Doctor Who marks 50th anniversary

As clever devices go for keeping a TV series going when its lead actor quits, British science fiction legend Doctor Who has the cleverest of them all.  The central character, known only as the Doctor, is an alien who has the ability to change his entire appearance when faced with an otherwise fatal situation, thus allowing another actor to step into the role.

This clever device is one of the reasons why the series is still on air in 2013, an astounding 50 years after it first appeared on British television screens on 23rd November 1963, when the Doctor was played by veteran character actor William Hartnell.  Since then a further ten actors have played the role, including the present incumbent Matt Smith – the youngest Doctor, at 26, when cast back in 2010.  At Christmas Smith will hand over to the 12th incarnation, Scottish actor Peter Capaldi (The Thick Of It); at 55, Capaldi is the oldest Doctor since the original Time Lord.

“No one has ever failed as the Doctor, and 11 men have done it so far,” notes actor Tom Baker, possibly the most popular Doctor of them all and certainly the longest-running; his stint lasted a record-breaking seven years between 1974 and 1981.

Although the quirky cult show had a lengthy hiatus between 1989 and 2005 – apart from a one-off TV movie with Paul McGann in 1996 – the 50th anniversary is being celebrated in style this Saturday with a 75-minute special entitled The Day of the Doctor, which stars Smith, his predecessor David Tennant, and acting legend John Hurt as a previously unknown incarnation.