Time Traveling through the History of Doctor Who

Doctor Who original title
5
Wednesday, Jul 31, 2019

If you don't know the basics of the British television series Doctor Who, here we go: a mysterious, eccentric, very long-lived, alien scientist known only as "the Doctor" travels through time and space in a ship that looks like a 1960s British police call box on the outside and is much, much bigger and more futuristic on the inside. The Doctor is accompanied by human traveling companions, fighting against tyranny, bigotry, and destruction in the past, present, and future, all across the universe. The show originally ran from 1963-1989 and was revived in 2005, continuing on today. It's my all-time favorite television show and it fits right in with the Summer Reading theme A Universe of Stories.

I recently had the idea of tracing the genealogy of the show, looking at the books, movies, and TV shows that inspired and influenced Doctor Who. Because my For Later shelf is much bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Considering the show has been around in one way or another for 50-plus years and has had stories in pretty much every possible genre, its DNA is all over the place. But some inspirations are clearer than others.

Like a lot of science fiction/fantasy, the early classics are a solid foundation. But Doctor Who is particularly and openly influenced by Mary Shelley, H.G. Wells, Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Arthur Conan Doyle. The film and TV adaptations of their works are well known, but I recommend reading the original Frankenstein, War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, Dracula, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Lost World, and the Sherlock Holmes stories. They're cracking good adventure stories (well, Frankenstein is more "moody" than "cracking") and you'll find some interesting differences between the originals and the adaptations.

When it comes to movies, the 1936 film Things to Come, an adaptation of The Shape of Things to Come by H.G. Wells, is...interesting. It drags at points and gets more than a little preachy, but visually? It's gorgeous. If you watch it with the sound off, I wouldn't blame you. You can also do that with Metropolis, since it's a silent movie. Not only does it look amazing, it's influenced Superman, Star Wars, and, well, a whole lot of comics, movies, and TV shows, including Doctor Who. Forbidden Planet is another very influential SF movie (Star Trek's Captain Kirk is basically Forbidden Planet's Captain J.J. Adams), as is The Thing From Another World.

If you're interested in more of Doctor Who's roots, more than I can link to here without this post being longer than anyone would care to read, I recommend any collection of fairy tales, anything (and everything) by William Shakespeare, and any books of mythology (especially Greek/Roman, Celtic, and Norse mythology). Go forth and explore this universe of stories! Allons-y!

A picture of the librarian Josh N

Written by Josh N.

Fun fact: I love superheroes, Doctor Who, and old movies.