In 1963, English schoolteachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright tracked down one of their brilliant students only to find her living in a mysterious blue police box in a junkyard with her crotchety grandfather, the Doctor. The Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan Foreman, was a student at Coal Hill School in the first episode of Doctor Who, which premiered on BBC1 on November 23, 1963 — 53 years ago today.
When Doctor Who premiered at “tea time” in 1963 England — 5:15 p.m. GMT, to be exact — the audience had no knowledge of the Doctor’s mysterious origins. Here they were, presented with an old man living in a dump with his granddaughter in a time-traveling box that was bigger on the inside. His face was that of famed film star William Hartnell. He kidnapped his granddaughter’s teachers and took them to the Stone Age.
Over the next few weeks, Ian and Barbara were almost killed by Stone Age people with clubs and ended up helping settle in-fighting between several tribes. Ian made fire, subsequently saving everyone.
In a way, it was a perfect introduction to the Doctor. Despite the kidnapping and his general cantankerous attitude, the Doctor helped Ian and Barbara discover a bravery they never knew was inside them until those moments. And giving the Doctor a granddaughter made this fantastical character at least somewhat relatable.
With the way classic Who episodes worked, behaving as serials that would tell one storyline over several weeks, all but the last few minutes of that first episode on November 23 took place in England. The Doctor was English, as was his granddaughter. The time-traveling police box, the TARDIS, was stuck in that familiar form due to a technical malfunction. The convenience of it all — by today’s standards — was overwhelming.
But introducing a time-traveling alien to audiences in 1963 required that level of convenience. Imagine if the Doctor had actually looked like an alien. Imagine him having blue skin or scales or antennae, or maybe even all three. The writers of Who were already stretching their audience’s imaginations enough with a time-and-space traveler from another planet. The convenience was necessary.
But that convenience soon stretched into an enormous mythology that carried on for decades, and which is still going on to this day 53 years later. Barbara and Ian were just the first lucky humans the Doctor decided to include in his adventures.