This week sees what has become a rite of passage for millions of children (and their parents) throughout the world, when the door opens on the TARDIS and a new Doctor takes centre stage to define a generation.
Since 1963, when William Hartnell first appeared as the iconic character every generation has had ‘their’ Doctor – and this time round it’s the turn of the (time) ladies as Jodie Whittaker picks up her sonic screwdriver.
The career of the Timelord and his (and now her) various incarnations has shaped the career path of lifelong Doctor Who fan, and University of Sunderland academic, John Paul Green.
Four decades of fascination with the time-travelling hero has resulted in academic papers, public lectures, three appearances as an extra in the BBC programme.
Doctor Who is an integral topic for the Film, Media and Culture lecturer’s science fiction module at the University of Sunderland.
As the new series hits our screens on Sunday, October 7, with thirteenth Doctor Jodie Whittaker taking over the TARDIS helm, John Paul welcomes the first female incarnation of the fictional hero.
“The why and how of Doctor Who’s success since 1963 is multi-faceted, however, the Doctor’s ability to regenerate, to change with the times, is key to the series’ success,” explained John Paul.
“Regeneration has allowed both the series and the character to rejuvenate itself, refiguring and re-enchanting the figure of the hero, and reflecting what was happening in democratic society.”
Though turning the character of the Doctor into a woman may have initially seemed radical, John Paul argues that the character has always been in step with the modern world.
“The Doctor transcends boundaries – the show is about heroism, adventure and fun. The Doctor can succeed or fail on the strength of the actor and the quality of the scripts. Jodie Whittaker has proved herself a great actor, let’s hope the scripts are up to her ability.
“Trust her. She’s the Doctor.”
Originally from Birmingham, John Paul enrolled as a media student at the University of Sunderland in 1993. After graduating in 1996 he held down a number of jobs, from his early career as a stagehand at the Sunderland Empire to working on music magazines, as well as a stint as a research administrator and a technician.
But it was his passion for science fiction which eventually led him to taking a Masters in Film and Cultural Studies, and he now lectures full-time at the University, with his favourite fictional hero, alongside James Bond and Sherlock Holmes, a regular topic on the timetable.
John Paul said: “I run a science fiction module, it’s very popular, Doctor Who plays an integral role of course.”
He added: “It’s the Doctor’s regeneration, but also elements of the familiar like the TARDIS and the monsters, which keeps the topic ripe for discussion and keeps us glued to our TV sets.
“It’s great family TV, and because of its changing nature, there’s always a new entry point for any new audience to enjoy, it’s a flexible format that can go anywhere.
“That’s what keeps us asking who is Who?
Doctor Who returns on Sunday, October 7 on BBC1.