What TV Show First Introduced Virtual Reality As A Plot Device?
Answer: Doctor Who
Although the idea of virtual reality serving as an alternate to our reality is a common trope in movies and televisions shows these days, decades ago it was less frequently used and, in fact, didn’t make an appearance in television until 1976.
In the 1976 Dr. Who story arc “The Deadly Assassin” writers introduced a dreamlike and computer generated alternate reality known as, in a rather juicy bit of foreshadowing, The Matrix. Within the story line, The Matrix is a huge electronic neural network which turns your thought patterns into reality.
Everything within The Matrix is an illusion created in part by your mind and in part by the computers controlling the network. Although you’re not physically in The Matrix, if you die within the illusions created by it, you die in real life.
In another interesting bit that foreshadowed the plot of future virtual-reality based stories, the Doctor’s enemies find that they cannot best him in the virtual environment so they send someone to kill him while he is plugged into The Matrix.
A bit of bonus trivia: “The Deadly Assassin” series is the only classic Doctor Who series where the Doctor does not have a travelling companion. Script writers have noted that it was very difficult to write the scripts for that story arc as the Doctor lacked for companion to share his thoughts and plans with.