The Case of Time and Space

Dr Who

Hey Cassettes! This week we’re taking you on an adventure in time and space. First, we’ll take you to London in the 1960s, when the BBC started production of an all-new adventure series about a doctor from another world! Then, we’ll travel through the decades and stop at 1996, when the network released Doctor Who the movie.

But stay tuned! Next week we will dive even deeper into the lives of the show’s “monsters,” the making of the reboot, and the messages behind the show. We also intend to take a longer look at the original show as we compare it to the new one!

So step into The Tardis with us and away we go!

Doctor Who is the longest running Sci-fi television series in history. It originally ran from 1963-1989; had a movie in 1996 and the show was rebooted in 2005

The Creation of Doctor Who

  • Doctor Who did not have one creator, which made it a show that could shift in format as-needed. Three very important names in its creation were: Sydney Newman, Donald Wilson, and CE Webber. 
    • After realizing that there was a gap in programming in early 1963, the chief of programs for BBC1 asked Sydney Newman, head of drama, to oversee a new adventure show.
      • Newman is also known for creating the much loved classic series “The Avengers”. 
    • Newman then asked Donald Wilson, who started calling meetings and focus groups with script writers. A lot of the show’s key concepts came from these meetings. For example: the idea of a time machine that also moved through space, the suggestion of the western-like format with one-off villains but a constant hero, and the center character being a scientist of some kind.
    • CE Webber, who wrote the original script for the first episode (before it was replaced) fleshed out the main characters with the leading character as, “a frail old man, lost in space and time,” known as The Doctor. 
  • Donald Wilson and CE Webber described the Doctor’s ship as a “magic door” where the outside is an ordinary object you might find on the street, but the inside would be a marvelous collection of machinery; They wanted the ship to perform similar actions as time machines from science fiction, but they didn’t want it to look like something from science fiction.
    • When writer Anthony Coburn incorporated Webber’s ideas into the first episode, he named the ship TARDIS – Time and Relative Dimension in Space 
  • The producer of Doctor Who, appointed by Sydney Newman, was Verity Lambert. She had worked with him as a production assistant in the past 
      • She was not his first choice, but he later recounted that hiring her was the best decision he made.
      • She was only 27 and the only female producer in the department
    • Next they appointed Waris (ware-iss)  Hussein, a young man only 25 years old, as the director of 11 episodes.
      • He also felt like an outsider as the only Asian man on set; Hussein was born in India and moved to the UK at age 9. 
    • After that, a veteran actor named William Hartnell was chosen to play the first doctor! At first he was reluctant to play a roll on a “children’s show” as Doctor Who was originally meant to be educational and friendly to all audiences

 

The First Episode/Season

  • The first episode was originally written by CE Webber, but was too technically difficult to perform. So, they replaced it with an episode called, “An Unearthly Child” written by Anthony Coburn, who took aspects of the original first episode and re-tooled them.
  • The first companions were Ian and Barbara who were school-teachers and his granddaughter Susan
  • Newman, however, was unhappy with the first recording, and gave the producer (Lambert) and the director (Hussein) another chance to get it right. In the first recording, the Doctor was too abrasive, and Susan, his granddaughter, was “too strange” 
  • After months of work, the first episode aired on November 23, 1963. The ratings were low, though there was a black-out at the time of airing. Also, the nation was still reeling from the shock of JFK’s assassination just one day earlier.
  • The show dealt with many difficulties. The show had an incredibly low budget for what it needed, only 2300 pounds per episode. The filming conditions were tough, they were forced to use old studios and out-dated equipment 
    • After the first season aired, the show was renewed partly due to the creation of an already notorious villain in the series: The Daleks. While the first season saw many adventures with an educational focus, the Daleks were a popular and exciting addition to the show. Isn’t it funny how The Doctor’s arch nemesis actually HELPED keep his show alive? 

– In 1966, the show runners were met with a difficult situation when William Hartnell’s health began to fail and he was unable to play the role. Story editor Gerry David and producer Innes Lloyd came to an agreement with Hartnell that he should pass the roll on. They didn’t like the idea of simply re-casting, so they came up with the idea that the doctor could change his face and called it regeneration. This has become one of the most genius ideas of the show, allowing re-casts whenever necessary. 

Who is The Doctor? 

