Doctor Who about an alien who goes by the name The Doctor and who travels through time and space in a British police box. It first showed in 1963 making it the longest running series, the initial series running until 1989 (making it the longest continually running Science Fiction series ever at 26 years) and relaunched again in the same continuity in 2005. It all began with a 1962 memo from Eric Maschwitz (BBC’s Controller of Programmes) requesting at the BBC to look into the making a television adaptation of some British science fiction.
In March 1962, Alice Frick and Donald Bull (from the BBC Survey Group) delivered to Donald Wilson (Head of BBC Serial Dramas) a report on the viability of science fiction serial (availablehere).
The report used previous studies of the then largely American field of science fiction and the few previous UK SF series (like Quatermas and A for Andromeda) to determine that SF usually works best as short stories with exploring ideas rather than characters (but that TV audiences needed character over ideas) and that cosmic threats to Earth were an effective concept most acceptable to TV audiences but that they would find time travel and the four dimension “stuff” undigestable. It also posited that the SF audience was small (“so far not showing itself able to support a large population”), didn’t include many women and was mostly limited to “technically minded younger groups”. However it noted that it was compulsive viewing; “more people watched it than liked it.” It looked at the available British SF writers, but admitted a bias towards trained TV writers experience without SF experience (with SF writers preferable as “collaborators”.) As such they rejected the idea of adaptations of existing stories.
Frick and John Braybon submitted a follow-up report in July of 62, suggesting possible adaptations (weeding out stories that include Bug-Eyed Monsters, main characters that are Tin Robots, require elaborate settings and do not provide scope for genuine characterisation) which limited them to “those dealing with telepaths and those dealing with time travel, the “latter being particularly attractive as a series”. It then summarised a number of stories, especially Poul Anderson’s Guardians of Time. Head of Drama, Sydney Newman, use these reports to commision a team to come up with a family drama for the five o’clock Saturday audience.
CONCEPT – “The Trouble Shooters”
In March 1963, children’s television writer C.E. Webber produced concept notes, suggesting a “loyalty programme”: a series of serials going at least 52 weeks, with a few ongoing characters and a format that allows all sorts of SF ideas. He suggested a group of scientific consultants brought in to tackle problems no one else can handle: an attractive young hero, a heroine in her 30s and a mature man 35 – 40 (“with some ‘character’ twist”), no ongoing child protoganists (because kids don’t like younger kids characters and boys don’t like girl characters and vice versa) or older male father figures (because there are already too many on TV.)
CONCEPT – “Dr. Who”
After the rejection of The Troubleshooters Webber submitted a new concept, based around the same “loyalty programme” concept. This time there are 4 characters, including 3 modern humans: Bridget (Biddy), a 15 year old girl, and her teachers 24 year old Miss McGoven (Lola), a 24 year old and Cliff, 27 or 28. The fourth character was a frail old man, an amnesiac from the future called “Dr Who” by the others because they don’t know his name. The Dr. Who devised by Webber is a human from the future, fleeing through time from his people because his search for an ideal time to live in the past and his attempts to stop any progress or advancement endangers their time. Webber also suggests an unreliable, invisible time machine, rejecting the use of “some common object in the street such as a night-watchmen’s shelter”.
First Episode – “Nothing at the End of the Lane”
Webber’s Dr. Who proposal includes a first episode focusing on the discovery of the and exploration of the his time machine.
Early Stories & Story Hooks
Webber’s ideas for early stories suggest time travel be avoided (and not discovered as possible) until the third story. Rather Webber writers that a micro-reducer in the machine make them tiny for the first story.
Other stories in the concept document include: witnessing a calamity (the destruction of the Earth) only to realise later that they were in the far future; Seasonal Christmas stories (Bethlehem, Dr. Who as Jacob Marley); the time machine inspiring Aladin; Dr. Who as Merlin; Mrs Who chasing him through time and being Cinderella’s fairy Godmother.
Newman’s comments written on the proposal includes notes that Webber’s invisible time machine is “Not visual. How to do? Need tangible symbol”/”Don’t like this at all. What do we see?” and a dislike of Dr. Who’s backstory (“Nuts”). It is said that Wilson felt that Webber could not “write down” to the appropriate level and so staff writer Anthony Coburn was brought in to flesh out the draft script submitted by Webber. Although the only onscreen credit for the first episode “An Unearthly Child” is Coburn’s, on internal BBC documents Webber is credited as the co-writer.
The Trouble Shooters – obviously many of the ideas evolved into Doctor Who, but the basic has been seen a few times since, although not directly from this idea.
“Nothing at the End of the Lane” – Webber’s basic idea was reworked by Coburn as “An Unearthly Child”, but many the details changed.
“The Giants” – Coburn’s continuation beyond the first story wasn’t a time travel tale. Coburn’s intended follow-on about the miniaturisation of the crew was worked on by Robert Gould as a 4 parter called “The Giants” for later in the first season. Budget concerns lead to the idea being scrapped, however the idea was used for “Planet of the Giants”, the season 2 openner by Louis Marks.
A Christmas Carol – is used as the basis for the 2010 Christmas of the same name.
Merlin – the story “Battlefield” the Seventh Doctor is recognised as being Merlin.
Originally Published 20/11/2013