45 years ago… a day of portentous significance in the annals of English speaking culture.
The birth of Doctor Who was quiet, almost anonymous. A few listings in papers and the Radio Times alerted viewers to the broadcast that was the latest show aimed at children to fill the gap between Final Score and the Saturday evening entertainment.
No one would have even dared to imagine that 45 years later the series would be still on air.
So here we are, celebrating Doctor Who’s birthday with a weeks worth of features across all manner of media. Of most interest is the BBC’s archives, which have been featured in the BBC Magazine.
These archives feature outlines and notes from discussions about the genesis of Doctor Who. The notes from the archive – a fascinating selection that I recommend every visitor to this site opens the link above and reads – hint at an early concept for the TARDIS (and invisible bubble), while a BBC children’s writer devised 3 main characters to travel with the Doctor, described below:
"A frail old man lost in space and time. They give him this name because they don’t know who he is. He seems not to remember where he has come from: he is suspicious and capable of sudden malignance; he seems to have some undefined enemy; he is searching for something as well as fleeing from something. He has a ‘machine’ which enables them to travel together through time, through space and through matter."
Archivist Jim Sangster:
"Even having done something as massive as Quatermass, they didn’t have confidence in sci-fi. It was seen as niche and American.
"After Star Wars, we have a different view of course, and we see it as hugely entertaining and successful. But they were nervous – it wasn’t a Western or a period drama. It was something really obscure and they had to do research into it."
The original idea for Doctor Who came of course from Sydney Newman. His brief demanded that the show educate and inform, as per the BBC’s original mission. He was unhappy with suggestions concerning the Doctor taking part in historical events or adopting the role of characters in legend or popular fiction. After all who would accept the Doctor as Merlin?
"I don’t like this much – it reads silly and condescending. It doesn’t get across the basis of teaching of educational experience – drama based upon and stemming from factual material and scientific phenomena and actual social history of past and future."
Let us celebrate that despite Mr Newman’s concerns (borne out of professional reason) Doctor Who became an incredible phenomenon thanks to the actions of Verity Lambert and her steadfast refusal to drop Terry Nation’s The Daleks.
Let’s also celebrate the wonderous episodes of Doctor Who that we have had since the announcement just over 5 years ago that the series would be returning to our screens, new, improved and once more the incredible phenomenon.
And let’s celebrate the names – known or otherwise – who took part in the creation of Doctor Who throughout 1963, and their successors who picked up the baton through the years.
They have brought us 45 years – some of it in books and audio adventures – of Doctor Who; brilliant people, entranced and inspired by the simplicity and flexibililty of a wonderful ongoing, ever-changing work of cultural importance.
A series of exciting adventures in time and space that thrill and inspire a new generation every few years.
That’s what I call genius.