2013 was Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary year, and was arguably one of the most memorable in the programme’s history. What was it that made it so special?
Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary was always going to be good. I do remember it getting off to a slightly shaky start, though; a rather provocative Twitter user, hiding behind a Cyberman avatar, was whipping fans into a frenzy by claiming that they had recovered a copy of ‘The Macra Terror’ on VHS. It was nonsense, of course, and Doctor Who fans prepared themselves for a full year of bizarre claims and crazy rumours.
Still, there were plenty of reasons to be excited. The 2012 Christmas special had already paved the way for Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary celebrations with a new, retro-inspired title sequence, a new console room, a new companion, and the return of the Great Intelligence from ‘The Abominable Snowmen‘ and ‘The Web of Fear‘ – this time in the shape of Richard E. Grant. Plus, there was a new series of adventures to look forward to in the spring, and a 50th anniversary special on the horizon.
There were some disappointments, too. Halfway through the year, the Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith announced that he would be leaving the role after four years at the helm. But, as sad as it was, departing Doctors always point to a regeneration, and that itself was immensely exciting. In Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary year, fans would get to meet a brand new Time Lord.
And this time, the BBC decided to unveil the new actor in a slightly different way. There was to be a live show, hosted by Zoe Ball, in which the new Doctor would be officially revealed to the public. This took place in August, with a slew of celebrities and familiar faces from the Whoniverse showing up to welcome the new Time Lord, including the Fifth Doctor Peter Davison and the comedian Rufus Hound.
Of course, the man who was ultimately revealed was the actor Peter Capaldi – an actor who was not unfamiliar with the world of Who, having been a life-long fan and also having appeared in ‘The Fires of Pompeii’ and 2009’s Torchwood: Children of Earth. He was also an unexpected choice; since 2005, the Doctors had tended to be on the younger side, with Matt Smith being the youngest ever at the tender age of 26. Capaldi, on the other hand, was 55, and was therefore one of the oldest actors ever to have been cast as the Doctor (William Hartnell was also 55 when he was given the role.)
And although Capaldi wasn’t expected to appear until the 2013 Christmas special, fans were given a surprise treat when he made a cameo in Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary episode ‘The Day of the Doctor,’ marking the first time that a new Doctor had appeared on screen before their regeneration.
At the same time, many fans the world over had the opportunity to experience this landmark event on the big screen, as the BBC had arranged for the episode to be simulcast in cinemas. (In my case, I had to leave the screening just as Capaldi appeared in order to catch my train home. The broadcast had been delayed by a special comedy sketch with Strax the Sontaran which was exclusive to theatres.)
Still, I was able to catch the rest of Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary special on the BBC iPlayer when I got home, just in time to see a very familiar face curating the National Gallery (the Fourth Doctor Tom Baker also made a surprise appearance in the episode.)
And in the midst of these celebrations, more Doctor Who missing episodes rumours had been circulating. Fans had been burned earlier in the ear by the bizarre ‘Macra Terror’ hoax, and as unlikely as these latest claims sounded, they seemed to be persisting. Word had it that a missing episodes hunter called Philip Morris had recovered a stockpile of lost BBC material in Africa, and that ‘Marco Polo,’ ‘The Enemy of the World’ and ‘The Web of Fear‘ were about to be unveiled in their entirety.
It all sounded incredibly unlikely, and just the sort of rumour that was to be expected in Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary year. But as the show’s birthday neared, it seemed increasingly likely that there was actually some substance to this story, and in October 2013 the Radio Times revealed that a number of lost Doctor Who episodes had, indeed, been discovered, and that an announcement would be coming later that week.
In hindsight, I’m not sure whether I was more excited about Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary special, or the fact that I got to witness ‘The Enemy of the World’ and ‘The Web of Fear’ in all their recovered glory. True, I was disappointed that ‘Marco Polo’ had vanished into the ether, and that ‘The Web of Fear’ was missing its third episode, but these recoveries were still very exciting. Like many fans, I never thought I would get to see these stories; I had to pinch myself as the Doctor and Salamander battled for control of the TARDIS in the closing moments of ‘The Enemy of the World.’
For me, it’s hard to imagine how Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary celebrations could have been more special. Certainly, I was disappointed that there weren’t more classic Doctors appearing in ‘The Day of the Doctor’ – but that was more than made up for by Peter Davison’s hilarious comedy episode ‘The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot,’ in which himself, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy desperately tried to shoulder their way into the 50th anniversary special. And of course, it’s hard to imagine how these actors could have been realistically incorporated into ‘The Day of the Doctor,’ given how much their appearances have changed since their time on the show.
And let’s not forget Mark Gatiss’ wonderful docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time, which documented Doctor Who‘s genesis with terrifying visual accuracy, with the actor David Bradley putting in a very worthy performance as both William Hartnell and the First Doctor.
What was your favourite part of Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary celebrations? Let me know in the comments below.
Doctor Who bag – order now from the Lovarzi shop!