Out of Time Doctor Who returned to the BBC in November, with episodes being aired on new digital channel BBC Choice. In this issue we examine what the series has stood for over the years, and focus on some of the landmarks on its 35 year journey…

Anyone with even a passing interest in Science Fiction will be familiar with Doctor Who. Thirty-five years old this month, the unique BBC television series tells the story of a kind-natured and fiercely ethical maverick, an advocate of life and a disciple of living it. With the aid of a long succession of helpers and his faithful Space-Time vehicle, the TARDIS, the Doctor battles prejudice and tyranny wherever he finds it on his magical mystery tour of the universe. But what is it that has made Doctor Who so extraordinary and distinctive?

Kirk through the ages

The series’ longevity is remarkable in itself. Twenty-six continuous years on air is an extraordinary feat for a drama series; this is the show which set a story 20 years in the future (The Tenth Planet, 1966) and had the audacity to still be on the air when those events supposedly came to pass. This tenacity was due almost entirely to the sprawling format with which Doctor Who was blessed by its creator, BBC Head of Drama Sydney Newman. All of Time and Space is the Doctor’s oyster; he has witnessed the beginning of the universe (Castrovalva) and the fiery end of the Earth (The Ark), and traversed the universe in between times.

The series is built on variety – of genre, of house style, even of story length (it laid a template for multi-part serials within a series format). Doctor Who has at different times yielded comedy, thriller, action, Horror, parable, pastiche and high-concept science; at any particular time, one or two of these styles has been dominant, depending on the interests of the incumbent production team. The third Doctor’s era (1970-74) concentrated on action with occasional social relevance; the fourth (1975-81) started off with pastiche Horror and concluded amid high-concept adventure with logical scientific underpinning. The seventh Doctor’s tenure (1987-89) shifted from comedy to dark action thriller.

Reflecting this, the Doctor himself was a chameleon...

Peter Griffiths
selected from Cult Times #38 (Nov 98)

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Quote File In the Beginning
Troubled beginnings • Waris Hussein, director
“The BBC had no faith in the series at all, though naturally they take full credit for it now. Those very earliest episodes were done under incredibly difficult circumstances... It became a phenomenon because of what was originally conceived, and the man behind it was [Head of Drama] Sydney Newman.”
Initial reaction • Verity Lambert, producer
“From the very beginning the show got quite respectable reviews and was noticed. It seemed to appeal to a much wider audience than that to which it had been aimed. I remember the day after the first episode, I got a call from an American film company saying how brilliant it was, and how the titles were so marvellous.
Verity LambertThere was a buzz. My own contemporaries used to drink at Henekes in the Portabello Rd, and they would all rush home to watch Doctor Who.”

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This nine-page feature section contains behind-the-scenes quotes, dialogue to remember, and analysis of 10 landmark stories... Images © BBC Worldwide / S Payne