It was on 23rd November 1963 that the very first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast on BBC Television. Not that the beginning of a new television series would have attracted great media attention on that Saturday afternoon. President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated the previous day: news of his death dominated the headlines
Episodes of Doctor Who were to become a major event in the week. Screened on BBC television at teatime on a Saturday, it quickly built up an audience of million viewers. There were only two television channels and no schoolboy would have contemplated the television being turned to ITV while the figure of the Doctor was on the screen of the black and white set.
Doctor Who would be watched, even if it inspired terror, the Daleks were never nearly as frightening as the Cybermen. Doctor Who was not nearly as sophisticated as it was to become in its more recent series, a schoolboy could generally guess what would happen next. The plots were much simpler. The Doctor’s life would frequently be hanging in the balance as the episode drew to a close and the theme music began. Of course, every viewer knew that no matter how parlous the situation, the Doctor would live to continue his journeys through time and space and would continue his opposition to evil, wherever and whenever it might be encountered.
The plots for the Doctors of the early decades were very simple compared with those of more recent times. It was regarded as a children’s programme and had a naivete that would not impress Twenty-First Century children: the robot dog K9 would now be greeted with laughter.
The Doctor of more recent times became a more sophisticated figure. The scheduling of the programme moved to the middle of Saturday evening. Storylines and dialogue were written for a more mature audience.
Even in the early decades, there was a slight feeling of frustration that if the Doctor were really a Time Lord, he might move around history and set things right. A boy watching Doctor Who used to think that history would be entirely different if one had a Time Lord on hand to correct all the mistakes of the past.
It was years before it was revealed that the Laws of Time had been revised to outlaw the altering of history. The change came after one Time Lord had gone back in time to make a minor change and, as a consequence, an entire civilization had disappeared from history.
Perhaps future generations will watch Doctor Who and think time travel an ordinary experience.