54 years ago to this very day, the world’s bestest and longest-running science-fiction television show began. William Hartnell stepped into the TARDIS as the First Doctor and we never looked back.
In over five decades, Doctor Who has entertained and enthralled millions in countless countries across the world with adventures in both space and time; and sometimes both. So, on this special day, we sit back and appreciate our favourite timey-wimey telly show.
Here are just 54 facts you should know about Doctor Who…
Doctor Who debuted on BBC One on Nov 23, 1963 at 5.15pm (well, technically 80 seconds later, time pedants). This was the day after US president John F Kennedy was assassinated.
For most of Doctor Who’s run in the “classic” era (up until 1989), episodes had a running time of approximately 25 minutes. In 1986 the format was changed to 45 minute instalments for one series only. When the show returned in 2005, the 45 minute approach was adopted once more while Series 11 will see the introduction of 50 minute eps.
Likewise, Doctor Who always aired on a Saturday in the UK, until it was moved to two mid-week screenings for the Fifth Doctor's era. This was changed back to Saturdays for the Sixth Doctor and then back to weekday screenings for the Seventh Doctor. Since Who’s 2005 return it has reaffirmed its love for Saturday evening broadcasts.
In the cast, William Hartnell was credited as playing “Dr. Who”. Over the years this would change to “Doctor Who” and then “The Doctor” in the 80s. (When the show returned in 2005, Christoper Eccleston was credited as “Doctor Who” and it was changed once more to “The Doctor” at the request of David Tennant, who played the Tenth Doctor.)
The Doctor has a granddaughter. Susan was a pupil at Coal Hill School where she attracted the curiosity of teachers Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton. The two would travel with Susan and her grandfather for many adventures. Recent companion Clara Oswald took up a teaching post at the school too.
His home planet is Gallifrey. Sometimes referred to as the “Shining World of the Seven Systems,” it is situated in the constellation of Kasterborous. Its binary location from galactic zero centre, should you ever need it for your SpaceNav is: Ten zero eleven, zero zero by zero two. Well, that was until the events of The Day of the Doctor when it was moved and, as we discovered in the 2015 episode Hell Bent, Gallifrey was “positioned at the extreme end of the time continuum.” Whenever that might be…
Though we visited Gallifrey in the epic Second Doctor finale The War Games, we didn’t actually discover its name until the Third Doctor episode, The Time Warrior – some ten years after the show began.
Fact fans will note that original First Doctor actor William Hartnell never actually spoke the word “Gallifrey” on television. (Though the First Doctor does say it in 1983’s The Five Doctors, then played by Richard Hurndall, and in The Day of the Doctor, portrayed by voice actor John Guilor).
The Doctor is a Time Lord. However, like Gallifrey, we don’t actually hear those words to describe his people until the aforementioned, The War Games.
Time Lords have the power of regeneration. This means, if you weren’t aware, that, in order fight off death, they can change their bodies. Again, the word wasn’t actually coined to describe the process until the 1974 classic, Planet of the Spiders, which saw Jon Pertwee change into Tom Baker. The Third Doctor explained to companion Sarah Jane Smith, “when a Time Lord's body wears out, he regenerates, becomes new.
Regeneration can also mean, in human terms, a change of race or gender. And sometime both. 2015’s Hell Bent saw the General, a white man, regenerate into a black woman. She seemed to prefer it that way. Other Time Lords who have done this are the Corsair (as recalled by the Eleventh Doctor in The Doctor’s Wife) and the Doctor, as we will see in the 2017 Christmas Special.
In the 1976 story The Deadly Assassin we learn that Time Lords can only regenerate twelve times: “there is no plan that will postpone death,” after that. However, the Doctor was given a new cycle of regenerations in The Time of the Doctor and even he isn’t sure of how many lives are left.
The youngest actor to play the Doctor is Matt Smith who was just 26 years old when filming on the Eleventh Doctor's era began. (Well, technically, it’s Michael Jones who played the young, scared Doctor comforted by Clara in 2014’s Listen.)
