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Doctor Who’s First Incarnation

Entertainment | November 17, 2021

From the pilot episode. Source: (IMDb).

On Saturday, November 23, 1963, the first episode of Doctor Who aired on BBC One. It was designed as a family show, to be aired from 5 to 6 p.m., sandwiched between more adult shows and teenage-focused shows. The original episodes were serialized, meaning that groups of episodes were centered on a single storyline. Partially inspired by Sherlock Holmes, it was originally intended as an educational program; many of the first episodes were historical stories, and two of the early main characters were science and history teachers. Over time, tastes changed, and the histories were phased out near the end of the ‘60s since the alien settings were becoming more popular.

William Hartnell, the first Doctor. Source: (Den Of Geek).

Beginning In The Stone Age

The premiere of the first episode was delayed by 80 seconds, and the network then rebroadcast the episode the next week, right before the second episode because they believed the public had missed the start of this new show. The first serial of the show, An Unearthly Child, was comprised of four parts and ran until December 14. In the first episode of this serial, the two schoolteachers, Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) and Ian Chesterton (William Russell) discover the TARDIS in a junkyard in London. The episodes which followed it are set in the Stone Age, where factions who have lost the secret to making fire, are trapped in a power struggle.

The Seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy. Source: (Pinterest).

Doctor Who Wasn't Always A Time Lord

While the early episodes went from being centered on history to being more science-fiction oriented, other significant changes were happening as the show evolved. By the end of the ‘60s, the Doctor, who had started as a slightly sinister character transformed to become more compassionate. He also got his identity as a “Time Lord,” which is an ancient alien species that can travel through time although he wasn’t called that initially. The term “Time Lord” was first used in “The War Games,” an episode from the sixth season. His backstory was also revealed; he had fled his planet, Gallifrey, which was finally named in 1973. His vehicle of choice: the stolen TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space). On the inside, the TARDIS is a deceptively large machine, but it appears small on the outside, and can hide in plain sight because of its “chameleon circuit.” With the use of this circuit, it can disguise itself to fit in with the rest of the environment. In Dr. Who, the circuit malfunctioned, and the TARDIS got stuck as a British police box, although it can still travel. In his travels through space and time in the TARDIS, Doctor Who fights evil forces who want to harm innocent people or who may change history. He is armed only with his own ingenuity and limited resources like the sonic screwdriver. 

Jon Pertwee and Stephen Thorne. Source: (IMDb).

The Doctor Gains The Ability To Regenerate

William Hartnell played the first Doctor Who, a character who may or may not have been a real doctor; Dr. Who never clarifies this. Hartnell developed health problems towards the end of his three-year run, and so the showrunners created a new part of the Doctor’s mythology: the ability to regenerate, although the term was not used until Doctor Who’s third regeneration. When Patrick Troughton stepped into the role as the second Doctor Who, it was described as a “renewal,” and when Jon Pertwee became the third Doctor, the character had a “change of appearance.” In 1983, the idea that Time Lords can only have a total of 13 incarnations was established; this posed a problem when they needed to regenerate the Doctor a thirteenth time. To remedy this, in the 2013 Christmas special, “The Time of the Doctor,” Doctor Who acquired a new cycle of regenerations because the Eleventh Doctor was the product of the Doctor’s twelfth regeneration. In 2018, they introduced the Thirteenth Doctor, Jodie Whitaker, the first female in the role. 

Bonnie Langford, Donald Pickering. Source: (Pinterest).

A Little Help From His Companions

From the beginning of the show, the Doctor has had companion figures who were typically human, and who often reminded the Doctor of his moral obligation. They also help to provide the audience with information about the Doctor. Only once in the original series did he travel alone: in 1976’s The Deadly Assassin. And, of course, any good hero needs villains to defeat.

The Daleks. Source: (Pinterest).

A Hero Needs At Least One Villain

The Daleks, the villains who have been around the longest on the show, were not introduced until the second serial of the show, which started on December 21, 1963. The Daleks, which resemble octopuses, were mutated by the scientist Davros, and are housed in armor shells which have one eye stalk, a device like a plunger that functions as a hand, and a directed energy weapon. Their purpose is to “exterminate” anyone who is not a Dalek. Their weakness is their eyestalk, and if it is attacked, they are blinded and go mad. Terry Nation, the creator of the Daleks, intended them to be an allegory for the Nazis, and Raymond Cusick designed them, under specific directions from one of the shows’ creators, Sydney Newman. Newman did not want the Daleks to be bug-eyed monsters. Incidentally, the Daleks were operated by people inside of the two-part device. Other villains include Davros who created the Daleks, the Cybermen (who appeared a few years later), and the renegade Time Lord, the Master.

Tom Baker, who had the longest run as Doctor Who in the first series. Source: (IMDb).

Coming To A Temporary End

In 1989, the first incarnation of Doctor Who was canceled. It had made it through multiple Doctor Whos, the switch to color television and other challenges, but with declining viewership, it was canceled. However, the show had an enthusiastic fanbase, and it returned, maintaining the original storyline to keep original viewers while updating it to attract new fans.

Tags: Doctor Who | Science Fiction | Sylvester McCoy | Tom Baker

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Linda Speckhals

Writer

When she’s not out walking her dog, or taking in a baseball game, Linda loves learning about history, science, and philosophy. She will travel wherever the wind may blow, and happily loses herself in a book, whenever she can. At heart, she is a music loving tree-hugger.