When asked “Who is Doctor Who?” most people today know the Doctor is the protagonist and title character of the BBC television science fiction series. Some may also know that Doctor Who, and was featured in two cinema films and one made-for-television movie. Fans may also know about the wide range of spin-off novels, audio dramas and comic strips associated with the series. That is because Doctor Who celebrated its 50th anniversary last year making it the world's longest-running science-fiction program.
That was not the case when it premiered in 1963. Back then it was a small budget children’s educational series with a simple premise. The basic idea was that the Doctor was an alien from a distant planet who can travel through time and space. While traveling along with his granddaughter, he lands on Earth in 1963. They inadvertently pick up a couple of teachers and the four of them have adventures traveling through time from Earth's distant past into the future. At the start the series was developed by Sydney Newman as an educational children's show.
The show alternated between the past and the future, the teachers on board with the Doctor and his granddaughter would explain historical characters, science and events. In this manner the travelers might meet Marco Polo one week, and find themselves on an adventure in outer space the next. It was an entertaining way to learn during their journey, and through their adventures the audience learned as well. During the evolution of the program details were added. At the outset the time traveler was known only as the Doctor. The time machine came to be called a TARDIS which stood for Time and Relative Dimension In Space. On earth it was dimensionally transcendental which made it bigger on the inside than on the outside. At the time London Police Call Boxes were a common sight although now they are nonexistent so that is the form it took. The American equivalent is how Clark Kent could duck into a phone booth and emerge as Superman. When the theme established and the few details filled in the actors were cast. Doctor Who premiered on 23 November 1963, at 5:15 PM GMT. The show was a hit in spite of, or perhaps because of, its often dodgy special effects that forced the emphasis to focus on plot and characterization. This version of Doctor Who ran from 1963 to1989 and the Doctor captured both the hearts and the imaginations of millions of children and adults worldwide.
The pilot episode established the premise, brought together the main characters and set the out on their first adventure. It was written by Anthony Coburn and called "An Unearthly Child." Centering on the two schoolteachers, Ian Chesterton played by William Russell and Barbara Wright enacted by Jacqueline Hill, it explained how they were drawn into Doctor Who’s realities. The teachers were concerned because one of their students, Susan Foreman Carole Ann Ford in real time, was brilliant in some areas yet not in others. The teachers followed Susan in order to speak to her grandfather. Surprisingly she went to a junkyard where they meet the Doctor whose role was assumed by William Hartnell in the first series. Looking around Susan seemed to have disappeared. Although the Doctor tries to insist they leave the teachers hear Susan's voice inside the TARDIS which they think is a Police Box that is they do until they force themselves inside to find that the interior is bigger than the outside. That is when the teachers discover that the Doctor and Susan are aliens. Although they have the ability to travel through time and space, Susan has chosen to stay on 20th Century Earth. The teachers’ adventures begin when the Doctor kidnaps Ian and Barbara, taking them to earth’s distant past. The pilot material from 1963 was preserved in it entirety and serves almost as a means of time travel in itself.
In the next three episodes The Cave of Skulls, The Forest of Fear, and The Firemaker the four companions encounter a tribe of cavemen who lost the secret of fire, and hold the travelers prisoner in an attempt to learn fire. The historical context for these three is historically accurate, disturbingly so. Because this was intended as a children’s educational series the episodes were also scientifically consistent with the times both in their portrayal of London in the 1960s, the science behind the TARSIS and what was known about cavemen. One of the interesting considerations is that the teachers, Ian and Barbara are as far removed from the primitive squalor of the cavemen as the Doctor and Susan are from them. In these three episodes the tables are turned and the teachers appear to be the intelligent aliens. Public reaction was interest, perhaps bemusement and curiosity; most importantly there was enough interest to keep the series going. But these episodes did not generate the same level of interest that the next series did. .
The first episodes generated interest but Doctor Who took off in popularity when he landed on the planet Skaro. This is when Doctor Who and the earthlings encounter the Daleks who capture the audience’s imagination and the series takes off. This series consists of seven episodes; The Dead Planet, The Survivors, The Escape, The Ambush, The Expedition, The Ordeal, and The Rescue. . The Doctor Who series was a product of its times. The initial airing of the pilot episode was briefly delayed due to John F. Kennedy’s assassination the day before and the Daleks reflected the cold war fears of nuclear holocaust and its aftermath. Their planet is the picture of desolation. The landscape frightening baren like what eatrh’s civilizations were warned about should a ful scale nuclear war take place. In that place and time there are two races. The peaceful Thals who on one hand are modeled almost like angles yet still feel a little to close to that the Nazis saw as an ideal. Considering that this was the time when baby boomers were coming of age that would have been more visually relevant for the 1960s audience than it is for the nostalgic viewers in the 21st century.. At the time this series was made the image of a perfect human tall, blond and assumed to be blue eyed was not necessarily also assumed to have a gentle disposition. If the gentle disposition assigned to the Thales could be questioned the maleficent nature of the Daleks was not in doubt. They were genetically engineered to hate all other races. The costumes while simple by the standards set fifty years later were primitive they captured the imagination and the Daleks became the Doctor’s archenemies.
