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Doctor Who 50th Anniversary: Celebrating TV Years Of The Time Lord In Pictures

14/08/2014 16:55 | Updated 22 May 2015

Daleks on Westminster Bridge

There are many things which made up a typical childhood in the 1970s and 1980s. We wore towelling clothes, permed our hair (mostly but not exclusively the girls), called our Snickers bars Marathons, enjoyed outings to the roller disco and, of course, we watched Doctor Who.

Our children might be watching it now, but we had it first. When the long-awaited 50th anniversary special episode airs on the BBC on Saturday November 23rd, there will be at least two generations hiding behind the sofa.

Even now, as a grown woman of 40, I find that wonderful music exciting and frightening in equal measure.

Watching Tom Baker and then Peter Davison (for me the Doctor really should sport a long stripy scarf or a preppy cricket jumper) take on the dreaded Daleks, the chilling Cybermen or the quite frankly terrifying Master was a Saturday evening fixture.

Now of course, we are used to watching TV on demand, cheating with the internet. Back then we had to wait a full week to find out what was going to happen. Invariably it would be the saving of the planet from some horrible monster – but you never completely knew.

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The Doctor first appeared on November 23, 1963, with William Hartnell portraying the character – in black and white of course - as a wizened old man with a slightly erratic temper and a fairly unreliable Tardis.

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He was, the original viewers learned, a centuries-old Time Lord alien from the planet Gallifrey able to travel through time and space in his police box Tardis, usually accompanied by his companions. Always eccentric, clever and marvellously attired he was confronted by an endless array of alien horrors.

The show was a hit, becoming a fixture of British television for 26 years, before it was axed in 1989, having notched up seven incarnations of the Doctor. (He can of course regenerate his body and personality when critically injured).

A brief reappearance in a 2006 film introduced the Eighth Doctor – Paul McGann – before disappearing until the triumphant return of the Tardis, occupied this time by Christoper Ecclestone in 2005.

Even those who didn't watch the programme's initial run religiously – not interested, too busy, too scared – knew the basic facts. Like other peculiarities of Britain - Marmite, the Queen's speech, jellied eels – you didn't have to like Daleks, Cybermen, time travelling and regeneration to know about them.

As with many aspects of childhood though, revisiting the Doctor Who we think we remember can come as something of a surprise. A straw poll of 30 and 40 something friends confirms that it wasn't just me. It really was frightening. We all cowered behind the sofa, buried our face in cushions, had nightmares invaded by Daleks, annoyed our parents by insisting on watching regardless.

Catching up with old episodes on YouTube all this seems hard to believe. While the Doctor and his companions careered around wobbly cardboard sets, monsters made of Styrofoam threatened to "exterminate!". Today's children would just laugh. Much of it looks like a spoof.

Surprising too is the fact that everyone sounded so unbelievably posh. It turns out the Doctor of my youth sounded like Prince Philip. Back then, unless you were watching Worzel Gummidge, I suppose everyone did.

Opinion is split on whether the high tech, high budget, special effects bonanza that is Doctor Who today is better than the original. A recent poll for the Radio Times revealed David Tennant – who played the role from 2005 to 2010 - as overwhelmingly the most popular Doctor. Matt Smith, the current incumbent only narrowly beat Tom Baker into second place though.

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It may just be nostalgia but the unconvincing aliens and, it has to be said, rather less easy on the eye Doctors of 30 years ago still have their fans.

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They always did. For while the show may have disappeared from our television screens for 16 years, the Time Lord was alive and well in all sorts of other dimensions – books, comics, Doctor Who conventions, even replica stripy scarves continued to do a brisk trade through the wilderness years.

I am now nearly a decade older than the current Doctor (the actor that is, we all know the Time Lord himself is hundreds of years old). I will watch the 50th anniversary episode with my own children, but that music will still whisk me, sadly Tardis- less, through space and time to the 1980s living room of my memories.

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