I stood my ground, there on the lecture platform at the World Science Fiction Convention, and I repeated the heretical words that had sent them into animal hysterics: "Star Wars is adolescent nonsense; Close Encounters is obscurist drivel; Star Trek can turn your brains into puree of bat guano; and the greatest science fiction series of all time is Doctor Who! And I'll take you all on, one-by-one or all in a bunch to back it up!"
Fifty years ago a member of a minor race of gods, like Prometheus, fled from his technological Olympus to bring a gift to man: the gift of intelligent science fiction television programming. It's a gift that has lasted and grown, in one form or another, to the present. Before Doctor Who, televised science fiction consisted of Rod Serling anthologies and the like, some of which were pretty good but all of which were hampered by the enforced convention of the plot twist ("Sorry Burgess, it's not enough to make an entertaining story of a bookworm freed from all his cares when he oversleeps through an atomic war – his glasses have to break at the end of the show), and …
In the vibrant post-Doctor Who world of television, we have variety: the Serling anthologies have largely vanished, but at least in America we've had plenty of space westerns! Lost in Space, Star Trek, Space: 1999, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica in both its incarnations. And the X-Files, which is not a space western.
Moreover the Doctor has what some people may refer to as "BALL".
Doctor Who is most assuredly not a space western. Doctor Who, through the years, can be and has been anything you want it to be. It's alternate history. It's a detective show. It's horror. It's political drama. And sometimes, it's a space western. The show's premise is straightforward. An alien scientist, from an astonishingly advanced and decadent civilization known as the Time Lords, steals a time machine and flees to the backwater planet of Earth, which he fancies for about the same reasons Gandalf admired the Shire. From the Earth, with one or more (usually) human (often) lady (always) platonic companions, he flies around space and time, having adventures!
But oh what adventures. Through its fifty years (minus an almost 20 year hiatus enforced by BBC bigwigs who thought the show childish), the show has ranged from historical melodrama to gothic horror to Douglas Adams comedy to straight space opera. With a variety of actors playing the central character, from William Hartnell's cranky old victorian gentleman to Tom Baker's loveable scarfed oddball to Christopher Eccleston's tough guy in black to Matt Smith's wise young action hero. You see, through the amazing alien technology known as plot contrivance, whenever the Doctor suffers mortal injury (or whenever an actor tires of the role), he can regenerate into a new form and body, with the same memories but a different personality.
In fifty years the show has built up a supporting cast of recurring friends and villains that would fill an encyclopedia volume, some of whom are as interesting as the central character, including what must be television's second greatest recurring villain (after J. R. Ewing):
In honor of the show's fiftieth anniversary a special broadcast episode, the Day of the Doctor, will run on television and in theaters all over the world today and Monday, with a special guest appearance by Queen Elizabeth I. If you've never watched Doctor Who, what better time to start?
Here's to another fifty years.