A Brief History

We'd probably be here until the end of the universe if we went through every single aspect of Doctor Who from the very beginning, but here's WhovianNet's very own brief history of the show and the first 8 incarnations of the Doctor for any new fans who want to get the general jist of the series!

The first ever episode of Doctor Who, An Unearthly Child, aired on BBC One at 5.15pm on November 23rd 1963. The series had been planned and developed for over a year before this, by various members of the BBC, most notably Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber and its producer Verity Lambert, and the BBC's Head of Light Entertainment, Eric Maschwitz, had previously approached the Script Department in March 1962 with plans to commission a new sci-fi programme. In no time at all, it was decided that the series would be focused mainly on time travel, and that it would be centered around a man - who would be known only as the Doctor - who explores the universe in a spaceship which can change its appearance based on wherever it should land. With the basic building blocks for the show firmly in place, the series was developed further, and in 1963, William Hartnell was cast in the lead role. As the series was only originally intended to fill an empty slot in the Saturday teatime schedule, the production team took extra effort in making it appealing for all ages, and they also wanted it to be educational, however its low budget and rushed editing were initially criticized by viewers. Despite this, the show became an instant hit, and it often managed to pull in an audience of over 12million.

Towards the end of 1963 and the start of 1964, 'Dalekmania' hit the nation, as the Daleks, created by Terry Nation, appeared on screens for the very first time. The public were instantly captivated by the extraordinary creatures, which were so very different from anything that had been seen on TV before. Their infamous cries of 'Exterminate!' soon made their way into British mainstream popular culture, and the show gained millions of more followers ranging from toddlers to adults.

By 1966, a sudden decrease in Hartnell's health forced him to step down from the role altogether, after appearing in a total of 134 episodes. Producers now faced a huge dilemma - what could they do to explain his exit? The initial idea was to have the Doctor appear invisible for a short while, and to introduce a new actor playing him when he reappeared at the end of the episode, however, it was eventually decided that - seeing as he was an alien - the Doctor would possess the power to completely change his body to avoid death, a process now referred to as 'regeneration'. This nifty technique would also allow a new actor to be cast in the role every few years, and so Patrick Troughton was introduced as the Second Doctor in The Power of the Daleks on November 5th 1966. He played the character for three years, stepping down in 1969 after 119 episodes. But by this point, producers faced another dilemma, this time in the form of declining viewing figures, which were probably partially down to the fact that a strained budget meant the quality of the show was also on the decline. There were even talks to cancel the show after Troughton's final episode, but the BBC eventually commissioned more, with Jon Pertwee in the lead.

Pertwee's episodes also introduced a new pattern for the show, which saw the majority of the Third Doctor's adventures being set on Earth rather than on alien planets, a decision that ultimately benefited the show's budget, and, luckily, it also turned out to be popular with viewers. Around this time, the Doctor's arch-nemesis, the Master, was introduced, played by Roger Delgado, and he was also a massive hit with fans. After a short period which saw the future of the show looking doubtful, things were looking up again and, after 128 episodes, Pertwee left the TARDIS in 1974, being replaced by Tom Baker. Baker's tenure in the show is often regarded as being the programme's finest hour, thanks to its new darker tone and imaginative stories. Baker's portrayal of the fourth incarnation of the Time Lord was also praised, and it was during this period that the series gained its highest ever viewing figures, with one episode achieving a whopping 19million viewers.

Baker left the show in 1981, after seven years. With 172 episodes to his name, he's officially the longest-serving Doctor of all time, and many doubted if the show could sustain its popularity, which was now at its prime, without Baker in the lead role. The Fifth Doctor, played by Peter Davison, was introduced in the story Logopolis, and, although he only played the character for three years (leaving in 1984 after just 69 episodes), his portrayal of the Time Lord proved to be a hit with fans, who likened to the Time Lord's new younger incarnation after his four older predecessors. His exit called for another actor to take on the now iconic role, and this actor was Colin Baker, who first appeared in the 1984 story, The Caves of Androzani. However, the new Doctor was met with criticism, after fans were appauled by how the Time Lord, despite his quirky appearance, was suddenly being portrayed as a monster himself, often using death as a means to defeat his enemies. And as the BBC suffered a financial shortfall, speculation arose that the show was close to being axed completely, but, following a public and press outcry (in which a charity single, Doctor in Distress, was released), the BBC decided to continue making the show when they realised its following was much greater than they originally thought.

Baker left the role in 1986, after a mere 31 episodes, and was replaced by Sylvester McCoy. By this point, the show's viewing figures were shown to be dropping dramatically, and the quality of the series was again being questioned by its fans. The press ran articles speculating how long the series had left, which probably also contributed to the loss of viewers, and in 1989, the new Controller of BBC One, Jonathan Powell, suspened the show. After 26 years, what would possibly be the last ever episode, with the ironic title of Survival, aired on December 6th 1989. The Doctor Who office subsequently closed, but the show's fandom never once ceased to a halt, even throughout the following years when the show was off air. Doctor Who Magazine continued, as did its comic strip, and the magazine's sales catuplated after the programme was taken off air. Original novels were also released, featuring various incarnations of the Doctor and their respected companions. After a few years, it was regarded that the show would never be returning to television, but the BBC insisted that it was "on hiatus" until further notice, and in 1996, the Doctor finally returned to screens.

A television movie, developed by Fox Network, was announced, and, even though fans were delighted to discover that the Doctor would be back for another adventure, some raised their concerns regarding the fact that the programme had been sold to an American company, and were worried that it would lose its British charm because of it. Paul McGann was cast in the TV movie as the Eighth Doctor (it would turn out to be his only ever appearance in the role), and it debuted in Canada on May 12th 1996, followed closely by its broadcast in America two days later, and finally on BBC One in the United Kingdom on May 27th 1996. The television movie was, ultimately, a flop, pulling in only 5million in America and 9million in the UK. Although the BBC were in talks to produce a further series with McGann in the role, nothing came of the tentative plans, and so the chances of the series being revived seemed unlikely. It appeared that Doctor Who had finally had its day. But then...

In 2003, the BBC confirmed that Doctor Who would be returning to Saturday nights, with Russell T Davies serving as its executive producer and head writer. The new series premiered on BBC One on Saturday 26th March 2005, introducing Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor, and Billie Piper as his companion, Rose Tyler. The series was instantly a hit, with 10million tuning into its first episode, and the Time Lord's new adventures attracted fans both new and old. The Doctor was back, and he was better than ever before!