Happy 52nd Birthday Doctor Who!!!

It was on this day, fifty-two years ago, that the very first ever episode of Doctor Who, An Unearthly Child, was broadcast by BBC One, on the evening of Saturday, 23rd November, 1963. The world of television sci-fi would never be the same again.

This story introduces us for the very first time to a strange, mysterious young girl Susan Foreman (played by Carole Ann Ford) and her even stranger grandfather (played by William Hartnell), who both turn out to be aliens, from somewhere else in time and space. This strange old man would later become known to all of us as the very first Doctor, albeit a much more abrasive, alien, and less cuddly Doctor than most of his successors. We also get to meet the two unwilling new human companions, Ian Chesterton (played by William Russell) and Barbara Wright (played by Jacqueline Hill), who are to become not only the eyes and ears of the audience on the adventures with the Doctor and Susan, but also the very close friends of the two alien central characters.

The first episode of this four-parter is an excellent piece of television, and very different in tone to everything that comes afterward. To a viewer back in 1963, it would’ve been a strange story indeed, as they would’ve had absolutely no idea who the old man and his granddaughter were, what they were doing living in a police telephone box in an old junkyard, or what the hell was going on in general. The new viewer would’ve been just as curious and mystified as Ian and Barbara, as they stepped onto the TARDIS for the first time, taking a huge leap sideways into the twilight zone (if you’ll pardon the obvious pun).

We’d all have been just as shocked and confused as both frightened schoolteachers are at the end of the first episode, as they are whisked off (kidnapped is nearer the truth) into time and space on their very first adventure with the Doctor and Susan. To the jaded modern audience, all of this is probably no big deal nowadays, but back then, there was absolutely nothing like it on British television. What must it have been like watching that for the very first time? It must’ve been an incredible experience.

I didn’t get to see An Unearthly Child until almost twenty years after it was first televised, when it was first repeated on BBC Two, in November 1981. I was much too young to have seen it back in 1963, only a little nipper, really – the third episode, “The Forest of Fear”, was aired on my third birthday, 7th December 1963. It would be another two or three years after that before I would be old enough to start noticing Doctor Who on television, and my very earliest vague memories of the series come from about 1965-66. Ever since then, the show has been a life-long obsession of mine, and today I could never conceive how my life would ever have been without Doctor Who in it. But I’m so envious of those old codgers who do remember watching the very first ever episode way back on that cold November evening in 1963.

So I’d like to finish off by wishing my very favourite sci-fi series of all time a VERY Happy 52nd Birthday. And long may it continue.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY DOCTOR WHO!!!!.

Sci-Fi Film Marathon, Saturday 5th July-Sunday 6th July, 2014

I’ve said several times before that Sundays at our house have become a favourite of mine for sci-fi on TV and DVD, so much so that I’ve taken to referring to the day as “Sci-Fi Sunday”. Well, this weekend was no different, with the local UK Freeview television channels coming up with the goods yet again, airing some excellent sci-fi films over the weekend. The only unusual exception was Channel 5, which most weekends has at least one sci-fi film on, but not this time around (but lots of Disney stuff on today, for anyone who’s into that kinda thing).

The additional plus this weekend was that Saturday was almost as good as Sunday, for a change. This week it’s not just “Sci-Fi Sunday”, but an entire “Sci-Fi Weekend”, during which Film4 hosted no less than four classic sci-fi films, and Channel 4, ITV2 and BBC Three aired one each. Add to that the two sci-fi DVDs that I watched with my friends on Sunday night, and that amounts to quite a sci-fi marathon over two days.

Unfortunately the BBC channels, particularly the two big ones, BBC One and BBC Two, are very poor when it comes to airing any kind of sci-fi, preferring instead to aim for the lowest common denominator and concentrate on an unrelenting garbage diet of soaps, sport and reality TV. I think the BBC considers Doctor Who to be their absolute limit for sci-fi these days, and tough luck if we want anything else. When there’s no Doctor Who on the BBC channels, there’s very rarely any sci-fi at all. If it wasn’t for the news or documentaries, I wouldn’t watch BBC One or Two at all. The same for BBC Three. Aside from a couple of episodes of Doctor Who on Friday evenings, it’s complete crap.

Once again, Film4 was the undisputed champ, with two sci-fi films on Saturday, and two more on Sunday. Saturday afternoon started off well, with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). Then we did a bit of channel-hopping over to Channel 4 for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), and then it was back to Film4 again for some Arnie in Conan the Barbarian (1982). Sunday afternoon saw Film4 picking up where they left off on Saturday night, with The Phantom (1996), running straight into Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989). The usual Sunday evening visitors started drifting in by that point, so once the Star Trek V film was over, we switched from TV to DVD, with the first part (of three) of the Sci-Fi Channel’s excellent Dune mini-series (2000).

Then it was back to the TV for another film. Given what I said earlier about the BBC channels being very bad for sci-fi, I almost died of shock when BBC Three actually aired Tron: Legacy (2010). This was followed soon after on ITV2 by The Matrix Reloaded (2003), the very good second film in the Matrix Trilogy. Finally, and taking us from late Sunday night into early Monday morning, it was another DVD, the much underrated fourth film in the Alien series, Alien: Resurrection (1997). I’ve heard many people whinge about how bad they think this film is. I disagree with them. I always enjoy it when it is re-run on TV.

I’m slinking off to bed now at just after 4am, exhausted, but very satisfied after two days of great sci-fi films. Here’s looking forward to next weekend! 🙂

Heroes Debuts on UK Television

The first two episodes of Tim Kring’s Heroes, Genesis and Don’t Look Back, aired earlier tonight (Wednesday 25th) on BBC2, followed by a short ten minute behind the scenes thingy, Heroes Unmasked. I must say that I’m absolutely delighted. I’ve been following its progress since it started on satellite TV, and it’s nice to see this series coming to a more general audience on terrestrial TV. It’s also nice to be able to watch it all from the start again.

The first episode seems to start off as a slow-tempo kinda X-Men clone, but it soon finds its own niche and transforms into something quite different. Conspiracies abound and there’s lots of great action and complex stories ahead, so all the UK terrestrial TV viewers are in for a treat. And it is soooooo nice to see a series about super-powered folks, and not a single glimpse of a cape or tights (I’ve always thought that capes ‘n’ tights look really naff on-screen – they only really work in comics or animation).

Heroes, along with Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who, is right at the top of my list of current favourite sci-fi TV series. So let’s roll on next Wednesday night, BBC2 at 9pm, and episode 3.