Pop Culture

'Doctor Who' origin story puts 50th anniversary in perspective

David Bradley plays the late "Doctor Who" actor William Hartnell in "An Adventure in Space and Time."

Time is relative for Time Lords, but when it comes to launching the longest running sci-fi show in television history, timing is everything. On Nov. 23, 1963, the time was ripe for BBC's sci-fi series "Doctor Who," and a new TV movie that serves as a documentary in the form of drama explains why.

"An Adventure in Space and Time" tackles the story behind the "The Doctor," a mysterious dual-hearted alien from the planet Gallifrey, who regenerates into a different body every few years. 

David Bradley, best known as Walder Frey from "Game of Thrones" and Filch from the "Harry Potter" movies, portrays the show's first "Doctor," the late William Hartnell. In a series of flash backs, Hartnell recalls his experience portraying "The Doctor," a guy who travels through time and space in what appears to be a British police box. (It's actually the TARDIS, an acronym for Time and Relative Dimension in Space, which sort of explains why it's bigger on the inside than it appears to be on the outside.) 

Viewers are taken back to beginning, when the show's creators first crafted the mixture of "C.S. Lewis with H.G. Wells and … a bit of Father Christmas," despite critics within their own production who weren't so certain of its potential for success.

"Cavemen and Doctors and disappearing bloody police boxes ... it'll never work," one skeptic says in a promo for the movie.

But, of course, it did. In 1963, the low-budget, family-friendly program soon proved to be a hit. And though it's weathered ups and downs — and one 16-year hiatus — since then, it's a hit again.

Now, after numerous regenerations and almost 800 episodes, Matt Smith is the leading man at the helm (well, console) of the TARDIS — but that's soon to change again.

Catch "An Adventure in Space in Time" Friday at 9 p.m. on BBC America. And then tune in Saturday at 2:50 p.m. for the highly-anticipated 50th anniversary episode, "The Day of the Doctor," which will be simulcast in more than 75 countries.