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UK sci-fi hit 'Doctor Who' celebrates 60th anniversary

The anniversary will be marked with three television specials, with the first—"Star Beast"—due to go out on the BBC and Disney+ on Saturday

Published: Nov 24, 2023 04:02:08 PM IST
Updated: Nov 24, 2023 04:07:34 PM IST

UK sci-fi hit 'Doctor Who' celebrates 60th anniversaryDr Who fan Tony Jordan poses for a photograph with his TARDIS in the garden of his home in Cannock, central England. Image: Paul Ellis / AFP©

Britain celebrates the 60th anniversary of science-fiction series "Doctor Who" Saturday as fans hail a programme that has enthralled generations since it was first broadcast.  

Six million people watched the first episode when it was aired at teatime on November 23, 1963, following the adventures of "The Doctor", a fugitive Time Lord with two hearts from the planet Gallifrey.  

The enduring series—the longest-running of its genre in the world—is expected to release a new season next year

In the beginning, not everyone was immediately won over, particularly by the TARDIS, his hybrid spacecraft/time machine mostly in the form of an old-fashioned British police call box that is bigger on the inside.

"A police box with flashing beacon travelling through interstellar space—what claptrap!" said one viewer surveyed by the BBC.

A more prophetic view came from parents who said it promised to be "very entertaining" and accurately predicted their children "would love it".

Life-long fan Tony Jordan, 64, has a full-sized TARDIS replica in his garden.

He said some of his first memories were of being petrified by foes of the doctor as he watched with his mother as a young boy.

"It was the monsters—the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Ice Warriors—that just really got my imagination," said Jordan, from Heath Hayes, central England.

Jordan said financial constraints were a big part of Doctor Who's success.

"When people are under budget pressure it does force them to be more creative than maybe they might have been," he said

"Especially in the early days, they couldn't just CGI everything because that technology simply didn't exist so it forced them to come up with something that captures people's imaginations."

The anniversary will be marked with three television specials with the first—"Star Beast"—due to go out on the BBC and Disney+ on Saturday.

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Daleks return

The three specials feature Scottish actor David Tennant, who played The Doctor between 2005 and 2010.

One of Doctor Who's most popular and enduring enemies—the Daleks—are also returning in the form of a one-off 75-minute film.

The new film colourises and weaves together the seven original episodes from 1963/4 that introduced the extraterrestrial race of xenophobic mutants with their chant of "Exterminate! Exterminate!"

The programme quickly established itself as a cultural landmark in the UK.

Its longevity was assured by a decision to "regenerate" the lead character when first Doctor, played by actor William Hartnell, left the show in 1966.

The humanoid Time Lords can cheat death by changing their entire appearance—a cornerstone of the show which has now featured more than a dozen actors in the title role.

"It was born out of production demands but they took the idea and ran with it to reboot the show every few years when they need," said Jordan.

He recalls being "a little bit confused" at seeing one of the early switches.

"I didn't know why The Doctor was now a man in a leather jacket rather than a 1960s gentleman character, but I got over that quite quickly," he said.

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Global appeal

Doctor Who's journey to world-wide popularity began when the US sci-fi community embraced it after the series was bought by PBS.

Fans—of all ages, and from all over the world—now regularly meet at huge arena-sized events to meet their idols and fellow enthusiasts.

The 50th anniversary special episode a decade ago was shown in 94 countries.

Although the BBC shelved Doctor Who in 1989, it was revived in 2005 under the stewardship of screenwriter and producer Russell T. Davies.

The show is now a BBC co-production with Disney and the three specials are due to be broadcast on successive Saturdays from this week.

After that, 15th doctor Ncuti Gatwa—the first actor of colour to play the part—will take over from Jodie Whittaker, the first woman in the role.

"It seems like it's going to be bigger than ever," said Jordan.

But while the new series will undoubtedly be slicker, he said it would remain true to the vision of the early programme makers.

"It's that cliche of children hiding behind the sofa while their parents watch it, it's an opportunity for people to get together and be swept away by a magical sci-fi adventure," he said.

"That will always be the core of Doctor Who."

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