Fifty Years in the TARDIS: the golden anniversary of Doctor Who

A TARDIS-shaped housing for an early prototype computer-based interactive being developed for the Powerhouse Museum in 1981
A TARDIS-shaped housing for an early prototype computer-based interactive being developed for the Powerhouse Museum in 1981. Image : Powerhouse Museum

The weekend of November 23/24, 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the first screening of the iconic British science fiction television series Doctor Who First screened in the UK on November 23, 1963, the adventures of the nameless wandering time traveller and his British police-box-shaped time machine, the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space, if you’ve always wondered what that acronym meant), have been shown in countries around the world and become firmly embedded in global popular culture. In this blog post, I’ll explore a few of the Museum’s links to Doctor Who.


Australia was first introduced to the Doctor in January 1965 (so our local 50th anniversary is yet to come) and the show has remained a part of programming on the national broadcaster ever since-although there was a time when the ABC considered ceasing to purchase it, and yours truly helped to lead a protest outside the ABC in 1977 to encourage them to reverse that decision.

By the early 1980s, Doctor Who had become so popular and well recognised in Australia that interactive developers in the early days of the Powerhouse project, decided to use a TARDIS-shaped cubicle to house a prototype design for a computer-based interactive that was the state of the art in its day. This prototype was trialled in the original exhibition mounted in Powerhouse Stage 1 (now the Harwood Building), which opened in 1981.

The second ever Doctor Who story, “The Daleks”, introduced the world to the eponymous creatures who would become the Doctor’s greatest foes, and as synonymous with the show as The Doctor and the TARDIS. The Museum’s toy collection includes three generations of a Dalek toy that has itself acquired cult status: the Louis Marx Dalek.

Louis Marx and Co. was an American toy company, originally founded in 1919, that made a niche for itself in the 1950s and 60s manufacturing science fiction inspired robot and space toys. In 1965, the company released a 6.5 inch (16.5cm) battery-powered bump and go Dalek toy, in two colours-either black or silver (I had a much –treasured silver one myself). The toy was re-issued more than once and, in addition to an original 1965 black version, our collection includes a 1975 silver Marx Dalek. It is interesting to note that a number of the original 1965 Dalek toys were actually used as props in the 1967 Patrick Troughton story “Evil of the Daleks

Original 1965 Louis Marx black Dalek toy
Original 1965 Louis Marx black Dalek toy and box. 88/315 Collection: Powerhouse Museum
1975 Dalek, 85/2573-60. Collection: Powerhouse Museum
1975 Dalek, Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The original 1965 Louis Marx black Dalek toy and a 1975 re-issue of the silver Dalek version are pictured above. The black Dalek toy and box show plenty of wear (and the Dalek is missing his sucker arm and ray guy)-no doubt the result of being much played with.)

In the 1990s, Dapol, a British company best known for making model railways, produced a reproduction of the Marx Dalek toy (complete even to the original Marx logo on the base!). In 2003, the Museum purchased a large collection of film and television- based toys which included one of the limited edition Dapol Daleks made from the original Louis Marx moulds.

2003/111/14-1 Toy, 'The Mysterious Daleks', licensed from the television show 'Doctor Who', plastic, made by Dapol, England, 1990-1999
Dapol reproduction of the Louis Marx Dalek toy, made from the original moulds. This example in the Museum’s collection is no. 1217 of a limited edition of 2500. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Visitors who came to the SPFX: the secrets behind the screen exhibition at the Museum in 1995 may recall encountering a genuine full-size BBC Dalek, which had been loaned to the Powerhouse by the Australian office of BBC Enterprises (the BBC’s merchandising arm).

Exterminate…exterminate”. Visitors to the SPFX: the secrets behind the screen exhibition in 1995 could come face to face with an original Dalek from Doctor Who
Exterminate…exterminate”. Visitors to the SPFX: the secrets behind the screen exhibition in 1995 could come face to face with an original Dalek from Doctor Who

Integral to Doctor Who is its instantly recognisable theme, which was written by Australian composer Ron Grainer , well-known in the UK for his film and television scores. The contribution of Grainer, and another Australian composer, Dudley Simpson , who created incidental music for Doctor Who stories for almost 30 years, to the development of the “sonic world of Doctor Who” is outlined in a recent article from The Conversation.
What is not so well known is that, while Grainer composed the Doctor Who theme, its eerie electronic wailing was the work of Delia Derbyshire , who was a young musician in the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop , which was a pioneer in the field of electronic music and sound effects.

Among the electronic music pioneers working at the Radiophonic Workshop in the early days of Doctor Who was Tristram Cary , creator of one of the earliest electronic music studios and a founder of Electronic Music Studios Ltd, which created the first commercially available portable synthesiser, the EMS VCS 3 and the popular EMS Synthi 100. Cary wrote incidental music for several Doctor Who stories, including the very first Dalek story. One of his collaborators, David Cockerell, was an experienced electronic designer who built a ring modulator that gave the distinctive electronic sound to the Daleks’ voices.

This custom built voltage controlled oscillator (VCO) with ring modulator from the early 1960s may have been used in constructing the sounds for the Daleks in their earliest apearance on Doctor Who. It comes from the Museum’s Tristram Cary collection. 2009/83/1
This custom built voltage controlled oscillator (VCO) with ring modulator from the early 1960s may have been used in constructing the sounds for the Daleks in their earliest apearance on Doctor Who. It comes from the museum’s Tristram Cary collection. 2009/83/1. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Cary came to Australia in 1973, to show the staff at Melbourne University how to drive their newly acquired Synthi 100 and in 1974 he took up a position at Adelaide University and remained in Australia for the rest of his life. When he passed away in 2008, a significant collection of electronic instruments and components from his studio in Adelaide were donated to the Museum, including some that may have been used in the production of his music for Doctor Who.

I’m often asked if there will be a Doctor Who exhibition at the Museum: well, there isn’t one in the works at the moment, but I’d certainly love to curate one, so if the right combinations of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff come together one of these days, you never know what might happen…’the future is an unknown place’

Written by Kerrie Dougherty, space curator

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One response to “Fifty Years in the TARDIS: the golden anniversary of Doctor Who

  • I have a plastic model 12″ of DALEK dated 1963

    I though the models did not originate until 1965

    can you please confirm the models weren’t made earlier than when the tv was first produced.

    Thank you

    Harry

    Jersey.

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