I’ll try not to break into fangirl gushing – and simply state some solid reasons Doctor Who has lasted so long.
The BBC’s Doctor Who is the longest-running sci-fi series in history. It ran from 1963-1989, was regenerated in 2005 and has been going strong ever since. It’s about a 900-year-old Time Lord from an alien planet who calls himself “the Doctor.” He spends his days traveling through time and space, saving people, worlds, and whole universes. Here are five reasons the show has been so successful for so long:
Because the Doctor can travel through time and space, the writers have the whole of human history to play with, plus whatever they can imagine in our future and across the universe.
Immortal characters played by mortal actors
The DW writers solved the problem of actors aging or moving on to other projects by creating in a quirk of Time Lord DNA – Time Lords don’t die; they regenerate. I.e., the same character comes back as a different actor, with a different wardrobe and perhaps a different personality.
There are some things that stay the same throughout the series, maintaining a sense of familiarity despite constantly changing characters and locations. The main ones include:
The Doctor – insofar as his background and identity goes.
The TARDIS – the Doctor’s space ship/time machine, which is bigger on the inside. Due to a broken chameleon circuit, the TARDIS is stuck looking like a Police Call Box from 1963 London. The Doctor doesn’t fix it, because he likes it that way.
Sonic Screwdriver – a handy tool the Doctor uses in almost every episode to open doors, reprogram robots, and more.
Psychic paper – a blank piece of paper that shows people whatever the Doctor wants them to see. He usually uses it as fake ID to break into high security establishments and exclusive parties.
The genius alien time traveler must be balanced with a more relatable, “regular” character, if only so the Doctor has someone to explain things to, so the audience doesn’t get lost. The Doctor always has a companion – usually a girl from modern-day Earth, who travels with him.
The concepts are fascinating, the storytelling is effortless. Within a single episode you may laugh, cry, gasp, and grip the edge of your seat. The storylines are fun-filled adventures, but mixed with a greater depth of moral questions, such as self-sacrifice and when it is right to kill.
If you are writing a series, consider employing some of these same concepts to keep it fresh, familiar, relatable, and emotionally relevant.