Release Date: 23 November 1963 in UK
Genres: Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi
Director: Douglas Camfield, David Maloney, Christopher Barry, Michael E. Briant, Barry Letts, Derek Martinus
Cast: Tom Baker, William Hartnell, Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Nicholas Courtney
Dr Who debuted on the UK BBC in 1963, the day after President John Kennedy was shot in Dallas. But overshadowing as this event was, it had no effect on the long term popularity of the series.
The original Dr Who series is divided into actor’s eras’. As a very useful plot device, the Doctor was able to regenerate into another body, meaning the producers could always get another actor in to play the part. What they didn’t realise in the beginning was how crucial it would be to find an actor that fans would accept.
The black and white days are the William Hartnell era. An engaging elderly actor, he set the tone for the Doctor as an eccentric time traveller who appeared and disappeared in a large blue British public telephone box called the TARDIS. From the planet Gallifrey, he travelled with his granddaughter, whom he brought to Earth to attend school. This unusually bright child piqued the interest of her teachers, Ian and Barbara. These two became the first earthborn `companions’ a tradition which has continued throughout the series.
The classic Dr Who enemy, the robot Daleks, were introduced in the second episode, menacing a peaceful group of aliens called the Thals.
Illness forced Hartnell to give up the series after three years, and he transformed into the younger Patrick Troughton.
The Troughton era was well received by fans, and he also remained for three years, ending his run with The War Games. In this story, the Doctor is sentenced to exile on Earth for meddling with time by his peers, the Time Lords. His companions, Jamie and Zoe are sent back to their respective times and planets.
The Jon Pertwee Era came in with the 70s, and is indelibly associated with the Flower Power years. Pertwee played the Doctor as a tall, cape wearing, velvet suited dandy who practiced Venusian Karate. He becomes an integral part of UNIT, a military organisation led by Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart. In spite of being confined to Earth, he still manages to meet various alien species and even the Daleks obligingly invade Earth.
Pertwee’s companions rank highly as fan favourites. In early seasons, Katy Manning played Jo as a bright dolly bird, always dressed in fashionable clothes. Her place was taken by the perky Elizabeth Sladen as journalist Sarah Jane Smith.
Pertwee’s last episode was The Planet of the Spiders in 1974, and his successor was to prove the most beloved Doctor to date.
The Tom Baker Era introduced a curly haired, impish Doctor with a trailing woollen scarf and a fondness for jelly beans. Baker’s portrayal was Harpo Marx in Space, kicking off by taking on a 12 ft robot on the rampage.
For six years, Baker ruled as the quintessential Doctor, roaming through space and time and taking on everything from insane Chinese ventriloquist dolls to, of course, Daleks.
Experimentation and innovation was strong in Baker’s era. Season 16 consisted of linked stories, taking the Doctor in search of the Key to Time. After finding five of the six segments, the Doctor discovers that a young girl, Princess Astra, is the sixth segment. The Doctor is outraged by this and re-disperses the segments.
In season 18, the E-Space trilogy took the Doctor and his companions in a different universe. This dreamlike trilogy is still compelling viewing.
Tom Baker’s last story was Logopolis, where viewers were introduced to a new concept of regeneration – the Watcher. This mysterious being merges with him after a near fatal fall and incarnates into the new Doctor.
The Peter Davidson era stood no chance against six years of Tom Baker’s dominance. Davidson, a personable young man, didn’t have sufficient charisma to erase Baker from fans’ minds. He played the Doctor as a brave, pleasant bloke who really would rather be playing cricket. It didn’t jell with his predecessor or with anything that had gone before Baker. Davidson lasted for two years before his Doctor was done away with in The Caves of Androzani. Davidson’s last line was ironic – “Change, my dear,” he said to his companion, “and it doesn’t seem a moment too soon.”
The Peter Davidson era may have been a mistake on the producers’ part, but the Colin Baker era was an almost fatal one. For the first time, the show seemed in danger of cancellation.
Through no fault of his own, Colin Baker became the most loathed Doctor. A fresh faced and curly haired young actor, he might have been a young Tom Baker – but his clownish clothes and strange antics did not endear him to Baker’s fan legions. Barely a year later, Baker was put out of his misery and the Sylvester McCoy era began.
He did a little better, lasting three years, but was not popular with fans. Unable to regenerate from the loss of Baker, the show ended on TV screens in 1989.
But you can’t keep a good Doctor down. Paul McGann resurrected him for a TV movie in 1991, and 13 years later, he is back on TV screens with a gorgeous new companion, new alien enemies and, of course, the Daleks.
What can you say, but `welcome back, Doctor.”