Exactly 46 years ago, on Nov. 23, 1963, DOCTOR WHO first flickered to life on TV screens in the United Kingdom. BBC Head of Drama Sydney Newman and first producer Verity Lambert are generally acknowledged as the “parents” of DOCTOR WHO, but legions of writers, producers, directors and actors have all contributed to make the series what it is today: my favorite TV series of all time.
DOCTOR WHO has the most flexible format imaginable: The lead character can change his appearance, and has his TARDIS, a vehicle that allows him to travel anyplace in the universe, at any time in the past, present or future. And the series has made great use of that creative freedom, crafting stories of adventure, comedy, drama and pathos that fall into categories of science fiction, fantasy, history and even romance. The Doctor is incredibly smart yet quirky, with an insatiable curiosity and a deep sense of right and wrong. All filtered through an alien perspective that makes him appear wildly eccentric and fun. There have been 10 versions of the Doctor to date, with an 11th persona about to debut in 2010. Each of these personalities has been as different as the faces he has worn.
My earliest memories of the series stem from Tom Baker‘s reign as the Fourth Doctor, as syndicated here in the USA in the late 1970s. It was shown on WWOR Channel 9 in New York, and actor Howard DaSilva would provide recaps of the previous episode (always referring to the lead character as “Doctor Who”). I have very vivid memories of the hallowed story “Genesis of the Daleks,” which introduced Davros, as well as “The Deadly Assassin,” featuring the desiccated, corpse-like Master. I remember being fascinated by the weird program with the wobbly sets, rubber-masked monsters, and the guy with the floppy hair and mile-long scarf. This was not STAR TREK, which I had watched religiously in reruns. I quickly realized that what the program lacked in budget, it made up for with heart and good intentions. There was an awful lot of love invested in those wacky stories – and Captain Kirk had never met anyone like Leela! The cliff-hanger format was perfect for hooking younger viewers, and I almost looked forward to the scream of the musical stinger that would sound just as the Doctor or one of his comely companions was in peril.