Not many television programs can lay claim to 50 years of broadcasting. This weekend, the BBC’s Doctor Who series will achieve that landmark and celebrate with an anniversary special Whovians have been waiting all year for.
The 11th Doctor, Matt Smith, will be bowing out later this year to make room for the 12th Doctor. Before that happens, however, the BBC will be airing a special to commemorate this epic “journey through space and time” that has spanned a half century of television.
On November 23, 1963, the BBC launched a new science fiction program masterminded by former Canadian ITV executive Sydney Newman. At the time he was the BBC’s Head of Drama. He boldly selected a female, Verity Lambert to produce the program along with a young, foreign director.
Doctor Who took children and adults alike along for the ride as the mysterious Doctor, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey and a series of Companions defied the confines of time in the TARDIS or Time and Relative Dimensions in Space. Like no other space ship of its era, the TARDIS disguised itself as a common London police box, and was far bigger inside than outside. The TARDIS is also a sentient creature, but Whovians do not get a true glimpse of her persona until the latest incarnation played by Matt Smith.
The only weapon the Doctor uses is an alien contraption called a sonic screwdriver and his wits. He is clever, ancient and loves humanity so much he repeatedly puts himself in danger to protect the entire planet. The first incarnation of Doctor Who ran from 1963-1989. An attempt at revival with a 1996 television movie failed but Doctor Who came roaring back to life in 2005 with Christopher Eccelston as the 9th Doctor.
Incidentally, the Doctor has been played by 11 actors thus far. The change in appearance and personality is explained as part of the Time Lord’s life cycle. When mortally wounded, the Doctor does not “die” he simply regenerates, replaced with a completely different face and body. As explained by David Tennant’s 10th Doctor, regeneration is a kind of death, as who he is ends, and someone new “goes sauntering off.”
Matt Smith is the 11th Doctor and he and Tennant will be on screen together for the first time along with an older incarnation in the form of John Hurt in The Day of the Doctor. Past and present incarnations have never existed concurrently before, so the BBC is once again revolutionizing the show. As mentioned, Smith’s departure from Doctor Who was announced in June 2013 is leaving the show and will be replaced by the Doctor’s 12th regeneration, played by Peter Capaldi in the 2013 Christmas Special, as announced in August this year.
The 50th Anniversary program will be globally simulcast at the exact time and date of the original airing on BBC America. That time is 2 hours and 10 minutes away as of this moment, and Whovians around the world have marked out this date and time on the calendars for months. BBC America has been airing a Doctor Who “takeover” all this week, airing some of the most beloved episodes and going back over the life and times of the world’s quirkiest alien hero. Special programs exploring the science of Doctor Who, the birth of the show, the changing technology and philosophy and all the ups and downs have dominated the airwaves and the internet. Generations of Whovians will be glued to their televisions today and in December to see the introduction of the new Doctor.
By Brandi Tasby