(RNN) - Excitement is contagious among diehard sci-fi fans as Doctor Who, perhaps the oldest science-fiction franchise, is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
The first episode of this British time-and-space bending TV show aired on Nov. 23, 1963, predating the original Star Trek by three years.
It featured a white-haired doctor who more resembled a curmudgeonly professor emeritus than any incarnation since, flanked by his presumed granddaughter and two teachers.
He travels through time and space in a police box-looking, and often malfunctioning, craft called the TARDIS, which is bigger on the inside than on the outside.
When the lead actor, William Hartnell, had to ditch the show after three years, the show's staff launched the concept of regeneration to help explain the Doctor's change of appearance as another actor stepped into the Edwardian boots.
What could have been dismissed as a cheap trick transformed into a key element that more or less kept the franchise fresh and alive.
During the '70s, the show cultivated multigenerational appeal that hopped across the pond via PBS, and the production was liberated a bit from the sound stage it had been trapped in, going on location, even with some scenes filmed in Paris and Amsterdam at the show's height.
The franchise has now spanned the decades, surviving even cancellation in 1989 to come back in movie form in 1996 before roaring back in a big way with the launch of the modern Doctor Who episodes in 2005.
Doctor Who spawned a couple of relatively successful television spinoffs, a vast universe of products such as a TARDIS refrigerator, an audio series and countless fan-produced works of fiction, art and videos.
There's even The Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff, Wales. Opened in 2012, it is a multisensory homage to the Doctor and his universe, with sets, images and interactive exhibits. Cardiff was chosen as the site because, according to the show's recent mythology, a crack in time exists there.
Now that Royal Mail has tapped into the excitement by issuing commemorative Doctor Who stamps, featuring all eleven doctors and classic monsters, the cult TV show can now be safely called a cultural phenomenon.
Who-related hype has ramped up on the internet as the 50th anniversary episode is due to start filming this month.
Alongside current series lead Matt Smith, David Tennant will reprise his role as the 10th doctor, the first actor of the new series to revisit the show post-regeneration.
Hopefully Tennant's appearance in the anniversary episode will wipe away his swan song out of fans' memories.
His character's "death" at the end of The End of Time, Part Two was maudlin, lengthy and indulgent.
As he was dying of radiation poisoning after surviving falling from the sky, he managed to say goodbye, in one way or another, to each of his former companions, side characters and even the granddaughter of a love interest, before whining a last complaint and exploding in a ball of angst. His character deserved a better end than that.
Predictably, joining him will be Billie Piper as Rose Tyler. She can't seem to stay away, can she?
Even though she was stuck in an alternate universe at the end of the second series, presumably never to return, she managed to make guest appearances over the course of Tennant's tenure as the Doctor.
According the first rule of time travel, people aren't supposed to meet previous versions of themselves when traveling through time, nor are they supposed to save the lives of their deceased fathers, as Rose learned.
However, on this show, rules of space and time are meant to be broken, twisted, braided and woven into a nice scarf to advance the plot.
Other doctors in the Classic episodes have met future incarnations of themselves from time to time.
The first time, The Three Doctors, featured doctors one through three, all of whom are now deceased.
Various manifestations of the Doctor would reunite two more times, on the 20th and 25th anniversary episodes, with the second doctor, Peter Troughton, making an appearance in all such episodes.
There has been speculation on whether other former incarnations of the Doctor will make an appearance in this anniversary episode.
People are also wondering whether it will be the 11th doctor's last episode.
If the classic doctors show up - for instance, fan favorite Tom Baker or fifth doctor (and Tennant's father-in-law) Peter Davison - they would probably appear in brief cameos as other characters or in footage from the Classic series. No "timey-whimey" loophole can explain away 30 years of aging.
However, if anyone can worm his way around the laws of space, time and logic with gleeful abandon, it's Moffat, whose plot twists include killing off a companion just to bring him back from the dead as a plastic Centurion whose hand turned into a gun before making him a real-life man again ... well, you get the idea.
Sometimes, when the pseudo-science plot twists makes one's head spin, it helps to remember the advice offered by the intro theme of another cult favorite show - "Just repeat to yourself: 'It's just a show. I should really just relax.'"
Copyright 2013 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.
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