  • When the show was still in development, it was Newman’s idea to have a young girl on the show, a teenager to appeal to the younger demographic.
  • When Coburn wrote the pilot, he made this young girl to be The Doctor’s granddaughter. This made Newman upset, because he didn’t want anything revealed about The Doctor. The ambiguity of the character is a key part of the show. The character is meant to be mysterious so that writers and viewers can interpret the show in different ways. We are not meant to see the doctor as someone that we understand, we are meant to see him through the eyes of the companions who have just met him. 
    • Revealing that The Doctor may have a biological granddaughter hints that he might have a family, something that the show has hinted at for years since but never elaborated on
    • We know for certain that Susan is not human, but whether or not she is biologically related to The Doctor. 
  • The Doctor is the only known survivor from the war between the Daleks and the Time Lords. The Time Lords were lost, along with their home planet of Gallifrey.
  • Much of what we know about the doctor is steeped in mystery, and it’s meant to be that way! Andrew Cartmel in the 1980s purposely threw in details to create more history around the doctor. This was known as the Cartmel Master Plan
    • Some of these stories were meant to suggest that The Doctor was more powerful than previously thought; that most of what we knew about him was wrong. They did this by dropping subtle hints that went nowhere since the show was cancelled. 
    • There is, however, a series of novels that used the masterplan; These were generally ignored.
  • Time Lords have 13 lives or regenerations (We know this from the 1996 film, after The Master was executed on Skaro)
  • The Doctor is half-human, as discovered by the Master in the 1996 movie. Later on the doctor says it’s on his mother’s side.

 

Why was it cancelled in 1989?

  • There is a large debate that the Commander of the BBC at the time, Michael Grade, purposely killed off the show.
    • He said in a Room 101 interview that  he hates sci-fi. (Room 101 is a BBC show where the person interviewed tells their hates and motivates the host to banish it to Room 101 in reference to the torture room in George Orwell’s 1984).  He also essentially implied it was low budget and past its prime. Many believe that because he hated it, he put it in a bad time slot and lowered the budget in order to justify low ratings and a reason to cancel.

 

The Doctors

  • William Hartnell (1963-1966)

    • The 1st Doctor
    • He wore a wig to portray The Doctor.
    • He was the first to give way to regeneration due to his failing health. 
  • Patrick Troughton (1966-1969)
    • The second person to play the Doctor.
    • Although he had a few ideas on how to play the character the final decision was on the model of a “cosmic hobo”. This was suggested by Sydney Newman and inspired by Charlie Chaplin.
    • He was known for being a bit of a practical joker on set.
  • Jon Pertwee (1970-1974)
    • He was known for his Edwardian Dandy style.
    • For the majority of his time as the Doctor he was exiled by the Time Lords to Earth and served as a scientist to advise (UNIT) The United Nations Intelligence Taskforce.
  • Tom Baker (1974-1981)
    • Longest to play the role: from 1974-1981.
    • He was known for his many colored and long striped scarf. This scarf had been a happy accident. A costumer was given a bunch of yarn, and the miscommunication on its design gave way to her making a very long and colorful scarf. 
    • Famous companions were Sarah -Jane and K-9 who both make an appearance in the new series.
      • He had a couple famous companions, one of which was Leela who often appeared with K-9
        • There were three versions of K-9, the third he sent to Sarah Jane later in the show so she could have a companion with her on her travels. There was a one-off episode that was meant to be the pilot of a spin-off show about her and K-9, but it didn’t take off
      • As he is dying from radiation he goes back to Earth to spend the rest of it with Sarah-Jane and regenerate.
  • Peter Davison (1982-1984)
    • At the time he was the youngest to play the Doctor-only 29. 
    • Known to wear a question mark on his collar.
    • The father of Georgia Moffat who married David Tennant
      • Both Tennant and Georgia Moffat appear in the episode “The Doctor’s Daughter”
  • Colin Baker (1985-1986)
    • Known for his very colorful costume and question mark on his white collar.
    • Since he was unceremoniously fired he refused to come back for a regeneration scene.
      • This was possibly due to Michael Grade not liking him. Grade was quoted in saying that Baker was “utterly unlikable; absolutely God-awful in fact!”
    • It is known to be one of the worst TV deaths.
      • In order to film the regeneration scene they had the next Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, wear a blonde wig.
  • Sylvester McCoy (1987-1989)
    • He was known for wearing a Jumper with question marks all over it.
    • His first appearance is in Time and the Rani.
    • He technically played two incarnations of the Doctor if you count him wearing the wig in the regeneration scene.
    • He used a slight Scottish accent while playing The Doctor. (He himself is Scottish.)
    • He played the last doctor before series was cancelled.
    • He is still the shortest to be The Doctor at 5’6”.
  • Paul McGann (1996 Film)
    • He portrayed The Doctor in the 1996 film
    • “I love humans: always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there”
    • McGann regenerated into John Hurt in a mini-episode called “The Night of the Doctor,” which chronologically would take place before the 50th anniversary special that aired on November 23rd, 2013. But, more on that next week!

Sources:

Hearn, Marcus (2013) Doctor Who: The Vault. New York, NY: Harper’s Design.

Doctor Who – Characters. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/Dl87bYjhKrF2MHQM7StFXQ/characters

 

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