60 Years Later, The James Bond Of Family TV Is Hitting Disney Plus
Have you ever wondered if there is something a little like James Bond, but that would be appropriate for kids? This may seem like a strange thought, but here’s the criteria: What’s quintessentially British, has been around forever, put a big mark on pop culture, and has starred a gazillion different actors in the title role? The answer is Doctor Who, one of the greatest TV series of all time, which is about to make a huge comeback on Disney+ this Fall.
Starting on November 25, 2023 (Thanksgiving weekend), Disney+ will drop the first of three new Doctor Who specials featuring the return of David Tennant and Catherine Tate, who previously starred in Who’s contemporary fourth season back in 2008. To keep the James Bond analogy going, this would be like if Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeoh returned for a sequel to 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies. That’s how iconic this duo is!
But, chances are, if you’re like most Americans, you fall into two categories when it comes to Doctor Who: You’re either already a massive fan and totally get it when somebody says “bow-ties are cool,” or you have no idea, and you still think that Doctor Who is all about that guy with the floppy hat and the infinitely long scarf. Here’s your brief crash course on Doctor Who, and why now is a great time to start watching this wonderful show with your kids.
What is Doctor Who?
Doctor Who is a long-running British sci-fi show that started in 1963. It centers on the titular Time Lord known as “The Doctor,” and their various adventures in time and space in an eccentric vehicle called the TARDIS. Outwardly (and decades before Bill & Ted) the Doctor’s TARDIS looks like a police telephone call box from the 1950s, but it’s bigger on the inside! With the ability to travel to any time or any planet, the Doctor battles evils, rights wrongs, gets into mischief, and does their best to defend the planet Earth. Originally from the planet Gallifrey, the Doctor has two hearts, and can “regenerate” into a new body, with a new personality, whenever they are approaching the end of their life or fatally wounded.
Conveniently, this has allowed almost twenty different actors to play regular incarnations of the Doctor. The first Doctor was William Hartnell, and the most recent Doctor was Jodie Whittaker (the first female Doctor) who regenerated in 2022 in the episode “The Power of the Doctor.” Currently, on Disney+, David Tennant will return as the 14th Doctor, although he previously played the 10th Doctor from 2005 to 2010. Why the Doctor has regenerated into one of his previous selves is part of the mystery and hype around the three new specials hitting Disney+. The new specials will also see the Doctor battling The Celestial Toymaker (Neil Patrick Harris) a villain from a black-and-white 1st Doctor serial, in 1966.
Is Doctor Who okay for kids?
In 1963, Doctor Who was actually conceived as a children’s show, designed to teach kids dynamic lessons about history via time travel. However, the sci-fi adventure element of the show quickly took over, though its wholesome epicenter remained. The Doctor is a pacifist hero, who tends to reject all conventional weapons. Instead, the Doctor generally rocks a “sonic screwdriver,” a kind of multitool device that functions as a lock-picker, scanner, and sci-fi magic wand.
A hallmark of the show is the Doctor’s various enemies, which generally take the form of aliens, monsters, robots, cyborgs, and sometimes straight-up ghosts. You may recognize the evil R2-D2-ish pepper pots with toilet plungers; those are the Daleks, and their catchphrase is “EXTERMINATE!” Kids freaking love Daleks. Really.
Although the original Doctor Who run (1963-1989) is generally rated “G,” some material and themes can be scary for very young children. Generally speaking, Doctor Who is probably okay for your kiddos who are 7 or older. Bottom line: The Doctor is perhaps the most ethical pop culture action hero of all time, a kinder version of Sherlock Holmes fused with a Jedi who rarely has physical fights.
How to watch Doctor Who
Since 2005, Doctor Who has made a massive comeback in the mainstream, which is why you’ll often see that “Season 1” begins in 2005, even though the original Season 1 was in 1963. If you want to catch up on everything before the new David Tennant specials — and the forthcoming 2024 Season 14, which will star Barbie favorite Ncuti Gatwa as the next Doctor — your best bet is to watch Doctor Who on HBO Max. There you’ll find everything from 2005 to the present. (That’s Doctors Nine (Christopher Eccleston), Ten (David Tennant), Eleven (Matt Smith), Twelve (Peter Capaldi), and Thirteen (Jodie Whittaker). And again, the Doctor and Donna’s episodes — David Tennant and Catherine Tate — is Season 4 from that run. (Though Donna does first appear in the 2006 special “The Runaway Bride,” which is at the end of Season 2.)
If you want to go back even further, BritBox has (nearly) everything from 1963 to 1989, which spans the first seven Doctors: William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy. For many Americans who had reruns on PBS in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker (big scarf!) is the one you probably remember the best. And yes, that era is very, very good, and great goofy fun for the whole family.
Bottom line: Doctor Who on Disney+ is the beginning of a new era for the franchise. It’s possible, of course, that you could start your adventure with these new specials and know everything you need to know. Even though Doctor Who has a long and complicated continuity, the beauty of the show is you can pretty much drop in anywhere, and simply not worry about being confused. After all, the human companions of the Doctor are often playing catch up, too.
Doctor Who Disney+ release date
The first of the new Doctor Who specials hit Disney+ on November 25.