50 years of Doctor Who

Doctor Who - An Unearthly Child
Doctor Who – An Unearthly Child

On November 23, 1963 the first episode of “Doctor Who” classic series was broadcast. After 50 years, the new series keeps on renewing what has become a huge phenomenon in British popular culture known throughout the world. The many celebrations and parties planned in many nations will accompany the vision of the special episode “The Day of the Doctor”, broadcast simultaneously in some countries starting from 7.50 PM GMT.

The creation of “Doctor Who” was decided to fill a hole in the BBC schedule between two successful programs in which a program was broadcast that drove down the ratings. A couple of years earlier, the BBC Head of Drama Sydney Newman had already directed the team that created another series that’s become legendary, “The Avengers“, but this new program was to targeted to a younger audience, although the idea was that it would appeal to the whole family.

Sydney Newman commissioned Verity Lambert with the production of the new program because he had previously worked with her in the past so he knew her skills. A key point for him was to avoid the presence of the so-called “bug-eyed monsters” typical of the pulp magazine science fiction. For this reason, he initially opposed the idea of the Daleks but Lambert’s strong defense and the fact that there were no other screenplays ready for production convinced him to approve their presence in “Doctor Who”.

“Doctor Who” debuted with the first episode of the serial “An Unearthly Child“, which introduces the mysterious character of the Doctor, in a terrible moment, the day after the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. For this reason, the episode was repeated the following week.

Despite this beginning and a really low budget, the show was quickly successful, especially thanks to the Daleks. That led to the production of merchandise with a number of products that throughout the years have become really huge. Two adventures were adapted into movies, although in them the Doctor is an Earth scientist: “Dr Who and The Daleks” in 1965 and “Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 AD” in 1966.

When actor William Hartnell’s health became a problem, the concept of regeneration was invented, allowing the protagonist to change his appearance. In this way, it became possible to change the actor and in 1966 and the Second Doctor made his debut.

After a few years of great success, “Doctor Who” started losing audience. The limited budget  was one of the main factors that conditioned the production but at that time the BBC management believed in the show so it was decided to exploit it better in a smaller number of episodes produced in color. That’s who in 1970 the era of the Third Doctor started, quickly gaining new great successes.

In 1974, a new regeneration led to the Fourth Doctor era, which lasted until 1981. It’s considered by many people the peak of the classic series but was often the subject of controversy due to the levels of violence reached in some stories, especially during the Gothic horror period.

In 1981 the Fifth Doctor era started, with more controversy than successes. Among the new BBC managers there was less and less appreciation for “Doctor Who” and the budget started being more and more reduced.

In 1984 the Sixth Doctor era started and this time the new controversy regarding the violence of some adventures led to a suspension of the series in 1985. A fan campaign led to a return already in 1986, albeit with a short season, but the road of decadence had already been taken.

In 1987 the Seventh Doctor era started. Despite attempts to make the most of the little budget, the ratings were poor compared to the golden years and in 1989 it was decided to suspend the show.

It seemed that “Doctor Who” fans had to settle for watching the videos that in the meantime were published and read the novels and comic books connected to the show. However, producer Philip Segal, who was born in England and moved in the U.S., had other plans. After years of efforts, he succeeded in producing a TV movie that in which the Eighth Doctor made his debut, with the hope of being able to start a new TV series.

The TV movie wasn’t a success in the U.S.A. but in later years audio adventures started being published, especially by Big Finish. Finally, in 2005 the new “Doctor Who” series started with the Ninth Doctor. After one season came the Tenth Doctor and in 2010 came the Eleventh Doctor. The Twelfth Doctor has already been announced.

With the new TV series, “Doctor Who” is having more success than ever and also many adventures of the classic series can be enjoyed on DVD. Unfortunately, many episodes of the ’60s have been lost because at that time TV productions were considered ephemeral. Luckily, copies of those episodes were sent around the world and over the years some of them have been found.

The latest announcement of the discovery of several episodes arrived just a few weeks ago. The rumors, then partly confirmed, keep on spreading and in the case of the last episodes found the announcement came after the episodes were restored. This gives hope to fans that other official announcements may come in the future.

It’s also for this reason that this anniversary isn’t only a celebration of “Doctor Who” past but also its rediscovery. Thanks to the new series, it’s also a party that looks at the future, which surely will be made of more success. That’s really appropriate for a saga about time travel.


    1. If I remember correctly, I found the reference to Sydney Newman in one of the DVDs in “The Beginning” boxset and a trailer for the docu-movie just broadcast in the UK seemed to suggest the same. Possibly after 50 years things got a bit mixed up.

      Thank you for your useful links! 🙂


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