November 22, 1963

John F. Kennedy, Aldous Huxley, and C. S. Lewis all died the same day. The following day, Doctor Who premiered.

Magnus D, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Some historical events cast a long shadow. The assassination of John F. Kennedy, the President of the United States, cast a long shadow but it also cast an immediate one. November 22 and 23, 1963, news the world over focused on the tragedy and its aftermath. But a lot was happening that same day.

C. S. Lewis wrote The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and many other children’s books in the Chronicles of Narnia series. He also wrote a sci-fi series and a bunch of non-fiction works on Christianity, but it looks like history will remember him best for Narnia. About an hour before Kennedy’s assassination, Lewis collapsed and died in his home.

Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World. He wrote many other books and essays, but it looks like history will remember him best for that drug-controlled dystopia. (Side note: he also wrote a script of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for Walt Disney. It would have intertwined live-action sequences about the book’s author Lewis Carroll with animated sequences from the Alice adventures. The script was never used.) About seven hours after Kennedy’s assassination, Huxley died. (Second side note: at least he left happy. As he was dying, he asked his wife to inject him with LSD.)

As you can imagine, the death of the president completely overshadowed the death of these two literary giants. What, in any other week, may have been front page news became at best an afterthought.

The next day, November 23, 1963, saw the premiere of the first ever episode of Doctor Who. That first episode, called “An Unearthly Child,” did not rate well. It crashed and burned, in fact, with only 4.4 million viewers. The previous day’s assassination proved to be too much of a distraction. The BBC repeated the episode later that same week, to slightly improved ratings. The show itself would probably have been cancelled, but the next serial reversed its fortunes. The introduction of the Daleks (the Doctor’s arch-nemeses) pulled in more than ten million viewers, and so the show continues to this day.

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