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Timeless lord

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Blood-curdling cries of "Exterminate! Exterminate!" sent generations of TV viewers diving behind the sofa cowering in fear. Petrified children across the country were so worried about goose-stepping silver Cybermen marching up the stairs that they could only sleep with the light on after watching the show.

Doctor Who wasn't just a TV programme - it was a phenomenon. With its pioneering special effects and futuristic storylines, it set the sci-fi standard for decades of shows.

The Marquis of Bath's Longleat estate in Wiltshire is famous for its lions, but dangerous predators of a different kind will be gathering at the country mansion on Sunday.

Organisers of Doctor Who Day want to gather together more Daleks than ever before.

Enthusiasts from all over the country who have built their own Daleks are invited to take them to Longleat for the celebration of Doctor Who's 40th birthday.

Doctor Who fans are renowned for tinkering away for hours in the back garden making their very own Daleks. Keith Walker, of Horfield, transformed his council compost bucket into a modern-day Dalek.

He used a wok for its head, installed flashing lights and put the Dalek in his front garden with a sensor to make its head turn when people walk past.

The Dalek used to say "Exterminate!" but this sound effect was often switched off so as not to upset his neighbours.

The sixth Doctor Who, Colin Baker, will visit Longleat to cut a birthday cake with 40 candles, and fans can also meet the man who provided the voice of robotic dog K9, John Leeson. Also there will be actress Sophie Aldred, who played the Doctor's assistant Ace.

As well as Daleks, the dreaded Cybermen will be patrolling the estate.

Longleat has been home to England's only permanent Doctor Who exhibition for 30 years. It has been hosting Doctor Who family days for more than 10 years.

Longleat spokesperson Florence Wallace said: "Doctor Who Day is always incredibly popular and we're hoping this year's event will be the biggest and best ever.

"The fact that it coincides with the 40th anniversary of the first episode being televised back in 1963 has definitely added extra interest and we're confident that we will be inundated with Daleks - much to the dismay of the Doctor." The original idea for Doctor Who came about in 1962 when Head of BBC Drama Sydney Newman needed a new Saturday night family series to fit snugly between Grandstand and Juke Box Jury.

Concepts pitched for the show included telepathy, flying saucers, scientific trouble-shooters from the future - and a time machine.

The main character was a mysterious anti-hero who would be known only as 'The Doctor', a riddle which begged the question 'Doctor Who?' - hence the name.

The Doctor and his assistants travelled through time in the Tardis, a seemingly normal yet surprisingly capacious police box whose name stands for Time And Relative Dimensions in Space.

The first episode was screened on 23 November 1963 with the Doctor played by William Hartnell. Audiences were hooked from the start.

A key factor in the show's early success was its distinctive spooky theme tune which was created by the famous BBC Radiophonic Workshop using unusual sound effects.

The Daleks made their debut four weeks into the first series and doubled Doctor Who's viewing figures overnight. They spawned the BBC's first merchandising boom - the Daleks were the Teletubbies of the 60s.

On screen, the Daleks were created by Davros, a half-man who travelled around on his mobile life-support machine.

He created a new race of fighters by taking mutated brains and putting them inside wheeled machines mounted with guns to form Daleks. Though they looked frightening, in reality they were made of nothing more sinister than wood with a fibreglass dome.

The Daleks' battle cry even ensured them their own entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.

At the height of Dalekmania two feature films were made starring Peter Cushing as the Doctor.

Eight different actors have played Doctor Who, including John Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, Peter Davison and Clifton-based actor Paul McGann. The ninth is Richard E Grant, who has lent his voice to an animated version of the world famous series, which will be screened in November.

Tom Baker is perhaps the most recognisable Doctor of them all. The former monk from Liverpool took the role in 1974 and brought new energy to the series.

During Tom's seven-year reign, Doctor Who shifted from horror film pastiche to lighter, wittier stories. HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams was responsible for much of the surreal humour, as was the increasingly inventive lead actor himself.

Given Doctor Who's enduring popularity, it would interesting to leap into the Tardis and travel forward in time to see if audiences are still hooked 100 years from now.

l Admission to Longleat for the 40th anniversary Doctor Who Day event costs £16 for adults, £13 for children and £13 for senior citizens. Anyone who wants to take a Dalek along must call Ruth Garland at the BBC in advance on 0208 433 3365.

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