Happy Birthday Doctor Who!
It’s hard to believe that 53 years have gone by since An Unearthly Child aired. If you haven’t had the chance, make sure you head on over to the Time Travel Nexus where we are going to have a variety of blog posts all day celebrating the anniversary.
As for me, I have plans to curl up and watch some Sarah Jane Smith.
Did you know the beloved show was almost dead in the water? November 23, 1963 is a day most Whovians recognize as the day we first met The Doctor and Susan, but sometimes you forget that November 22, 1963 was the day before. Doctor Who’s first episode was lost in the sea of news flooding from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
In a time where reruns were basically unheard of (a concept itself that is basically unheard of in today’s world), Producer Verity Lambert talked the BBC into re-airing the pilot right before the next episode the following week.
The movie that came out the night before the fiftieth anniversary, if memory serves, An Adventure In Space and Time, was a biopic of sorts which documented how hard Verity had to fight for her show.
Because she knew, somehow, this idea of an alien running around time and space in a blue police box was something that could last.
And here we are 53 years later because Verity Lambert, a name a lot of Whovians don’t know, fought for something that she had helped to create, helped to bring to life because she had a feeling about it.
What about this episode stood out so much that it launched something that is still going strong after 53 years?
To me, one of the curses of being a writer is that I can’t help but judge the writing of everything I watch or read. It’s one of the reasons I’m not happy with the last couple series of Doctor Who.
On the flip side, I study them to see what they’re doing right and when a show has lasted as long as Doctor Who, the writers are doing something right. Yes, I know it took a break there through the 90s, with the exception of the movie, but even then audio dramas happened, books were written…
The show has existed continuously in one form or another and has developed such a rich history and lore that fans can sit there and discuss things in what may seem like a foreign language to someone who doesn’t understand Doctor Who.
What drew me to it?
That’s another way I approach something like this, when I want to study what it’s done right.
I’ll tell you the exact moment I was hooked on it. Or rather, let me show you.
How can he honestly think anyone is going to forget that?
The show is called Doctor Who for crying out loud. If you want to begin to figure out the Time Lord who lies about his age (worse than a woman turning 40) you need to be prepared to spend a lot of time doing it.
That’s what keeps people coming.
Thirteen people have technically played the same character, yet you see people debating over who was the best, and who did what better. Honestly, there’s pros and cons to all of them. Yes, I’ve said time and time again that Ten is my favorite, and he still is, but honestly, I love Six, Seven, Eight, Nine too.
They’re all the Doctor.
What can we learn from Doctor Who today as we celebrate its birthday?
If a story focuses on the characters, and lets you get close to them, it can get away with a lot of plot problems.
Quite frankly, Dimensions In Time (the thirtieth Anniversary special) is a hot, hot mess. But it’s fun to watch because of the characters. Even if they only appeared from the briefest of cameos, even if they’re not technically themselves (probably), they brought most everyone back.
This is the lesson we can learn from Doctor Who. The show is at its strongest when it focuses on its characters.
Rose and Ace faced their demons during the course of their runs, and Sarah Jane did it herself during a spin off. That’s part of what draws what draws us in. They aren’t perfect.
Their traits draw us in too. Ace has a love of explosions that isn’t necessarily safe (no more so than her love of smacking Daleks with baseball bats), Sarah Jane snuck into the TARDIS without The Doctor’s permission…you get the idea.
And despite all their faults, or, really, because of them, they live on.
Honestly, the things that last, the authors who “make it,” and the stories that live on even after their creator has passed are the ones whose characters help to do it. Sure, we’re enchanted by the story, but I know it’s the characters I’m drawn to.
There’s been a few projects I’ve had to sit to the side. My biggest regret has been that the characters won’t get their chance to shine. Because, that’s where I start. Here’s the character. What is going on with them? With this story? This scene? This moment? How is it going to move them forward?
Why should you care about their story?
Why do we care about a man who travels space and time in a blue box?
Now that’s the 53-year-old question, isn’t it?