To expectant Whovians everywhere, whether devotees of the ‘classic’ or current eras, the imminent special, The Day of the Doctor, marks the culmination of the celebrations for the monumental fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who.
After eight successful series of the revived incarnation of the programme, the wilderness years of the 1990’s seems a distant memory. Only fandom and a nostalgic minority supported this iconic but neglected property.
No one then could have envisaged a re-imagined, awards-laden series that is now Britain’s best-loved drama, the BBC’s flagship export, a mainstay of the Christmas Day schedule, and one of the world’s biggest TV franchises.
Not only is it difficult to imagine a time when Doctor Who wasn’t in production and being broadcast regularly, but from the show’s inception in 1962, it faced many obstacles just to be realised.
It seems that the old-guard within the BBC of the early Sixties were determined for Doctor Who to fail, and only for it’s defenders, Sydney Newman, Verity Lambert et al, then the embryonic show would have fallen at the first hurdle – their struggle is dramatised in the BBC Two biopic, An Adventure in Space and Time.
Fast forward to the first Dalek story’s transmission, and the powers-that-be thankfully reacted by abandoning the show’s intended thirteen-week lifespan.
Only after reading the production notes on The Rescue DVD did I learn that by August 1964, Donald Baverstock again wanted to revert the new series’ contract to just 13 weeks, and cancel the show when all remaining stories were due to finish in January 1965.
Only when Lambert and William Hartnell’s agent dug in their heels did Baverstock finally agree to another, 26-week run, by which time the programme’s long term future was secured. The threat of cancellation would however revisit the show in times of crisis. As The War Games concluded the black and white era in 1969, the BBC considered a six year run to have been a good innings and there was some internal debate about whether to axe Doctor Who. The lowest point in the show’s history was the ‘hiatus’ of 1985 when Michael Grade ‘rested’ the Doctor’s adventures for 18 months, then the end finally arrived in 1989 with outright cancellation.
It is inconceivable now to believe that the programme could have ended after just fifty-one episodes (with the transmission of The Dalek Invasion of Earth), and was so close to becoming a footnote in TV history.