1 9 6 3 – Current (UK)
The longest running science fiction series in TV history actually began life as a concept for a children’s educational programme. The time travel of the Doctor – a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey – was meant to be a way of explaining past ages and the physical sciences.
The very first episode aired on 23 November 1963 – the day after John F Kennedy was assassinated.
The adventure began at an ordinary school where the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford) was a pupil.
Her science teacher Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and history teacher Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) were intrigued by Susan’s vast knowledge, and their curiosity led them to the Doctor and his home – what seemed to be a police box. . .
Of course, it turned out to be a time machine called the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space) which was also much, much bigger on the inside than the outside.
In the beginning, The Doctor (originally played by William Hartnell) was to all intents and purposes the villain: he kidnaps two teachers in his time machine, carts them back to the Stone Age, and maintains a position of intractable mystery.
Hartnell played The Doctor until 1966 when he left partly because he was suffering from arteriosclerosis and was becoming unsafe on the set.
But the character’s ability to transmute into another human form has enabled a succession of actors to play the Time Lord; Patrick Troughton (1966 – 1969), Jon Pertwee (1969 – 1974), Tom Baker (1974 – 1981), Peter Davison (1982 – 1984), Colin Baker (1984 – 1986), Sylvester McCoy (1987 – 1992), Paul McGann (1996), Christopher Eccleston (2005), David Tennant (2005 – 2010), Matt Smith (2010 – 2013), Peter Capaldi (2014 – 2017) and Jodie Whittaker.
Jon Pertwee’s debut as Doctor No. 3 brought sweeping changes to the show. It jumped out of black-and-white and into colour and put a greater emphasis on elaborate stunts and action scenes than ever before. It also made a concerted effort to tell more complex and sophisticated stories.
Tom Baker (No. 4) was the most alien Doctor of the lot – capable of stunning callousness and levity as well as cosmic gallantry.
Baker had been working part-time on a building site when he was chosen for the part, and later remarked that his workmates couldn’t believe ‘their cement mixer becoming Doctor Who’.
Under a young producer called Philip Hinchcliffe, Baker appeared in stories so sinister, gothic and unsuitable for children that Mary Whitehouse agitated – successfully – for Hinchcliffe to be fired.
They were shamelessly derivative stories, but universally brilliant: In ‘Pyramids Of Mars’, Egyptian mummies turn out to be emissaries of Satan himself; there’s a spectacular Frankenstein rip-off with ‘The Brain Of Morbius’ (see mad scientist Philip Madoc juggle a luminous green brain); and the Doctor was effectively Sherlock Holmes in ‘The Talons Of Weng-Chiang’ – let down only by a giant rat made of carpet!
Also worth re-seeing is the magnificent ‘Genesis Of The Daleks’, in which the Doctor meets Hitler in the shape of the tin Nazis’ creator, Davros.
Peter Davison (No. 5) had the unenviable task of following Baker, but his Doctor seems to improve with the passing of years and a second (or third) viewing. His rather moving swansong was ‘The Caves Of Androzani’.
Sylvester McCoy’s stint as Doctor No. 7 had its moments – notably ‘The Curse of Fenric’ which featured vampires and Nicholas Parsons as a troubled vicar.
And over the years, the Doctor has faced a grisly assortment of adversaries including Cybermen (pictured below), Ice Warriors, Sensorites, Voords, Krotons, Autons, Zygons, Sea Devils, Urbankans, Draconians, Silurians, Sontarans, Mara, Yeti, Terileptils, Mummies, and everyone’s favourite cruet set, the Daleks.
The Daleks are probably the scariest memory of my childhood with their menacing cries of “exterminate! ex-ter-min-ate!” much imitated by me and my friends with saucepans or laundry baskets on our heads!
There were complaints about the Cybermen being too frightening, and the use of vampire bats in a 1980 episode prompted an outcry from the RSPCA and led to questions being asked in Parliament.
The Doctor also had a succession of female assistants, mostly stereotyped as helpless women (such as Jo Grant) who added a bit of sexiness to the show.
Most of the doctor’s male acquaintances were also stereotypes, most notably Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (pictured below right) who had this immortal line while addressing a soldier in The Daemons; – “Jenkins, chap with the wings there, five rounds rapid!”.
The show was shot on video and produced on a shoe-string budget and invariably featured scenery which shook visibly when a door was slammed or someone fell backwards into a wall!
The special effects cost just as little – The flashing lights on the Daleks came from the indicators of a Morris car – and these most terrifying adversaries were propelled by stuntmen who sat inside on a stool and pushed the Dalek around on castors.
The low budget also, unfortunately, meant some of the monsters were unintentionally amusing. While The Cybermen were mildly terrifying, the Sea Devils and others of their ilk, were downright laughable (even as a small child).
Jon Pertwee – who played the Doctor between 1969 and 1974 – did not share my deep-seated fear of the exterminating salt and pepper shakers.
During an interview he said; “You only had to go down two flights of stairs and you had (the Daleks) screwed.” Maybe so, but how many TV baddies can claim a place in the Oxford English Dictionary? “Dalek” makes the cut!
Falling viewing numbers, a decline in the public perception of the show and a less prominent transmission slot saw production suspended in 1989. Doctor Who remained dormant until 2003.
In September of that year, BBC Television announced the in-house production of a new series after several years of attempts by BBC Worldwide to find backing for a feature film version.
One of the best things about Doctor Who’s format is that it’s free to do almost anything. If the Doctor can travel anywhere in the universe and to any point in history, the show is limited, in theory, only by the imagination.
Over the years, Doctor Who has built up a fanatical following among children and adults alike. There are even Doctor Who conventions, and no other TV show has encouraged such ‘anorak’ behaviour, with the possible exception of Star Trek.
Carole Ann Ford
Dorothea ‘Dodo’ Chaplet
Brigdr. Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart
Roger Delgado (1)
Anthony Ainley (2)
Sarah Jane Smith
Voice of K-9
John Leeson (1)
David Brierley (2)
Mary Tamm (1)
Lalla Ward (2)