- Lars Walker
This Saturday is Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary. A special episode, “The Day of the Doctor,” will broadcast around the world at 7:50 p.m. GST (11:50 a.m. PST/ 2:50 p.m. EST).
I don’t know who introduced me to the show. I just remember watching it through the 80s and maybe before that. PBS played whole series on Saturday nights year round, so if season 16 has six multi-part stories, then PBS played them in 6 weeks. They were playing Tom Baker, the 4th Doctor and favorite of The Countess of Wessex, when I started watching. At some point, they broadcasted all of Jon Pertwee’s episodes, picked up again with Baker, and carried on with Peter Davidson, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy until it was cancelled (or put on hiatus) in 1989. I haven’t picked up the new series yet, though Christopher Eccleston’s first episode, “Rose,” was great fun.
I’m sure you’re dying to know that my least favorite of these actors was Sylvester McCoy (who plays Radagast in The Hobbit), not because of his ability, but because of the script. Of all the shows I have seen, his version of our universe’s problem solver seemed to have read the script more than any others. The stories in the late 80s didn’t show The Doctor figuring out situations and boldly foiling the bad guys. They ran him and his companions through a variety of hoops until the curtain rose on Act 4 to depict The Doctor walking in with the solution in hand. How did he know the solution? He read the script, as far as I could tell—and crazy scripts they were.
For the series anniversary, I wanted to compile some trivia which will amuse and befuddle you. No need to thank me. The pleasure is all mine. Enjoy!
Terry Nation (1930-1997), creator of the Daleks in 1963 and recurring writer for the series, wanted to be a stand-up comic when he first moved to London. It didn’t work out well. “And somebody told me: ‘Hey, the jokes are terrific - it’s you that’s terrible!’” He was able to write for other comics for a while before getting into television, where his evil alien creation launched Doctor Who. In the 70s, he created the popular sci-fi series, Blake’s 7. Nation also held the copyright for the Daleks for his entire life.
Stephen Fry wrote an episode for Season 28 (Doctor #10), but it never aired. It was called “The 1920s” and “concerned a popular British legend which turns out to have an extraterrestrial connection.” It was originally scheduled for production in 2005. Production costs put it off to 2007, and then rewrites were called for, none of which took place. Fry was also involved in a 2001 animated BBC webcast called “Doctor Who: Death Comes to Time.” You can see it on YouTube.
Douglas Adams (1952-2001) has only a few scripts credited to him, but as BBC’s script editor for the show, he wrote piles of uncredited material. He did this while handling BBC Radio’s Hitchhiker’s Guide series too, so imagine the workload! His first script was a Tom Baker series called “The Pirate Planet.” I’ve read that Adams brought out Baker’s humor during these years, but I also remember a director saying Baker tended to joke around too much anyway and needed reining in. Perhaps, both worked together to that director’s irritation.
This bit of brilliance from the story “City of Death” is Adams’ work:
Adams was known to allow in-jokes from The Hitchhiker's Guide to appear in Doctor Who stories he wrote and edited. Subsequent writers have also inserted Hitchhiker's references, even as recently as 2013. Conversely, at least one reference to Doctor Who was worked into a Hitchhiker's novel. In Life, the Universe and Everything, two characters travel in time and land on the pitch at Lord's Cricket Ground. The reaction of the radio commentators to their sudden appearance is very similar to the reactions of commentators in a scene in the eighth episode of the 1965–66-story "The Daleks' Master Plan," which has the Doctor's TARDIS materialize on the pitch at Lord's. (taken from Wikipedia)
That reaction runs thusly: “Well, this is an interesting incident, Brian. I don’t think there have been any mysterious materializations on the pitch since, oh, since, well, I don’t think there have been any, have there? That I recall?”
“Edgbaston 1932?”As I said, Adams wrote more of Doctor Who than the closing credits reveal. One reason for that is the BBC’s special pen name for screenwriting credits, David Agnew. When the original scriptwriter could not make significant last-minute changes, the BBC production crew would do it, but policy made it a red-tape mess to credit the crew, so they credited—wink, wink, nudge, nudge—“David Agnew.”
“Ah, now what happened then… ?”
“Well, Peter, I think it was Canter facing Willcox coming up to bowl from the pavilion end when a spectator suddenly ran straight across the pitch.”
“Ye…e…s… yes, there’s nothing actually very mysterious about that, is there?”
The first Doctor, William Hartnell, was 55 when he was cast in the role, the same age at the 12th Doctor and current title-holder, Peter Capaldi. Jon Pertwee, the 3rd Doctor, was 51 when he started.
Roly Keating, the BBC's director for archive content, said: "The whole idea of regenerating the Doctor was a flash of genius that's kept Doctor Who fresh and exciting for 47 years now.” That idea came as a means of sustaining the show after Hartnell could no longer do it. They didn’t call it regeneration at the time. They just did it.
Some fans always criticize new actors in favorite roles. When The Doctor regenerates, these wonderful people get a new opportunity to share their wisdom with the producers. They got used to the first Doctor as a brilliant scientist, then the one looked like “a half-witted clown.” The third one didn’t receive raves. BBC audience reviews of the first show “can hardly be described as enthusiastic.” And the 4th Doctor? “General opinion was that the new Doctor Who is a loony - he is an eccentric always, but the way it was presented made him stupid.”
Den of Geek has a long list of names of those considered for 10 Doctor incarnation. Stephen Fry, Bill Nighy, and Alan Rickman were considered for the 2005 reboot. According to this trivia article, Bill Nighy and . . . wait for it . . . Benedict Cumberbatch, a few years later, turned down the role due to the enormous fandom baggage that comes with it.
Reports say both the creator of the series, Sydney Newman, and the current executive producer, Russell T. Davies, have seriously suggested casting a woman as The Doctor. Newman argued for this when the series was struggling in late 80s, before they brought on McCoy. The Den of Geek claims this idea started with Tom Baker and producer John Nathan-Turner as a publicity stunt before the 5th Doctor was brought in.