Fans of the BBC’s the long-running science-fiction drama are today celebrating the television character’s 908th birthday – although he doesn’t look a day over 47 . . . er, 28!
The very first episode of the iconic show was broadcast on Saturday, 23 November 1963 – the day that President John F Kennedy was assassinated.
Doctor Who, the show, is 47, although the Doctor, himself – a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey – is thought to be 908. That said, nobody is quite sure – not least, the Doctor himself.
As AOL Television says, referring to an episode from the most recent series, “[. . .] it’s mighty hard to keep up with a time traveller’s real age, but the current Doctor, Matt Smith, is insisting he’s only 907 years old, so today we wish him a very happy 908th birthday.”
At just 28, Smith is 880 years younger than the Doctor – the role he took over from David Tennant earlier this year – and the youngest actor, out of eleven so far, to have played the part.
Way back in 1963, the first-ever episode – An Unearthly Child, by Anthony Coburn – starred William Hartnell as a grandfather-type first Doctor, Carole Ann Ford as his granddaughter, Susan Foreman, and William Russell and Jacqueline Hill as Susan’s teachers, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright.
BBC Doctor Who takes up the story:
The first episode [. . .] introduced the world to this mysterious traveller and his incredible time machine known as the TARDIS.
The story began when two school teachers share their concerns about one of their pupils – Susan. She's brilliant in some subjects but bizarrely out of kilter in others. To assuage their curiosity they follow her home, but discover 'home' is a blue police box in an old junk yard. Once they enter the box their lives, and televisual history, would never be the same.
47 years later that battered blue box is still transporting the Time Lord and his companions to worlds of wonder and adventure. Long may their travels continue, and happy anniversary, Doctor!
For Doctor Who's twentieth anniversary in 1983, the BBC produced a celebratory 90-minute special, The Five Doctors. And Radio Times commissioned a painting of all [then] five Doctors for its front cover – although Hartnell was replaced by Richard Hurndall, as the original actor had died in 1974. As Radio Times says today, "[We] hailed it as the world's longest-running sci-fi show and featured all five incarnations of the Doctor."
To celebrate today’s anniversary, AOL Television have compiled “our ultimate Doctor Who guide [. . .] our best Doctor Who content for you, so you can reminisce about all those wonderful Doctor Who filled times and characters.
Age of a Time Lord
Although there’s no dispute at how old the TV series is, the age of its lead character continues to baffle Doctor Who fans and the show’s writers alike.
Early 1960’s production documents put the his age at 650, but, when Doctor Who returned to TV screens in 2005, 900 seemed to be the new benchmark, with the BBC stating the Doctor’s age to be 900 years in all its publicity materials. On screen, however, the Doctor has been less than consistent when stating his age, and fans have spent years trying to reconcile all the conflicting data.
The first time the Doctor actually mentions how old he is is in 1967, in The Tomb of the Cybermen. By then, Patrick Troughton was playing the second Doctor. He kept a 500-year diary and said, “Let me see, in human terms, 400 . . . yes, 450 years.”
In Doctor Who and the Silurians (1970) and again in The Mind of Evil (1971), the Jon Pertwee’s third Doctor referred to his lifetime having covered “several thousand years”, but fans say he could have been referring to “the breadth of time he had visited (or was able to visit) rather than actually lived through”.
The fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) mentions his age on several occasions – “something like 750 years” in The Pyramids of Mars (1975); “749 years old” in The Brain of Morbius (1976); “759 years old” in The Ribos Operation (1978).
900 and counting
By 1985, the sixth Doctor, Colin Baker, is claiming to be “a 900-year-old Time Lord” (Revelation of the Daleks), while the seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, gives his age as 953 in Time and the Rani (1987). However, a year later, in 1988’s Remembrance of the Daleks, he seems to contradict this when he says he has “900 years’ experience” at rewiring alien equipment. In 1996, in the Paul McGann Doctor Who movie the Doctor is seen to have a 900-year diary.
In Aliens of London (2005), the ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, exclaims to Rose, “Nine hundred years of time and space, and I’ve never been slapped by someone's mother,” while in The Empty Child (2005), he states, “Nine hundred years of phone-box travel and it’s the only thing left that surprises me”.
David Tennant’s tenth Doctor is said to be “903 years of age” in Voyage of the Damned (2007), “900” in Last of the Time Lords and “906” by The End of Time (2009).
In Flesh and Stone (2010), Smith’s eleventh Doctor says he is “907”.
Perhaps in an attempt, to try to draw a line under the whole debate, Steven Moffat, Doctor Who’s current head writer and executive producer, put the Doctor’s confusion over his age down to his choice of lifestyle.
In an interview with SFX earlier this year, Moffat said:
The Doctor simply does not know his own age, given the non-linear time-travelling nature of his life.
The thing I keep banging on about is that he doesn’t know what age he is. He’s lying. How could he know, unless he’s marking it on a wall?
He could be 8,000 years old, he could be a million. He has no clue. The calendar will give him no clues.
Whether this will be an end to the matter, who knows? Or doesn’t, as we’ve seen!
Just don’t start talking about that old chestnut, How many times can a Time Lord regenerate?