“Doctor Who” is distinctly British. It has been since 1963, when the sci-fi series first hit the airwaves, with a grand total of 11 actors taking on the starring role as the Doctor.
And while the show — whose plotlines revolve around the Doctor’s abilities to travel anywhere in time and space —has certainly involved America at points, this upcoming season marks the first time “Doctor Who” has ever been filmed on U.S. soil. The Doctor, played by the plucky Matt Smith, even dons a cowboy hat for some scenes in the Utah desert. (Stereotype much?)
Just in time for the show’s season premiere on Saturday, here’s an American’s primer to “Doctor Who”:
The Doctor can take on new forms
This clever plot staple has made it easier for different actors to play the extraterrestrial Time Lord. Each time an actor needs to bow out, his character “regenerates” into another version of the Doctor: same essence, new body.
His Batmobile is the TARDIS, for “Time And Relative Dimensions In Space”
It’s a time-machine-slash-spaceship disguised as an old-time blue British police box. You won’t find many police boxes on the mean streets of London nowadays, but they’re so ingrained in fans’ minds as the TARDIS that the BBC has patented the symbol.
His weapons are psychic paper and a sonic screwdriver
The paper serves as an unlimited-access ID badge, identifying the Doctor as someone with the authority to be on the scene. The screwdriver locks and unlocks doors, detects radiation, fixes broken devices and does just about anything an alien hero would need it to do.
He rolls with a posse
Human fans of “Doctor Who” need someone to relate to, and that’s where his mere-mortal companions come in. There’s always at least one pretty woman in the bunch with a serious emotional attachment to the Doctor. Currently, she’s fiery redhead Amy Pond, played by Karen Gillan.
His oldest foes are the scariest
Special effects have improved a smidge since the 1960s version of “Doctor Who,” so new adversaries introduced recently, such as the squid-faced Ood, are freaky. But the Doctor and his friends are most shaken when they face evildoers who’ve been around since the start of the show, such as the Daleks (genocidal mutants modeled after the Nazis).
On TV: The news season of “Doctor Who”debuts on Saturday at 9 p.m. on BBC America.