49 years ago today, in just a couple hours (17:16 GMT, or 12:16pm EST), Doctor Who debuted on the BBC with the very first episode, “An Unearthly Child”, and set off what would become a worldwide phenomenon. Originally conceived as a family show with educational aspects, using time travel to teach about history, etc. the show would be produced continuously for 26 series.
In 1989, with declining viewership and increasing budgetary constraints (anyone remember how they avoided showing the inside of the TARDIS in the final season? They had junked the set before that season, and for a final scene they built a cheap one), despite assurances from the BBC that it would return, Doctor Who ceased production until 1996, when the BBC and Fox jointly produced a TV movie starring Paul McGann as a backdoor pilot in an attempt to relaunch the show in both hemispheres. The movie was poorly received (and canonically questionable), and the Doctor was once more relegated to the vortex.
Finally, in 2005, Doctor Who returned to television after some success with animated webcasts and a big audio adventure business. Russel T. Davies took the producing reins, production took place in Cardiff at BBC Wales, and Christopher Eccleston became the 9th Doctor when he told Rose Tyler, “Run!”
Since then we’ve had 7 new series, two more Doctors in David Tennant and Matt Smith, several new companions, and a show that doesn’t look like it will stop any time soon.
Happy Birthday, Doctor – and may we celebrate many more!