic shriek ("EXTERMINATE!"), 
but proved irresistible as artifacts of future technology gone 
awry, replete with laser-like pop-guns, and other fascinating 
accouterments.  The Dalek fad, which has been compared to 
Beatlemania in some circles, was quickly termed "Dalekmania."  
Recently in the United States, parents have seen their children 
obsessed with _Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers_ and _Pokemon_.  
Multiply that obsession tenfold, and one can begin to comprehend 
Dalekmania's breadth.  Consequently, Dalek toys, models, soap, 
posters and figures were sold by the truckful.   Just in time 
for Christmas 1964, a rock group called the Go Joes released an 
album featuring the single entitled, "I'm Going to Spend My 
Christmas With a Dalek."   This is a significant point because 
the merchandising of TV shows (or even films) was not yet a fait 
accompli back in the mid-60s.  Instead, the idea was just 
emerging, in no small part due to the popularity of the Daleks, 
and another British superhero: James Bond (and his 1964 film 
entry, _Goldfinger_).   
     But the Dalek publicity war was fought on two fronts.  At 
the same time that the monstrous Daleks were sweeping the 
country and paralyzing frightened children, _TV Century 21_ was 
producing a line of exciting comics based on their explosive 
exploits, entitled, appropriately, "The Daleks."  The Doctor 
himself (sans his TV companions) was appearing regularly in _TV 
Comics_ at the time.  Thus, in little more than two seasons on 
the air, _Doctor Who_ had already made an important leap from 
the cathode ray tube to the four-color universe of comics, and, 
perhaps more importantly, to toy stores shelves.  The real 
British invasion had begun.
      As if all that weren't impressive enough an accomplishment 
for so young a TV series, the brain trust of AARU (which later 
formed Amicus), Milton J. Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg, in 1965 
quickly launched _Doctor Who_ in yet another new direction: 
straight to the silver screen.  _Dr. Who and the Daleks_, 
starring Peter Cushing as the Doctor, was directed by Gordon 
Flemyng, and released in movie theaters all over England in 
1965.  It was quickly followed up by a sequel, _Daleks: Invasion 
Earth, 2150 A.D._ in 1966.  Thus, before _Star Trek_, _Planet of 
the Apes_, or any modern science fiction franchise had even been 
born, _Doctor Who_ had been on television, in comic books, and 
at movie theaters.  
      For many franchises, that would have been the end of it.  
So many science fictions productions burn bright for a time and 
then fade away to obscurity.   But that was not to be the 
destiny of _Doctor Who_. Its universe (or "whoniverse," as fans 
often call it), was still expanding, like some kind of deranged 
Big Bang.  In 1965, a _Doctor Who_-related stage production 
entitled _Curse of the Daleks_ premiered at Wyndham Theater in 
London.[3]  Written by Dalek creator Terry Nation and TV story 
editor David Whitaker, the play didn't feature even a token 
appearance by the Doctor, but instead revolved around the 
nefarious Daleks and their megalomaniacal plans to conquer the 
cosmos.  But even that stage venture was not the curtain call 
for the whoniverse.  A second theatrical production, _Doctor Who 
and the Daleks in Seven Keys to Doomsday_ appeared in 1974 with 
actor Trevor Martin portraying the Doctor!  A decade later, a 
recurring _Doctor Who_ character (Cpt. Yates) appeared on stage 
at the Edinburgh Theater Festival of 1984, in  _Recall UNIT: The 
Great Tea bag Mystery_.  And, in 1989, just months before 
_Doctor Who_'s last season commenced on the BBC, _Doctor Who: 
The Ultimate Adventure_ by Terrance Dicks premiered on stage.  
The third actor to play the role on TV, Jon Pertwee, reprised 
his role until replaced by Colin Baker, the sixth TV incarnation 
of the long-lived Time Lord, for health reasons.  Ask yourself 
this question: When was the last time you went to Broadway and 
saw _Babylon 5_, _Farscape_, or _Star Trek_ on the theater 
marquee?  In this regard, like film and television and 
merchandising, _Doctor Who_ was a trail blazer.  One stage 
production might be viewed as an anomaly, but four represent 
nothing less than 'infiltration.'
     But the _Doctor Who_ dominion didn't stop with the stage.  
While the Time Lord conquered theater, screen and TV, he could 
also be *heard* as well as seen.  In 1976, a 20 minute 
production called "The Time Machine" (written by Bernard 
Venables) aired on the British educational radio program 
_Exploration Earth_.  It featured Tom Baker, America's favorite 
Doctor, in his most famous role.  Then, in 1985, a sophomore 
radio sortie called "Slipback" premiered during the Doctor's 
brief hiatus on television (caused by low ratings).  "Slipback" 
was written by then-story editor Eric Saward, and starred Colin 
Baker.  Again in the 1990s, _Doctor Who_ returned to radio in a 
series of adventures which included Barry Letts' "Paradise of 
Death" and his follow-up "The Ghost of N-Space," both of which 
featured the voice of Jon Pertwee.  In the States, many listened 
to the _Star Wars_ radio saga on NPR, but again _Doctor Who_ 
made the transition to radio first, and arguably with much more 
success.  Indeed, radio may represent the comeback venue for SF 
TV, as _Blake's 7_ has followed in _Doctor Who_'s path, and 
begun "reunion" broadcasts.
      In its decades on TV, _Doctor Who_ has created such an 
interesting, stimulating universe that visual spin-offs, both 
official and unofficial, have inevitably emerged.  In 1981, the 
pilot for a new series, _K-9 and Company_ was produced, starring 
the Doctor's most popular companion, a robotic dog with 
adenoidal voice.  Then, when Colin Baker was fired from the 
series by the BBC, a group of outraged fans created an 
unofficial continuation of his time as Time Lord in the direct-
to-video series known as _The Stranger_.  This series of video 
productions was so successful that other _Doctor Who_ actors 
such as Peter Davison and Sylvester McCoy began appearing in 
