50th Anniversary

Doctor Who

To mark this special occasion, we brought this 50 year old programme into a new technological era – satisfying existing Whovians and engaging a whole new generation in the process.  


2013 marked the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, the world’s longest-running TV show of its genre. The BBC celebrated this landmark event with a special episode of Doctor Who which aired on the anniversary day itself, 23rd November 2013. Unlike other episodes, this special was simulcast in a record-breaking 75+ territories worldwide, on both TV and in cinemas, making the Doctor Who 50th anniversary a global event. Our challenge was to build anticipation and excitement leading up to this special event.


We wanted to create a campaign driven by an immersive conceptual trail that would appeal to both modern and lifelong fans alike. To do this we teased fans with the hashtag #savetheday, letting them know that something was coming. We then released a 60 second time-frozen portrait encapsulating the history of Doctor Who, which features recognisable iconography from the last 50 years of the show. All the past Doctors make an appearance (everyone from William Hartnell to John Hurt) as well as some of the Doctors' companions and a range of terrifying monsters including Daleks, Cybermen and Weeping Angels. Even K9 the dog. Using state of the art technology we brought the Doctors back to life as they were, from the very first Doctor, William Hartnell (who appears in full colour high resolution for the very first time, in stark contrast to the black and white footage that first aired in 1963), to Tom Baker, who is immortalised surrounded by the jelly babies he was famously so partial to. To open the trail we recreated Totters Yard from the opening scene of the very first Doctor Who episode, as well as a number of recognisable scenarios from throughout the years. There are additional levels of detail within the film, including a number of hidden items from key past episodes, allowing for repeat viewing and close scrutiny. There are also echoes of past characters within the sound bed. By harnessing the excitement already generated by the hashtag, and then treating fans to layers of hidden references within the main launch trail, we managed to whip up a storm of social media activity, with fans old and new taking notice of the anniversary. They tweeted about the trail, shared it amongst their peers and even took to remaking it themselves (in various formats including Lego, stop-motion and even in Minecraft). They also competed to see who could spot the most references, something picked up on by the national press, resulting in the release of the trail being reported in all UK national newspapers the following day. This vast cosmic wave of social activity was collated thanks to the original teaser – the #savetheday hashtag – which meant the whole conversation could be captured within the social TARDIS website, which harvested all references to the hashtag, and used them to build a TARDIS-shaped constellation where people could go to read fan comments and access exclusive clips from the show. In addition to this we hid a series of mini-TARDISes across the BBC inventory, giving an additional boost to the online conversation. Our mini-TARDISes popped up in many of the nation’s favourite TV programmes including Eastenders, Graham Norton, Casualty and Match of the Day. Every time people spotted them in programmes we saw a spike in Twitter traffic. This built to an editorial climax after the episode itself when an anniversary after-party special was shown, revealing all the hidden TARDISes from the previous week.


The episode became:

  • the most tweeted about TV drama in the history of Twitter.
  • the most talked about topic in the history of Tumblr
  • the most requested programme in the history of iPlayer

Kerry Moss, Acting Head of Marketing, BBC One:

"Doctor Who is one of the BBC's most iconic television shows and one which has continued to engage the nation for the past 50 years. One of the key challenges we faced with the anniversary campaign was to ensure we engaged show's superfans as well as lighter viewers. Red Bee Media rose to the challenge and created a really immersive and innovative concept. It harnesses Doctor Who’s rich heritage and iconography, alongside technical innovations, to create a single moment in time that sweeps through half a century, while also hinting at the impending storyline. All in 60 seconds!”

The History of Doctor Who in One Epic Portrait

Alluding to the freeze-frame portrait plot device of the 50th anniversary episode, the trail features every incarnation of the Doctor, from William Hartnell’s original to Matt Smith (then the Doctor).

Nice Screwdriver

The trail also featured a whole host of famous sidekicks, monsters, gadgets and scenarios - all together over 100 specific references for superfans to hunt out and recognise.