Dr. Who 50th Anniversary

The Exhibits division of LoneStarCon 3 wouldn't dream of letting Doctor Who's 50th anniversary pass without an exhibit to honor the Doctor! But before you get to the con to see it, are you properly up on your history of the phenomenon? Read on and see.

So, what or who is this "Doctor Who" thing? It began in the UK in 1963. November 23, 1963, in point of fact. Many remember this was the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The BBC, who had developed this new program, ever the pragmatists, decided to re-run the first episode the following Saturday, followed immediately by episode 2 of the series, or to be more precise, the first serial of the series.

An Unearthly Child

What was this new show? It was developed by Sydney Newman, a Canadian TV producer, and dealt with a mysterious traveler in time. At first, the lead actor, William Hartnell, seemed to be almost sinister in his actions and comments, behaviour intended to reflect the fact that he was an alien and hundreds of years old. Each story was a stand-alone serial using the same characters from week to week, and serial to serial. Viewers got to know Susan (Carole Ann Ford), Ian Chesterton (William Russell), Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), and The Doctor (William Hartnell). And he was just "The Doctor," with no other name provided, not even by Susan, his granddaughter.

These four found themselves together on adventures that ranged from through Earth's history, such as the Aztecs and Marco Polo, to the future somewhere else in space, such as the Daleks (we'll come back to them) and the Sensorites. But, how did they get to all these places? Through the errant habits of a box called the TARDIS, which looked quite like a blue Police Box as found throughout the UK in the 1960s. TARDIS, for those who have to know all the minutiae, stands for "Time And Relative Dimensions In Space." Yes, "Dimensions." And who put them there? So many wonderful writers over the years, among them, Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks; Kit Pedlar, creator of the first Cybermen; and lately, Russell T. Davies, Steven Moffat, and Paul Cornell.

Eventually, William Hartnell wanted off; the production schedule was a brutal 50 weeks of each year. One episode was broadcast so rapidly after filming that Bill Hartnell was able to ad lib a "Merry Christmas" to the television audience and it stayed in. This could have spelled the death knell of the program, despite an expanding viewership in countries like Australia and Canada. However, the show's developers thought they could pull a switch; after all, the lead part was an alien, so who knew what else he could do beside travel in time and space? So, the Doctor "regenerated, " becoming Patrick Troughton, who, although playing the part very differently, became just as loved in the role.

So, there we are, the scene is set: a mysterious traveler in time and space who can regenerate and, for reasons known only to himself, often travels with humans from Earth. This is how the program stood when it came to the U.S. in 1972 with a new actor in the role of The Doctor—Jon Pertwee, followed in 1978 by Tom Baker. PBS channels were home to Doctor Who in this era and, if you were lucky, you got all the way through Pertwee, Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy in the lead role. If you were even luckier, older episodes of Hartnell's and Troughton's eras were shown. However, this was a rare event; as many studios did at the time, the BBC had destroyed most of those black and white shows to make room in their archives for newer programs.

In 1990, after 26 seasons of this show, the BBC decided that the series would not be renewed for 1991. Not exactly cancelled... just no plans for production. While Doctor Who fandom mourned, many took a leap of faith and started conventions to keep their beloved show alive. Others resorted to forming clubs or joined existing clubs; anything to get through the lean times. Fifteen years of no new official Doctor Who. Mind, you could get some fascinating fannish Doctor Who videos in those days. Fans made costumes, built parts of the TARDIS, or even maintained their own TARDIS, built in the heyday of regular viewing on television. Not to mention Daleks... (try not to be exterminated, eh?)

The Doctor and Rose

Fast forward to March 26, 2005, where, at a hotel in Hinckley, UK. Eastercon, the British National Convention is underway. There should be fans in the bar or in hallways, but strangely, all is hushed and no one is there... and then, the music starts, cheers erupt, the main hall is raucous with the sound of fans once more enjoying a new Doctor Who episode, "Rose." The show was back, thanks to Russell T. Davies and other like-minded professionals who had been fans in their own time of this program. Christopher Eccleston made the role his, followed far too quickly by David Tennant, and now Matt Smith holds the part in his grasp... at least for a little while longer.

What's the appeal? Adventure. Joyfulness. Fun. Danger. Fantastic storylines. Good acting. All this and more. In the Doctor's 50th year, I hope you all have a chance to get to know him better.

The Eleven Doctors