‘Doctor Who,’ prescribing wit and action since 1963, airs 50th anniversary episode

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For a television show to be able to last for 50 years — and a science fiction show at that — there has to be something special to it, something that allows it to change and evolve as the decades pass and popular culture ebbs and flows through space-time, wibbly-wobbly as it is.

Against all odds, despite a 15-year hiatus from 1990 until 2005, “Doctor Who” is such a show.

No one could have seen in 1963 that an educational show about an old-time traveling grandfather, his intelligent granddaughter and her two school teachers going on adventures throughout the universe would one day become a global phenomenon.

The show has garnered multiple Guinness World Records (among them Longest Running & Most Successful Science Fiction TV Series of All Time) including one for its 50th anniversary episode, “The Day of the Doctor” (Largest Ever Simulcast of a TV Drama), which premiered on TV on Nov. 23 and was shown in theaters in the United States on Nov. 25.

(Before we continue, a bit of background: The Doctor is part of an alien race called the Time Lords. He travels across time and space in a large blue police box called the TARDIS, which stands for Time and Relative Dimensions in Space, generally with a companion.

When The Doctor is close to death, he undergoes a violent regeneration process that changes his form, which allows him to continue adventuring and for actors playing The Doctor to switch out every few years.)

Thanks to the magic of the Internet, “Doctor Who” now has a committed fan base (“Whovians”) in the United States and around the world, many of whom went out Nov. 23 to watch the current incarnation of The Doctor (Matt Smith), his previous form (David Tennant) and a mysterious, unspeakable and much older and earlier version (John Hurt) face the darkest day of their (or his) life: the day they (or he) wiped out all of the Time Lords to eliminate the Daleks, The Doctor’s sworn enemies, from the universe.

The three Doctors also must stop the Zygons, a race of red, sucker-laden shapeshifters (that are apparently great kissers, according to Tennant’s Doctor) that want to take Earth for themselves. This, however, is only a backdrop for the meat of the episode: Hurt’s decision to activate The Moment, a weapon so powerful that it “developed sentience,” as one Time Lord general put it, which will kill billions but save the universe.

As he is about to activate it, the weapon’s “conscience,” personified by former companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), challenges his actions, showing him the person he will become if he does commit mass murder. It throws him forward in time to interact with his future selves, Smith and Tennant, who must also come to terms with their actions and somehow fix them.

The episode is tense, witty and action-packed, as any good episode of “Doctor Who” should be, and as a 50th anniversary episode, it is a proper celebration of what has become a pop-culture powerhouse around the world.

Contact Youssef Shokry at [email protected].