Profile: Doctor Who

The Doctor is the central character in the long-running BBC television science-fiction series Doctor Who, and has also featured in two cinema feature films, a vast range of spin-off novels, audio dramas and comic strips connected to the series.

To date, eleven actors have played the role in the television series (including the 1996 television film), with these changes being explained by the ability of the character's species to regenerate. Several other actors have played the character on stage and film, in audio dramas, and in occasional special episodes of the series. The character's enduring popularity led the Daily Telegraph to dub him "Britain's favourite alien".

The Doctor is a Time Lord, an extraterrestrial from the planet Gallifrey, who travels through time and space in an internally vast time machine called the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension(s) In Space). The Doctor explores the universe at random, using his extensive knowledge of science, technology and history (from his perspective) to avert whatever crisis he encounters unless it is a fixed point in time and space. The imprecise nature of his travels is initially attributed to the age and unreliability of the TARDIS's navigation system. However, the 1969 serial The War Games, the 2009 special Planet of the Dead, as well as the 2010 finale The Big Bang reveals that the Doctor actually stole the TARDIS. He was presumably unfamiliar with its systems but was able to operate it correctly until his exile when the Time Lords wiped it from his memory. After his trial and exile to twentieth century Earth, the Doctor still visits other planets on missions from the Time Lords who pilot the TARDIS to precise locations for him. After his exile is lifted, the Doctor returns to his travels and demonstrates the ability to reach a destination of his own choosing more often than not. In "Journey's End", the Doctor states that the reason for the previous bumpy navigation was that the TARDIS is meant to have six pilots and it is also stated in "The Time of Angels" that the Doctor pilots the TARDIS with the brakes on (hence the classic noise). The Doctor generally travels with one or more companions. Most of these make a conscious decision to travel with him, but others, especially early in the series, are accidental passengers.

The character of the Doctor was created by the BBC's Head of Drama Sydney Newman. The first format document for the series that was to become Doctor Who — then provisionally titled The Troubleshooters — was written up in March 1963 by C. E. Webber, a BBC staff writer who had been brought in to help develop the project. Webber's document contained a main character described as "The maturer man, 35–40, with some 'character twist.'" However, Newman was not keen on this idea and—along with several other changes to Webber's initial format—created an alternative lead character named "Dr. Who:" a crotchety older man piloting a stolen time machine, on the run from his own far future world.[3] No written record of Newman's conveyance of these ideas—believed to have taken place in April 1963—exists, and the character of "Dr Who" first begins appearing in existing documentation from May of that year.

The character was first portrayed by William Hartnell in 1963. When, after three years, Hartnell left the series due to ill health, the role was handed over to respected character actor Patrick Troughton. To date, official television productions have depicted eleven distinct incarnations of the Doctor (due to Hartnell's death in 1975, actor Richard Hurndall substituted in his role as the First Doctor in 1983's The Five Doctors, resulting in a technical total of twelve actors). Of those, the longest-lasting on-screen incarnation is the Fourth Doctor, as played by Tom Baker. Currently, the Eleventh Doctor is portrayed by Matt Smith.

At the programme's beginning, nothing at all is known of the Doctor: not even his name, the actual form of which remains a mystery. In the very first serial, An Unearthly Child, two teachers from Coal Hill School in London, Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton, become intrigued by one of their students, Susan Foreman, who exhibits high intelligence and unusually advanced knowledge. Trailing her to a junkyard at 76 Totter's Lane, they encounter a strange old man and hear Susan's voice coming from inside what appears to be a police box. Pushing their way inside, the two find that the exterior is actually camouflage for the dimensionally transcendental interior of the TARDIS. The old man, whom Susan calls "Grandfather", subsequently kidnaps Barbara and Ian to prevent them from telling anyone about the existence of the ship, taking them on an adventure in time and space.