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50 Years through Time and Space

by Jacob Stewart
There is a slight wind in the air, and as the grinding, wheezing sound grows, a blue light floods the
area, and a stocky Blue Police box slowly materialises out of thin air. The Doctor has arrived. Its
sometimes hard to imagine a world without Doctor Who, given how culturally significant it has
become, a British Staple along the lines of Fish and Chips, Bangers and Mash, or Yorkshire pudding.
Today, in the harsh world of Primetime television, a broadcast show has a very finite life expectancy,
as seasons come and seasons go. Yet, when your quality is determined by the money you make, and
the audience you can attract, Doctor Who has survived, against the odds, for the past 50 years.
On the 23rd of November, 1963, the very first episode of Doctor Who, with the Doctor portrayed by
William Hartnell, premiered in Britain, to an audience of 4.4 Million people. Although his popularity
may have dwindled toward the late 80s, and even through the 90s, as a 1996 made-for-TV movie
failed to revive the franchise with its take on the new 8th Doctor, Paul McGann, Doctor Who enjoyed
a prominent resurgence in 2005, as the new 9th Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, ushered Doctor Who
into the New Millennium. With this classic suddenly revived, and regenerated, it wasnt long until,
with the coming of the 11th Doctor, Matt Smith, the show captivated the attention of the American
Market by reinventing the character as an eccentric mad-man with a box.
While a cult classic when it was released, known for its modest special effects and reputation for
scaring children, much has changed in the past 50 years. Not only has Doctor Who since become a
British staple, growing well past its cult roots, it has also managed to captivate audiences the world
over, becoming the BBCs second largest export, behind Top Gear, winning the award for Best Drama
Series at the National television awards five years in a row, and holding the record for longest
running science fiction television show in the world. Gone are the days of cheaply-made, secondrate aliens and, at times, laughable effects. Instead, they have been replaced with a colourful array
of characters and stories which have shifted the show away from its purely science-fiction history.

The most important factor of Doctor Who, and one of the reasons for its continued success, is of
course the titular character, the Doctor. Like James Bond or Superman, the Doctor has been played
by numerous actors over the shows long history, allowing writers to gradually change the
characterisation of the Doctor and even the tone of the show, simply through a handy facet of the
Doctors Alien anatomy. As a Time Lord, not only does the Doctor explore the universe in a ship that
travels through space and time, but if facing death, be it from old age or mortal wound, his body is
able to transform, taking a new face and a slightly different personality, through the process known
as Regeneration. This process has allowed 13 different actors to take up the mantle of the Doctor,
each with their own personal take on the Doctor and his identity. Over the years, the Doctor has
shifted from an old grandfather, to a kooky fool, and even to a charming pretty boy. However,
recently, as the show has shifted in tone, become a science-fiction drama, so too has the character
of the Doctor, becoming more emotional and human, a change which began with the Doctor Who
Movie in 1996. This marked the very first time the Doctor ever had a physical relationship with a
companion, and it sparked a trend which has lasted to this day, with the Doctor shifting from a stoic
mystery, into an emotional, tortured veteran, the lone survivor of a war that destroyed his people.
In a world where many shows are lucky to last more than 5 years, Doctor Who has been on the air
for 50, and the success of the show is largely due to the fact that, like its titular protagonist, the
series has been able to regenerate, and shift itself for an ever changing market. In 2013, this ability
even earned the series an Institutional Peabody for evolving with technology and the times like
nothing else in the known television universe." Beginning as a science-fiction cult classic, the show
has gradually shifted into a science-fiction drama, with a heavy emotional focus on the Doctor and
his companions. These changes have not only allowed the show to survive its record-breaking 50
year span, but also allowed it to garner a larger world-wide audience, drawing in many audience
demographics who were not fans of the sci-fi heavy original.

In 50 years, Doctor Who has not only become an icon of British Culture, but has also shifted into an
award winning sci-fi drama. This regeneration, changing with the times, has drawn a larger
worldwide audience, and been essential to the shows increased popularity and survival.