Fifty years ago, when the Beatles commanded hordes of fans and television was in black and white, a simple idea for a children’s show was introduced to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Sydney Newman, the new Head of Drama with a love for science fiction, proposed the idea of a mysterious man called the Doctor flying through time and space in a time machine that was bigger on the inside, exploring history and having adventures. The show would fill an empty slot on Saturday evenings, and so it was approved. No one could have had any inkling as to how much their creation would grow.
Now, half a century later, Doctor Who has become an iconic symbol in science fiction. The show, which was originally only commissioned for six episodes due to a low budget, has become the longest-running science fiction series in history. This is achieved not through remakes or look-alike actors, but by a loophole worked into the show’s framework. The main character, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, has the ability to “regenerate” every cell in his body when necessary, allowing the character to cheat death and the actor to be replaced by a whole new personality. The show has already gone through eleven different actors since 1963, and will be rining in the twelfth this Christmas. This rejuvenating quality makes Doctor Who unique among other franchises. Unlike many long-running series, Doctor Who has the ability to grow and change with its fan base, making it possible to stay relevant and immensely popular for fifty years.
The show has had some impacts on the real world as well. The theme that accompanied the opening titles of the first episode on November 23, 1963 was one of the first pieces of purely electrical music. This feat was accomplished entirely through the method of “sampling”, or recording original sounds such as shoes on wood or a key scraping wire onto a tape, and all of the editing was done by literally cutting and pasting all of the tape together. More recently, the BBC simultaneously premiered Doctor Who’s 90-minute 50th anniversary special in over 90 countries and 15 languages around the world, setting a Guiness World Record for the largest simulcast in history. This global community of fans has succeeded in other endeavors as well, successfully funding a Kickstarter to put a model of the TARDIS, the Doctor’s iconic time machine, into orbit ( http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/573935592/were-putting-a-tardis-into-orbit-really ). Currently the fandom is petitioning to get the International Astronomical Union to rename a recently discovered planet after the Doctor’s home planet, Gallifrey, to commemorate the show’s 50th anniversary ( http://www.change.org/petitions/international-astronomical-union-name-the-recently-discovered-planet-hd-106906-b-gallifrey-in-honor-of-doctor-who-s-50-years ) The petition has already garnered over 13,000 signatures.
But the most meaningful parts of Doctor Who are the values that have remained elemental to the show since 1963. For fifty years, this series has confronted its audience with questions of ethics, morality, exploration and individuality. It has inspired generations of fans to look at the world and its myriad of possibilities in a whole new light, and for a moment consider the universe in all of its majesty. Doctor Who may be just a television show, but the effects that it has on the lives that it touches are very real indeed.