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Designed to educate and entertain the youngsters, ‘Doctor Who’ captured the imagination of a massive audience even if the first episode was overshadowed by the assassination of President John F Kennedy. And even if for some crazy reason you’re not into Time Lords and Sonic Screwdrivers, sci fi TV series like ‘Doctor Who’ were at the forefront of progressive storytelling that confronted heavy issues in an accessible way. There’s a reason that ‘Doctor Who’ has endured for decades, and it’s influence and legacy can be seen in a diverse range of TV shows.
If you’re still in doubt that ‘Doctor Who’ remains one of the most important British TV shows of all time, then have a read of this lovingly crafted article.
Despite the hugely successful radio series, the BBC remained skeptical that Douglas Adams’ ‘The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy’ could be adapted for television. Then in 1981, Adams condensed his mammoth book into six half-hour episodes for a blooming lovely version that retained that uniquely Adams sense of humour.
Everyman Arthur Dent is having a bad day, his house is about to be bulldozed, he just found out his best friend Ford Prefect isn’t human. Oh, and the earth is about to be destroyed to make way for a new space super-highway.
TV shows like ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy’ embrace the odd, the unique and the fantastical in equal measures. What would British scifi look like without them? I shudder to think.
Before he created ‘The Hitch Hikers Guide’, Douglas Adams spent many years working on ‘Doctor Who’ in a variety of roles. Writing iconic stories such as ‘The Pirate Planet’, the once lost ‘Shada’ serial and cowrote ‘City of Death’ using the pseudonym David Agnew. Adams would go on to serve as script editor for Tom Baker’s penultimate series in 1979.
Gene Roddenberry’s beloved creation arrived on our screens three years after ‘Doctor Who’ captivated the UK. At first glance, the two shows might not appear that similar, but in many ways ‘Star Trek’ was the American answer to ‘Doctor Who’.
‘Star Trek’ charts a pioneering mission through space to seek out new life forms and civilisations, but it’s made with the same wide-eyed wonder as ‘Doctor Who’. ‘Star Trek’ even suffers from the same wobbly set syndrome that classic ‘Doctor Who’ was rife with, but that only adds to its charms.
Just like ‘Doctor Who, ‘Star Trek’ spawned numerous spin-offs and created a vast mythology for its characters to explore.
Back in 1988, BBC Two took a bit of a gamble on a new space set sitcom from Rob Grant and Doug Naylor. ‘Doctor Who’ was in decline and only a year away from temporary cancelation, so the BBC were cautious over new scifi projects.
The antics of Dave Lister (Craig Charles), Rimmer (Chris Barrie), Cat (Danny JohnJules) and Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) pushed the limits of what was possible on a sitcom budget. The early days of ‘Red Dwarf’ are as inventive as any episode of ‘Doctor Who’ new or old in terms of audacious plots. Played firmly for laughs, ‘Red Dwarf’ is a classic example of UK scifi comedy, a subgenre sorely lacking in today’s modern world.
‘Red Dwarf’ fans were rewarded for their patience as two new series will be shot back to back in 2016, here’s hoping it lives up to expectations. I just nipped to the future in my TARDIS, and can report that series 11 and 12 were fantastic.
“And so Doctor Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home…”
Traveling within his own lifetime, Dr Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) test runs his experiment and steps into the quantum leap exhilarator. Aided by his friend Al (Dean Stockwell) who appears to him as a hologram, Sam’s worthy adventures in time would have made The Doctor proud.
I loved ‘Quantum Leap’ and was quietly devastated when it was cancelled after five seasons, like every fan of the show, the final episode served a lasting gut punch that still hurts. If you haven’t watched the series the overt your eyes now because I’m about to spoil the hell out of it. The closing credit reveals that Dr Sam Beckett never made it home, and as he fixed Al’s timeline the two would never meet and be awesome friends. Thanks a bunch, NBC.
Joss Whedon’s series was directly cited as a heavy influence for Russell T Davies when he revived the Time Lord in 2005. When you compare the two shows, the similarities are all there to see beyond Davies’ comments.
In the first cycle of new Who, Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) could be seen as a ‘Buffy’ type who is chosen to save the world (and the universe) from evil. The Doctor isn’t a fighter; he’s more a thinker (aside from The War Doctor), as such we can see parallels with Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head).
If you want to go a little deeper, both Rose and Buffy are in love with an immortal who is ultimately doomed to be alone. The list of similarities are numerous and if you’d like to read more then check out this insightful article.
If you’ve made it this far down on my TV Show Like ‘Doctor Who’ list, then you’re clearly a geek of refined taste, and I salute you. To highlight the breadth of the ‘Doctor Who’ legacy, I’m going to whizz through some core TV no ‘Doctor Who’ fan should be without.
If we’re going to look at TV shows similar to ‘Doctor Who’, then we have to mention the nuWho spinoffs. Russell T Davies expanded the nuWho universe with this kiddie friendly spinoff centring on former companion Sarah Jane Smith (Elizabeth Sladen). Aimed at a younger audience, the further adventures of the classic eras favourite companion were littered with familiar aliens and an infectious jovial tone.