The oldest actor cast to play the Doctor is David Bradley, who appeared in the closing seconds of the Series 10 finale, The Doctor Falls. Aged 75, he will appear once more in Twice Upon A Time.
The first “multi-Doctor” story was 1972’s The Three Doctors. Kicking-off the show’s tenth season, it featured Docs One through Three battling Time Lord legend, Omega. More about that guy later.
Other multi-Doctor adventures followed, including: 20th Anniversary Special, The Five Doctors; The Two/Six team-up, The Two Doctors; Five meets Ten in the 2007 Children In Need special, Time Crash; 50th Anniversary Special, *The Day of the Doctor (ALL of them); and the forthcoming Christmas Special, Twice Upon A Time, featuring the One and Twelve.
There was also a 30th Anniversary two-parter called Dimensions In Time. This multi-Doctor, multi-companion, multi-monster special was in aid of BBC’s Children In Need charity and mashed-up Doctor Who characters with those from popular BBC soap, Eastenders. The story, such as it is, is not seen as part of the official Doctor Who canon.
Also, while we’re on charity episodes, we should mention the 1999 Comic Relief Special, The Curse of Fatal Death. Written by a certain Steven Moffat, it featured Blackadder and Mr Bean star Rowan Atkinson as the Doctor, along with many more familiar faces… Have a watch below.
Doctor Who has had numerous television spin-offs over the years. The first was K-9 and Company in 1981 where Elisabeth Sladen reprised her role as Sarah Jane Smith alongside the computer dog, K-9.
Torchwood was the first full series spinoff. Created by the then Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies, its title was an anagram of Doctor Who and starred John Barrowman who made his Captain Jack Harkness debut in 2005’s The Empty Child.
The Sarah Jane Adventures quickly followed with appearances from The Tenth Doctor and the Eleventh Doctor, played by David Tennant and Matt Smith respectively. Another spin-off series, Class, followed in 2016.
1965’s The Daleks Master Plan holds the record for the longest story, clocking in at an impressive TWELVE episodes, whilst The Five Doctors holds the record for longest-running time for one ep (just over 88 minutes). In the classic era, two seasons featured a branching-arc collecting the stories together: 1978’s The Key To Time and 1986’s The Trial of a Time Lord.
Susan came up with the name for the Doctor’s time-travel ship, the TARDIS from, “Time And Relative Dimension In Space”. It’s also known as a Type 40 TT capsule.
The War Games revealed that the Doctor had actually stolen his TARDIS. We see these events in 2013’s The Name of the Doctor when Eleventh Doctor companion Clara gives a suggestion on which Type 40 the First Doctor and Susan should take. However, the TARDIS herself, when in human form, told the Eleventh Doctor she choose him (The Doctor’s Wife)
The TARDIS has a swimming pool. If you’re curious, check it out in 1978’s The Invasion of Time or, more recently, in 2013’s Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. In 2011’s Day of the Moon, the Eleventh Doctor saves a falling River Song by opening all the doors to the swimming pool (though we don’t see it on that occasion).
The phrase “bigger on the inside!”, to describe the TARDIS, was first used in 1969’s The War Games. According to the Tenth Doctor, in 2006’s The Impossible Planet, TARDISes were grown, not built.
Did you know that, amongst other things, the Sonic Screwdriver can fix barb wire (The Doctor Dances), crack safes (The Sun Makers), and be used as a microphone (A Christmas Carol, The God Complex)? The Doctor’s tool made its debut in the Second Doctor story Fury From The Deep and was frequently used until its destruction in 1982’s The Visitation. Thankfully, the Sonic made a triumphant return in 2005 when Doctor Who came back to our screens.
There are 97 missing episodes. Sadly, in the 1970s, the BBC destroyed many episodes of Doctor Who (and other BBC Shows) as they had outlived their use. This was, of course, in an age pre-home video. Though, every so often, a missing episode gets found - most recently, all of The Enemy of the World, and five episodes of The Web of Fear were rediscovered in Nigeria.
