Doctor Who

30 years since Classic Who

30 defining moments from the original run of Doctor Who

"Come on Ace, we've got work to do..."... it's been 30 years since the Seventh Doctor and Ace walked off into the sunset and Doctor Who took a break from our television screens. The show would continue on in various formats before the Ninth Doctor and Rose exploded onto our screens! Although Doctor Who has changed and literally regenerated in many ways, there are some core elements that have stood the test of time.

Doctor Who

Here are 30 characters, concepts and villains that were set up in the original run of Doctor Who which have carried on from 2005 and beyond!

1. The Doctor – the original, you might say!

Obviously, one of the first major characters that the show set up was the Doctor! Initially a mischievous and enigmatic old man, the Doctor has changed faces and personalities many times over the last 56 years. However, throughout all of their incarnations, the Doctor has always been a champion of justice, ready to fight evil whenever and wherever it appears across all of time and space!

2. The Companions

The universe is better shared with friends, and the Doctor has had plenty across their many lifetimes! The first companion was the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan, but they were soon joined by Susan’s school teachers Ian and Barbara. Whilst the Doctor wasn’t pleased about two teachers pushing their way into his TARDIS, he grew to like them and has preferred the company of friends ever since.


The Doctor’s home and our gateway to the universe, the TARDIS has looked like a 1960s police box ever since the First Doctor landed in 1963 in An Unearthly Child. The TARDIS is one of the key symbols of Doctor Who, permanently stuck in the shape of a police box - apart from when the Sixth Doctor briefly fixed the chameleon circuit. Fortunately, the circuit broke again soon after, reverting back to the classic police box.

4. The theme tune

All together now! Dun dun dun dun, dun dun dun dun, dun dun dun dun, dar dar darrrrrrrrr! An iconic theme. What more do we need to say?

5. The Daleks

30 years of classic Doctor Who

Ask most people who the Doctor’s most iconic foe is, and the answer will be almost unanimous - the Daleks! Often defeated by the Doctor, but always finding a way to survive, the Daleks have blighted the Doctor’s existence since he first landed on Skaro, in the second ever television adventure. The Daleks even ended up taking on the Time Lords in the Great Time War!

6. Fixed points in time

Traveling through time and space comes with its own unique set of challenges. How much can you change? Can you even intervene at all? In The Aztecs, the Doctor told Barbara that they couldn’t rewrite a single line of history, but since then they’ve been sailing through the universe’s timelines righting wrongs. So, how do they know they what they can and cannot change?

The Doctor is aware of fixed points of history that must not be altered, such as the allied victory of the Second World War or the explosion of Bowie Base One, otherwise the whole web of time would fall apart!

7. The ‘celebrity historical'

The ‘celebrity historical’ is a Doctor Who term coined to mean an adventure set in Earth’s history featuring a famous historical figure. The First Doctor alone encountered Marco Polo and Napoleon to name a few!

This type of story has fallen in and out of vogue over the decades of Doctor Who. While a few historical figures have appeared since then, it is only when the show was revived in 2005 that the celebrity historical become a staple once again, kicking off with fighting ghosts with Charles Dickens, at Christmas!

8. Doctor... Who?

Is it ‘the Doctor’ or ‘Doctor Who’? While the series has mostly gone with simply ‘the Doctor’, in The War Machines, the villain WOTAN called the First Doctor ‘Doctor Who’. This title would be adopted when Missy pretends to be the Doctor in World Enough and Time, and she claims it’s the Doctor’s real name! But then again, you can never trust Missy…

9. The Cybermen

Debuting in the First Doctor’s final story, the Cybermen would go on to become one of the foes that plague the Doctor almost as much as the Daleks! These enemies got rid of their emotions and their flesh bodies in favour of cold, hard logic and cybernetic body parts. The machine men kept upgrading themselves, leading to several different designs of Cybermen encountering the Doctor over the years, each more mechanically monstrous than the last!

