While the first Doctor Who serial, "An Unearthly Child" (also known by a variety of other titles), aired to only moderate ratings, its second serial "The Daleks"" (also known as "The Mutants" and "Dead Planet") proved to be a hit. Indeed, the show became something of a fad in the mid-Sixties, particularly with regards to The Doctor's archenemies, the Daleks. Doctor Who went on to become a British institution, with both the words "TARDIS" and "Dalek" eventually being included in the Oxford New English Dictionary. Over the years it would be imported around the world, including Canada and the United States where it developed something of a cult following. Its original run lasted for 26 series (from 1963 to 1989), making it the longest running science fiction series in the world according to Guinness World Records. Doctor Who was revived in 2005 and has since ran for another seven series.
The origins of Doctor Who can be essentially traced to two events. The first was in March 1962 when Eric Maschwitz, then the head of Light Entertainment at the BBC, commissioned Donald Wilson, then Head of BBC Serial Dramas, to research the possibility of producing science fiction programmes. Alice Frick and Donald Bull of the BBC Survey Group then prepared a report which was then handed into Donald Wilson. The report presented an overview of the genre and laid much of the groundwork for Doctor Who. A follow up report was written by John Braybon on the sort of stories that might provide inspiration for a BBC produced science fiction show. This report would also lay much of the groundwork for Doctor Who.
It was in March 1963 that Donald Baverstock, then Controller of Programmes at the BBC, alerted Mr. Newman of a gap in programming on Saturday afternoon between the sports show Grandstand and the musical panel show Juke Box Jury. With the earlier reports on science fiction written by Alice Frick, Donald Bull, and John Braybon in mind, Sydney Newman then decided that the spot would be best filled by a juvenile science fiction programme. Donald Baverstock and Donald Wilson then held a number of brainstorming sessions to develop a proposal for just such a series. In attendance at these sessions were Alice Frick and John Brayborn (two of the authors of the 1962 reports on science fiction), as well as script writer C. E. Webber. The idea that the show should centre on time travel was settled, and reportedly it was C. E. Webber who suggested that the "time machine" should be able to not only travel forwards and backwards in time, but through space and even "sideways" as well (perhaps into other realities).
Eventually C. E. Webber wrote the first memo formatting Doctor Who. While the characters' names would be changed, this memo more or less established them as they would be in the series' first episode. Sydney Newman annotated Mr. Webber's memo with various suggestions. In the memo C. E. Webber suggested that the time machine should be "..visible only as an absence of visibility, a shape of nothingness.." Sydney Nemwan noted that this was "Not visual" and they needed a "tangible symbol", a line of thought that could have led to the TARDIS being the shape of a Police Box. In the memo C. E. Webber suggests that "Dr. Who" (as the character is called in the memo) stole his time machine, much as The Doctor is later said to have stolen the TARDIS. At one point C. E. Webber suggests that "Dr. Who" would have a "...hatred of scientist, inventors, improvers." In one of his notes Sydney Newman states that he dislikes this and goes onto say that "Dr. Who" would "...take science, applied and theoretical, as being as natural as eating."
While much of the series' format was developed by C. E. Webber and others, reportedly Sydney Newman appears to have made some key contributions. Reportedly it was Mr. Newman who thought of the character of The Doctor. Reportedly it was also Mr. Newman who suggested that the "time machine" be much larger on the insider than it was on the outside. It has long been a mater of debate as to whether it was Sydney Newman or his friend producer and director Rex Tucker who came up with the title Doctor Who. Here it must be noted that Sydney Nemwan's ideas for Doctor Who may have originated with a segment of the Canadian version of Howdy Doody, which aired on CBC. The segment featured puppet character called Mr. X who travelled through time in his "Whatsis Box". The segment did not last long on the Canadian version of Howdy Doody, as it was removed after parents complained that it was too frightening. Regardless, Sydney Newman was Supervisor of Drama Production at CBC at the time the segment aired and its concept is remarkably similar to Doctor Who: a mysterious figure who travels through time in a box!
