Doctor Who: 25 fascinating facts to celebrate 60 years

Out-of-this-universe facts about Dr Who to celebrate the BBC programme’s 60th anniversary.

The first episode of Doctor Who aired 60 years ago this month, on Saturday, 23 November 1963. The show initially ended in 1989, only to be triumphantly relaunched by Russell T Davies in 2005, since when it has garnered a whole new generation of fans.

Now Davies has returned as the showrunner, and on Saturday, BBC One is marking the 60th anniversary with three special episodes, featuring the return of David Tennant as the Doctor and companion Donna Noble (Catherine Tate), with Emmy-winning US star Neil Patrick Harris.

In honour of this milestone, we’ve got some fascinating facts from the show’s history. Whether you are an obsessive with a sonic screwdriver collection or a Whovian novice, set your coordinates for the planet Gallifrey and dive right in.

A line up of all the Dr Whos in the BBC programme's history in front of a blue backdropCredit: BBC

1. The first episode of Doctor Who was transmitted 80 seconds late, due to a bulletin about the previous day’s assassination of John F. Kennedy.

2. Described by The Times as “quintessential to being British”, the show was actually conceived by a Canadian. Sydney Newman, the BBC’s head of drama, created the character of the Doctor and his use of a time machine, which is bigger on the inside.

3. Newman didn’t have things all his own way. He strictly forbade the inclusion of ‘bug- eyed monsters’. To date, there have been more than 200 alien species featured in the show. Many of them with distinctly bug-eyes.

4. The programme was created to educate children about history and science, alternating between episodes set in the past, and those in the future or outer space. The Doctor’s original companions were science teacher Ian and history teacher Barbara, as well as his granddaughter Susan (Carole Ann Ford).

5. The dastardly Daleks first appeared on 21 December 1963, in the show’s fifth episode. Writer Terry Nation intended them to be an allegory of the Nazis, with their xenophobia, eugenics and obsession with conformity. The Dalek arms even bore a similarity to a Nazi salute.


6. Doctor Who drew the ire of morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse, appalled at how frightening and violent the show was. Maybe she had a point – a 2011 poll by website Digital Spy saw the series voted ‘scariest of all time’.

7.  TARDIS stands for Time And Relative Dimension In Space. It resembles an old police box because its ‘chameleon circuit’ broke during a visit to London.

8. Ninety-seven of the show’s 871 episodes are not held in the BBC’s archives, as many were wiped between 1967 and 1978. In 2013, nine missing episodes were found in a television relay station in Nigeria.

9. The Doctor really is a doctor. Probably. In season four’s episode The Moonbase, Patrick Troughton’s companion asks whether he’s a medical doctor. His reply? “Yes, I think I was once…I think I took a degree once in Glasgow. 1888 I think.”

10. Fourth Doctor Tom Baker’s iconic overlong scarf was an accident. Begonia Pope, the costume maker tasked with knitting it, misunderstood her instructions and used all the wool she was given. Baker loved it, and insisted on wearing it for the show.

11. Baker’s robotic dog K9 was the brainchild of writer Dave Martin, whose dog had recently been run over. The initial concept, a small actor inside a robotic Dobermann costume, was ditched for a smaller, radio-controlled dog.

12. Celebrated names to have written for the show include Douglas Adams, Richard Curtis, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Mark Gatiss, Neil Gaiman, Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman, Mike Bartlett, Luther creator Neil Cross, and Men Behaving Badly creator Simon Nye.

13. Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy was a bodyguard for The Rolling Stones, despite being only 5ft 5in tall. He was a bouncer for the band during a 1969 performance at The Roundhouse.

14. Famous guest stars include John Cleese, Honor Blackman, Brian Blessed, Joan Sims, John Hurt, Richard Briers, Timothy Dalton, Kylie Minogue, Peter Kay, Felicity Kendal, Michael Gambon, Sir Ian McKellen, Bill Nighy, Stephen Fry, Hugh Bonneville and Simon Callow.

15. Tenth Doctor David Tennant’s childhood ambition was to play the Doctor, inspired by Tom Baker’s portrayal. He had a Doctor doll and wrote school essays inspired by the show.

16. Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi was also obsessed with the series as a kid, inundating the BBC with letters begging to be named president of the show’s fan club.

17. When the 11th Doctor, Matt Smith, declared that ‘bow ties are cool’ and started wearing one in 2010, fashion retailer Topman saw an increase in sales of 94%.

18. City of Death, which aired in October 1979, boasted 16 million viewers – the highest in the show’s history – helped by a strike on ITV.

19. The Doctor has encountered some of the pivotal figures in history, including: Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare, Einstein, Dickens, Queen Victoria, Van Gogh, Churchill, Agatha Christie, HG Wells, Rosa Parks, James I, Thomas Edison, Lord Byron, King John, Queen Nefertiti, Marco Polo and Hitler.

20. The 50th anniversary episode, The Day of the Doctor, was the world’s biggest TV drama simulcast, showing in 98 countries.

21. Companion Ace, played by Sophie Aldred, wore a Blue Peter badge in the show. The show’s editor, Biddy Baxter, complained, insisting they had to be earned. But Aldred had won the badge at 11, for making a rocket launcher from a plastic bottle and hose.

22. David Tennant met his future wife Georgia when she played a clone in 2008’s The Doctor’s Daughter. In real life, she is the daughter of fifth Doctor Peter Davison.

23. Mission to the Unknown (1965) is the only episode in the series’ history not to feature the Doctor. But the Daleks were in it, plotting to take over the solar system.

24. In 13th Doctor Jodie Whittaker’s final appearance, she regenerated into David Tennant, who was confirmed to be the 14th Doctor – the first actor to play two incarnations. Over the festive season, Sex Education star Ncuti Gatwa will make his debut as the 15th Doctor. He will be the first black actor, the fourth Scottish actor, and the first actor born outside the UK to play the Doctor.

25. In a 2000 industry poll, Doctor Who placed third (behind Fawlty Towers and Cathy Come Home) in a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes of the 20th century.


The first of three Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Specials, The Star Beast, will air from 6.30pm, on Saturday 25 November on BBC1.


Written by Benjie Goodhart