FORTY-FIVE years ago today, the very first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast by the BBC. It was 15 minutes later than scheduled because of a tribute to JFK, whose assassination had shocked the world the day before.
My very earliest TV memory was, inevitably, a “behind the sofa” moment, watching a menacing, lumbering, heavy-breathing creature search for a terrified scientist hiding behind a computer panel. Later I discovered the episode in question was from the 1969 adventure, “The Seeds of Death”, the monster was an Ice Warrior and the Doctor at the time was played by Patrick Troughton.
A year later, and my first “proper” memory of an actual adventure – and it scared the bejeezuz out of me, I can tell you. It was Jon Pertwee’s first adventure, and it was also the first one broadcast in colour. And it had terrifying – absolutely bloody terrifying – shop window dummies which came to life and stalked people through the woods and inside spooky deserted factories, then slit the sides of UNIT tents open to get at their victims, whom they then killed with a gun hidden behind their plastic hands. This wasn’t just a “hide-behind-the-sofa” moment – this was a full-bloodied “I’m-going-into-the-kitchen-to-ask-mum-for-a-Gypsy-Creme-biscuit” moment; I wasn’t staying in the same room as that thing!
And that’s what made the series magic – it was horror for children. And when it stopped being scary, when that clown John Nathan-Turner took over as producer and tried to make it clever instead of scary, that’s when it couldn’t pull in the audiences. That’s when it was cancelled, deservedly so (and no, I’m not just saying that out of bitterness because the one and only story idea I ever had for Doctor Who had been rejected by Nathan-Turner).
And then came Russell “the T” Davies and the “reboot” of the series in 2005: intelligent, funny, charming, impressive special effects and – huzzah! – scary.
So, happy birthday, Doctor. No-one, in 1963, would have imagined that, 45 years later, it would still have been going strong, with a tenth actor in the leading role about to give way to the eleventh. Who knows – maybe it will last another 45 years.