Tube Talk: 50th anniversaries: ‘Doctor Who’ and the JFK assassination

JOHN HURT as The Doctor and BILLIE PIPER as Rose Tyler in the 50th Anniversary Special - The Day of the Doctor.
JOHN HURT as The Doctor and BILLIE PIPER as Rose Tyler in the 50th Anniversary Special – The Day of the Doctor.

By Paula Hendrickson
Contributing Writer

Fifty years ago this week, as Americans were reeling from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, a quaint little children’s television series debuted in the United Kingdom. In very different ways, both events have touched the lives of millions — including those of us who weren’t yet born in 1963. That unassuming little show was Doctor Who.

Turn on your TV any day this week, and you’ll probably find specials about the Kennedy assassination, from Dan Rather’s personal account on AXS TV to a CNN special produced by Tom Hanks. Our culture was at a crossroads in many ways in November 1963. Since knowing and understanding history is important in understanding where we are today, I encourage you to watch at least one Kennedy documentary this week.

Balance is an essential part of life, so why not counter that history lesson by celebrating the enduring phenomenon that is Doctor Who?

If you’re only familiar with the modern incarnation of The Doctor, or even the 1970s and 1980s episodes that used to air on PBS, let the TV movie An Adventure in Space and Time transport you 50 years back in time to the launch of the long-lasting series. How did producers, saddled with a tiny budget, manage to create some of TV’s most iconic images? What did the original Doctor, William Hartnell, think about starring in a kiddie show?

You can also watch some of the back-to-back Doctor Who specials BBC America will broadcast leading up to the worldwide simulcast of Saturday’s highly anticipated 50th anniversary special, Doctor Who: The Day of The Doctor.

Fans are excited that David Tennant will be back for The Day of the Doctor, alongside current 11th Doctor Matt Smith. John Hurt plays yet another incarnation of The Doctor (as seen in the final scene of the last new episode that aired back in May). Billie Piper will also return as Rose … which makes me think that instead of playing the actual 10th Doctor, Tennant might return as the human version of The Doctor (from the 2008 episode, “Journey’s End”) who stayed in another universe with Rose. Some friends and I called him Doctor Lite.

I’m sure no one at the BBC or involved with the show back then ever dreamed it would still be going strong 50 years later. With a new Doctor (Peter Capaldi) debuting in the annual Christmas special, who knows? The 50-year-old series may be just hitting its stride.

That such a seemingly silly little show somehow managed to unite millions of fans around the world by tackling serious subjects in entertaining ways is fascinating. Doctor Who might not be as vital to world history as the Kennedy assassination — which was also arguably the first time the world turned to TV for breaking news. These two very different events, which happened just a day apart, both mark important points in television history.

Programming notes

My Days in Dallas — A Remembrance With Dan Rather repeats on AXS TV Friday, Nov. 22, at 7 a.m., 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 23, at 11:30 a.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 24, at 9 a.m.

50 Years Later: The Assassination of President Kennedy repeats on CNN Thursday, Nov. 21, at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.; Friday, Nov. 22, at 2 a.m. and 9 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 23, at noon and 3 a.m.

An Adventure in Space and Time airs Friday, Nov. 22, at 8 p.m. on BBC America.

Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor will be globally simulcast Saturday, Nov. 23, at 1:50 p.m. and will repeat at 6 p.m.

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to

From the Nov. 20-26, 2013, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!