Who's On First

New to Doctor Who? Here's a cheat sheet for tonight's premiere

Season 7 of the age-defying Doctor Who – nearing its 50th anniversary and still so very spry – revives the Doctor’s eternal nemeses the Daleks on tonight’s premiere on BBC America.

If the above sentence reads like so much gobbledygook to you, don’t worry: Despite half a century of lore behind it, this British sci-fi/fantasy series is surprisingly easy to jump into mid-stream. Here's what you need to know:

The Doctor – nobody knows his real name, hence the “who?” – is the last survivor of a long-extinct alien race called the Time Lords. He zips through time and space in a flying machine called the TARDIS, cleverly disguised as an old blue police box. Forever fending off alien invasions (those roving trash cans the Daleks are particularly nasty) and end-of-civilization scenarios, the Doctor takes on human companions and hangs out with famous historical figures, which allows for a revolving cast of terrific British actors.

The Doctor revolves (or, rather, evolves), too: He regenerates, phasing out of one body and taking on the form (and personality, and clothing quirks) of another – as clever as anything I’ve seen a television show do to keep the franchise going. Following David Tennant’s seemingly-unbeatable performance, Matt Smith is the latest actor to pilot the Doctor’s time-traveling box. (We talked more about the transition between the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors here.)

Smith’s the youngest Doctor yet, absent any eyebrows, which only amplifies the alien aspect, and devoted to bow ties. (“Bow ties are cool,” he keeps pushing, and damned if he didn’t make a fact of it.) In this newest incarnation of the show, shepherded by Steven Moffat, the Doctor’s companions are a spitfire ginger named Amy Pond (Karen Gillan), who’s made plain as day her attraction to the Doctor, and Amy’s husband Rory (Arthur Darvill), dutiful but never dull.

The Doctor, keeping with tradition, is a mostly-sexless thing, but under Moffat’s stewardship, things have gotten... saucier. Neal Gaiman wrote an episode last season –  the brilliant “The Doctor’s Wife” – that gave a voice to the TARDIS, the Doctor’s most-devoted companion (and, briefly, gave it a comely corporeal frame, too), while Moffat pushed a series-long arc that introduced a real wife for the Doctor, series mainstay River Song (the cheeky Alex Kingston), as well as a jaw-drop backstory that revealed River was the daughter of Amy and Rory (thanks, time travel!).

Last season ended on an upbeat note: After nursing a sort of Jesus complex (the Doctor believed he had to die in order to restore order to a universe all out of whack – case in point: the Holy Roman Emperor Winston Churchill), he neatly cheated death in a way that made his many enemies think he was done for. But seeing how season 7’s first episode is called “Asylum of the Daleks,” we’re guessing he doesn’t stay off the radar for long.

It’s already well-known that the Gillan and Darvill are leaving the show halfway through the season, which means for fans, this funny/silly/scary/ever-moving show will probably be wringing a bucket of tears out of us. Give it a couple episodes: You’ll be a fan soon, too.

Doctor Who's seventh season kicks off at 8pm tonight on BBC America. Leading up to the premiere, sixth season eps are re-airing all day.

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More Doctor Who
Five Decades of The Doctor
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Our resident Brit examines the 50th anniversary of 'Doctor Who'

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Into the TARDIS: Peter Capaldi is the New Doctor
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Doctor Who, Matt Smith, Steven Moffat, Daleks, Neil Gaiman

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