Doctor Who 50th anniversary: why hasn’t the BBC shown more classic episodes?

The show's half-century was an opportunity to introduce a new generation of fans to the early Doctors - instead it could be a missed opportunity, says Paul Jones

As the 50th anniversary year approached, Steven Moffat promised Doctor Who would “take over TV”. And quite right too. Five decades of the world’s best science-fiction show needed to be celebrated, and celebrated hard.

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The coincidence of 11 incarnations of the Doctor and 11 months leading up to the anniversary in November seemed like a gift. I had no doubt that the BBC would give us a month-by-month celebration of each Doctor – involving special programmes and events, of course – but based around a core of the classic TV adventures, showcasing the unique qualities of each incarnation, and acting as a remembrance of the monsters they’d fought and the companions they’d travelled with.

During the early 1980s, when I was an eight-year-old Fourth Doctor devotee, BBC2 screened adventures starting William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee – three very different characters and yet somehow the same amazing man that I already knew. This year, younger viewers, who have come to love the show through Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith, should be having the same experience.

And yet here we are, fast approaching October, and nothing. No monthly celebrations of the Doctors, no classic adventures, and very little to look forward to, as far as we’ve been told.

When Mark Gatiss’s dramatisation of the birth of the show, An Adventure in Space and Time, airs on BBC2 in November it will be accompanied on BBC4 by a newly restored version of the first ever Doctor Who story An Unearthly Child – which should be a treat, but hardly does justice to the show’s fifty-year history.

Meanwhile, Watch (a pay channel co-owned by BBC Worldwide) is set to support a showing of retrospective documentary series The Doctors Revisited with an adventure starring each incarnation. But this has simply served to anger many fans, who believe Doctor Who should be free to watch on its 50th birthday. They feel they shouldn’t have to add another subscription to their licence fee, or go out and buy the DVDs (which, aside from the expense, would hardly provide the shared viewing experience the anniversary demands).

Hopefully the BBC has a surprise up its sleeve (and it better pull it out quick) because the Doctor Who 50th anniversary should be a celebration of the creativity and history of the Corporation, a coming together of its past and present, and a chance for it to bond with its audience. Instead, it’s shaping up to be a missed opportunity and a genuine disservice to generations of Doctor Who fans.


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