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50 years of intrigue

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FIFTY years ago this weekend, the world's most successful science fiction television series, Doctor Who, flickered into life in glorious black and white.

WILLIAM HARTNELL (1963-1966) PATRICK TROUGHTON (1966-1969) JON PERTWEE (1970-1974) TOM BAKER (1974-1981) PETER DAVISON (1981-1984) COLIN BAKER (1984-1986) SYLVESTER McCOY (1987-1989, 1996) PAUL McGANN (1996) CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON (2005) DAVID TENNANT (2005-2010) MATT SMITH (2010-present)

Designed by a committee to fill a hole in the schedule, and put together by a group of inexperienced program makers who despised the script, the first episode was so poor they were forced to reshoot it. When it finally went to air in Britain on November 23, 1963, episode one, An Unearthly Child, was largely ignored by viewers, partly due to the assassination of President Kennedy and unfortunate power cuts. The omens pointed to

Doctor Who becoming a footnote in TV history, yet 50 years on it has a global audience of 77 million and tomorrow celebrates its anniversary with The

Day of the Doctor simulcast in 84 countries from 6.50am.

Also screening in 3D at cinemas, the episode features the return of David Tennant and Billie Piper, alongside current Doctor Matt Smith and "War Doctor" John Hurt. It caps off a week of celebrations including a reception at Buckingham Palace, mini-episode

Night of the Doctor with Paul McGann and a three-day convention in London.

The anniversary is the biggest test yet for showrunner Steven Moffat, whose reign has proven more divisive than predecessor Russell T Davies'. While he has many fans, some criticise him for taking liberties with the logic of Doctor Who and injecting too many fantasy elements.

Moffat said the special will shake things up even more.

"I think after 50 years you can maybe take the risk," he said. "Everything is not going to be the same."

Epping "Whovian" Beau Berrill warned fans will judge him harshly if proper reverence isn't paid.

Classic baddies The Daleks will make an appearance — only fitting given their introduction in the second story helped treble the audience, leading to "Dalekmania" and two feature film spin-offs with Peter Cushing. Doctor Who's early days are dramatised in An Adventure in Space and Time on Sunday night. Fifth Doctor Peter Davison said the creators didn't mean to do it but eventually "realised they'd come up with an almost limitless, boundless canvas to draw upon ... There's no reason why you would ever run out of material, because you can just do virtually anything."

For Smith that explains its timeless appeal: "The feeling that you can travel through time and space and across genres and do almost anything. And on top of that there are amazing monsters and companions and a hero who looks good in a bow-tie!"

The most novel aspect — regeneration, in which one Doctor becomes another — was dreamt up as a quick fix, after Hartnell became ill. It secured the Time Lord's future.

"Doctor Who can reinvent itself," Moffat says. "A new Doctor, a new companion, a new story — it becomes an ancient tradition but also a brand new shiny thing."

Over the decades 11 actors have played the role (not including Hurt or Cushing), with its popularity peaking in the late 1970s with Tom Baker's eccentric scarfwearing bohemian attracting audiences of more than 16 million in the UK. It also became popular on PBS in the US and screened nightly for years.

The 2005 resurrection surprised even diehard fans. Ten million viewers tuned in to see Christopher Eccleston as a younger Doctor in a leather jacket with pop star Piper his companion. The show finally had impressive effects and fast-paced stories, but within days of its debut, Eccleston announced he was

leaving. It turned out for the best with his replacement, the charismatic Converse-wearing Doctor David Tennant, recently voted the best ever in a poll of 20,000 fans.

"Tennant is to the new series what Baker was for the original," explains David Kitchen, president of the Doctor Who Fan Club of Victoria. He says Tennant brought sex appeal to the show and attracted a younger female audience. That's what he believes is behind a mixed fan reaction to Peter Capaldi (inset), who takes over from Smith at Christmas. While classic Who fans are generally in favour of a 55-year-old "with gravitas" playing the part, some new

Who fans expect younger, more attractive Doctors.

The Day of the Doctor, ABC1, Sunday, 6.50am and 7.30pm; An Adventure in Space and Time, 8.50pm.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Fenton, Andrew (2013-11-22). 50 years of intrigue. Herald Sun p. 47.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Fenton, Andrew. "50 years of intrigue." Herald Sun [add city] 2013-11-22, 47. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Fenton, Andrew. "50 years of intrigue." Herald Sun, edition, sec., 2013-11-22
  • Turabian: Fenton, Andrew. "50 years of intrigue." Herald Sun, 2013-11-22, section, 47 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=50 years of intrigue | url= | work=Herald Sun | pages=47 | date=2013-11-22 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=17 July 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=50 years of intrigue | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=17 July 2024}}</ref>