Who is a whovian?

My Whovian life

At 5:15 pm on 23 November 1963, the first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast on BBC One. It was delayed a few minutes because of the announcement of John F Kennedy’s assassination. I was a two and a half year old living in Guisborough, a small town in northern Yorkshire, England. As a lifetime Whovian, I don’t know if I watched that episode but I do know that some of my earliest memories of television are Doctor Who which celebrated its 60 year anniversary  this week.

The first actor to play Doctor Who (of the canonical 14 as of 2023) was William Hartnell. He played the role for four years until 1966 when the character “regenerated” and was then played by Patrick Troughton. By that time I was living in the rural NSW having been whisked away from England by my migrating parents as a four year old. For Whovians (serious Dr Who fans) it is a truth that your favourite Doctor Who actor is the first one you saw and Hartnell and Troughton are still mine.

Whovian heaven

The Dr Who program had two manifestations with seven actors playing the lead role from 1963-1989 (26 seasons)—these are the “Classic” Doctors. The show was rebooted in 2005 (with these actors known as the “nuWho” Doctors). Coincidentally, we were living in the UK with our small children when the new series was released. The first episode of the new series was a huge event for adults and children alike. We had  and we were all very excited.

Dr Who was a time traveller (his time machine was the TARDIS—an acronym for Time and Relative Dimension in Space) and each new series he ended up on another planet. If you have been to the north of England in winter and the western plains of NSW in summer you could truly believe you were on different planets. I even had to change the way I spoke and stop wearing knee length shorts!

Later in my life I realised how I had tried to hold on to things from my early childhood in England that I could understand (I missed red phone boxes, English comics and the shipping report). I think Dr Who was one of the anchors.

So to me the fantasy of Dr Who was a bit like my life and I was a fellow traveller between worlds. So I became a Whovian, which as much as it has a nerdy cache nowadays was incredibly “daggy” when I was an undergraduate (I still believe Dr Who when he said that “Bowties are cool”).

Origin of Whovian?

Referring to a Doctor Who fan, as a Whovian, originated in the early 1980s from the Doctor Who Fan Club of America from the title of their newsletter The Whovian Times. However, other fans dislike the name, deeming it to be derivative of Seussian (fans of Dr Seuss and therefore not serious enough) and prefer Wholigan.

Australian Whovians

The Oceanian Doctor Who Fan Club was founded in 1976 in Australia (soon after the UK’s Doctor Who Appreciation Society, DWAS) to successfully resist the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s decision to stop broadcasting the series. The club was renamed several times, today being known as the Doctor Who Club of Australia (or DWCA). They hold “Whoventions” in Sydney.

Australia has also been important in the creation of Doctor Who. The highly distinctive original theme tune was created by Australian composer Ron Granier (who also wrote the themes for Steptoe and Son and The Prisoner).

The writer of the very first episode, An Unearthly Child, was Melburnian Anthony Coburn (who was also producer of the first episode of the Onedin Line and the second series of Poldark in 1977). There are moves to give him a bit more recognition.

Kylie Minogue (Australian singer and actor) is a Doctor Who super-fan and asked for a part in the rebooted series. She played a humanoid waitress, Astrid Peth, a one-off companion to the doctor.

A WHOVIAN GLOSSARY

Dr Who has given us a vocabulary around its characters and technologies. Here are a few:

Time lords

Dr Who was from the planet Gallifrey, destroyed in the past by the DALEKs, which was populated by lots of Dr Who-like people called Timelords. One of the few other surviving Time Lords was The Master was his great enemy and the foil to The Doctor. The Master at one point regenerated into a female but was not known as “The Mistress”.

Regeneration

Regeneration is perhaps the greatest invention of the Dr Who universe. It allows the perfect segue between actors playing the role. The process of “molecular readjustment”  by which Time Lords renew themselves, which can cause a complete physical and often psychological change, has been the perfect way to eliminate the clumsiness of changing actors. The character is already over 900 years old which means a lot of actors can play the part. The change is often emphasised by the eccentric costumes used to identify each character manifestation.