Doctor Who predicted the existence of BBC Three back in 1971. Third Doctor story The Daemons made this accurate prediction for the channel. Fourth Doctor adventure Terror of the Zygons was even more prescient when it predicted a female Prime Minister for the UK, some four years before Margaret Thatcher was voted in to No. 10 Downing Street.
The TARDIS’s Cloister Bell, used in times of extreme danger, was not heard until the Tom Baker finale, Logopolis. After that, it rang on just four more times in the classic show but, post-2005, the bell has been used on almost twenty occasions!
Monty Python and Fawlty Towers star John Cleese made an uncredited cameo in the Fourth Doctor story, City Of Death. Written by Douglas Adams, the adventure was the first time Doctor Who had filmed overseas – in this case, Paris.
City of Death is also the most-watched episode of Doctor Who in the UK, hitting an impressive 16.10 million viewers for Part Four. Worldwide, The Day of the Doctor held the Guinness Book of Records for biggest TV simulcast, broadcasting to 98 countries across 6 continents at the same time around the world (the number was initially 94 but this was revised).
Outgoing showrunner Steven Moffat has written the largest amount of Doctor Who EVER, clocking up well over 40 television episodes. Rona Munro is the only person to write for both the classic era and the modern era (1989’s Survival and 2017’s The Eaters of Light).
Actor Tom Baker is the longest-serving Doctor Who, amassing 70 hours of screen time over seven years. For contrast, David Tennant managed just under 40 hours. Jamie, played by Frazer Hines, is the longest-serving companion with over 49 hours of screen time.
The Doctor has pretty much always had a companion to join him on adventures. 1975’s The Deadly Assassin was the first time the Time Lord traveled by himself.
The Doctor has two hearts. Like so many iconic facets of Doctor Who, this was revealed in the Third Doctor era; his very first episode in fact, Spearhead From Space. Gallifreyans are taught at school how to stop their hearts in order to feign death, according to Romana – a companion of the Doctor who was also a Time Lord.
In the 1996 Paul McGann TV movie, the Eighth Doctor claimed he was “half human” (on his mother’s side apparently). We still don’t know if he was joking or not…
Doctor Who ended its first run in 1989 but returned for one night only in the 90s with Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. It was another nine years before Who returned with Christopher Eccleston at the helm of the TARDIS in 2005.
We caught our first glimpse of the Daleks at the end of the just the fifth Doctor Who episode. The First Doctor, Susan, Barbara and Ian visited the intergalactic pepper pots’ home world starting a chain of never ending battles with the Daleks.
Even in the show’s initial run Doctor Who could be timey-wimey. Davros was introduced as the creator of the Daleks more than ten years after their first Doctor Who outing. Tom Baker classic Genesis of the Daleks took the Fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry back to Skaro at the inception of the terrors – before the First, Second and Third Doctor's meetings with the Daleks. Get your head around that! (And, in another slightly paradoxical move, we discovered in 2015’s The Magician’s Apprentice that the Twelfth Doctor himself saved Davros’ life as a young boy.)
The Cybermen, last seen in the epic Series 10 finale, debuted in the First Doctor finale, The Tenth Planet. We will see some scenes from this story, which also saw the first regeneration for the Doctor, in the forthcoming Twice Upon A Time. Cybermen also caused the death of one of the Doctor’s companions, Adric.
Speaking of villains, not all Time Lords are good. Despite being revered by his people for creating time travel, Omega, a solar engineer, felt abandoned by Gallifrey when he was trapped in an anti-matter universe and sought revenge. It took three incarnations of the Doctor (One through Three) to defeat Omega. He returned to face the Fifth Doctor and fellow Time Lords in 1983’s Arc of Infinity where he failed, again.
Building on Omega’s work was Rassilon. A mere engineer and architect in Gallifrey’s early days, he was subsequently seen as the founder of their civilisation. He also discovered the secret of immortality but that it was too powerful a secret to share. By the end of the Time War, Rassilon was Time Lord President and creating all sorts of havoc in the Tenth Doctor finale, The End of Time. After he was sent back into the Time War, he regenerated and met with the Twelfth Doctor in 2015’s Hell Bent on Gallifrey. He was still a bit cross. Fun fact: Rassilon was first seen as a rather jovial and mischievous disembodied head in the 20th Anniversary special, The Five Doctors.
