Doctor Who was initially envisaged as a family-friendly program which would teach children about history and scientific concepts. According to Wikipedia, the BBC’s head of drama Sydney Newman was “mainly responsible” for developing the show, with the head of the script department Donald Wilson reportedly coming up with the name. Writers C.E. Webber and Anthony Coburn (who came up with the idea of a blue police box as a time machine), script editor David Whitaker, and producer Verity Lambert, also contributed heavily to establishing the foundations of the program. The theme music – written by Ron Grainer and realised by Delia Derbyshire – has always been unique and identifiable to the show.
The classic show evolved a lot in its time on the air. The character of the Doctor was originally envisaged as a time-travelling human from the far future; the notion of him being an alien came later. His ability to regenerate was only added when William Hartnell needed to be written out part way through season 4, and at that time they didn’t even call it a regeneration, but a “renewal”. Regeneration lore as we understand it now wasn’t really sorted out until Pertwee’s Third Doctor regenerated into Tom Baker’s Fourth. The six seasons of the 1960s were long (39–45 episodes each, of 25 minutes’ duration) and in black-and-white. (97 of the 253 episodes from that decade are now missing.) In 1970 the show switched to colour production, and the number of episodes in the season went down to a more manageable 25. Between 1970 and 1984, the show produced between 20–28 episodes each year (with 26 being the “mode” number of episodes). In 1985, the show moved to 13 episodes of 45 minutes in length (presaging the format New Who would have when it began), and from 1986 onwards it would have 14 episodes a season, back to 25 minutes in length.
There are a number of known “eras” of the show. For example, the Third Doctor is basically remembered as “the UNIT era”, as over half of his stories (and all but one in his first two seasons!) featured the fictional military outfit. The Hinchcliffe/Holmes era (seasons 12–14) is regarded highly for its gothic horror themes (indeed for many people, probably myself included, this is the peak of Classic Who). The Williams era, immediately afterwards, is remembered as a lot “sillier”. John-Nathan Turner (JNT), the show’s longest-serving producer, served for so long that he basically constitutes multiple eras; the part where Eric Saward was script editor is widely panned, while the part where Andrew Cartmel was script editor is remembered very fondly, with some people even regarding it as the best that Classic Who ever got (and an even larger number probably reckoning it was on par with other “classic eras” of the show).
I started watching the classic series, I believe, in August 2003, when the ABC started repeating it all (except the missing episodes, of course, and also some of the Dalek stories, due to vague “rights issues”) to celebrate the show’s 40th anniversary. I’m pretty sure that by the next winter (2004) we were deep into the Third Doctor’s era. Then I remember watching Colin Baker’s era during the summer, which must’ve been the summer of 2005–6. Given that neither his era nor McCoy’s were that long, I’d therefore presume that the repeats finally finished some time in the early months of 2006 (shortly before Series 2 of the revived show went to air here, I guess). Maybe once I finish my New Who rewatch, I’ll go back and reacquaint myself with the classic series 😛
List of Seasons
- Season 1 (1963–64): The very first season starred William Hartnell as the First Doctor, with Susan, Ian and Barbara as companions. Produced by Verity Lambert, with David Whitaker as story editor.
- Season 2 (1964–65): Lambert continued as producer, while Whitaker handed over his responsibilities to Dennis Spooner, who handed over to Donald Tosh before the season was over. Over the course of the season, all three of the original companions depart, replaced by Vicki and Steven.
- Season 3 (1965–66): John Wiles replaced Lambert as producer five episodes into the season. He quickly wrote Vicki out, because he overheard her complaining about the quality of scripts with Hartnell (he also wanted to sack Hartnell, but didn’t have the power for that). Steven continued as companion for most of the season, accompanied by a few short-lived female companions (Katarina, Sara, Dodo). Steven left and Ben and Polly joined the TARDIS towards the end of the season. Script editor Donald Tosh was also replaced, by Gerry Davis, halfway through the season.
- Season 4 (1966–67): Produced by Innes Lloyd. This season saw the show’s first regeneration (not that the show called it that yet), with William Hartnell written out at the end of The Tenth Planet and Patrick Troughton coming in to replace him. Jamie was introduced as a new companion shortly afterwards. Ben and Polly left towards the end of the season, with Victoria replacing them on the TARDIS.
- Season 5 (1967–68): The Second Doctor, Jamie and Victoria are the TARDIS team for most of the season (Victoria leaves in the second-last story). Zoe joins the TARDIS crew in the last story. The recurring character of the Brigadier (in this story just a Colonel) makes his first appearance. Production-wise, different stories were produced by Innes Lloyd and Peter Bryant, with the Lloyd-produced ones script edited by Bryant, and the Bryant-produced ones mostly script edited by Derrick Sherwin (with one exception). This season is known for its reliance on the “base under siege” trope (not in a bag way; many people seem to talk about this season having “perfected” the trope).
- Season 6 (1968–69): The Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe are the TARDIS crew the whole way through, but this is the last season for all of them. There’s the first UNIT story in “The Invasion”. Bryant produced most of the season, with Sherwin taking over for one story. Different stories were script edited by Sherwin and Terrance Dicks.