The first version of the initial episode of Doctor Who was recorded on 27 September 1963. Unfortunately Sydney Newman found this first recording to be unsuitable. Beyond various technical problems, his primary objection was in William Hartnell's performance as The Doctor, which he found unlikeable. The production of the first episode was then remounted. Not only was the script reworked (including making The Doctor a more sympathetic character), but changes were also made to the costumes and special effects as well. A line about The Doctor and Susan being from "the 49th century" was replaced by one stating they were from "... another time, another world". The first episode of Doctor Who was then recorded again on 18 October 1963. The fact that the first episode had to be re-recorded ultimately meant that the debut of Doctor Who would be delayed. Originally scheduled to air on 16 November 1963, it was pushed back a week to 23 November 1963.
The initial serial of Doctor Who ended on 14 December 1963 and was viewed by 6.4 million viewers. It would take the second serial of Doctor Who, "The Daleks", to turn the show into a hit. "The Daleks" (also known as "The Mutants") introduced what would become The Doctor's archenemies, the Daleks of the title. Created by script writer Terry Nation, the Daleks are a race of mutants whose organic bodies are encased in and integrated with an armoured shell. Mr. Nation's inspiration for the Daleks appears to have come from multiple sources. One was his simple desire to create an alien that did not look like "....a man in a suit". Another was a performance of the Georgian National Ballet he had seen in which ballerinas in long skirts appeared to be gliding across the stage. Yet another source of inspiration came from Terry Nation's childhood. Mr. Nation grew up during World War II at the time of The Blitz, the sustained aerial bombing of the United Kingdom by Nazi Germany. The Daleks' belief that they are the master race in the universe, their desire for total conquest, and their desire to exterminate anything that is not a Dalek were all inspired by the Nazis.
The popularity of Doctor Who guaranteed that it would be seen outside the United Kingdom. Doctor Who was first aired outside the United Kingdom in September 1964 when it made its debut in New Zealand with the first serial "An Unearthly Child". The show made its debut in Australia in January 1965 on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. The same month it made its debut in Canada on CBC. Unfortunately, CBC only aired the first 26 episodes. Afterwards Doctor Who would not be seen again in Canada until TVOntario picked up the series in 1976. In 1972 Doctor Who made its debut in the United States when it was syndicated by Time-Life, making The Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) the first to be seen in the United States. Unfortunately, local programme directors sometimes aired the episodes out of sequence and, as a result, Doctor Who failed in the U.S. at the time. In 1978 Time-Life made another attempt to introduce Doctor Who to the United States, this time syndicating it to PBS stations. This time Doctor Who would prove successful and would continue to air in the United States until its initial run ended. Doctor Who first aired rather early in its run in Latin American countries, starting in Venezuela in 1967, Mexico in 1968, and Chile in 1969.
Producer Verity Lambert left Doctor Who in 1965. Unfortunately, William Hartnell would not get along well with the producers who succeeded her. Miss Lambert's immediate successor, John Wiles, wanted to replace Mr. Hartnell with another actor playing the same character, a move that was vetoed by the BBC's then BBC's Head of Serial Dramas Gerald Savory. Ultimately, John Wiles left in 1966 after 25 episodes of the show. Mr. Wiles was replaced by Innes Lloyd. It was Innes Lloyd and story editor Gerry Davis who came up with a means of replacing William Hartnell as The Doctor. They decided that as an alien The Doctor had the ability when mortally wounded or dying due to old age to metamorphose into a new body, complete with a different personality. At the time the process was called "renewal", although it would later be termed "regeneration".
Patrick Troughton proved to be one of the most influential actors to play the role of The Doctor, if not the most influential. Of the actors who would later play The Doctor, Peter Davison, Sylvester McCoy and Matt Smith have all said that The Second Doctor was their favourite. While they first appeared in the final serial of The First Doctor, "The Tenth Planet" it was while Patrick Troughton was playing The Second Doctor that the Cybermen became one of The Doctor's more notable opponents. The Cybermen are a race who had almost entirely replaced their bodies with mechanical parts (everything except the brain) and were afterwards intent on doing the same to every other organic species. They would become one of The Doctor's most frequent opponents over the years.
After three years of playing The Doctor, Patrick Troughton had tired of the pace of shooting a television series (at that time Doctor Who could have anywhere between 40 and 44 episodes a year) and he was also concerned about being typecast. He then decided to leave the show. Unfortunately by 1969 the audience for Doctor Who had dropped considerably, while the show's budget showed no sign of shrinking. Producer Peter Bryant and then script editor Derrick Sherwin decided they could reduce the show's budgets by simply restricting The Doctor's episodes to taking place on Earth. In The Second Doctor's final adventure, then, he was seized by the Time Lords, who not only sentenced him to banishment on Earth for meddling in the business of other species, but forced The Second Doctor to regenerate into The Third Doctor (played by Jon Pertwee).