David Tennant and Matt Smith both featured as their respective Doctors and in 2008 Brigadier LethbridgeStewart (Nicholas Courtney) reprised his role after an absence of 20 years. Tragically, Elizabeth Sladen passed away in 2011, and the final six episodes were released later that year serving as a fitting tribute to Sladen’s legacy.
In all good faith, I can only endorse the third series of Russell T Davies’ other ‘Doctor Who’ spin-off. The supposedly ‘sexy’ antics of Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) resulted in two seasons worth of tonally jumbled stories. However, after a bit of a break ‘Torchwood’ returned in 2009 with gusto for a five-part miniseries ‘The Children of Earth’.
An alien race known as the 4,5,6 hold the earth hostage and demand 10% of the world’s children as their ransom. Finally, a grown-up sci-fi series that is as challenging as it is thrilling, this was the hard-edged spin-off that Davies had promised fans. ‘Children of Earth’ even costarred Peter Capaldi five years before he became the Twelfth Doctor (technically Thirteenth).
Created by Terry Nation (best known for creating The Doctor’s greatest nemesis The Daleks), this darker side of British scifi has the influence of ‘Doctor Who’ written all over it. In the far future, a band of criminals turned resistance fighters, led by Roj Blake, rage against the evil Federation aboard the good ship ‘Liberator’.
‘Blake’s 7’ is best described as a hybrid of ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Doctor Who’, playing with the same central themes only wrapped up in a bleak dystopian future.
While it might not be as good as either series that inspired it, ‘Blake’s 7’ is challenging (albeit silly) science fiction. Aided by thought-provoking scripts the show found a cult following, but it never reached the same global level of success as ‘Doctor Who’.
If the outlandish science behind ‘Doctor Who’ leaves your brain hungry for more mind bending equations, then ‘Fringe’ is the TV show you will adore. Created by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and J.J Abrams, ‘Fringe’ was always on the cusp of cancellation, but its loyal fans ensured it lasted five satisfying seasons.
After her sceptical nature is tested, hardnosed FBI Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) joins the FBI’ ‘Fringe’ division to investigate the weird and the fantastical. Aided by Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) and his scientist father Walter (John Noble) who has spent the last 17 years in a psychiatric facility. Olivia and the team become all that stands in the way of unimaginable devastation.
‘Fringe’ can be seen as reworking of ‘The XFiles’, but without sounding dismissive of Chris Carter’s seminal TV series, ‘Fringe’ is so much more than that. John Noble’s touching (and hilarious) performance as Walter is worth watching the series for alone. There are more than a few passing similarities between Walter and The Doctor, both are fiercely intelligent and occasionally a danger to everybody around them.
To mark the 50th anniversary of ‘Doctor Who’, the BBC went all out in their celebrations that culminated with ‘The Day of The Doctor’ feature length episode. Written by frequent ‘Doctor Who’ contributor Mark Gatiss, ‘An Adventure in Space and Time’ dramatises the birth of ‘Doctor Who’ and the early years of production.
David Bradley portrays the actor William Hartnell as he took on the role and takes us on a whistle-stop tour of his time in the TARDIS. The making of ‘Doctor Who’ and all the people that played a part in making a timeless series that touched the lives of millions. Behind all the science fiction, the aliens, and wonderment, ‘Doctor Who’ tells intrinsically human stories with a strong moral centre.
Okay, it might be a running gag from Dan Harmon’s ‘Community’, but this lovingly made ‘Doctor Who’ spoof was turned into a web series by Travis Richey. Due to legal reasons the web series couldn’t be called ‘Inspector Spacetime’, so Richey went for the literal Untitled Web Series About a Space Traveler Who Can Also Travel Through Time. Well played.
Including a parody that spawned a web series on this TV shows like ‘Doctor Who’ list might seem like a stretch, but if you love ‘Doctor Who’ then you need to see this.
My love of ‘Doctor Who’ runs deep as it is a series that has been a major fixture of my life since I was a nipper. Like many children of the 80s, ‘Doctor Who’ served as a gateway series that opened my mind up to science fiction television. It didn’t matter that the sets wobbled; the stories were boundless in their imagination.
Unlike all the other TV show on this list, ‘Doctor Who’ literally regenerates itself every few years when a new actor assumes the role. Each new Doctor brings something different yet remains similar, that’s part of what makes ‘Doctor Who’ unique and one of the greatest sciencefiction shows ever made. If you’re keen to explore more unmissable ‘Doctor Who’ stories, check out our rundown of essential ‘Doctor Who’ books you should read. Not in the mood for a book? Then check our list of movies similar to ‘Doctor Who’ right here.
I hope you enjoyed my selections, and if there are any more TV shows like ‘Doctor Who’ you’d like to add, then let us know in the comments section below.