similarly themed genre productions such as _The Airzone 
Solution_ (1993), _The Devil of Winterborne_ (1994) and _Zero 
Imperative_ (1994).  In the mid-1990s, the fan video-makers grew 
even bolder, and began to produce and shoot their own 
continuations of actual _Doctor Who_ adventures.  Another 
popular series villain was resurrected in _Shakedown_ (1995) a 
video feature which involved former _Doctor Who_ cast-members 
fighting the Sontarans, a race of militaristic clones that 
originally featured on the _Doctor Who_ program.  In _Downtime_, 
also released in 1995, the robotic Yeti of _Doctor Who_ 
returned, along with former series companions.  These 
productions are not always of the highest quality (usually due 
to budget considerations), but nonetheless reveal how _Doctor 
Who_ fans have taken matters into their own hands and begun to 
write, produce and direct their own contributions to the mythos.  
In this manner, _Doctor Who_ has inspired the next generation of 
filmmakers, motivating them to take up cameras like arms, and to 
fight for the survival of their favorite franchise.
      On the officially licensed front, dozens of TV serials 
have been released on videotape in both America and the United 
Kingdom.  As of this writing, more than 90 of the 159 _Doctor 
Who_ serials have been released on VHS for the collector's 
market.  In the United States, these official chronicles of the 
TV era can be purchased at outlets such as Media Play and Tower 
Records or in "Collector's Edition" format through Columbia 
House Video.   On the Internet, videotapes are available at 
Amazon.com and other sites.  Basically, there is no shortage of 
_Doctor Who_ material in the burgeoning video market.  Whether 
one is in the market to watch old serials, new spin offs, or 
even documentaries from outfits such as Reeltime ("The Myth 
Makers" series), and Mastervision (_The Doctors - 30 Years of 
Time Travel and Beyond_), there is a vast array of series-
related material to select from.  With the possible exception of 
_Star Trek_, no genre series has been so well-documented in 
mainstream video release.
      For those with a penchant to read rather than merely 
watch, _Doctor Who_ has been a significant force in the 
publishing world too.  Target Books was licensed in the early 
1970s to novelize the TV adventures of _Doctor Who_.  In the 
United States, Pinnacle Books received permission from W.H. 
Allen and Co., Ltd. (the parent company of Target) to publish 
and sell Who novels in the former colonies, complete with new 
covers and new logos.  Most of these adventures featured the 
popular fourth-incarnation of the Time Lord, portrayed by Tom 
Baker.  More recently, Virgin Books has picked up the _Doctor 
Who_ mantle, and published a series of "New Adventures" and 
"Missing Adventures."  Many of these novels have been penned by 
writers from the TV series, and have met with a high level of 
acceptance from increasingly discriminating fans.
      In the world of non-fiction, there have been such texts as 
1972's _The Making of Doctor Who_ by Malcolm Hulke and Terrance 
Dicks (Piccolo Books), and Jean-Marc Lofficier's seminal _The 
Doctor Who Programme Guide_, which featured capsule plot 
summaries of every _Doctor Who_ serial produced up to that time.  
In the last decade, authors, David J. Howe, Mark Stammers and 
Stephen Walker have contributed meaningfully to the _Doctor Who_ 
bookshelf by detailing various epochs of the TV series in their 
critically acclaimed and highly informative _Doctor Who: The 
Handbook_ series.  The same authors have also written three 
informative tomes, _Doctor Who: The Sixties_, _The Seventies_, 
and _The Eighties_, detailing the eras of the program.  Just 
about the only _Doctor Who_ non-fiction book to be written by an 
American (thus far) is this author's _A Critical History of 
Doctor Who on Television_ (McFarland, 1999).   However, if 
history tells us anything, it is that further chapters on 
_Doctor Who_ remain to be written... on both sides of the 
    The last decade of the twentieth century has brought forward 
further evidence of _Doctor Who_'s longevity and media 
domination.  In 1996, Fox TV premiered a new version of _Doctor 
Who_ on May 27, starring Paul McGann as the eighth incarnation 
of the Time Lord.[4]  Though the two hour pilot/tele-film did 
not go to series, it nonetheless represented a re-birth of the 
mythos, and met with gonzo numbers in Great Britain when it was 
released on videotape there.  In the intervening four years, 
there have been exhaustive talks of new movies or TV shows, but 
no new adventures have actually gone into production.  Which 
brings us to another venue where the franchise has excelled: 
unproduced scripts.  In the 1970s, a _Doctor Who_ film which 
would have pitted Tom Baker's Doctor against Vincent Price (as 
"Scratchman") was scrapped.  In the late 1980s, another film was 
announced, this one to star Caroline Munro as a TARDIS engineer 
named Cora.[5]  More recently, Leonard Nimoy, Johnny Byrne, Alan 
Rickman, and _Event Horizon_ director Paul Anderson have all 
been linked to possible _Doctor Who_ remakes for the silver 
screen.  Constant updates on rumored new Who productions are 
reported on such internet sites as "Cinescape Online" and "Sci 
       Perhaps the best way to judge a "king of pop culture" is 
to gauge its impact on other entertainment.  If that is to be 
the bar, than _Doctor Who_ passes the test with flying colors.  
In recent years, there have been references and allusions to 
_Doctor Who_ on projects as diverse as _The Simpsons_ and 
_Futurama_ (on Fox) to the WB youth drama _Felicity_.   It's no 
surprise then that there is a growing consciousness in America 
of this most unique, most elastic franchise.  For thirty years 
now, it has been a powerhouse on television, on stage, on 
screen, on the radio, in books and comics, and even at toy 
stores.  Regarded in this light, _Doctor Who_'s invasion of all 
media is nothing short of extraordinary.  Long live the King!

