The day after one of the 20th Century’s most notorious events, the assassination John F. Kennedy on 22nd November 1963, a new BBC television series begin to air. Starring William Hartnell as “The Doctor”, the low-budget children’s series became one of the BBC’s biggest and longest running successes. As a plot contrivance to keep the show going, the doctor can regenerate after receiving fatal injuries, meaning that there have now been 11 Doctors, with Matt Smith playing the role at the moment but he is due to be replaced at Christmas by the twelfth doctor, Peter Capaldi.
But Doctor Who, like most science fiction shows, has not always enjoyed popularity but has in fact being a figure of ridicule for much of its run. The format calls for a monster of week and the aim was to frighten the child audience, which worked for much of the time, but it has not aged well.
The early episodes, black and white, do seem to work better, probably because we expect lower production values from the 1960’s, but as the series progressed, the quality just wasn’t up the standards of its rivals, namely U.S. Science shows such as Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica.
The series was finished by 1989 with Silvester McCoy playing The Doctor, McCoy now back playing the eccentric wizard Radagast in The Hobbit. A U.S./BBC lead revival was attempted in 1996 with Paul McGann taking on the role from McCoy, but even though it was quite good, it was not taken up.
It wasn’t until 2005 that Doctor Who returned to our screens thanks to Russell T. Davis and the series has run ever since.
But even though Matt Smith maybe the official eleventh doctor, there is another who has taken on the role, Hammer legend Peter Cushing. Back in 1964, when William Hartnell was still inhabiting the role on TV, Cushing was cast as a more earthbound professor who invents a time machine, the T.A.R.D.I.S., and they recreated the second 6-part story, The Daleks, but in full colour, something which the 1960’s TV audience couldn’t see anywhere but in cinemas.
Doctor Who And The Daleks (1964) was soon followed by Daleks’ Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1965) and these would be the only two examples of Doctor Who on film, which is a bit odd when you think about the longevity of the series. These were of their time, simple, colourful and entertaining but no works or art, but held up against their television equivalents, they look pretty good.
I’m not a major fan of Doctor Who to be honest. I grew up with Peter Davison (number 5) in the 80’s, hated Colin Baker and Silvester McCoy but really liked what they did with the McGann version in the 90’s. But there’s no doubt than in spite of Doctor Who’s many faults, it’s a popular and watchable series. My main issue with the new incarnation of the series is that it lacks continuity or gravitas. It wants to be epic but falls flat because it re-writes its own rules with each episode, a concept that you can only get away with few time, even in a fantasy Sci-Fi world.
I’m a Star Trek fan and even though continuity isn’t great, there’s still some solid internal logic and that’s what is lacking here. But this is film site so as for the two features, in comparison to the TV show, great, but as films, not so much.
Happy Birthday Doctor Who, 50 years and counting...