First Episode of Doctor Who
The 23rd of November 1963 AD
When the first episode of Doctor Who – An Unearthly Child - aired on November 23 1963 the country needed something to divert it – this was the day after John F Kennedy was assassinated.
From the famous theme tune onwards the programme certainly provided something different: it was mysterious – who was this Doctor? why did his grand-daughter not know how many pennies there were in a pound? And even though there were many children among the 4.4 million who watched the first Saturday night broadcast it was soon genuinely scary, the atmosphere coming from the clever direction of Waris Hussein and certainly thanks to the claustrophobic design of Peter Brachaki and Barry Newberry more than any technology the BBC had to offer.
The show, in glorious black and white, was a word-of-mouth success, soon adding another two million viewers. William Hartnell was the first Doctor, setting the mark for eccentricity with a hint of menace: TV heaven.
The plot was very simple, and to modern viewers would probably seem rather clunky, two teachers concerned about a pupil who somehow seems to know about future events like decimalisation following her home and discovering that she and her grandfather appear to be alien fugitives, in an obvious plot development unwittingly accompanying the travellers through time back to 100,000BC.
For the next 40 or more years generations of children have continued to watch the programme through splayed fingers and from behind sofas, if they dare watch at all, though for a time the BBC controversially decided it would discontinue the series, may the entire organisation be ashamed of itself for that piece of creative thinking.
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