Because the original show was an educational program that alternated between the past and the future and included teachers to keep it on track the Doctor his granddaughter and the teachers would travel back in time as well as forward. During those episodes they would encounter historical characters, and events. In those shows a more practical demonstration of science is evident. For example, in an episode where they encounter Marco Polo they do not sit around in a corner coffee shop chatting the action takes place on a cold, windblown snowy mountain. Reading the script it is clear from the outset that the thinner atmosphere is taking its toll on the Doctor. Later on Ian describes it as mountain sickness brought about by the lack of air at that altitude. In this was science and history are almost imperceptible woven into the story. .
This series is made up of seven episodes and uses the same combination of historic accuracy and contemporary scientific fact as was known at the time. In this it stayed true to its original premise that it was an educational program that used the device of a time traveling grandfather and granddaughter to move the action along. These two were accompanied by a history teacher and a science teacher to fill the educational details so that the program both amused and educated. The time machine called TARDIS is once again at the core of the action both for the potential it represents and its failure to function and live up to it. In the Marco Polo series the travelers are on the Silk Road with Marco Polo bound for a meeting with Kubla Khan. Although the original programing is missing some film clips exist along with the original scripts. These scripts are valuable when evaluating the extent historic fact and hard science are woven into the stories. It is easy to get distracted by Doctor Who while watching the shows and miss how much science is really there. After all, that was the intention of the programing.
There are altogether 108 episodes from 27 Doctor Who serials out of the Hartnell and Troughton eras are that were not held by the BBC on film or video. This is because in the 1970s these old episodes were no longer considered to be of any value to the BBC and so they were destroyed. However, all of them still exist as audio recordings that were made by people who viewed the original broadcasts. In addition there are photographic screen images called "telesnaps." This telesnaps that were taken at the time when the program was broadcast and exist for many of the episodes. As part of a project called The Doctor Who Scripts Project these images were matched to the corresponding scripts and combined with the audio recordings to make slide-show style reconstructions. Then this combination of slide show and telesnaps were transferred to video. Additional information on these telesnap reconstruction videos can be obtained from Missing Doctor Who Reconstructions & Audios and Loose Cannon Productions.. Although there are various commercially novelized versions of these episodes they lack historical accuracy and so are unsuitable for scholarly research.
Still the 1970s shows retained a clear commitment to education, it just was not the central core of the programing effort. This successful premise was too good to sacrifice, in subsequent episodes the Doctor explores the universe at random no longer traveling back and forward in time. In each episode he confronts a crisis and uses his knowledge of science, technology and history to avert advert it. Part of this involves ongoing repairs to the TARDIS and what seems to be an ongoing quest in and of itself just to keep it moving from place to place.
At first the random nature of his travels is initially attributed to the age and unreliability of the TARDIS's navigation system. It is not until 1969 serial entitled The War Games that the viewers find out the TARDIS is stolen. There are subsequent episodes, particularly "Planet of the Dead", "The Big Bang" and "The Doctor's Wife" include this in the story line. In the early episodes there was more popular science involved in repairing the TARDIS. For example, the Marco Polo episodes have the Doctor searching for materials to repair it. . In later episodes the function shifts to astrophysics and control. As the story of the TARDIS unfold viewers learn more about the Doctor’s past. This comes out in bits and pieces, there are problems because it was not intended that just one Time Lord should pilot the TARDIS it is meant to be piloted by six Time Lords. Subsiquent relevations include that the Doctor initially knew how to pilot it but the other TimeLords wiped it from his memory and he distroyed the opertions manual by tossing it into a supernova. With each of these shifts the series drifted further from its start as a children’s educational program and further into the entertainment genre of science fiction.
As far as it is from its roots now it still started out as an educational program when it premiered on November 23rd in 1963. The early shows that remain, and the reconstructions and the scripts of those that do not reflect those early origins. The early viewers might scarcely recognize the 2013 versions of their favorite show if they saw two episodes side by side. Back then 21st century special effects were just not available. So Doctor Who worked with what he had and ended up with a quirky show that emphasized plot and characterization, and of course history and science. This was the version of Doctor Who ran from 1963 to1989 when the Doctor captured both the hearts and the imaginations of millions of children and adults worldwide.
Today’s programing has better effects but is more about the fiction any history and science that comes into play is generally accurate, but incidental. Doctor Who of the 21st century is primarily designed to entertain not educate. Some of its old time fans miss the strong characters and plots, perhaps even the dodgy costumes and monstrous creations. Unlike the Doctor the show and its viewers still see time as a one way street. Doctor Who the movies and programing is moving forward down it and evolving with the society. Much like the Doctor himself the show regenerates itself. This does not change the fact that Doctor Who was originally a children’s educational program and its initial shows reflected that. The history and science therefore was accurate to the time and the programs written to be informative along with capturing the interest of the public of that time. Using the simple premise that the Doctor was a time traveling alien from a distant planet who had a grand daughter who wanted to live in 20th century London. She had some of the Time lord qualities that made her brilliant at some school subjects and pathetic at others. Her teachers decide to have a word with her grandfather and end up with much, much more. As the show grew in popularity it shed many of its educational goals. Still, the producers try to keep the science real, although there is just less of it today. In that it is still has the same values as the BBC children’s program that captured the hearts and minds of children and adults around the world and became the longest running science fiction series on television. Its start was low budget and the costumes dodgy never the less Doctor Who hit the big time and the rest as they say, is history and science.
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