Happy birthday to Who, Happy birthday to Who…

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.

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11 Comments

Filed under Doctor Who, sci-fi, TV

11 responses to “Happy birthday to Who, Happy birthday to Who…

  1. willstobart

    My birthday too, though I’m not quite as old as Dr. Who.

  2. wrinkled weasel

    With the possible exception of William Hartnell and Chris Eccleston, all the Doctors have been children in adult’s bodies. That is one clue to its success.

    Children like to be scared in a safe way.

    The point is that anticipation of the unknown nemesis is wonderfully stimulating to children if it is done within the bounds of a loving and safe home. We used to play a game where you had to lay on the floor with your arms open and eyes closed, waiting to be tickled. (I challenge anybody to do this without wincing.)

    What Russell T has replicated so well is that element of surprise, the fear that, you haven’t quite got all the plot bases covered, and that any moment something on the telly might actually escape from the telly and get you. My favourite episode was the one with the statues that got you if you blinked, and there we all were, trying not to blink.

    Daleks? I don’t entirely trust them either.

  3. Rory

    With you on the birthday greetings to the Doctor.

    But Tom, which were:

    – favourite Doctor?
    – favourite companion?
    – favourite story (classic)?
    – favourite story (new)?

    Mine are: 4th, Sarah Jane Smith (with Peri a close second for obvious reasons), Robots of Death and Blink.

    Keep up the great blog.

  4. Rory – since you were so nice about my blog, I’ll oblige:

    – favourite Doctor? Tom Baker
    – favourite companion? Sarah Jane Smith (natch)
    – favourite story (classic)? Spearhead from Space (1970)
    – favourite story (new)? Turn Left (season 4)

  5. Paul Williams

    Your ‘Great Leader’ briefs today’s newspapers on a VAT cut trying to stimulate an economy which is going down the toilet rather rapidly and the best you do is blog about Dr Who?

    Blimey and who said Labour is out of touch!

  6. Liz

    I hadn’t worked out the dates, as a non-telly-owner and therefore someone not-allowed-to-pay-the-radio-licence-fee… but it’s a strange conjunction…

  7. If they play their cards right, the series might well last another 45 years — I should hope so.

    Too bad about Tennant, though, moving on … I think he was a great Doctor.

  8. wrinkled weasel

    On Desert Island Discs, some years ago, Tom Baker evinced a liking for Jack Buchanan, and chose a song of his from a CD called, “Elegance”, a collection of this noble son of Helensburgh.

    I bought the CD on his recommendation and since then have become a confirmed fan.

  9. Simon

    Favourite Doctor – Tom Baker (though Sylvester runs him closer than you’d think is possible)
    Favouite companion – Romana II
    Favouite story (classic) – Remembrance of the Daleks
    Favourite story (new) – School Reunion (though more for the scene where Anthony Stewart Head calls the Time Lords ‘indolent’ than any other nostalgia.

    Making these choices is nearly impossible and one feels compelled to justify them!

  10. Really got to stick up for Davidson’s Doctor, which i have a really soft spot for, and really enjoyed. My favourite is still Tom Baker, but i only caught the last couple of years of his “resedency” in the TARDIS.

    Companion, Liked Peri when i was younger, but you have to admire the Buffy-esque Rose.

    At the time my favourite story was “Earthshock”. This was the first time I had coem across the Cybermen, this story re-invented them in the same way that “Dalek” reinvented the Daleks. Of the current incarnation, Being Human/The Family Blood or Silence in the Library/The Forest of the Dead (is it cheating to pick 2 episode stories?).

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