DR WHO, once played by Liverpool actors Tom Baker and Paul McGann, is due for a comeback as it celebrates its 40th birthday. Graham Keal traces a brief history of Time Lords.
THE day after President John F Kennedy was assassinated was a happier historical landmark, thanks to an irascible, long-haired old man who wore an Edwardian frock-coat and lived in a police box in a junk-yard in London.
He was called Dr Who, and when veteran actor William Hartnell introduced him to the nation on November 23, 1963, he set in motion what would turn out to be the longest-running sci-fi series in the world, a series due to be reborn when the next Doctor regenerates on BBC1 with a new set of adventures in 2005.
Generations of kids have cowered behind the sofa at the sight of the Daleks or the Cybermen, but BBC executives have sometimes been the Doctor's greatest enemy, rather than Davros's Daleks or his evil adversary The Master.
Hartnell's martinet Doctor gave way to Patrick Troughton's effervescent, mischievous characterisation in 1966, thanks to someone having the bright idea of regeneration which gave the Doctor a seemingly endless capacity to renew himself.
Jon Pertwee proved a hit as Troughton's successor, and at its height during Tom Baker's seven-year, 178-episode tenure the show had more than 10 million fans and looked impregnable in its traditional Saturday teatime slot.
But when Peter Davidson became the fifth Doctor in 1982, the series found itself up against glamorous, ratings-grabbing American opposition in the shape of the A-Team and was shifted from its hallowed Saturday teatime berth to a twice-weekly slot on weekday evenings.
The move weakened Dr Who's grip on its traditional audience and Davidson's Edwardian cricket fan Doctor didn't appeal to everyone - at least not to me.
When Colin Baker took over in 1984, Dr Who was temporarily restored to Saturdays, but machinations to finish him off were afoot as Colin recalls:
"I've always been fond of the programme and for me it wasn't just a job. I was aware that I was holding a baton and I tried to pass it on in good condition, but we were aware that the upper echelons of the BBC weren't necessarily going 'Yippee! You're making Dr Who!' and that makes you feel a bit unloved."
The Doctor's biggest bogey man was Michael Grade, who became BBC1 Controller in 1984.
"To be fair to him he didn't like Dr Who," recalls Colin. "I remember when he was still Director of Programmes at London Weekend TV and he said in an interview that evidence of the BBC's decline could be seen in the fact that it was still doing programmes like Come Dancing and Dr Who.
"At least he was consistent. He came to the BBC and attempted to get rid of it once, backtracked because of the furore, then nibbled away at it until it collapsed."