November 22, 2023
As the big day nears, many wonder why Doctor Who Day is celebrated on 23rd November...
At 5.15PM on 23rd November, 1963, the very first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast on BBC TV, or as it’s now called, BBC One. Who would have thought that what started as a "mild curiosity in a junkyard" would become the colossal show that it is today? Now, in celebration of its 60th anniversary, three hour-long specials starring David Tennant are soon to air, adding yet another exciting chapter to its history.
Doctor Who anniversaries are renowned for their mysteries and surprises, making 23rd November synonymous with Doctor Who Day. But how has it been celebrated over the years? Read on to find out…
All THREE of them!
The Three Doctors (1972)
Although The Three Doctors didn’t air on 23rd November, it nonetheless opened Doctor Who’s 10th anniversary year, debuting on 30th December 1972. This landmark episode was the original multi-Doctor story. With Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor reuniting with his previous incarnations (William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton), it was the first time that viewers were treated to a story featuring the Doctors meeting themselves, setting the stage for future multi-Doctor narratives.
Recruited by the Time Lords, the Doctors had to work together to defeat the mythical Omega before he took his revenge! Not only did this story feature the First and Second Doctors in colour for the first time, but it also marked the end of the Third Doctor’s exile on Earth and introduced the immortal phrase, “Bigger on the inside.”
The deadliest game...
The Five Doctors (1983)
Ten years later, another celebration was in order. This time, for Doctor Who’s 20th anniversary! Following on from a blockbuster twentieth season, The Five Doctors once again brought the Doctor face to face with their past selves in Doctor Who’s first feature-length special!
Plucked out of their timestreams by a mysterious adversary, the Doctors and their companions had no choice but to play the Game of Rassilon, vital if they were to discover who had orchestrated their unexpected gathering. With the most Doctors anyone had ever seen together, fighting even more monsters, alongside even more companions, The Five Doctors masterfully balances its expansive narrative. Peter Davison, Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton all appear as the Doctor, with William Hartnell and Tom Baker returning via archive footage. Richard Hurndall takes on the mantle of the First Doctor, paving the way for the character to be recast as David Bradley years later.
The Five Doctors marked the first time the US received an episode of Doctor Who before the UK, broadcasting on PBS on 23rd November. Fans in the UK had to wait another two days to catch it on BBC One. Luckily, this was before the internet, so no spoilers!
Daleks, Cybermen and more, oh my!
Season 25 (1988)
Doctor Who fans were treated to a blockbuster season for the 25th anniversary of the show in 1988. Season 25 began in October with Remembrance of the Daleks, which saw the Seventh Doctor and Ace locked in a desperate battle with two separate Dalek factions, both of which were after the legendary Hand of Omega. The story was packed with references to Doctor Who’s beginnings, taking place in Shoreditch, 1963, where the First Doctor had originally landed the TARDIS. It’s also notable for showing a Dalek climbing stairs for the very first time, nearly 17 years before the episode Dalek in 2005!
Following this was The Happiness Patrol, taking place on a human colony controlled by the tyrannical Helen A who made it illegal to experience negative emotions. Next came Silver Nemesis, the last Cyberman story of the classic series, and finally, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, which saw the Doctor battling actual gods at a psychic circus. The title of Silver Nemesis is appropriate given that it aired on Doctor Who’s silver anniversary. Even the story itself is set on 23rd November!
Even before Doctor Who made its full comeback, the beloved show’s anniversary continued to be celebrated. For the 30th anniversary in 1993, the Doctors would come face to face with the iconic Pat Butcher and other Eastenders soap stars in a charity crossover with the show called Dimensions in Time. Plus, it was broadcast in 3D!
