'Doctor Who' 101 | EW.com

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'Doctor Who' 101

BBC America has just debuted the much-anticipated new season of the long-running British sci-fi show. Whether you're a die-hard Whovian or a casually interested ''Who is this guy?''-ian, here are the five things you need to know in order to enjoy the Doctor's latest adventures

1. Doctor Who is old (in more ways than one)
The series premiered on British TV way back in November 1963. However, decades are like days to the show’s titular time traveler — an eccentric humanoid alien who can physically ”regenerate” and is centuries old. The Doctor’s powers have conveniently allowed him to be played by a succession of actors, including Tom Baker, the beloved David Tennant, and the current Doctor, Matt Smith. ”It’s a wonderful conceit,” says Smith, 28. ”There’s something interestingly ridiculous about this madman who saves the universe with a cricket bat and a piece of string, or whatever.”

2. He journeys through time and space in a phone booth
Well, technically, the Doctor gets around in a craft called the TARDIS, which is supposed to blend in with its surroundings but now permanently resembles an old British police phone box. Smith reveals that the TARDIS gets plenty of screen time in an upcoming episode penned by comics legend Neil Gaiman (Sandman, Coraline). ”I can’t tell you a great deal,” says the spoiler-wary actor. ”I can say he’s applied his brilliant and mad brain to a brilliant and mad idea and that the Doctor spends a lot of time in the TARDIS.”

3. He doesn’t like to travel alone
The Doctor usually has a ”companion,” normally an attractive young woman. The relationship is (typically) not physical, although incidents of Doctor-companion lip-locking have increased. Fan favorite Elisabeth Sladen played companion Sarah Jane Smith for much of the ’70s and recently starred on her own spin-off, The Sarah Jane Adventures, before succumbing to cancer in real life on April 19, to the shock of the Whovian community. In a break from tradition, the Doctor is currently accompanied by a married couple played by Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill. Gillan says this season we find out her character has ”a massive secret that could potentially change her relationship with the Doctor forever.”

4. Famous folks love appearing on Who
John Cleese, Simon Pegg, and Kylie Minogue have all guested on the show, while ER’s Alex Kingston has a recurring role as the mysterious time traveler River Song. ”You find out who she is this season,” promises Kingston. ”Having said that, River embroiders the truth. But definitely, where she has come from is revealed.”

5. The Doctor is dead (sort of)
In the recent season premiere, a ”future” version of the Doctor — also played by Smith — was fatally shot, an event that will reverberate through future episodes. ”It’s really bold storytelling to kill off a main character,” says the actor. But is the ”future” Doctor really dead? Admits Smith, ”Time can be rewritten.”