#Shortstops: Doctor Who’s On First

Part of the SHORT STOPS series
Written by: Nathan Tweedie

Who’s on first?

It is one of the most memorable phrases of baseball related Americana. Abbott and Costello’s gold record for “Who’s on First” hangs on a wall in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Library.

A recording of the pair’s “Who’s on First” vaudeville sketch plays on a loop on the Museum’s third floor, and many visitors to the museum are seen wearing jerseys with the name of Who and the No 1. Every baseball fan knows the term, but one item in the Museum’s collection entitled “Who’s on First” playfully challenges the Abbott and Costello namesake with arguably a more famous piece of British pop culture: Doctor Who.

Doctor Who is a television show first produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 1963. The science fiction program follows an extraterrestrial humanoid named the “Doctor”. The Doctor is a species known in the show as a Time Lord from the planet of Gallifrey. The Doctor travels through time and space via his ship known as the T.A.R.D.I.S. (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) attempting to save civilizations from destruction or aid those in need.

One unique feature of the show that has allowed it to continue for years with various actors playing the lead is the Doctor’s ability to regenerate. That is, when a Time Lord is on death’s door, they are able to completely change themselves into a new person. While the memories from the previous forms transfer to the new form, nothing else remains. As the Doctor takes on various faces, personalities, and with the newest regeneration a new gender, it is important for fans to differentiate between which incarnation they are referring (much like James Bond fans using the actor’s name). Whovians – as fans are called – number the various forms of the Doctor. The newest form of the Doctor is the 13th, played by Jodie Whittaker.

The versions of The Doctor seen on the shirt in the Hall of Fame’s collection include the 10th (David Tennent) on second, the 11th (Matt Smith) on first, and presumably the 12th (Peter Capaldi) batting, but it is unclear from the image exactly which version of the Doctor is at the plate, which is backwards. Also, the foes of the Doctor are seen on defense. The Doctor’s first foe – the Daleks – are represented on the mound. In right field is a Cyberman, another classic Doctor Who foe. In left field is a newer villain from the series: A Weeping Angel.

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This item, however is not the Doctor’s only foray into baseball. While the television series has been popular, Doctor Who has also seen success in both audio drama and in comic form. Doctor Who, in all forms, is supposed to be set in our universe – meaning it shares the same history as us. That is why one may be surprised by the baseball teams visited by the Doctor in the 1986 comic Time Bomb.

The story begins with the Doctor’s companion, Peri, being dropped off in New York City in 1986 to watch a baseball game between the Dodgers and the Redskins. After a series of mishaps, the Doctor and his penguin looking companion Frobisher wind up altering the evolution of life on earth to the point that humans never existed. After resolving the issue, the Doctor and Frobisher arrive to the game, hoping to sneak into the game for free. Upon exiting the TARDIS, they realize they had materialized on the field of play – much to the confusion of the ballplayers.

As many baseball fans know, the Dodgers left Brooklyn long before 1986 and the Redskins have never been a major league team, though a team by the same name has been a member of the NFL since 1932. As Doctor Who is supposed to be set in the real world – this is a surprising gaff for the editors to miss.

Nevertheless, the Who’s on First shirt is a great mashup of American and British pop culture that will be preserved in Cooperstown.


Nathan Tweedie is the manager of on-site learning at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the SHORT STOPS series