To celebrate the 40th anniversary, Doctor Who returned as an animated web series starring Richard E. Grant as the Doctor. Scream of the Shalka was released in six parts throughout November and December 2003. UK Gold also broadcasted back-to-back classic Doctor Who over the anniversary weekend. On November 23rd, 2004, the mysterious WhoSpy (… wonder what happened to them?) posted an image of a clapperboard from behind the scenes of Doctor Who Series 1, celebrating the show’s 41st birthday. That WhoSpy is causing trouble even now…
The biggest reunion in time and space
The Day of the Doctor (2013)
With Doctor Who returning in 2005 and continuing for seven brilliant series, the 50th anniversary was set to be the show’s biggest yet. On 30th March 2013, the BBC announced that David Tennant and Billie Piper would be returning for a 50th anniversary special episode. Then, Series 7’s finale ended in a way no one could have anticipated: with the shock revelation of John Hurt, playing a secret, never-before-seen incarnation of the Doctor. On 9th September, the title of the special, The Day of the Doctor was revealed. Then, on the 28th, a teaser trailer showcasing Doctor Who’s 50-year history was released, closing with the hashtag, #SaveTheDay, which was used to promote the special.
The Day of the Doctor was at the centre of Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary celebrations. It was a bumper 78-minute episode which brought together three Doctors, preceded by an online minisode that saw the return of Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. Following this episode was The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, a comedy skit starring Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, accessible via BBC Red Button service.
The Day of the Doctor is a legendary part of Doctor Who’s history, seeing the Doctors band together to save Gallifrey, which they had believed was destroyed in the Last Great Time War, including at the time a future incarnation!
Two days before the 50th anniversary, An Adventure in Space and Time was broadcast on BBC Two. This documentary drama, written by Mark Gatiss, told the story of Doctor Who’s inception. Starring David Bradley as William Hartnell (and the First Doctor!), it’s the perfect starting place for those interested in the early days of Who. Additionally, The Science of Doctor Who, a lecture presented by Professor Brian Cox was broadcast on the 14th, and The Ultimate Guide to Doctor Who was released on the 18th. There was also the Doctor Who 50th anniversary Prom at the Royal Albert Hall in July, where fans were treated to Murray Gold’s soundtrack played live by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and the Doctor Who Celebration, a three-day convention that took place at London’s Excel Centre across the anniversary weekend.
The distant past... a year ago!
Doctor Who Day 2022
Fast forward nine years, and It wasn’t long after The Power of the Doctor aired that a very important Doctor Who Day rolled around once again. With a year still to go before the all new 60th anniversary specials, the focus this time was on celebrating Doctor Who’s 59-year history while also looking ahead to the future. New key art for the anniversary, featuring all the Doctors, along with a special diamond-themed logo for the 60th anniversary, was unveiled. Additionally, new photography of the upcoming Doctors, David Tennant and Ncuti Gatwa and their companions, Catherine Tate and Millie Gibson was released.
The Sixtieth Anniversary (Now!)
…Which brings us up to today. It’s been such a long wait for Doctor Who’s return, but we’re almost there! Doctor Who’s 60th year marks the beginning of a brand-new era, with returning showrunner Russell T Davies inviting us to witness the adventures of not one but TWO brand new Doctors! At the heart of the celebrations are the 60th anniversary specials, The Star Beast, Wild Blue Yonder and The Giggle, which begin airing on November 25th, reuniting the Doctor with a familiar face with companion (and best temp in Chiswick!), Donna Noble.
The 60th anniversary has also seen the unveiling of the Whoniverse, the brand-new umbrella under which all Doctor Who-related programming now sits. Not only is the Whoniverse home to previous spin-off programmes such as Torchwood, The Sarah-Jane Adventures and Class, it is also where you will find brand new content such as Tales of the TARDIS, where previous Doctors and their companions recount classic tales. Plus, there’s Doctor Who @60: A Musical Celebration, a concert featuring music from 60 years of the show and the future. For viewers in the UK, classic Doctor Who is also available on iPlayer for the first time!
Coming up is The Daleks in Colour, a brand-new restoration of the Doctor’s first-ever adventure featuring the Daleks, presented in full colour for the first time, and a new bonus scene in aid of Children in Need, which presents a very different look into the Daleks’ origins. And for anyone who fancies a sneak peek into the making of Doctor Who, Steffan Powell takes us behind the scenes in Doctor Who: Unleashed, the brand-new companion show that documents Doctor Who’s production!
Doctor Who’s 60th anniversary has already been jam-packed and it’s only going to get better! A spaceship is on a collision course for London, and the secret of the Star Beast is soon to be revealed... The Doctor and Donna Noble’s adventures will continue!
Happy 60th anniversary, Doctor Who!