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“It all started out as a mild curiosity in the junkyard, and now it’s turned out to be quite a great spirit of adventure.” – The First Doctor
At 5:15pm on Saturday the 23rd of November, 1963, the first episode of a new children’s sci-fi drama debuted on BBC One. Sixty years later, that quaint little show has evolved into one of the most beloved media franchises of all time.
The above quote, taken from the 1964 Doctor Who story, The Sensorites, rings true more than any other in the show’s long and storied history. If only they could have known then what we know now. If only they could have hopped into a real TARDIS and travelled sixty years into the future to take a look at what that little show would become.
All of those writers, actors, set designers, directors, costume designers, and everyone else who laboured away in those cramped BBC studios, following oppressive schedules for scant recognition – if only they could have seen what exactly they were building.
They weren’t just running around wobbly sets, screaming at men in rubber suits and spewing techno-babble. They were crafting stories. Stories that would capture the imagination of generations; of children and adults alike. They were growing characters that would keep viewers in rapt attention as they stared at small black-and-white screens. They were creating monsters that would send children hiding behind the sofa, only to have them bring them to life in school playgrounds all the following week.
Those characters would endear themselves into the hearts of generations of children. Many of whom would grow up to become storytellers and artists themselves; who would pick up the torch and carry on the story of a mysterious Time Lord and his magic blue box. As time passed the stories would become bigger and more complex, the characters more developed and the special effects more impressive. But much like the Doctor, at its heart, beneath all of the changes, there would still lie the same show that captured the imaginations of people everywhere all those decades ago.
Even when the show was cancelled and each passing year diminished the hopes of fans more and more, the spirit of Doctor Who endured. Throughout those wilderness years, Doctor Who fans kept the TARDIS flying on new adventures away from TV screens. First in the form of novels, comics, magazines, audio dramas, fan films, and even a one-off TV movie. Then finally, after sixteen long years, the patience of fans was finally rewarded when Doctor Who made its glorious return to the telly, bigger and bolder than ever before.
It’s that indomitable spirit though that’s at the very hearts of Doctor Who and its fandom. The idea that no matter how dire things seem, there’s always hope. Even when it looks like all is lost, we have to keep fighting. This is a show that has proven that it will always continue in one form or another, just like the Doctor himself. And that spirit lives on in the hearts of fans, giving us the courage to face our own battles head-on.
For the past six decades, that quirky little show about a madman with a box has served as an inspiration and a guide for how to live our best lives. It’s touched the hearts and minds of countless fans across time and space, and we’re all eternally grateful.
So today, let us give thanks to all of those unsung heroes who made it all possible. From the earliest pioneers of the show, like Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert, to those who helped revive the Doctor for the 21st century, like Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat. And let’s not forget the many Aussies who have contributed to the show’s success, such as Ron Grainer, who wrote the theme song, Anthony Coburn, who wrote the first story, and Janet Fielding, who played the Doctor’s first Australian companion, Tegan.
And of course, how could we forget the Doctors themselves? William Hartnell, Peter Cushing, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant (x2), Matt Smith, John Hurt, Peter Capaldi, Jodie Whittaker, Jo Martin and Ncuti Gatwa. All of these people have left their mark on one of the most enduring characters in the history of fiction.
Finally, thank you to the fans who have kept Doctor Who’s flame blazing, even in the darkest of times. You’re truly the ones responsible for the show’s incredible longevity.
Happy 60th anniversary, Doctor Who! May your adventures, and your legacy, continue across all of time and space.
The first of three Doctor Who 60th-anniversary specials, ‘The Star Beast’, airs today, November 26, followed by ‘Wild Blue Yonder’ on December 3 and ‘The Giggle’ on December 10.