Cinema and Media Studies Doctor Who
Paul Booth
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 January 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0196


As a television program (and now multimedia experience) with sixty years of history, Doctor Who has reflected an ever-changing media culture. First aired by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on 23 November 1963, the British program is now seen in over ninety countries and held the record for the largest ever simulcast of a TV drama when the fiftieth anniversary special was shown in movie theaters across the world in 2013. Doctor Who depicts the adventures of a time-traveling alien known as “The Doctor” who travels across all of time and space with various companions in a blue Police Box (the TARDIS—Time and Relative Dimension in Space) that is bigger on the inside. The show has fostered a dedicated audience while also courting larger cultural acceptance. Following the program’s initial cancellation in 1989, an American TV movie co-produced with the BBC was broadcast in 1996. This movie was originally intended to be a pilot of a new series, but that series never saw the light of day. In 2005 the show came back to air with a bigger budget and a new production team based at BBC Wales. The new series linked to the stories from previous decades but took the program in fresh directions. Yet, there is a wealth of Doctor Who that goes beyond the small screen. From feature films and books to audio adventures and comics, from games and tourist destinations to fan fiction and conventions, Doctor Who is much more than just a television program. Doctor Who has also provided fodder for important scholarship in media studies, cultural studies, and fan studies, among many other disciplines. Authors have written about its cultural impact; its relationship to television history; its reflection of changing cultural norms; its representations of sex, gender, race, and class; and its larger place in media history. Doctor Who scholarship has appeared almost since the premiere of the show, but its volume has intensified since the new series premiered in 2005. Hundreds of articles, chapters, and books (not to mention websites and blogs) are currently written about the series. This article represents a cross-section of the most relevant scholarship on Doctor Who.

General Overviews

General overviews of Doctor Who tend to fall into two camps: professional literature authorized by the BBC and often written by personnel who work on the show, and fan-authored guides that provide viewer interpretations. The titles chosen here are more historically relevant, and the informed reader can go to the other sections for more scholarly titles. The first major overview of Doctor Who was an authorized guide published by Piccolo Books in 1972 (republished by Target 1976) and authored by two of the major writers on the show, Terrance Dicks, the then-current script editor, and Malcolm Hulke (Dicks and Hulke 1976). For a long period in the 1970s and 1980s, televised Doctor Who was largely unavailable except in scattered reruns or (upon its advent) occasional VHS sales. Works of fans such as Bentham 1986 and Haining 1983, Haining 1984, Haining 1986, and Haining 1987 helped educate and influence a growing number of fans and continued to encourage authors writing in the era of the new series, such as Richards 2013 and Kistler 2013. General overviews of Doctor Who tend to include histories of the production of the show (e.g., Bentham 1986) as well as analyses of the larger themes guiding the series: literary and televisual antecedents, cultural references, and social studies. There are a great variety of general overviews of Doctor Who, and indeed an entire bibliography could be constructed solely of books and articles that contain summaries of the show. Many fan overviews of the series contain Reference Works/Episode Guides as well. What follows are some of the most historically relevant volumes to the researcher interested in how writing about Doctor Who has changed over the past half-century.

  • Bentham, Jeremy. Doctor Who: The Early Years. London: W. H. Allen, 1986.

    A look at the early years of production of Doctor Who. Bentham was co-founder of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society. This volume introduces readers to some problems the first producers of the series encountered from the BBC and the audience.

  • Dicks, Terrance, and Malcolm Hulke. The Making of Doctor Who. London: Target, 1976.

    Early account of the making of Doctor Who, aimed at younger readers. A behind-the-scenes guide to the production of Doctor Who. It also includes a summary of episodes up to that point, sample production notes, and a script-to-screen account of an episode, Robot. (An earlier edition was published in 1972 by Piccolo Books.)

  • Haining, Peter. Doctor Who: A Celebration. London: W. H. Allen, 1983.

    Published with the BBC for the twentieth anniversary of the program. Offers a historical view of production, from the beginnings of the show in 1963 to the then-current Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison). Featuring interviews with personnel from the show at the time, including their recollections of the early days. Useful for historical research.

  • Haining, Peter. Doctor Who: The Key to Time. London: W. H. Allen, 1984.

    A “year-to-year” record of Doctor Who, with key dates in the production and airing of episodes. Written like a diary of the show, this offers a useful reference for production history and dates of events in the series.

  • Haining, Peter. Doctor Who: The Doctor Who File. London: W. H. Allen, 1986.

    Offers a series of interviews and articles about behind-the-scenes personnel for the first twenty years of Doctor Who. Focuses on authors, actors, and producers and features full color and black-and-white photos. Useful for research on Doctor Who’s historical appeal.

  • Haining, Peter. Doctor Who: The Time-Travellers’ Guide. London: W. H. Allen, 1987.

    Published in arrangement with the BBC, The Time-Travellers’ Guide looks at the science (and science fiction) that influenced the creation of Doctor Who, while also giving an encyclopedic litany of regeneration, villains, alien worlds, and spacecraft in the show.

  • Kistler, Alan. Doctor Who: A History. Guilford, UK: Globe Pequot, 2013.

    An overview of the series published for the fiftieth anniversary. Offers a history of the series with behind-the-scenes information from all “Doctor Whos” up to that point. Notable for including other products, including the audio plays, novels, and comics.

  • Richards, Justin. Doctor Who: Essential Guide to 50 Years of Doctor Who. London: Penguin, 2013.

    An image-heavy reference book put out in time for the series’ fiftieth anniversary. Overview of the series up to 2013 with little analysis. Offers a succinct, authorized view of the show. Richards has also written Doctor Who original novels and audio adventures, as well as additional BBC books about the show.

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