Few television programs have as rich a history – or as ravenous a fan base – as BBC’s Doctor Who. As television’s longest running sci-fi program, the series has changed quite a bit since it first premiered in 1963. In the words of Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat, it’s a show that has survived when others have died because it is designed for longevity.
In a recent interview with Variety, Moffat opened up about how Doctor Who has been creatively structured so that it can survive indefinitely. He said:
Doctor Who is the all-time perfectly evolved television show. It’s a television predator designed to survive any environment because you can replace absolutely everybody. Most shows you can’t do that with. For example, once Benedict Cumberbatch gives up Sherlock, what are we going to do? We are going to stop, that’s what we are going to do. Most shows have a built-in mortality. But here is a show that sheds us all like scales; a show that can make you feel everything except indispensable. It will carry on forever, because you can replace every part of it.
Reboots have become increasingly popular in the entertainment world, but occur more often in film than they do in television. Television is a medium that survives largely due to its static continuity. Central characters stay at the forefront, or the show runs the risk of losing its audience. This can be attributed to the fact that people tend to watch the same show every week – developing a rapport with certain characters and styles.
Doctor Who circumvents that issue by building itself around the notion that it will change and evolve. The titular Doctor is a being known as a Time Lord, prone to a process known as “regeneration” or a “renewal.” Producers have used this trope over the better part of the last five decades to recast the character and introduce new traits in a way that feels fair to the intelligence of the fans. Peter Capaldi took over the role from actor Matt Smith in 2014 after another one of these renewals, and Moffat claims the actor will remain firmly entrenched in the role for quite some time. In case you are behind, check out the picture of Capaldi below to catch yourself up on the current Doctor.
So if you don’t currently watch Doctor Who and worry about not being able to catch on, don’t. The show will continue to change and evolve with the times and not concern itself too much with its long, storied history. By doing this, producers like Moffat easily create a simultaneous sense of depth for existing fans as well as accessibility to the program perfect for new viewers.