This is how Amy must have felt. The Doctor shows up, we go on a few grand adventures across time and space, and then he disappears for years on end. We know that when he gets back, it’ll be like no time has passed at all—because for him, no time has passed at all. But in the meantime, we’re stuck counting down the days until the Christmas Special, and then after that who knows when the series will be back. So what to do while we wait?
Luckily enough, there’s no shortage of wibbly wobbly timey wimey TV out there, both currently on the air and on DVD. And while they’re not the same thing, they just might do ‘til Doctor Who returns.
The obvious choices—the spin-offs:
Those new to Who may not know that the series has spawned a couple of spin-off series. First off is Torchwood, starring the Doctor’s ageless friend Captain Jack Harkness. Created by former Doctor Who producer Russell T. Davies, the show follows the adventures of Captain Jack and the Wales branch of the Torchwood Institute, the group founded by the Queen to protect the world from alien threats, which first appeared in Doctor Who’s second season. While Doctor Who is meant for all ages, Torchwood is targeted for a more mature audience, and doesn’t shy away from dark storylines, some naughty language and frank sexuality, which is basically how you’d describe Captain Jack anyway. I won’t lie, the first season’s a little shaky as the show tries to figure out what it wants to be, but it really hits its stride in the second. You can find Torchwood on DVD, Bluray, Amazon Prime and Netflix, although Netflix is missing the fourth season miniseries “Miracle Day.”
The second series spun off from Doctor Who is The Sarah Jane Adventures, following the Doctor’s former companion Sarah Jane Smith. Sarah Jane was probably the most popular companion of classic-era Who: funny, brilliant, and not afraid to talk back to a time-traveling alien several hundred years older than her. Everything Amy was, Sarah Jane was first, and after the character returned to the Whoniverse in the second-season episode “School Reunion,” the BBC said, “This lady needs her own show.” Sarah Jane’s adventures include many familiar Whovian faces, like the alien Sontarans and Slitheen, K-9 the robot dog, and even the Doctor’s old friend the Brigadier. The Eleventh Doctor himself also makes an appearance in a 4th-season storyline! The Sarah Jane Adventures ran for four and a half seasons, before star Elisabeth Sladen was diagnosed and suddenly passed away from cancer.
How about something that’s on the air right now?
Have you been watching Fringe? You should be watching Fringe. Currently in its fifth and final season, the show follows the agents of the FBI’s Fringe Division, who along with mad-but-getting-better scientist Dr. Walter Bishop investigate mysteries where the laws of science itself appear to be broken. Led by Agent Olivia Dunham, herself a former subject of Dr. Bishop’s experiments in enhancing psychic abilities, the Fringe team uncovers plots involving an alternate universe, shape-shifting androids, genetically-engineered monsters, and the mysterious time-traveling Observers, who by this last season have proven to be much more dangerous than they seemed at first.
A creation of J.J. Abrams, Fringe started out seeming like a modern X-Files ripoff, but as the series has progressed it’s proven to be much, much more than that. The overarching story of Fringe is about both what people are capable of and what it is that makes us human, and along the way the show’s experimented with animated episodes and musical episodes, episodes set entirely in the past and in potential futures. At its core is Walter Bishop, played by John Noble, who Lord of the Rings fans will recognize as Boromir’s father, the mad Steward of Gondor. Walter’s got a lot of Doctor-esque qualities: while he’s usually the smartest man in the room, he’s possessed with an infectious enthusiasm and sense of wonder. He takes unbridled joy in simple things (and snacks!), but he’s also seen a great deal of darkness in his time, and is haunted by the actions of his past. Fringe is on Friday nights on Fox, though I’d definitely advise catching up on DVD/Netflix first, as the current season—set in a dystopian future—may be a bit too daunting to just dive right into.
If it’s the time travel you’re missing the most, might I suggest the classic series Quantum Leap? It’s an oldie, for sure, but it’s a lot of fun. Scott Bakula (Captain Archer from Star Trek: Enterprise) is Dr. Sam Beckett, a scientist working on a top-secret time travel project for the military. Something goes wrong, and Sam’s consciousness is sent leaping through time (one might even say quantumly), possessing the bodies of various people at various key moments in history where something’s about to go wrong. Aided by his friend Al, who appears as a hologram only he can see, Sam has to figure out where the timeline has gotten messed up and what the person whose body he’s inhabiting has to do to set things right again. Once the timeline is fixed, Sam “leaps” again, hoping to get back home but instead finding himself in another body with another problem to solve. Like the Doctor, Sam’s adventures can take him anywhere at any time, and like the Doctor Sam usually has no idea why he’s been brought to that time/place, only that something’s up and he’s the only one who can fix it.
That’s not The Doctor! I want The Doctor!
Me too, buddy, me too. Which brings up a good point: if it’s Doctor Who we want, why don’t we just watch Doctor Who? While many fans of the Doctor, just like me, got into the series through the modern incarnations, there are still the 26 seasons of the classic era out there just waiting to be watched! There are the original, William Hartnell years, when the Doctor traveled with his granddaughter Susan and the series was still ostensibly an educational program; the Earth-bound Jon Pertwee years, when the Doctor couldn’t use the TARDIS and instead drove around in a car called Bessie while helping the UN-backed UNIT fight off otherworldly threats; and the creepy Tom Baker years, when classic Who was never better. The pacing takes some getting used to: while the modern series is made up of mostly self-contained hour-long episodes with the occasional two-parter, supporting a wider season-long arc; classic-era stories are usually made up of anywhere between four to seven half-hour episodes. And some of those episodes are definitely filler. And while Doctor Who’s special effects have always required a little suspension of disbelief, in some of the older episodes it’s REALLY bad. But there’s a lot of excellent stories in there, too, and it’s great to see the ways in which the character of the Doctor, the Daleks, the Cybermen, and all the rest have evolved over time.
It’s more than enough to tide us over until the TARDIS reappears!