Dr. Who, the iconic British sci-fi series, first aired on November 23rd, 1963. Yes, the day after the John F. Kennedy assassination. The first episode, called "The Mutants," featured the Daleks, those rascally cyborgs with a mission statement of universe-al domination and--oh, yes--extermination.
The title character is a Time Lord, a humanoid alien who frolics through time in his Tardis, righting wrongs and trying to help those primitive humans, so susceptible to having their minds and bodies controlled by evil aliens with limited vocabularies. ("Are you my Mummy?") The Tardis, which on the outside resembles a British police box, is actually a sentient space ship that is much bigger on the inside. And the Doctor is armed with a sonic screwdriver, presumably for fixing whatever's broken around the cosmos. (Wish he'd start at my house.) Are you tracking so far?
The original Doctor was played by William Hartnell. There have been eleven Doctors, and a twelfth is now emerging. For the Doctor has a special talent. When fatally injured (or perhaps tired of doing the show), he can regenerate, taking on a new body, a new age, a new personality, and a new actor in the role.
Dr. Who originally aired from 1962 to 1989. Sadly, some of those early shows were destroyed or taped over, but bootleg copies occasionally resurface from yard sales, eBay, or the lesser moons of Saturn. The series was relaunched in 2005, and will presumably run until Daleks exterminate the studio where it's filmed. Guiness lists Dr. Who as the longest-running sci-fi series in the world.
For me, the charm of the early Who was in the marvelous idea of a Time Lord and in the cheesiness of the production. You sort of had the feeling you could film a show like that in your basement, using your relatives as actors. And that is not a put down. It was a great deal of fun. In later years, the cheesiness has been replaced with higher production values and better developed characters and stories, but they have kept the fun.
This November marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. Who. The BBC celebrated with an anniversary special, "The Day of the Doctor," featuring three of the Doctors. Unfortunately, the day it aired, we had to make a run to the ER. But thanks to the time-freezing capabilities of my DVR, I hope to watch it this weekend.
Who is your favorite Doctor? So far my faves are Tom Baker (Doctor #4) and Matt Smith (Dr. #11). But I have to confess that I haven't seen every season--so that opinion could change as I fill in the gaps.
Meanwhile, if you've got time to kill on a Saturday night, why not explore the meaning of life, love, time travel, and extra-terrestrials by tuning into BBC or Netflix for an episode or a marathon of the incomparable Dr. Who?