50 out of this world facts about Doctor Who you (probably) didn’t know

DoctorWho

It’s 1963 and Beatlemania is in full swing with “I Want to Hold Your Hand” rocking the charts. Martin Luther King, Jr. has delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech and Lawrence of Arabia is the wowing cinema crowds. Meanwhile, in the UK an obscure TV science fiction drama, originally intended as an educational programme, launches on the BBC. Doctor Who, the universe’s most famous Time Lord, had arrived. Fast forward fifty years, and eleven incarnations, and he’s still going strong.

In homage to his half a century here, we’re unearthed fifty out of this world facts about the greatest gentleman adventurer in the galaxy. Hold unto your hats and join us going back in time.

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1. Although a cult British series, it was actually a Canadian who was largely responsible for developing the programme. Sydney Newman was the Head of Drama at the BBC and worked closely with Head of the Script Department Donald Wilson and staff writer C. E. Webber to create the concept.

2. Originally the first story, written by Terry Nation, was called The Mutants and introduced Daleks and Thals as victims of an alien neutron bomb attack but later the aliens were dropped and the Daleks made aggressors. However, When the script was presented to Newman and Wilson it was immediately rejected as the programme was not permitted to contain any “bug-eyed monsters”.

3. Terry Nation, originally based the Daleks on the Nazis, citing them as “the unhearing, unthinking, blanked-out face of authority that will destroy you because it wants to destroy you.” In fact, they were so similar that Donald Wilson, said the first Dalek-based script was “absolutely terrible”.

4. The episodes written by Nation carry more salient Nazi undertones, most notably in “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” and “Genesis of the Daleks,” which include allusions to the Nazis in the straight-armed, heel-clicking salute of the Daleks, mentions of taking over the world and destruction of the human race as ‘the Final Solution,’ the explanation that the Daleks were bred for racial purity, and the clear Nazi references in the uniforms worn by the Daleks’ ancestors, the Kaleds.

5. When it came time for the famous Daleks to be designed, Ridley Scott was working as a designer at the BBC, and was originally slated for the job. Due to a scheduling conflict, Scott was unavailable and the job went to Raymond Cusick instead.

6. Verity Lambert was the former production assistant of Doctor Who creator Sydney Newman, and had no production experience when Newman first approached her to produce the series. When Lambert accepted the job, she became the youngest, (and the only female) drama producer at the BBC.

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7. The first episode of Doctor Who (An Unearthly Child) was broadcast at 5.15pm on 23 November 1963. The Unearthly Child, is a reference to the Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan, who attended school on Earth and astounded teachers with her alien intelligence.

8. The original broadcast of the first episode of Doctor Who was eclipsed by the assassination of JFK the previous day, so the BBC showed it again ahead of the second episode the following Saturday.

9. Rated on the BBC’s scale of viewer satisfaction, the first episode of Doctor Who received an audience reaction index of 63, smack in the middle of the averages for television drama (62) and children’s programmes (64).

10. The programme was intended to be educational and for family viewing on the early Saturday evening schedule.Initially, it alternated stories set in the past, which taught younger audience members about history, with stories set either in the future or in outer space to teach them about science. However, science fiction stories came to dominate the programme and the “historicals”, which were not popular with the production team, were dropped after The Highlanders (1967).

11. The Daleks debuted in the second Doctor Who story and propelled the series into the ratings stratosphere, with the last four episodes hovering around the ten million mark.

12. The original theme tune was composed by Ron Grainer and given its innovative spine-tingling arrangement by Delia Derbyshire of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

13. The various parts were built up by creating tape loops of an individually struck piano string and individual test oscillators and filters.

 

 

14. The series claimed its first Radio Times front cover for episode one of the historical adventure Marco Polo in the issue dated 22-28 February 1964.

15. Tardis is an acronym of Time and Relative Dimension(s) in Space (there’s a debate among fans as to whether that fourth word should be pluralised).

16. The Tardis was originally able to take almost any form required but, due to a faulty chameleon circuit, it got stuck as a 1960s police call box.

17. The design and shape of the blue Mackenzie Trench-style police box has become so associated with the Tardis that it is now more recognisable as that than its original inspiration.  In 1996, the BBC applied to trademark the design. The Metropolitan Police filed an objection but the Patent Office could find no evidence that the Met had ever registered the design and ruled in favour of the BBC.

18. The wheezing sound emitted by the Tardis when it travels was originally created by Brian Hodgson at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop by recording the sound of a set of house keys being dragged along the strings of an old piano and adding echo and reverb effects.

19. New Zealand was the first country outside the UK to show the series, starting in 1964.

20. 1966 episode The Smugglers is the only Doctor Who production to feature absolutely no incidental music.

21. In the 1965  big-screen versions, Peter Cushing’s character is not a Time Lord but a human scientist from Earth, actually named Doctor Who.

22. The Wheel in Space (a 1968 six-part Cyberman story) was the only story to be made in all four of the BBC’s London studio sites: Lime Grove, Riverside, TV Centre and Ealing Film Studios.

23. You know him as the Doctor but did you know he was also a doctor? In a sickbay in 1967 story The Moonbase, the Time Lord was asked, “Listen, are you really a medical doctor?” to which he replied, “Yes, I think I was once, Polly. I think I took a degree once in Glasgow. 1888 I think. Lister.”

