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5 Ways Doctor Who Made a Difference

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1. The Theme Song

Many TV shows have had memorable theme songs, but few were as innovative as the eerie Doctor Who theme. Composed by Ron Grainer (who also wrote the themes for such classic 1960s shows as Steptoe and Son and The Prisoner), it was arranged and mixed by Delia Derbyshire at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The Workshop pioneered electronic music in Britain, and Derbyshire's arrangement (using electronic oscillators, tape loops and reverse tape effects) was unlike anything ever heard before, with no conventional instruments. Recording the theme was a lengthy process, taking several weeks, but it was worth it. After a concert in 1971, the Queen herself was introduced to Desmond Briscoe, head of the Workshop. "The Radiophonic Workshop?" said Her Majesty. "Ah yes"¦ Doctor Who!" Have a listen:

2. Dalekmania

In the mid-1960s, the Doctor was in danger of being beaten by his greatest enemies"¦ in popularity, at least. The Daleks are robot-like mutants from the planet Skaro, who invade planets with piercing, electronic cries of "Exterminate!" British kids found them terrifying "“ and just like in roller-coasters, they loved being terrified. Soon, Dalekmania was all the rage in Britain. Kids could buy Dalek toys, comics and singles like "I'm Gonna Spend My Christmas With A Dalek" by a group called the Go-Go's (no, not those Go-Go's). Kids would even line up for hours to see the Daleks make charity appearances. Not bad for a race of evil monsters. The Daleks became part of British culture, influencing many new sci-fi monsters and characters (perhaps even good guys like R2-D2), and even entering the language"¦

3. Such language!

Only a few TV series have added words to the English language. Doctor Who added at least two, possibly three. "Dalek" was the first one added to the Oxford English Dictionary. "Not only had I created a monster, I had created a word," wrote their creator, Terry Nation. "What writer could ask for more?"

Later, the Doctor's unique traveling machine, the Tardis, also found its way into the OED. Though it's a handy machine (able to travel through time and space), it entered the language for one of its even more impressive properties: as it occupies two different dimensions, it's bigger on the inside than the outside (which is just as well, because it's outwardly disguised as a 1920s-style British police box, leaving little room to move). Hence, any room or cabinet that somehow seems more spacious on the inside is a "Tardis" (which, for the record, stands for "Time And Relative Dimensions In Space").

But perhaps the series biggest contribution to the English language was the prefix "cyber," to describe anything computerized. Though the term "cybernetic" was used in 1948, it was probably some ongoing Doctor Who villains, the Cybermen, who turned "cyber" into a prefix. Countless IT and internet geeks, not to mention science fiction authors, have followed their lead.

4. Violence and Gore for Boys and Girls

JonPertwee.jpgDoctor Who was created as a kids' show, but its concepts and stories were smart enough to win a following among adults. As a result, the show became slightly more "grown-up," which didn't impress people like outspoken morals campaigner Mary Whitehouse, who thought it was too scary and violent for kids. In 1972, it was on the BBC's "black list" of the 10 most violent shows. "Our program isn't violent, it's all just fantasy," objected actor Jon Pertwee (left), who played the Doctor at the time. "It wouldn't upset an 80-year-old maiden aunt and my young son loves it."

The complaints of scariness and violence continued throughout the 1980s, but the series became a yardstick of what was acceptable on children's television. It changed attitudes and caused much debate. It might have been fantasy, but it inspired British kids' TV to become tougher and grittier.

5. Changing the Genre

Doctor Who was a major influence on British science fiction television, which is very different from the American sci-fi. For starters, British producers didn't have the budget for great special effects or sets, so instead they focused on imaginative scripts, finding creative ways to do cheap effects and building alien sets that made the plastic planets on the original Star Trek look realistic. In fact, were it not for the success of Doctor Who, British science fiction might be very rare indeed. Without Doctor Who, we would never have had such cult sci-fi shows as Blake's Seven, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Red Dwarf and Life on Mars. Even many of Britain's non-sci-fi comedy and drama series were Who-influenced.

The new series of Doctor Who has a higher budget and production standards, but the focus is still on scripts and acting. It helps that so many of Britain's best writers and actors grew up on Doctor Who, and are eager to do it. The first head writer of the new series, noted playwright Russell T Davies, was a long-time Doctor Who fan. So are current star David Tennant, and most of the writers and directors. For a cheap kids' show, it sure influenced a lot of Britain's finest creative people.

Mark Juddery is a writer and historian based in Australia. See what else he's written at

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
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Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.


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