'Doctor Who' Fans Gear Up for 50th Anniversary Celebration

Shantella Y. Sherman | 11/20/2013, 3 p.m.
Little did executives at BBC One know when they broadcast the first episode of "Doctor Who" on Nov. 23, 1963, ...
Matt Smith, David Tennant, the 10th and 11th Doctors, will share the screen with John Hurt as another incarnation of the Doctor in the upcoming BBC special "The Day of the Doctor." (Courtesy of BBC America)

Little did executives at BBC One know when they broadcast the first episode of "Doctor Who" on Nov. 23, 1963, that the collective imaginations of millions of viewers would gravitate toward the madman with a box and eventually make common references to Cybermen, the TARDIS, and fish fingers and custard.

The back story on Doctor Who is pretty simple: A time lord (traveler) steals a ship and sets off on an adventure to discover the universe. Known only as “The Doctor,” the time lord is able to regenerate rather than die, possesses a lone sonic screwdriver as a weapon, and travels in a space ship that masquerades as an old police callbox known as the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space).

With an ability to travel in time and space, the Doctor picks up human traveling companions along the way – somehow, inevitably placing himself in the crosshairs of various timelines.

As the character regenerates, the actor portraying the Doctor is replaced, introducing both a new actor and a new incarnation of the traveling time lord. A clever design of the executive producers and writers, with each new Doctor, the show is reinvigorated and audiences are glued, once more to television screens, learning the personality, style, and doctor-isms of the new guy.

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The basic storyline never changes; however, with careful precision, lead writer Steven Moffat, has been able to weave complex meta-narratives into intricate storylines and position common objects into aliens. Take the episode Blink!, which introduces a species of alien that are swift and deadly and who survive by turning into stone the moment someone looks at them. Who hasn’t gone into a garden, cemetery, or museum packed with statues and thought for certain one moved? Moffat fuses science with superstition to conjure up childhood fears in adult viewers. Concepts like life existing outside of temporal spaces and things existing “exactly where you don't want to look, where you never want to look …The corner of your eye,” have made the Doctor Who franchise wildly successful.

“Doctor Who can reinvent itself and has to reinvent itself every few years. Most shows age, most shows get tired, [and] most shows get predictable especially a show, which like Doctor Who is a little bit similar with every story. A new Doctor, a new companion, a new story – it becomes an ancient tradition but also a brand new shiny thing. No other show can combine those two virtues at the same time,” Moffat said.

The 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor, brings together for the first time, three different Doctors – Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt. Moffat said audiences will witness different aspects of the same character.

“What you have to go for is the fact that they’re at different places in their lives so if you met yourself 5 years ago you wouldn’t exactly be meeting yourself – you’d be meeting somebody a bit different who has not had the same experiences and your current preoccupations. It’s the same character but not the same character.” Moffat said.

The 75-minute anniversary special Day of the Doctor airs on BBC America, Saturday, Nov. 23 at 2:50 p.m. ET, at the same time it premieres in the UK to avoid spoilers. In the interim, BBC ON DEMAND offers the last seven seasons of the series in their entirety.