10. Regeneration

The TARDIS enables the Doctor to travel through all of time, and regeneration enables Doctor Who to run for all time! A trait of the Doctor’s people, the Time Lords, that enables them to escape death, it has given both the Doctor and the show an incredibly long life span.

11. The "base under siege" story

A remote base, monsters on all sides, no hope of escape. Sounds familiar? The base under siege story was popularised in the era of Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor, when several stories back-to-back used this effective formula. It has recurred throughout Doctor Who, most recently used to great effect in the The Tsuranga Conundrum.

12. The Ice Warriors

The Ice Warriorsssssss, Doctor Who’ssss verssssion of Martianssss, were inssstantly recognissssable by their hulking green bodiessss and their whissspery, hisssssing voicessss. Firssst encountered by the Sssecond Doctor, the Twelfth Doctor would later on crossss pathsss with an Ice Queen!

13. UNIT & The Brigadier

The Unified Intelligence Taskforce (U.N.I.T.) was formed to combat the threat of alien attacks on Earth, led in the field by Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. While they first teamed up with the Second Doctor against the Abominable Snowmen and the Cybermen, they mainly featured during the era of Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor. Stranded on Earth, the Third Doctor became UNIT’s scientific advisor, defeating many invasions from intergalactic threats, including his mortal enemy the Master!

Initially a military headed organisation, by the time the Eleventh Doctor was assisting UNIT against a particularly slow invasion they were headed by the Brigadier’s daughter, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, who put science first, guns second.

14. The Time Lords

Until the final adventure of the Second Doctor, The War Games, the Doctor’s species had never been identified. He was forced to call in the Time Lords to assist him when he was stuck in a desperate situation. This marked the debut of the Doctor’s thorny relationship with his own people. We finally met the Time Lords, but the name of their home-world, Gallifrey, wouldn’t be identified until the Third Doctor adventure The Time Warrior.

15. The Autons

The first foes that the Third Doctor foiled, the Autons are made of living plastic and controlled by a hive-mind entity called the Nestene Consciousness. Doing what Doctor Who does best, the show took something you see every day and twisted it in a terrifying direction. In this case, killer shop-window dummies! These plastic terrors would play a vital role in the revival, not only as the villain in the very first story Rose, but also because Rory, companion to the Eleventh Doctor, would be one later on in an alternate timeline!

16. The Silurians

The Earth’s original occupants, the Silurians believed that all life on the planet was going to be wiped out by an asteroid. They retreated to underground hibernation chambers to survive, but the asteroid started orbiting the Earth instead and became the moon.

The Doctor’s first encounter with the Silurians did not go well, souring his relationship with UNIT after the Brigadier blew up their base. The Silurians returned during the era of the Eleventh Doctor, the most notable among them being the Victorian detective Madame Vastra, part of the Paternoster Gang!

17. The Master

The dark inverse of the Doctor, this villain first clashed with the Third Doctor. As the conflict between the two of them escalated, we learnt they were actually old friends who had become mortal enemies. The Master was the first Time Lord other than the Doctor to appear in the new series, returning with a masterplan (ahem…) that tore the lives of the Doctor’s friends apart.

18. The Multi-Doctor Special

The Three Doctors united the first three incarnations of the Doctor and established the Multi-Doctor Special. The meeting of the various incarnations of the Doctor has become the go-to format for anniversary specials, resulting in The Five Doctors, Dimensions in Time, The Day of the Doctor and Christmas special Twice Upon a Time!

19. Sarah Jane Smith

While the Doctor is fond of all of their travelling companions, they will always have a special place in their hearts for Sarah Jane Smith. Sarah travelled with the Third and Fourth Doctor, but was left back on Earth when the Fourth Doctor was summoned to Gallifrey. Promising he’d leave her in Croydon, he actually dropped her off in Aberdeen! Such was the popularity of the character that she would return for further adventures with both the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors.