- Season 7 (1970): Everything changed! The show was now filmed and transmitted in colour. The episode count reduced from ~40 to 25. Jon Pertwee began to star as the Third Doctor, who was exiled to (and stuck on) Earth, where he started working as UNIT’s scientific advisor. His assistant was Liz Shaw. Barry Letts began as producer, and Terrance Dicks returned as script editor. These two would actually stay as a stable team throughout the Third Doctor’s era.
- Season 8 (1971): Jo Grant’s first as companion. This season is also remembered as the one who introduced the Master (played by Roger Delgado), and then had him star in every single serial all season. Towards the end of the season, there was one serial where the Doctor made it off Earth.
- Season 9 (1972): There started to be more of a balance between UNIT stories and non-UNIT stories (2 and 3, respectively), and stories starring the Master and not starring him (2 and 3, again).
- Season 10 (1972–73): Again, 2 UNIT stories and 3 non-UNIT stories. Delgado’s Master made his final appearance (the actor died in a car crash shortly afterwards). Jo Grant departed at the end of this season.
- Season 11 (1973–74): Sarah-Jane Smith’s first as companion. This season was also Jon Pertwee’s last, and the last for Letts and Dicks as show-runners. Three of the five serials were UNIT stories.
- Season 12 (1974–5): Tom Baker’s first as the Doctor, as well as the first for Philip Hinchcliffe as producer and Robert Holmes as script editor. Harry Sullivan joined the TARDIS as an additional companion this season.
- Season 13 (1975–76): Harry leaves in the first serial, and this season also marks the last of the UNIT stories.
- Season 14 (1976–77): Sarah-Jane Smith leaves partway through the season, and after the companion-free story The Deadly Assassin (the first story to be set on Gallifrey!) Leela joins as the next companion. This series was the last made by Hinchcliffe and Holmes.
- Season 15 (1977–78): Graham Williams’ first as producer. Robert Holmes left halfway through, replaced as script editor by Anthony Read. This season was Leela’s last on the show. K9 the robot dog is introduced here.
- Season 16 (1978–79): The Key to Time season! The Time Lords force the Doctor to travel with Romana’s first incarnation, and there’s a season-long plotline involving their quest to recover the Key to Time. Douglas Adams took over from Anthony Read for the last serial, The Armageddon Factor.
- Season 17 (1979–80): Romana regenerates at the start of the season. It’s Williams’ last season as producer, and Adams’ only full one as script editor. The series is remembered for what would have been its final serial, Shada, which was infamously left half-filmed after production was disrupted by strikes.
- Season 18 (1980–81): This season marks John Nathan-Turner’s first as producer (he’d go on to be the show’s longest-serving producer ever). Christopher H. Bidmead was script editor, and Barry Letts was also back as an executive producter. Season 18 took a more serious and “sciency” tone, and progressively added new companions Adric, Nyssa and Tegan, and wrote out Romana and K9, before the Fourth Doctor regenerated at the end of the season.
- Season 19 (1982): Peter Davison stars as the Fifth Doctor, accompanied by Nyssa, Tegan and Adric (until Adric is killed in the second-last serial). This series also marked the return of the Master. Bidmead left as script editor, replaced briefly by Anthony Root and then by Eric Saward. This season marked the first where Doctor Who didn’t air in its traditional Saturday teatime slot, but on weeknights, twice a week.
- Season 20 (1983): The Fifth Doctor and Tegan star the whole way through; Nyssa leaves halfway through, replaced by Turlough. JNT and Saward both continue in their roles. There was a special released later in the year (after the regular season had wrapped up) to celebrate the show’s 20th anniversary, The Five Doctors, which starred a few previous companions as well as the first three Doctors.
- Season 21 (1984): JNT and Saward continue. The fourth serial sees Tegan’s departure, the fifth sees Turlough’s departure and Peri’s arrival, the sixth (and penultimate) serial is Davison’s extremely highly regarded final story, The Caves of Androzani, while the season’s final serial is Colin Baker’s widely reviled first as the Sixth Doctor.
- Season 22 (1985): This series saw the show go to a 45-minute format, going down to 13 episodes as a result (broadcast once a week). It was substantially more violent than previous seasons, which BBC1 controller Michael Grade used as an excuse to put the show on “hiatus” for 18 months afterwards.
- Season 23 (1986): The “Trial of a Time Lord” season. The show returned to 25-minute episodes, but only 14 of them. Production was beset by problems, including the death of the finale’s original scriptwriter, Robert Holmes, and the sudden resignation of script editor Eric Saward. Peri left as companion, replaced by Mel. After the season was finished, Michael Grade ordered Colin Baker sacked.
- Season 24 (1987): Sylvester McCoy’s first as the Seventh Doctor. Mel continued as the companion this series; Ace was introduced in the final serial. Andrew Cartmel began as script editor.
- Season 25 (1988): No changes to the major cast or show-runners. This season’s widely regarded as a significant improvement in quality over the previous one, taking on a darker and more mysterious tone.
- Season 26 (1989): Again, no major changes. The classic show’s final season (its non-renewal was not announced until after filming had finished though, so they hurriedly recorded a voice-over for the finale), and highly regarded by fans.