Welcome to the Class of the Twelfth Doctor.
After nearly a year-long gap, Doctor Who returns to BBC America this week, and five theaters in Northeast Florida are screening the Season 8 (counting from the 2005 revival) premiere, “Deep Breath.” This series of mini-micro-lightning-flash courses will prepare you with the baseline knowledge needed to hit the ground running with Peter Capaldi, the new face (and “attack eyebrows”) of The Doctor.
Don’t blink. It goes by fast.
WHO 101: Introduction to the Doctor
Depending on whether you’re his ally or enemy, The Doctor is the most wonderful or the most dangerous being in our entire universe (and a few alternative ones). He is a few thousand years old (calculations vary depending on what you consider canon) and has a soft spot for humanity.
The Doctor is a Time Lord, an ancient race of time travelers and time manipulators from the planet Gallifrey. He has two hearts, and the ability to shed one body for a new one through a process called regeneration. It’s a fairly elegant plot construction that enables new actors to take on the role.
WHO 102: Modern History of Doctor Who
Doctor Who premiered on Nov. 23, 1963, and over the next 25 years, seven actors played the lead, each with his own style and plot arc. In 1989, with the exception of a 1996 TV movie, the show went off the air until 2005, when the BBC rebooted the series.
We’re now in Season 8 of the newer set, with Capaldi taking over as the Twelfth Doctor. A fan since he was a child, the actor has already had two roles in the Doctor Who universe: as an ancient Pompeiian and as Britain’s top alien negotiator.
At the end of the last episode, the Eleventh Doctor dramatically regenerates after defending a town called Christmas on the planet Tranzalore. Capaldi’s Doctor bends over in pain because of his new kidneys (“I don’t like the color,” he says) and seems to have forgotten how to pilot the now-spiraling time machine. Meanwhile, his companion, Clara, stands by wide-eyed and spooked (seemingly at just how old his new face is).
WHO 103: Time Lord Technology
The Doctor lives and travels across time and space in his time machine, the TARDIS (“Time and Relative Dimension in Space”). On the outside, it’s an old-fashioned blue British police phone box, but thanks to Time Lord science, it’s bigger on the inside. Much, much bigger: libraries, living spaces, pools, detention cells.
The Doctor carries a sonic screwdriver, which is basically a technological magic wand. Almost all of the science in Doctor Who is make-believe and often inconsistent within its own logic. It pays to absorb it as the poetic space-babble that it is.
WHO 104: Companions
The Doctor is currently traveling with Clara Oswald. For the purposes of Season 8, all you need to know is that Clara is a tutor/nanny-type from contemporary England who had a lot of sexual tension with the previous — and younger — Doctor. In episode 304, we get into the reality-fracturing event that spread her spirit across time and space and earned her the title “The Impossible Girl.”
“Deep Breath” also features a returning Victorian crime-fighting trio: Madame Vastra (a Silurian lizard-woman), Jenny Flint (her human wife) and Strax, an imbecilic Sontaran warrior-clone-turned-indentured-servant.
WHO 105: Whovian Grammar
Doctor Who fans are known as “Whovians.” You may also use the term “Whoniverse” to describe everything that happens within the show. Doctor Who is not a name, but a question. The show’s protagonist introduces himself as simply “The Doctor,” to which the response is always “Doctor Who?”
As a BBC television programme, Doctor Who usually adheres to British usage, but this time the new Doctor has a Scottish accent, so I dinnae ken.