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Long Live 'Doctor Who': Talkin' about My Regeneration...
May 6, 2012  | By David Bianculli  | 3 comments

While recording my interview with writer-producer Steven Moffat the other day for NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, I grilled him for secrets about the upcoming golden anniversary of Doctor Who. Moffat didn’t crack under interrogation – but did reveal one newsworthy secret, which didn’t make it on air. I offer it here, exclusively…

After talking to Moffat about Sherlock, the outstanding PBS Masterpiece Mystery! import of modern Sherlock Holmes tales premiering Sunday, May 6, at 9 p.m. ET (check local listings), I noted that next year would mark the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, which premiered in England in 1963 – and asked how he planned to note the event on the series itself.

Moffat, good-naturedly, refused to play. No confirmation that there would be flashbacks to scenes from previous actors playing the Doctor, or appearances by any Doctors, past or future, other than Matt Smith, the current occupant of the role that allows the lead character, from time to time, to shift bodies and personalities in a survival mechanism called “regeneration.”

He didn’t even bite at the bait when I asked whether, regarding the anniversary special, Doctor Who should be referred to in the singular, or in the plural – and, if so, the proper usage of such a plural. Was it Doctor Whos? Or Doctors Who?

But when I asked about the impending problem of the Doctor’s finite number of lives, Moffat gave an answer that should be great news to fans of Doctor Who.

The series established decades ago that the regenerating Doctor has only so many phoenix-type rebirths in his overall life cycle. A cat has nine lives; a Time Lord, like the Doctor, has 13.  And because this series has been running for nearly half a century, except for one period of dormancy, Matt Smith’s version of the Doctor counts as Number 11.

Two more cast changes, and the Doctor’s number is up – right?

Wrong, Moffat told me. When it came time to confront that particular problem, he said simply, he felt assured that he and the other writers would go into a room, and emerge with a non-final solution – a plot twist or explanation that would give the Doctor more lives to live.

So you heard it here first: Even after Doctor Who is dead, long live Doctor Who.


Fittingly, on Tuesday, May 8, BBC Video releases new single-disc collections featuring three different incarnations of Doctor Who.

Tom Baker, by far the most popular Doctor of the “vintage” years (he played the role from 1974-81), is the star of Nightmare of Eden, originally televised in the U.K. as a four-part Doctor Who adventure in 1979. Starring Laila Ward as his companion Romana, it’s about a pirated drug that instills apathy in ultimately fatal doses. (Who cares? Yes, he does.) You can buy it HERE.

The other two digitally remastered DVD releases feature Sylvester McCoy, who played the Doctor from 1987-89. Like the Baker disc, the McCoy discs feature a generous array of Extras. On both McCoy releases, in fact, the Extras occupy more time on the disc than the programs themselves.

Dragonfire, the three-parter that ended the first season of McCoy’s reign as Doctor Who in 1987, features Bonnie Langford as his companion Mel, and introduces Sophie Aldred as Ace, a sassy waitress who also comes along for the time-travel ride, which this time concerns a treasure buried in the ice caverns of a distant planet. You can buy it HERE.

And finally, there’s The Happiness Patrol, a three-parter from 1988. McCoy is still the Doctor, but Aldred’s Ace is now his official companion.  The story takes place on an Earth colony called Terra Alpha, where happiness is “mandated” by a ruthless but smiling matriarch, and malcontents are hunted down and assassinated by an all-female “Happiness Patrol.” You can buy it HERE.


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I'd love to read the article about the Avengers (TV series). That is one of my all time favorite shows. I used to watch it on a Chicago station that didn't come in very well (this was long before cable), and most of the time it was a lot of VERY snowy picture--hard to see and hard to hear. Nevertheless, I persisted.
May 7, 2012   |  Reply
David Bianculli
I agree. I'm going to reach out to Larry and see if he'll share it with us TVWW folk.
May 7, 2012

I enjoyed your interview with Steven Moffatt, which I heard on NPR.

I thought you might want to check out my new magazine, 'UK:Cue – British Film, Theatre & Television On Both Sides of the Atlantic'. In the website window above, I attached the pdf of the issue's entire contents, which includes a feature on Doctor Who. Cheers!
May 6, 2012   |  Reply
David Bianculli
Dear Larry -- Thanks for sending along the pdf of your new enterprise. I'm quite impressed. (Loved the Avengers story -- the one about the old TV series, not the new movie. Perhaps we ought to be reaching out across the pond and working together somehow...
May 6, 2012
All I can say is WOOOOWHOOO!
May 6, 2012   |  Reply
David Bianculli
Is that Doctor WOOOOWHOOO?
May 6, 2012
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