Jon Pertwee left Doctor Who in 1974 after five series. He was replaced by Tom Baker, who to this day remains one of the actors most identified with the role. Tom Baker played The Doctor for seven seasons, longer than other actor to play the role. And while Jon Pertwee was the first Doctor whose adventures were aired in the United States, it was during Tom Baker's tenure as The Doctor that Doctor Who finally saw success in America. For many Americans, then, Tom Baker would be their "first Doctor". Tom Baker's Doctor would also travel with one of The Doctor's most popular companions of all time, Sarah Jane Smith (played by Elisabeth Sladen). While she was introduced during Jon Pertwee's series as The Doctor, she is more identified with Tom Baker, accompanying him for three series. She would also be the first Doctor Who companion to whom many Americans would be exposed. Tom Baker's tenure as The Doctor would see The Doctor return to adventures in space and throughout time. No longer was The Doctor exiled to Earth.
With Peter Davison's departure the role of The Doctor was then taken over by Colin Baker (no relation to Tom Baker). With the first episode of the programme's 22nd series it returned to being broadcast only once every Saturday evening. Unfortunately, after the 22nd series of Doctor Who the BBC announced that the next series would be postponed for a year. This was largely interpreted as Doctor Who being under the threat of cancellation and outrage on the part of both the British public and the press soon ensued. The tabloid newspaper The Sun even devoted a cover story on its front page to the controversy. Regardless Doctor Who would not return for 18 months, its 23rd series not beginning until 6 September 1986. The postponement seriously hurt the ratings for Doctor Who. Ultimately Michael Grade, then Controller of BBC1 (who was not a fan of the programme), ordered that Colin Baker be replaced. While John Nathan-Turner defended Colin Baker, pointing out that he had not yet finished the three years remaining on his contract, he was dismissed nonetheless. He was replaced by Sylvester McCoy as The Seventh Doctor.
While Doctor Who had been suspended, the show was far from dead. Even as the 26th series was still in production, in July 1989, the BBC was approached by Philip Segal of Columbia Pictures about reviving the show. Mr. Segal persisted in his attempts to relaunch Doctor Who over the years, even as he moved from Columbia Pictures to Amblin Entertainment, and then to Universal Pictures. He came very close to convincing the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in the United States to pick up Doctor Who as a mid-season replacement in 1994, but unfortunately this fell through. At last Philip Segal was able to interest the American Fox Broadcasting Company. Fox commissioned a television film, titled Doctor Who, that would serve as a pilot for a potential Doctor Who series. The film was co-produced by Universal TV, BBC Worldwide, and 20th Century Fox Television.
Even with the failure of a new series to emerge in the wake of the TV movie Doctor Who was still not dead. In 1997 the new Head of Continuing Dramas, Mal Young, and then Controller of BBC One, Peter Salmon, began an effort to revive the show. Eventually Russell T. Davies, who had created the shows Revelations and Queer as Folk, was brought into the project to revive Doctor Who. Unfortunately plans for a new series were shelved when BBC Worldwide told Peter Salmon that they were planning a film version of the classic show. It was in 2000 that Peter Salmon was replaced as Controller of BBC One by Lorraine Heggessey. Fortunately Miss Heggessey was also eager to revive Doctor Who, although her hands continued to be tied by BBC Worldwide's ongoing efforts to produce a Doctor Who film. Fortunately by 2003 she was able to persuade BBC Worldwide to allow BBC One to produce a revival of Doctor Who.
|Russell T. Davies|
Christopher Eccleston left Doctor Who after one series. To this day it his reasons for doing so remain unclear. A statement released by the BBC on 30 March 2005 indicated he was afraid of being typecast, but in a 2010 interview with BBC News Christopher Eccleston said that he "wasn't comfortable" working on Doctor Who and "I didn't enjoy the environment and the culture that we, the cast and crew, had to work in," as well as "I thought if I stay in this job, I'm going to have to blind myself to certain things that I thought were wrong." Regardless, Christopher Eccleston was succeeded as The Doctor by David Tennant.