20. Abandoning the Earth

In the late-29th/early-30th Century, the Earth is roasted by solar flares, and humanity has to leave in various starships in order to survive. The first time the Doctor visited one of these ships was Nerva Beacon with Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan. The Eleventh Doctor would later take Amy Pond, on her first trip in the TARDIS, to another of these starships, the Starship UK, where they would team up with Queen Elizabeth… the Tenth!

21. Time Lords vs Daleks

The Time War between the Daleks and the Time Lords has cast a long shadow over the entirety of the 2005 revival of Doctor Who… but it was over by the time we even had the chance to see it! The war hadn’t kicked off by the end of the original run and by the time the show came back, we’d missed it in its entirety! However, we can see the roots of the conflict being seeded in the original run, particularly in Genesis of the Daleks, when the Time Lords sent the Doctor to prevent the creation of the Daleks.

22. Davros

Genesis of the Daleks didn’t just feature one of the first gambits of the Time War, it also introduced us to Davros, the mad genius who created the Daleks. Like them, every time it appears that Davros has seemingly been killed off, he finds a way to survive and live to fight the Doctor another day…

23. The Zygons

The shape-shifting sucker-covered menaces were chosen as one of the adversaries for the 50th anniversary special, but their first appearance in Doctor Who was opposite the Fourth Doctor. They terrorized oil rigs around Scotland with a giant monster, the Skarasen, probably better known as the Loch Ness monster!

24. The Sisterhood of Karn

30 years of classic Doctor Who

The Sisterhood of Karn are an all-female sect of Gallifreyans, who left their home planet to protect the Sacred Flame. First seen in the Fourth Doctor story The Brain of Morbius, they would go on to play a vital role in the Eighth Doctor’s regeneration and help the Twelfth Doctor hide from the universe when he wanted to be left alone.

25. Time Lord Robes

Ornate, imposing and terrible for small doors, the now iconic robes and headpieces of the Time Lords arrived fully-formed in The Deadly Assassin. Until then, Time Lord style varied with each of their appearances, but once they arrived, they were here to stay. When the Time Lords returned in The End of Time, the robes came with them!

26. Maximum number of regenerations

The Deadly Assassin also set up another key aspect of Time Lord mythos, the fact that regenerations aren’t endless. A Time Lord is only supposed to have twelve regenerations, which became a key issue when the Eleventh Doctor reached the cap (he’d used up a couple along the way, long story) and had to be granted a new regenerative cycle from the Time Lords.

27. K9

The Doctor’s loyal metallic mutt mainly travelled with Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor but made a triumphant return during the Tenth Doctor era! Sarah Jane Smith had her own K9 when she met the Tenth Doctor investigating suspicious activity at Deffry Vale High School. Like the Doctor, K9 has had different incarnations (four to be precise), although K9’s appearance has remained mostly the same!

28. Post-Regeneration Trauma

You’d think that having every aspect of you altered would be a traumatic experience, but it was only until the arrival of the Fifth Doctor that it was explored on-screen. Confused and forgetting that previous companions had left, it took the Doctor some time to acclimatise to his new persona. The trauma that each subsequent Doctor has gone through has differed every time, but the process has remained a staple ever since!

29. Death of a Companion

While Adric wasn’t the first companion to die, he was the first to be killed after travelling for a significant time with the Doctor. Fighting the Cybermen, he died after crashing into the Earth. Since the show returned in 2005, the peril has only increased for the friends of the Doctor...

30. Closer look at the companion’s personal life

The arrival of the Seventh Doctor companion Ace heralded a new approach to character development in Doctor Who, allowing the impact of the Doctor in a companion’s life to be examined, as well as exploring companion backstories in greater detail.

Although this new direction was introduced in the latter years of the classic run, it has carried through with every new series companion from Rose to Graham, Ryan and Yaz.

You can re-live some of these moments from the original run of Doctor Who in Series 26 - The Collection, available for pre-order now from Amazon and Zoom.