Yesterday, we commemorated the 50th anniversary of a tragic event, the assassination of President Kennedy. Today, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of another event, albeit an event that wasn’t noticed in the US at the time: the premiere of Doctor Who. It didn’t premiere in the US at that time, just in the UK. Indeed, even if it had been scheduled to premiere here on November 23, it wouldn’t have; the networks were continuously covering the aftermath of the assassination.
According to a Wikipedia article, Canada’s CBC aired the first 26 episodes of the program beginning in January 1965. It may well have been seen in Detroit, Buffalo, Seattle and other border towns in the US. A few US cities might have seen it in 1972; a good friend of mine recalls seeing it then while he was living in Florida. Detroit and Buffalo could have started to see it again via TVOntario in 1976. But for me, the first time I saw Doctor Who was when KPRC channel 2 in Houston started carrying it in 1978 or 1979. At first, it was on in the afternoons, but I was in school then. Later, they started to air it late on Saturday night, Sunday morning after Saturday Night Live and Monty Python. The first story I remember seeing was “The Invasion of Time” — not a very good one to start with. That’s because the Doctor was acting very out of character for much of the story, but how could I have known that? I wasn’t turned off, though; no, I continued to watch, and I became hooked.
For Americans such as myself who became fans at that time, Tom Baker will always be “their Doctor”. But if I had grown up in the UK, no doubt I’d have become a fan earlier, in either the Patrick Troughton or Jon Pertwee eras. I would have been too young to see most of the William Hartnell era, but maybe I would have remembered some of the final episodes from 1966. I don’t know, and there’s no way to know.
And so here we are on the 50th anniversary. Will the 100th anniversary be remembered? I doubt I’ll be around for that one. But I am here for this one, and I raise my glass in a toast to Doctor Who and everyone who’s ever been connected with the program. To the actors who’ve played the Doctor, I echo the comments of the Brigadier when I say, “Spendid chaps – all of them.”