What better way to catch up on the sci-fi craze of Doctor Who than with animated GIFs?
You've heard your friends go on about Doctor Who in a way you haven't seen since the early seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But for a show that's been airing on and off for 50 years, it's not too late to jump in. Here's an easy-to-understand, GIF-based primer with 13 facts about Doctor Who that will get you up to speed and into the current season.
1. The Time Lords
The main character is a Time Lord, a member of an ancient alien race that learned how to bend the laws of time to their will. The Doctor (whose real name we don't know) is -- at least in the revived series of Doctor Who -- the last of his race. (Sort of. More on that later.)
While the fact that they're all dead has allowed the series to romanticize them, most of the Time Lords we've met in the past are arrogant jerks who think little of the lesser races (like, say humans). This puts them in stark contrast to the Doctor, who's a big fan of the human race, even if he does occasionally call us "stupid apes."
This is probably why the Time Lords don't like him very much, calling him a renegade and a thief. What did he steal? Why, a TARDIS, of course.
2. The TARDIS
The Doctor's time traveling machine is called the TARDIS (which stands for Time And Relative Dimension In Space) -- and it doesn't look like any space ship you might have seen in other sci-fi. The Doctor stole an older, decommissioned Type-40 TARDIS to explore the universe, but it's still the most high-tech thing you'll see on the show.
The TARDIS designed to camouflage itself to appear like it belongs in its surroundings... but when the early showrunners realized that changing the look of the ship every episode wouldn't be cost-effective, they decided to nix this idea. When the series launched in 1963 in the UK, blue police boxes were a common sight in England, and the TARDIS took that form -- and kept it, because its chameleon circuit malfunctioned. (And, apparently, the Doctor hasn't found the time to fix it in the hundreds of years that have passed since.)
Also, it's bigger on the inside, powered by an exploding star in the process of becoming a black hole suspended in a permanent state of decay (because...science!) and once took humanoid form to inform the Doctor that she stole him.
3. Time Travel
There are rules to prevent things from getting too timey-wimey (and to prevent "time travel" from being used to solve all of the problems the show encounters). Here are the main ones:
- You can't enter your own timeline.
- Some events -- the Doctor usually calls them "fixed points" -- are so pivotal to history that they can't be changed.
- To travel in time, you need some kind of machine, ship or device (the Time Lords themselves have no inherent time travel powers, they're just clever).
But the biggest rule of all is that any of these rules can be broken for the sake of convenient storytelling -- like how the show likes to do big specials with several Doctors crossing over their own time line -- so take them with a grain of salt.
Historical tidbit: Doctor Who was originally intended to be at least semi-educational to appeal to children and families, and that's a big reason for the time travel element. The Doctor and his companions -- who were originally a science teacher and a history teacher -- would go into the future and talk science, then go into the past and talk history. You know, for kids.