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Peter Capaldi as the Doctor in 'Doctor Who' (Pic: BBC)
Peter Capaldi as the Doctor in ‘Doctor Who’ (Pic: BBC)

To begin at the beginning. Exactly 10 years ago today (March 26), TV trails like this one were being played out across the BBC in anticipation of the re-launch of a beloved British television institution:

There were subtle echoes of the past in the very first shot, that long corridor that looked like the spiraling time vortex from the Doctor Who credits of the ’70s, and there’s no mistaking the TARDIS console room or the noise of the TARDIS in flight. This is clearly Doctor Who, and yet the tone is also fresher, more confident. They’re not in a TV studio environment, and no one is wearing a frock coat.

All anyone could say with any confidence at that point was that there would be at least one Dalek, Big Ben would come a cropper, and the Doctor was a far less whimsical presence than he had been before.

As with all regenerations, there was a clash of the old and the new in everything. Once we got into the new series proper, the sonic screwdriver returned and then changed color and shape. The Doctor met several new companions and looked in on a few old friends like Sarah Jane Smith, Jo Grant and the Brigadier (the latter two via The Sarah Jane Adventures, one of two spin-off series—with Torchwood—created in the wake of the reborn show’s popularity). New enemies arrived (Weeping Angels, the Silence, the Sycorax), standing shoulder to shoulder with old adversaries like the Daleks, Cybermen, Zygons, Sontarans and the Master. The Doctor continued to travel wherever he wanted, but this time he was plagued by the loss of his people and dark memories from the Time War.

And there were regenerations. That bluff, no-nonsense Doctor was replaced by a handsome, skinny fellow who talked a lot and was clearly suffering from some form of post-traumatic ailment. His successor talked just as much, but appeared to be both younger in years and older in spirit. Or was it the other way around? This incarnation lasted a very, very long time too, far longer than any of his previous selves. He reached the very end of his allocated regenerations (and making a noticeable shift back to those frock coats in his later years), before being given a fresh set by the Time Lords and starting afresh with a face that was, ironically, older and crabbier.

(Thanks to YouTuber VG934 for this clip)

That’s just what happened within the show. In the real world, Doctor Who has spent the last 10 years blossoming from a relatively cult concern to a worldwide cultural event. The arrival of Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor was greeted not with a press release and a photo, but with an international TV show revealing his identity and a world tour. That’s the sort of thing a pop band might do (assuming key members of pop bands can be regenerated, of course).

But the most noticeable impact of the past 10 years can been seen in the reactions of Whovians. They’re among the most creative, most resourceful, cleverest and most argumentative of fandoms on the planet. They’re the people that will see a craftily-taken snap from the set of a future episode, and then turn up at a convention dressed in the exact outfit Clara wore. The people who managed to make dresses out of the phone box exterior of the TARDIS. The people who make Dalek cakes and wear fezzes and inscribe themselves with tally marks as if they’ve seen a Silent somewhere. The people who draw beautiful images of the Doctor snuggling up with Missy; or the Doctor snuggling up with Rose, or Amy, or Clara; or Captain Jack snuggling up with anyone.

Doctor Who has also become the phenomenon that it has partly because it arrived just in time for the social media boom and made very good use of it. Take a walk through the fan art of Tumblr or the news gathering and gossip of Twitter, or see the chains of passionate Facebook debate going on between Whovians every time a new twist occurs in the Doctor’s life. Watch the YouTube vloggers take each new story apart with glee or sit in anticipation for the next installment with bloggers and message board communities, still bickering about the true significance of River Song’s last goodbye or the Doctor’s latest haircut.

In fact, for a show that is infused with futuristic technology, it’s really the futuristic technology of now that has been instrumental in the Doctor’s continuing rude health. Heck, fans are even using sonic screwdrivers to change channels in order to watch; something that no one could’ve predicted in 2005.

The adventure of a lifetime? With a bit of luck and a prevailing headwind, it may prove to last even longer than that…

See more:
‘Doctor Who’s Day Roundup: A Decade of Doctors
Our Favorite Companion Moments from Modern ‘Doctor Who’
Our 10 Favorite Monsters in Modern ‘Doctor Who’
Personality Quiz: Which ‘Doctor Who’ Story is Your Life?

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By Fraser McAlpine