Tardis

Dr Who’s time machine is the TARDIS which stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space and in a unique piece of sci-fi is bigger on the inside than the outside.

Companion

Dr Who’s companions for many years were attractive young women and sometimes a third young man. It was always completely platonic although miniskirts and scanty dressing seemed to attract the interest of the boys. In the rebooted series, his companion, Amy Pond, joked about how long it was since the 907-year-old Time Lord last had sex. Fans were unimpressed, however, one commented on social media:

Wrong wrong wrong … Basic rule has always been – ‘No sex in the TARDIS’

Dalek

Originally the Daleks were scary aliens living in very low tech machines like psychotic shopping trolleys with plungers who wanted to exterminate everyone. When I was a child we met some English people who had a friend who had been a DALEK operator—I was so excited to know someone who knew someone who was a Dalek! Terry Nation, the main writer of the 1960s claimed that the word Dalek came from seeing an encyclopedia with DAL-LEK on its spine (but later debunked that). There is now a strong suggestion that the name may be inspired by Roald Dahl who lived a hundred metres from Nation in Cardiff.

The Daleks are probably more famous that the Doctor, as he once stated:

You can always judge a man by the quality of his enemies

Cybermen

Cybermen Cybermen started out as humanoid life form but became obsessed with implanting artificial body parts. The word is a Dr Who original but adding “cyber” short for cybernetic (meaning to do with future technology) had been used since the 1940s.

Sonic screwdriver

Dr Who’s cybernetic swiss army knife was the sonic screwdriver—if a door was impossible to open the sonic screwdriver would be pulled out (it was essentially a magic wand decades before Harry Potter).

Gallifrey

Time Lords come from the planet of Gallifrey. Gallifrey was located in the constellation of Kasterborous. It was thought to have been destroyed in the Last Great Time War, between the Time Lords and the Daleks (see Timey-Wimey below).

Where the name Gallifrey comes from isn’t clear but there is an echo of the word gallimaufry, meaning a medley or hodgepodge.

Torchwood

The Torchwood Institute was a secret organisation established by Queen Victoria to defend the world from extra-terrestrial and supernatural enemies. Torchwood is an anagram of Doctor Who and was used as the codename for the reboot in 2005 to keep it secret.

U.N.I.T.

In the early runs of the show UNIT stood for United Nations Intelligence Taskforce which was changed to UNified Intelligence Taskforce. UNIT was commanded by Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, generally referred to simply as The Brigadier (for obvious reasons). The character and his other mates in UNIT were major supporting roles in the early series.

K9

K9 was the robotic canine companion to Dr Who (K9 being a pun on canine). He was to Dr Who what R2D2 was to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. K9 could talk and had an encyclopaedic knowledge. He was also quite handy when  the sonic screwdriver was found wanting, bringing a powerful laser weapon concealed in his nose into action. However, the radio controlled K9 used in the filming was unable to traverse uneven terrain so workarounds were needed included using twine to pull the character along.

Timey wimey

The Doctor explains the physics of time thus:

People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a nonlinear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey … stuff.

This is, of course, the perfect way to explain the multiple paradoxes created by Dr Who plot-lines where certain things remain fixed in history unless, of course, a new set of rules is applied by the watchmaking genius of Dr Who and his companions.

Time travel is like visiting Paris. You can’t just read the guidebook. You’ve got to throw yourself in! Eat the food, use the wrong verbs, get charged double and end up kissing complete strangers! Or is that just me?

Behind the sofa

“Behind the sofa” is an expression originating in the 1960s referring to the idea that young children would hide behind furniture while unpleasant things were on the television, especially when the Daleks were terrorising earth inhabitants. The phrase is so strongly associated with Doctor Who in the United Kingdom, that in 1991 the Museum of the Moving Image in London named its Dr Who exhibition “Behind the Sofa”.

Happy Birthday Dr Who, I wonder if you will go on for ever …