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Whether you are a long-time fan of the sci-fi BBC series Dr Who or if you joined with more recent Doctors, you might remember Ian Chesterton.

Science teacher and companion of the First Doctor (then portrayed by William Hartnell), Chesterton was part of the original cast and appeared for a total of 77 episodes.

It’s with this role that the British actor William Russell not only made sci-fi TV history, but also broke a Guinness World Records title with his reappearance in the latest series. 

The time between the first and last appearances of Chesterton marks the longest gap between TV appearances: an incredible 57 years 120 days. 

The science fiction television show has been broadcast by the BBC since 1963.

It was then that Russell first appeared in the drama show: he participated in the very first pilot shot for the franchise, which went unaired.

The episode was, however, eventually re-shot and broadcast with the title "An Unearthly Child", birthing one of the most iconic and beloved titles in TV history.

After that first appearance as Ian Chesterton, Russell remained a regular character in the show for the next two years - until the character's departure in 1965.

Russell’s most recent - and record-breaking - appearance on the Doctor Who screen happened with "The Power of the Doctor", which aired on 23 October 2022.

"The Power of the Doctor" is the third and final special aired for the centenary celebrations for the BBC.

Doctor and Tardis and Ian

However, through the years, Russell has maintained his association with Doctor Who across platforms and media: when he wasn’t playing Chesterton in front of a camera, the actor took part in several DVD audio commentaries and also narrated several audiobooks from the series.

He also made a cameo (as another character, a BBC Commissionaire) in the 2013 Doctor Who documentary. 

The programme recounted the making of the iconic sci-fi series and was broadcast as part of the celebrations for its 50th anniversary. 

It’s been a long-running love, the one between Russell and the Doctor Who series - a love that is now crowned with a record after the actor returned on the set of the show at the age of 97 for his "The Power of the Doctor" cameo.

The episode aired 57 years after the character's last television appearance.

This incredible accomplishment might not surprise shows aficionados and TV culture connoisseurs, as the science fiction television show has been broadcast by the BBC since 1963.

However, talking about "the beginning of the adventures of the Doctors and their companions" might (incorrectly) feel close to us since the long-going BBC sci-fi series is still airing and racking up accolades year after year.

Like other iconic franchises, Doctor Who places itself as equally a "historical" TV show and a product that is still making headlines and going strong. 

To put things into perspective, the pilot aired in the same year Kennedy's assassination - the same week, in fact. 

The Cold War was still ongoing, as was the Vietnam War. 

All these events that might seem remote at a first glance, but help convey the longevity of Doctor Who as a series and a pillar of pop culture. 

Iconic elements of the series like the angels, the various incarnations of the Doctor and the TARDIS became part of global pop culture, spreading far and wide and well out of the franchise’s fanbase.

Because of its long-lasting run the BBC drama also holds the record for the most consecutive sci-fi TV episodes ever, with 871 episodes and counting.

Over the years, also thanks to its longevity and enthusiastic fans, the sci-fi drama has conquered (or has held at some point) several records. 

Some of them are: 

  • Doctor Who holds the record for most spin-off fiction books inspired by a TV show, with over 720 spin-offs as of 2016
  • The largest collection of Doctor Who memorabilia consists of 6,641 items and was achieved by Lily Connors (UK), of Pontypridd, UK, as verified on 20 June 2016.
  • In case you were wondering, the episode "The Caves of Androzani" (1984) officially holds the record as the most popular Doctor Who story. It received an average of 9.3/10 on, and was voted by readers of Doctor Who Magazine as the best story. 
  • As of 2017, Doctor Who also placed itself as the most prolific science-fiction TV series (by episode).

Can you name all the doctors and their companions?