Happy 49th birthday, Doctor Who!

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It was 49 years ago today that a pair of school teachers followed an unusual student into a graveyard. The encountered a silver-haired stranger and his time/space machine. Their lives changed forever and a legend was born. Long before the sonic screwdriver, K9, timey-wimey writing and River Song there was Sydney Newman, Verity Lambert along with writers Donald Wilson and C. E. Webber. A concept designed to push the boundaries of fantastic entertainment that never talked down to viewers and used the limited resources of the BBC utilized by the special effects boffins and the marvelous Radiophonic Workshop to make a ground-breaking program.

Doctor Who has changed and mutated over the years, adapting to the demands of the public along with the changing visions of the production team. From historical to comedy, Gothic horror to slapstick and even high concept drama, it seems that there is little that Doctor Who cannot do. Doctor Who, unlike any program before or since, has reinvented itself so many times that there’s nothing like it out there.

When I was getting into Doctor Who back in the day, it was entering its hey day thanks to the efforts to publicize the 20th anniversary. It was something that kids my age were interested in. With Star Trek long gone and Star Wars having waned in popularity, this weird TV program screened late at night on PBS stations filled a void. The rich legacy of Doctor Who along with the numerous handbooks, novelizations and a table top role playing game all became available around this time. This was before the internet as we have it now, before DVDs and long before a cable TV station that screened the episodes the same day they were seen in the UK.

Today Doctor Who is a viral phenomenon. When David Tennant’s costume premiered, images with the message ‘oooh, he dresses just like ME’ appeared online of fans dressed in plimsoles, pin stripe suits and NHS specs appeared. When the Master used a device to turn everyone on the planet into duplicates of himself, twitter icons were changed that night to images of John Simm grinning like a loon. Videos of fans trying to eat fish fingers and custard flooded the ‘net after Matt Smith’s Doctor acclimated to his new taste buds.

It is now so cool to like Doctor Who that it is no longer an obscure cult TV series and is now something else entirely. It is hardly the same Doctor Who as viewers had witnessed on their screens back in November 1963, filled with atmosphere and menace. Neither is it the colorful and bizarre oddity disguised as pantomime seen in 1988. It is its own creature, ever-evolving, ever-changing and timeless.

Happy birthday!

I invite you to read my many articles on Doctor Who by clicking on the image below and I hope you will take the time to share your favorite memories of this remarkable TV series.

12 thoughts on “Happy 49th birthday, Doctor Who!

  1. “When I was getting into Doctor Who back in the day, it was entering its hey day thanks to the efforts to publicize the 20th anniversary”. Erm, its heyday was the 60s and 70s, by the 80s it was a former shadow of it’s self and heading towards cancellation.


    • Well, it was very popular in the Hartnell era, sagged to the point of cancellation by 1969 and then had a surge in popularity in 1970. The early Tom Baker era was something of a golden age according to many, but by 1979 it was in danger again but the arrival of JNT changed things around (admittedly, briefly). The 20th anniversary saw the introduction of more material than had been seen in ages, from the aforementioned paperbacks, hardcover books celebrating the legacy of the series, miniatures, a Marvel Comics series reprinting the comics in color, lead miniatures… etc. This was a VERY brief moment (stopped dead when Doctor Who disappeared after Colin Baker’s first series) but a vibrant one. Sci-fi conventions were home-grown affairs that were affordable to attend and offered chances to meet stars of the program and perhaps see rare gems on the big screen (I saw the Daemons that way).

      I’m not sure what your experience is with watching Doctor Who, but – in my area – up until 1980 or so, it seemed that the PBS stations were showing nothing but Tom Baker stories in a loop. Many Americans had no idea that the program existed previous to that time or that it was a BBC series at all. The new episodes along with the special showing of the Five Doctors and ‘the Five Faces of Doctor Who’ changed all that and solidified a cult American fanbase for my generation.

      So you are of course free to disagree, but I just wanted to explain the basis of my statement.


  2. Yes, I agree with you, Jameson. In terms of the US and the *visibility* of Doctor Who in your country the period around the 20th Anniversary was a kind of heyday. Especially with JN-T’s focus on publicity and the (growing?) popularity of conventions aiding things such as the broadcasts you mention, as you got to see Doctor Who at its peak with Tom Baker et al as well as the lesser contemporary serials. The eighties was, of course, the point when fandom went into hyperdrive regardless of the fluctuating quality of the tv show. Over in Blighty the likes of Longleat were a great gathering place for fans and certainly more than a few of those fans went on to play a big part on Doctor Who’s future in books, magazines, fan-made videos, audios, and finally on-screen. So, yes, while I’d argue that the ’60s and ’70s were the eras where Doctor Who’s real consistent narrative and popular heydays were to be found (Hinchcliffe/Holmes above all) there’s no way I’d argue against your notion of a particular kind of Who heyday even if I was being snotty and narrow-minded.


  3. “Do cosplay as Uriah Heep?”, interesting use of the English language there unless you are asking whether *you* should do cosplay as Uriah Heep in which case, it’s up to you. If you want to dress up as a fictional character for whatever reason that’s your choice. So good luck with that.
    Suggestions for other characters you could play : Bill Sykes, Bentley Drummle, Murdstone, Gollum, Captain Harris (from the Police Academy films, o yes!), and Frank Burns. No, don’t thank me you well-mannered charmer!


  4. It’s funny… I was actually out that day eating dinner with my sister and her husband (and kids)… and he mentioned it was the 49th anniversary. I didn’t really think about it since all the run-up has been about the 50th… but then that made me think.

    We are getting the rest of Series 7 in early 2013… and the actual literal 50th anniversary will fall in November… so I wonder if that means a long wait from the end of Series 7 until we actually get to see what the “big plans” are next year?


  5. Do you know when Series 8 oops I mean Series 7 Part 2 will actually air? I’ve been assuming it’d be March or thereabouts but I don’t know. I wonder what the 50th Anniversary celebration shows will be? It’s one of the problems with this Weird Half-season/Special/Half-Season set-up, Season 7 Part 2 will technically air in the anniversary year (though really the 50th year is from Nov 23 2013 to November 23 2014) yet really celebratory shows will air in the Winter. I think the straight-forward single-run season is much better, it’s not so bitty!


    • I think I have seen speculation of anything from January to March… but no specifics… but there’s only 8 more episodes for that run (not counting the Christmas special which has yet to air of course)… So even if it starts in March, we would be done in May… so it just seems like a big gap before the proper 50th anniversary stuff. But who knows (see what I did there)…


  6. On a completely serious note… I saw a clip online of someone talking to Christopher Eccleston… when asked if he had been asked about the 50th Anniversary he said “I would have to kill you if I told you”… and he was quite complimentary of Matt Smith… all-in-all, it struck me as quite jovial and not at all the hate-Doctor-Who-at-all-costs reactions we had been seeing from Eccleston… so I wonder if something is afoot after all.


  7. Woo-hoo! Interesting, SJV – Eccleston has a done a few things for the BBC recently so perhaps that means he’s more amenable? If he played Destro in that GI Joe crap and is portraying a jug-eared Dark Elf in Thor 2 maybe Doctor Who seems attractive too?!
    “The power of the Farce”, now *that* is a *fabulously* bad pun, I’m jealous! How do you manage it Master Fauxda or should that be Obi-Pun Kenobi?


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