Speaking of naughty Time Lords, there’s The Master. A contemporary and one-time friend of the Doctor, the two went to the Academy together in their younger years. He first appeared in the 1971 story Terror of the Autons, played by Roger Delgado, and would return time and again to battle Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor. Over the years, The Master has been played by various actors, most recently by John Simm and then Michelle Gomez (aka Missy). Although Time Lords only have twelve regenerations, the renegade has actually outlived them.
In 1983, Fourth Doctor tale Revenge of the Cybermen was the very first Doctor Who story to be released on home video. It was available on the VHS, Betamax and even Laserdisc formats.
There have been some animated Doctor Who stories on television over the years. Over 12 weeks, Tenth Doctor and Martha epic The Infinite Quest was broadcast during children’s show Totally Doctor Who (it was subsequently aired as a 45 minute episode and released on DVD). Computer-generated Dreamland followed in 2009 and again featured David Tennant voicing the Tenth Doctor. Also, a number of missing episodes (see No. 28) have been animated to complete the stories: 1968’s The Invasion was the first to receive this treatment in 2006, with two of its missing instalments animated for DVD.
There have been two Doctor Who films. 1965’s Dr. Who and the Daleks and Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D., released the following year, starred Peter Cushing as Earth scientist “Dr. Who”. These movie aren’t considered part of the official Doctor Who canon so don’t let anyone know we mentioned them… (looks around)
The iconic Doctor Who theme tune was written by Australian Ron Grainer, who also composed memorable openers for The Prisoner and Tales of the Unexpected. However, it is the arrangement of the Who theme that is perhaps most remarkable. Delia Derbyshire utilised the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to create a sound like no other, giving Doctor Who the greatest television theme tune ever. It remained in tact, with a few tweaks here and there, until 1980 when a brand new synthesiser arrangement was unleashed. Since 2005, composer Murray Gold has provided his take on the titles whilst 2018 will see a new arrangement for Series 11.
The most companions featured in one story was The Five Doctors, which boasted an eye-watering eleven (though some of these were but illusions). 2008’s Journey’s End comes a decent second with eight (and six of those appeared on screen at the same time, beating The Five Doctors five). The Doctor who traveled with the most companions during his time was the First Doctor, racking up ten TARDIS travellers (two of whom might have died a bit…).
The Weeping Angels (created by king of scares, Steven Moffat) have become one of Doctor Who’s most iconic monsters despite only appearing just ten years ago in Blink. Also known as the “Lonely Assassins”, they hail from the dawn of the universe. Where? We don’t know, but we do know they are “quantum-locked” – that means when a Weeping Angel is in the sight of any living thing, they turn to stone.
The 2010s have witnessed the most onscreen regenerations in Doctor Who. We’ve seen numerous Doctors regenerate – Eight, War (sort of), Ten, Eleven, with Twelve on the way – as well as River Song (twice in Series Six) and the General in 2015’s Hell Bent.
Although we knew he had a granddaughter (the aforementioned Susan), the Doctor took a while before he told anyone he was a dad once (casually mentioned to Rose Tyler in 2006’s Fear Her).
We thought we knew ALL the Doctors but, in 2013’s The Name of the Doctor we were introduced to John Hurt as the War Doctor, a regeneration between the Eighth and Ninth Doctors, who fought in the Time War. Similarly, in 1976’s The Brain of Morbius, the audience were lead to believe that the Doctor had previous regenerations before William Hartnell – we saw a mind battle which went back through the Doctor’s incarnations revealing many more (played by various members of the Doctor Who production team). This has been discounted since the First Doctor refers to himself as the “original” in both The Five Doctors and The Doctor Falls (ironically, neither time delivered by the original actor to play the part).
Series 11, filming now, will air around the world in 2018 and features the first woman to play the Doctor, Jodie Whittaker. Her debut, Twice Upon A Time airing around the world from Dec 25, 2017, will be the 840th televised episode of Doctor Who.