As most of you are already aware this new year of 2013 marks the fiftieth anniversary of something very dear to us here (and to me, personally): Doctor Who. Our favourite time traveller has been vworping around time and space for a whole five decades; incredible to think that a flickering black and white image of an irascible old man (the late, great Bill Hartnell) and his Police Box-disguised ship broadcast on a November evening in 1963 Britain could go on to become the longest running science fiction show in television history. Not to mention being completely embedded into British culture; just how embedded was clear a few years back when the Metropolitan Police lost a court case for copyright over the classic Police Box design, as the judge held that today the only reason that historic design was known was because of Doctor Who and to most people those Police Boxes may as well be a TARDIS.
And the revived version of the show has brought it to new heights, again dominating that early Saturday evening slot on BBC1 (as is its right by tradition) but also across the globe – just think on those US fans going crazy for Who appearances at San Diego Comic Con in recent years. Fantastic to see, especially for those of us who have grown up with the show – and after fifty years on British screens, that’s a huge number of us (my first fuzzy memory of Who is seeing the Sea Devils walking out of the ocean to menace Jon Pertwee, but Tom Baker was really ‘my’ Doctor). Now one of London’s great cultural sites for the moving image, the BFI Southbank, is celebrating this remarkable anniversary with a year long series of events, including monthly screenings featuring each incarnation of our errant Time Lord (plus newly restored versions of the Peter Cushing big screen versions from the 60s), with discussions and special guests connected to the series.
The very first screening will be on Saturday 12th of January, beginning, naturally enough, with William Hartnell’s first Doctor and a screening of An Unearthly Child (the BFI’s Liz Parkinson tells me guests for that will include Mark Gatiss, the director Warris Hussein, the Radiophonic Workshop’s Brian Hodgson, actors William Russell (Ian Chesterton) and Carol Ann Ford (Susan) among other, which gives a good idea of the sorts of guests the year-long events are drawing on). Saturday February 9th sees Patrick Troughton’s second Doctor in Tomb of the Cybermen, while the March screening will be something of a premiere as the BBC’s restoration team are restoring Jon Pertwee’s The Mind of Evil into colour (the Pertwee era introduced colour to the show in the early 70s, but some recordings only survived in black and white) – as the BFI says, this means it will be the first time these episodes have been seen in the original manner in many, many years. More details on the rest of the events planned monthly throughout the year will follow closer to their time on the BFI site.