c Copyright John Kenneth Muir, 2000.


     John Muir is the author of seven published works in the 
fields of science fiction and horror film and television, as 
well as a regular contributor to _CINESCAPE Magazine_.   He 
appeared recently on the Sci Fi Channel TV series _Sciography_, 
and has been a guest on the radio broadcast, _Destinies: The 
Voice of Science Fiction_.  John's newest book, _TERROR TV_ has 
just been published, and is available for purchase at Amazon.com 
or direct from the publisher at www.mcfarlandpub.com.  John is 
the author of _A Critical History of Doctor Who on Television_, 
_Exploring Space: 1999_, _An Analytical Guide to Battlestar 
Galactica_, _A History and Analysis of TV's Blake's 7_, _The 
Films of John Carpenter_, and _Wes Craven: The Art of Horror_, 
as well as an independent filmmaker.



1) Blocher, Karen Funk, and Teresa Murray, "A Time Lord's
Times", _Starlog_, Issue #167 (June 1991), 53.

2) Kirkpatrick, Richard, and Kouzol, David, "Doctor Who Seasons 
14-26", _Epilog_ Issue #12 (November 1991), 22.

3) Lofficier, Jean-Marc, _Doctor Who - The Terrestrial Index_, 
(London: Virgin Publishing, 1991), 123.

4) Morton, Alan, _The Complete Directory to Science Fiction, 
Fantasy and Horror Television Series: A Comprehensive Guide to 
the First 50 Years, 1946-1996_, (New York: Other World Books, 
1997), 231.

5) Swires, Steven, "Caroline Munro: Starting Over", _Starlog_, 
Issue #130 (May 1988), 57.


Prepared for:
'Time and Space On Television' - 
A Display of Realia Related to the 
_Doctor Who_ Television Series

A display located at:
Milwaukee School of Engineering 
Walter Schroeder Library
November 23, 2000 - February 01, 2001

Display sponsored by:
Earthbound Timelords 
Wolves of Fenric 
Milwaukee School of Engineering MAGE Club 
Milwaukee School of Engineering Walter Schroeder Library


return Return to the Articles Index page
return Return to the Earthbound Timelords homepage

The High Council can be reached at jcurtis@bw.edu
Copyright Notice
Last Updated November 29, 2000