‘Doctor Who’: Adventures in time and face begin again

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Doctor Who (Matt Smith)

Long before hot tubs traveled through time, a phone booth was the way to go for excellent adventures — and I don’t mean “Bill & Ted’s.”

“Doctor Who” debuted on the BBC in 1963, one day after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated across the pond. It starred William Hartnell as a fugitive Time Lord at the helm of the TARDIS, a wondrous vehicle that can take any shape but is stuck in the charming form of a British police box and is bigger within than without. The series went off the air in 1989 after six actors succeeded Hartnell, explained away by the Doctor’s alien ability to regenerate instead of dying, but it came back to the delight of longtime fans in 2005.

Now the Doctor has regenerated again, and Matt Smith is the eleventh actor to play the iconic sci-fi role — and the youngest to date. He takes the reins 6 p.m. Arizona time today on BBC America, capping off a marathon viewing of the previous year’s episodes and the special “Doctor Who: The Ultimate Guide.”

It’s not just a new face for the leading man: the TARDIS, damaged during the final moments of David Tennant’s tenure as the Doctor, gets a makeover as well, and a new executive producer (Steven Moffat, who has written some of the latter series’ most memorable episodes) promises to shake things up and go in new directions.

But the Doctor hasn’t lost his obsession with Earth and humanity: In the season premiere, “The Eleventh Hour,” he lands somewhere in England shortly after his transformation and befriends a young woman named Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), andit’s not long before an alien menace is detected and hyperbolic heroics ensue.

Episodes of “Doctor Who” run on BBC America just two weeks after their U.K. premieres. The show has already been renewed for a sixth season in 2011.

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