Steven Moffat, the former showrunner of the long-running British cult classic, Doctor Who, provided an in-universe explanation as to why the first two incarnations of the Doctor had their episodes broadcast in black and white. Moffat declares the early incarnations of the Doctor suffered from achromatopsia and were incapable of perceiving color. He goes further and indicates the stories are being told from the Doctor’s visual perspective. Moffat’s revised canon is written into his 2018 book “The Day of the Doctor.”
If you are unfamiliar with the Doctor, they are a member of an ancient star-spanning civilization called the The Time Lords or the Gallifreyans. The Doctor is an itinerant adventurer who travels both through space and time in a specialized temporal starship (the TARDIS) often with companions on terrifying adventures against aliens, robots, and other megalomaniacal reprobates such as the Master. What makes the Doctor unique among speculative fiction franchises, is the protagonist’s ability to change their appearance and personalities through a specialized process called regeneration whenever they are mortally injured.
Each regeneration of the Doctor has been numbered and has a series of adventures before regenerating and being replaced by a new actor, complete with a new way of thinking, being, dressing and adventuring. There have been 14 mainstream televised versions of the Doctor and at least one specialized character called the War Doctor who is not counted among the basic regenerations.
Fans of the show recognize William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton as the First and Second Doctors who have received Steven Moffat’s canon shift. Moffat’s rewrite, in his book based on the wildly popular 50th-anniversary episode “Day of the Doctor,” featured a rare cross-time, multiple Doctor event. The Doctor is one of the rare protagonists who can meet themselves while adventuring and rarely gives it a second thought.
“Day of the Doctor” takes place during the legendary Time Wars, when the Gallifreyans and their mortal enemies, the Daleks have waged war across the stars killing billions. The story reveals a Doctor uncounted among previous incarnations called the War Doctor. The televised “Day of the Doctor” featured the Tenth (David Tennant) and Eleventh (Matt Smith) Doctors battling alongside the War Doctor, wonderfully performed by Jon Hurt who brought a gravitas to his performance as this unique character.
Moffat’s book claims the First and Second Doctors episodes were in black and white because the Doctor’s incarnations were colorblind and unable to differentiate colors. Moffat takes this perspective and uses it to explain the canon predispositions of later Doctors to dress outlandishly due to their fascination with color, once they were able to see it.
Entertainment journalist Craig Elvy suggested that the Doctor’s former colorblindness implies “the audience is watching Doctor Who through the eyes of the Doctor – not from the neutral, third-person perspective viewers naturally assume. By extension, that also means Doctor Who’s stories are being told through the Doctor’s mental perspective, complete with their bias, their fallible memories, and maybe even their deliberate lies.”
While the show was produced in 1963 and color television was available, its production lagged, due to the fact, color televisions were hardly as ubiquitous as they are today. Most of our favorite television shows from the period were first viewed in black and white.
As a result, most viewers first experience with the Doctor’s adventures being broadcast in color were at the start of Season 7 in 1970, with the episode series, “Spearhead from Space,” featuring the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee. Recent technological developments commissioned by the BBC were slated to colorize the earliest adventures of the First and Second Doctors, including the first episode, “An Unearthly Child” (1963) which introduced the Doctor and the TARDIS. This was tentatively scheduled to be in time for the 60th anniversary late in 2023.
This in-universe canon shift won’t be an issue for most Whovians because they recognize canon as one of the most flexible aspects of this time-travel franchise which has hundreds of books, stories, radio plays, and other media which plays fast and loose with the canon. “Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey” and all that.
The Doctor also enjoys two major periods of production from 1963-1989, which are considered to be the first 26 seasons of the show. For new Who fans of the show, who started with Season 1 (or Season 27 for the old fans) featuring the Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston (in 2005) with his new crop of companions, Rose Tyler and the irrepressibly smooth and charismatic, Captain Jack Harkness. The second series has been running continuously from 2005 to the present with the last Doctor having been the first woman to play the role, Jodie Whittaker.
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