To see information about the series from the time of the first two Doctors go here.
Who was the Doctor?
The Doctor was part of an advanced alien civilisation. They had solved the problems of time travel but had a policy of non-interference in the affairs of other civilisations. The Doctor did not accept the strict policies of his home planet and he left in a stolen time machine. He became a traveller in time and space.
The time machine (called the Tardis) did not function properly; he could not control when or where it went. When it materialised, it was supposed to take on an outer form that made it inconspicuous. This did not work either. However, the Tardis can be mysteriously directed sometimes to places where the Doctor's help is needed.
What is it that made Doctor Who so popular?
This scenario has certain similarities to previous science fiction stories - the idea of time travel and the idea of alien civilisations - but is original in the way it combines ideas. One of its advantages is its plausibility. It would seem unlikely that humans from our time could invent a time machine. An alien civilisation might. We are familiar with the idea of contact between humans and aliens, but the conventional idea of flying saucers landing on the White House lawn sounds unrealistic. Instead we have the idea that an alien could be walking about amongst us unobserved.
The Doctor Who scenario is more plausible, more subtle and more satisfying than other science fiction scenarios. We are also able to explore the personality of the Doctor, and he has a complex personality. He is certainly no superhero; he has no special powers or weapons. Instead he uses his intelligence and scientific knowledge to solve problems. He doesn't even have any particular interest in 'saving the universe', seemingly blundering into trouble.
The fact that he cannot control the destination of the Tardis makes it more frightening. If the Doctor could control where and when the Tardis materialised then he could choose which battles he wanted to fight, knowing each time what he was up against. He could use the Tardis to defeat his enemies.
During his various adventures he acquires an assortment of companions. They are not selected by him and are therefore unknown quantities. It was these factors that made Dr Who so scary, not just the scary monsters.
The early black-and-white Dr Who stories were variable in their quality, but many were excellent science fiction. At the end of the 1960s it changed considerably. The third Doctor was more flamboyant and theatrical than the first two and nearly all the stories were Earth based. The fourth Doctor was an improvement, but it is unfortunate that certain features were established that some consider to be essential features of the programme. The Doctor was now flamboyantly dressed and theatrical in behaviour, and had typically one companion who was young and pretty (and screamed a lot).
In the opinion of Verity Lambert, the producer of the early Dr Who, its makers no longer believed in what they were doing and were just trying to be clever.
Where did the name Dalek come from?
The Daleks were the most feared enemy of the Doctor. They were cyborgs who were intent on conquering the universe. It is said that the name for them came when Terry Nation (writer of many episodes of Dr Who and the inventor of the Daleks) looked at the spine of a set of encylopedias and saw combinations of letters. However, I have another theory. The word robot comes from a Czech word meaning worker. I think Terry Nation was looking for another word in Czech that had an appropriate meaning. Dalek in Czech is a boy's name - a variant of Dalibor - meaning fighting far away. Perhaps he had a sense of humour and was waiting for someone to find out the correct reason for the name.