On 20 May 2008 came the announcement that Russell T. Davies would leave Doctor Who in 2009. Steve Moffat (the creator of the shows Coupling and Jekyll) would take his place as executive producer of Doctor Who. On 29 October 2008 David Tennant announced he was leaving Doctor Who. On leaving the show he said, "I think it's better to go when there's a chance that people might miss you, rather than to hang around and outstay your welcome." On 3 May 2009 Matt Smith was announced as The Eleventh Doctor. At 26 years old Matt Smith was the youngest actor to ever play The Doctor. David Tennant ended his run as The Doctor with the special "The End of Time" aired on 25 December 2009 and 1 January 2009.
The revival of Doctor Who would prove incredibly successful. It would produce two spin off series in the form of Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. It would prove even more successful in the United States and Canada than the original series has. In the United States the revival of Doctor Who would even make the covers of both Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide. While the original series was very popular in the United States, it would only be with the revival that Doctor Who would become a household name in America.
It is quite possible that Doctor Who could be the most successful British television programme of all time. Including both its original run and the revival, Doctor Who has run for a total of 33 series. This not only makes it the longest running science fiction show of all time anywhere in the world, but one of the longest running programmes of any type anywhere. Internationally Doctor Who could well be the best known British television show ever, its popularity surpassing that even of The Avengers (another programme launched by Sydney Newman). The original series was broadcast in several different countries and the revival is currently broadcast in more than 50 nations worldwide.
|Tom Baker and Daleks|
Of course, the quintessential Britishness of Doctor Who does not explain its success in places far afield of the United Kingdom. Doctor Who is seen in such diverse countries as Argentina, Ukraine, and South Korea. The show long had a cult following in Canada and the United States and is now very much a part of mainstream pop culture in both countries. It would seem that while Doctor Who has often been considered a quintessentially British show, its appeal is universal.
Much of the appeal of Doctor Who can be summed up by pure escapism. The Doctor's adventures can and have literally taken place anywhere. The Doctor and his companions of the moment can visit an alien planet or go back to ancient Rome. His opponents have ranged from power mad human beings to Daleks. Viewers watching Doctor Who are transported from their workaday lives to places they could never possibly visit in real life. Of course, escapism is not the only explanation for the appeal of Doctor Who. After all, an argument can be made that escapism also account for much of the appeal of Star Trek, a show which is also phenomenally successful but not nearly as successful as Doctor Who has been.
Of course, The Doctor does change appearance from time to time, and personality and his manner of dress as well. There can be no doubt that The Doctor's ability to regenerate has helped the show survive over the years. Aside from allowing for a new actor to step in as The Doctor when the current actor decides to leave, it has allowed the show to stay current with the times. When the show began The Doctor was a somewhat crotchety, if soft hearted, grandfatherly figure played by William Hartnell. By the late Sixties and early Seventies he was a somewhat Bondian swashbuckler in late Victorian clothes who dispatched opponents using martial arts. Over the years The Doctor has changed with the times, allowing the show to remain fresh even though it debuted in 1963.
|Elisabeth Sladen and Jon Pertwee|
While The Doctor and his companions insured that Doctor Who would be a success, the show would not have lasted had it not been for its villains. There have been the Daleks, who wish to exterminate everything that is not a Dalek. There have been the Cybermen, who have wanted to make everyone else like them. There has been The Master, who was bent on universal conquest. What The Doctor's opponents have in common is a desire to force their ideas of order upon everyone else as well as an utter lack of faith in humanity (or very many other living things, for that matter). The Daleks think that all other living beings are inferior. The Cybermen eschew emotion and individuality in the thought that these are weaknesses. In many respects, the appeal of Doctor Who can be summed up by a line in a musical tribute to Doctor Who written and performed by Craig Ferguson in 2010 but not aired until 6 January 2011 on The Late Late Show on CBS: "It’s all about the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism."
Today, fifty years after its debut, Doctor Who remains as successful as ever. The revival shows no sign of ending any time soon, while the episodes of the original run are available on both DVD and on streaming media. The show long ago infiltrated the consciousness of the British pubic and has since become a part of the pop culture of the entire English speaking world. It would seem in the end Doctor Who is very much like its nearly immortal protagonist. Quite simply, the show might never end.