Doctor Who: Analysis of a TV product over the years: Evolution of the show from 1963-2013

‘Doctor Who’ first aired on 23rd November 1963. Another version of it’s pilot episode (‘An Unearthly Child’) was shown the following week due to not many viewers watching it’s orignal transmission due to them watching the news about President Kennedy being assassinated. The ‘Doctor Who’ program itself was interrupted at one point to, and this was to broadcast yet more news coverage on the Kennedy assassination.

50th Anniversary: 

This year is the 50th anniversary of one of the world’s best loved shows (especially in Britain). It isn’t just the best sci-fi show in the world, but also the longest running. So what better way to celebrate the show’s success than to analyze the evolution of it over the years 1963-2013. I hope in this presentation that we will identify how and why the show has become so successful over the years and why it keeps meeting it’s target audience’s needs time and time again.

The Show’s Origins:

•‘Doctor Who’ was originally created to fill the gap between two shows, one being the sports showcase programme ‘Grandstand’ and the other being pop music programme ‘Juke Box Jury’.

•It was created from a focus group and was created by Sydney Newman, who was a Canadian.
•The first person to play the role of The Doctor was William Hartnell, and this was one of his serious roles, as the roles he had before were mostly comedy ones, some being army comedies such as ‘Carry On… Sergeant’ and ITV’s ‘The Army Game’.
The main elements of the show:
•It features time and space travel in a ship called The TARDIS, which The Doctor stole from his home planet of Gallifrey.
•The Doctor is half human, half time lord.
•The Doctor has had many companions that travelled with him over the years.
•It features monsters, villains and aliens in most episodes that The Doctor and his companions must battle against and defeat, and most of the time it’s a battle of wills and brain power rather than physical fighting.
•The most famous monsters, villains and aliens include The Daleks, The Cybermen, The Master, The Sontarans, The Ice Warriors, The Silurians, The Sea Devils, The Zygons, The Autons, The Yeti and The Great Intelligence.
Selection of Content: ‘Doctor Who’ has always been very careful of what content it selects to put into the final program. It tries to stray away from using irrelevant and inappropriate content as the BBC would see it as unprofessional otherwise and they would refuse to broadcast it. It also tries to come up with it’s own original ideas and doesn’t try to copy other programs and films. Otherwise people would call the BBC ‘Copycats’ and this would be classed as Copyright.

Mary Whitehouse & The National Viewers & Listeners Association: 

Doctor Who’ has had encounters with Mary Whitehouse and the National Viewers and Listeners Association in the past because some content in the show (especially during the 1970’s) was considered too violent, but it’s seems to have recovered from that nowadays as more violence is accepted in today’s society as being seen as ‘normal’ as people are used to seeing it in many films and TV shows.

Mary Whitehouse also set up the ‘Clean Up TV’ campaign and the National Viewers and Listeners Association can be abbreviated as NVALA. Whitehouse also complained about stranglation in a previous ‘Doctor Who’ serial before ‘The Deadly Assassin’ that was called ‘The Seeds of Doom’. ‘The Deadly Assassin’ was considered more controversal though because it had more of a danger element to it because The Doctor had a risk of drowning too and it was said that the still image that the cliffhanger ended on with The Doctor almost drowning in the water would stick in a childs mind more vividly and they might have nightmares about it. Whitehouse saw ‘Doctor Who’ as just a show for children instead of a show for families.

Mary quotes referring to ‘Doctor Who’: “Strangulation – by hand, by claw, by obscene vegetable matter – is the latest gimmick, sufficiently close up so they get the point. And just for a little variety show the children how to make a Molotov Cocktail.” She claimed the program had nightmarish qualities.

Exceptions & Examples:

•The TARDIS doesn’t appear at the start of ‘The Sontaran Experiment’ because a transmat device from ‘The Ark in Space’ is used instead.
•‘The Deadly Assassin’ doesn’t feature a companion.
•‘The Deadly Assassin’ was also one of the most controversial stories of all time, as there is one cliffhanger when The Doctor is getting strangled by his enemy and Mary Whitehouse and the National Viewers and Listeners Association picked up on this and made a big deal out of it.
Extra Information:
•Eleven actors have played The Doctor over the years including William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith.
•One of The Doctor’s first companions was his Granddaughter, Susan Foreman.
•Peter Cushing played The Doctor in two Dalek movies that were based on two Doctor Who TV serials, (The Daleks and The Dalek Invasion of Earth). These were part of a different Doctor Who universe though.
•Paul McGann has played The Doctor on TV in only the TV movie and that’s it. However, he has recorded audio adventures in which he plays The Doctor too.
Construction of Content: 
Doctor Who has always been very careful about how it constructs it’s content. It is constructed in a way that it is the right pace for it’s target audience. In the 1960’s the pace was a lot slower whereas nowadays it’s really fast paced. This is because the 1960’s audience didn’t like fast paced content whereas the audience nowadays does like fast paced content. It also comes down to the writer (Steven Moffat) writing scripts that are quite fast paced, he does the same with his other shows, such as Sherlock. The Doctor and Sherlock are similar characters because they both tend to recognize every little detail of a situation and/or a location and they don’t hardly ever forget anything.

Also when Doctor Who was first invented it was meant to be educational and for families and children, but nowadays it’s more for the fans. Nowadays they no longer have pure historical stories, they have always got to add some sort of monster or alien into the equation, whereas in the 1960’s they did have pure historical stories with no monsters or aliens in them.


To keep the show going in the 1960’s after actor William Hartnell departed, the idea of regeneration was thought up by the program’s makers. What happens in the regeneration process is that all the cells in a time lord’s body regenerate and so the person transforms into a brand new person and he has a brand new body.

This was when actor William Hartnell transformed into a different actor (Patrick Troughton) and TV would never be the same again. Therefore, William Hartnell was the first Doctor and Patrick Troughton was the second Doctor. This regeneration process was used every time an actor playing The Doctor departed and a new one came in to replace him right up until the present day.

Codes & Conventions:

  • It can’t be too violent or offensive but it has to be really exciting and intense.
  • Ever since the start of the show no one has known who he really is (his greatest secret, which will finally be revealed in Saturday’s series finale ‘The Name of the Doctor’). It is known as the first question, the question that should never be answered, hidden in plain sight! and that question is ‘Doctor Who?’ as quoted by Ian Chesterton, one of The Doctor’s first companions.
•The TARDIS is in most episodes.
•Most episodes have time and/or space travel in them.
•Most episodes have aliens, monsters and/or villains in them.
•The Doctor always get’s involved with the affairs of other beings even though he’s not supposed to and he often resolves problems.
•He often solves inhabitants of planets problems and sometimes crews of ships problems, and sometimes his own problems i.e. when something goes wrong with The TARDIS.
•Even though each Doctor has a slightly different personality and dress sense, they all have similar traits.
Modes of Address: It addresses the audience in a variety of different ways including the audience identifying and relating with the companion character(s). Essentially the role of the companion is to explain what is happening to the audience as most of the time The Doctor says things that people don’t understand.

About adambutt2

I am a media student at Bridgwater College and I like Star Wars, Torchwood, Primeval, Atlantis, The Musketeers, Our Zoo, Doctor Who, Hollyoaks, Merlin, Transformers, Marvel, DC, LOTR, Harry Potter and Sherlock :) View all posts by adambutt2

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