28 September 2014

50 years and counting (History of 'Doctor Who')


The face of the future

When Orla Brady was offered a guest role in "The Time of the Doctor" as a space priestess, she accepted it without even reading the script. Peter Capaldi almost did the same when he guest starred in "The Fires of Pompeii", but was convinced otherwise.

That's a sign of the prestige of Doctor Who. A show where you can escape from the repetitive cop drama or kitchen sink roles and travel into space; something that doesn't just apply for the actors - even the title sequence is enjoyable, which is something I can say about few shows today[1].

It's one reason why the show is now in its 34th season, with 812 full length episodes to its name as of November 2014. Another is the fact that it is not bound to one particular actor or one particular producer; the show has turned them over at a rate greater than pretty much any other show that I can think of... with the possible exception of Saturday Night Live[2].

There are other reasons though:

  • The general quality of the leads: It's true to say that there has never been a bad Doctor. Even Colin Baker, whose Big Finish works are very good and very popular. The companions may be hit-and-miss, but when they hit, they hit. It's a pity few of them have gone on to really big things.
  • The plots: not just bad aliens come to take over Earth and are killed by good humans, this show brought us 'aliens' who were here before humans.
  • Some of the concepts: other shows may have their cool spaceships like the Enterprise and Serenity (ironically, considered junk in its verse), but a telephone box bigger on the inside that can travel anywhere in space-time?
    • Also, a character who when faced with death can change his appearance, allowing for a total of 13 actors (in the main show) to have taken the leading role... as well as for each to put their own perspective on it.
    • The sonic screwdriver. I'd want one.
  • The lack of reliance on special effects: Let's face it, much, correction most, of the special effects from 1963-1989 don't stand up to modern scrutiny; but they've never been the be-all-and-end-all of the show. Indeed some of the best effects have been the simpler ones; the Dalek extermination, the TARDIS materialisation... and the original title sequence.
  • The fans: Without the devotion and continued work of the show's many fans, it would not have come back... and many people wouldn't be working on the show today had they not been fans.

All in all, Doctor Who has survived because it's not just a good show... it's a brilliant show.


When doing such a long work as a history of a 50-year-old sci-fi programme, one has to use a variety of sources. This list won't be comprehensive, so I apologise to anyone I've missed out, but the following have proven invaluable.



  • The Television Companion (First edition 1996, revised edition 2003 – I own the 1996 edition) by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker – a standard tome for the book that covers each story with transmission dates, trivia and excerpts from contemporary, as well as more modern reviews. A must-have -  it's proven very useful for my reviews of incomplete stories.
  • The Discontinuity Guide (First edition 1995, second edition 2003 – I own the first) by Paul Cornell, Keith Topping and Martin Day – another of the standard reference books for the show, I picked this up in a charity shop and it was a positive bargain. It covers all the classic era stories (plus "Shada" and "Dimensions in Time"), with quotes, goofs and a brief analysis for each story.
  • Whology – Doctor Who: The Offical Miscellany (2013) by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright – an official compilation of facts, statistics of varying randomness and lists for the 50th anniversary; including the Doctor's family tree! This goes up to "The Snowmen" and excludes "Shada" from various calculations.
  • Doctor Who: The Vault (2013) by Marcus Hearn - another official anniversary book, covering the history of the show with many previously unpublished pictures, especially of merchandise.



  • Doctor Who Magazine – running since 1979, mostly monthly but originally weekly under title of Doctor Who Weekly, the official (but editorially independent) mag published by Panini, who took over the British arm of Marvel Comics in 1985, has a regular comic strip, features galore and many an exclusive. It also holds the world record for longest-running magazine based on a TV show.
  • Diary of the Doctor Who Role-Playing Games – Issue #18 contains a comprehensive list of every DW video game yet released.
  • Radio Times - running since 1923, this high-quality British TV listings magazine is always good for some interesting facts.


  •  DWO Whocast – Dave Keep has some particularly good insights on the classic run, although he no longer hosts the show.
  • Radio Free Skaro
  • Splendid Chaps – a series of live shows from Australia for the anniversary year.


Websites and blogs


While this has been a real labour, it's also been a labour of love. I've been a fan of the show for over half my life and I estimate the amount of money I've spent on this show as at least a thousand pounds, including a train trip to Cardiff to do a walking tour[2]. I have to say that the research I've done has been at times illuminating for me; I've definitely learnt a lot from this.

I've certainly made some inaccurate statements (I seem to have gotten the wrong end of the stick over Holmes writing while script editing - it appears to be a union thing) and I'd like to apologise for those.

Thank you very much for reading this and I hope you enjoyed it.

[1]Current exceptions to this: Person of Interest, Game of Thrones and er that's about it.

[2]While my experience with SNL is distinctly limited (it doesn't air in the UK and I don't do torrenting), I have experienced a number of its alumni in other shows, such as Amy Poehler in Parks & Recreation, Julia-Louis Dreyfus in Veep or before he appeared on SNL, Kenan Johnson in Kenan & Kel. Also, one of my favourite films is The Blues Brothers, who of course started on the show!

[3]Lessons learnt from this: The Class 43 HST feels faster than the Class 395 Javelin despite being 15 mph slower, Cardiff is a very nice place and I should go First Class more often.

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