24. During the late 1960s, Latin America knew the show as Doctor Misterio.

25. The first colour episode of Doctor Who was part one of Spearhead from Space, starring third Doctor Jon Pertwee, which aired on 3 January 1970.

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26. The letters page of a February/March 1974 edition of Radio Times featured some correspondence from a 15-year-old schoolboy in response to the magazine’s Doctor Who special. “The Dalek construction plans will no doubt have inspired many a school to build their own Daleks,” suggested the young man. “Who knows, the country could be invaded by an army of school Daleks!” The youngster’s name? Peter Capaldi, soon to be the twelfth incarnation of the Doctor.

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27. After sending the script for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy pilot radio programme to the Doctor Who producers, Douglas Adams was hired to write the episode The Pirate Planet. He went on to become script editor and write two more episodes, City of Death and Shada.

28. William Hartnell is officially the first Doctor but, controversially, in 1976 episode The Brain of Morbius we saw many other faces on a screen, intended to be even earlier selves of the Doctor. They were posed by the production team: producer Philip Hinchcliffe, script editor Robert Holmes, writer Robert Banks Stewart, directors Christopher Barry and Douglas Camfield, production manager George Gallacio and production assistant Graeme Harper (who went on to direct several Doctor Who episodes between 2006 and 2009).

29. In 1977, at the end of season 14 of Doctor Who, came the first full-length documentary about the series, Whose Doctor Who. Fronted by Melvyn Bragg, it aired comments from viewers – and psychologists – and loads of archive clips.

30. During the ITV network strike of 1979, viewing figures in the UK peaked at an incredible 16 million.

31. The Fourth Doctor’s iconic scarf was created by accident When costume designer James Acheson provided more than enough wool for the bohemian-style scarf required for Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor. The knitter, Begonia Pope, misunderstood his instructions and knitted all the wool she was given. Baker liked the overly-long scarf, and went on to wear it for the show anyway.

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32. In 1983, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee and Peter Davison were brought together for 20th anniversary special The Five Doctors. William Hartnell had died eight years earlier, so Richard Hurndall was drafted in to play the first Doctor, while previously unseen footage of fourth Doctor Tom Baker was used after he declined to take part.

33. When the original series was struggling with ratings in the 1980s, the show’s creator, Sydney Newman, wrote a letter to BBC One Controller Michael Grade, admonishing the state of the show. He called for a temporary return of Patrick Troughton, who played the Second Doctor, before metamorphosing The Doctor into a female incarnation – a Time Lady.

34. Asteroid 3325, a small main belt asteroid discovered in 1984, is named Tardis after the Doctor’s time/space machine.

35. Due to Colin Baker’s frustration at the way he was treated (having been blamed for low ratings and fired from the show as a result, among other things), he refused to return to the show for his regeneration scene. McCoy, who in 1987 took over as the Seventh Doctor, was left to stand in for Baker instead. The scene is often lambasted by fans, and io9 named it one of the 12 worst deaths in science fiction history.

36. The revived series of Doctor Who has been shown in around 50 countries, ranging from Australia to Vietnam.

37. The Daleks almost didn’t appear in the revived series, as the Terry Nation (co-creator of the Daleks) estate owns the copyright and they were initially unable to reach an agreement with the BBC regarding editorial control. The Toclafane were going to be used as a replacement before the estate relented.

38. Doctor Who was awarded the 2006 Bafta for best drama series.

39. Doctor Who spin-offs have included Torchwood, The Sarah Jane Adventures, K-9 and a pilot episode of K-9 and Company.

40. In 2008, the Daleks finally met their match, knocked off the top spot in an RT poll of Doctor Who’s scariest foes by terrifying new monsters The Weeping Angels.

41. Matt Smith is officially the eleventh Doctor but the role has also been played on stage by Trevor Martin and, in films Doctor Who and the Daleks and Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 AD, by Peter Cushing.

 42. Doctor Who monsters have twice invaded the Royal Albert Hall for special Proms. One included a pre-recorded segment featuring David Tennant’s Doctor (Music of the Spheres) and in the second Matt Smith was among the audience, interacting with one lucky young fan.

43. Aged 26 when he started, Matt Smith is the youngest ever actor to play the Doctor – three years younger than Peter Davison when he was cast in the role in 1981.

44. According to The Economist, the idea of hiding behind the sofa while watching Doctor Who is as British as Bovril and tea-time. The phrase apparently originated from the number of scared children hiding behind furniture during the most frightening scenes of the show, as they were unwilling to miss the programme altogether. The Telegraph later labelled the phrase as a common cliche, thanks to the series.

45. You know you’ve arrived when you make an appearance on The Simpsons and the Doctor’s had four, all in his fourth incarnation, but with Tom Baker’s voice provided by another actor.

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46. As if The Simpsons wasn’t enough, the Doctor and a number of his adversaries were seen up in lights as part of the 2007 Blackpool Illuminations. Complementary sub-fact: two actors who’ve played the Doctor have switched on the Illuminations – Tom Baker in 1975 and David Tennant in 2007.

47. The word Tardis and Dalek both appear as entries in the Oxford English Dictionary.

48. After playing Keenser in 2009?s Star Trek, Deep Roy became the only actor to have appeared in all three of these sci-fi franchises. In 1983 Roy played Droopy McCool in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, and in 1977 he appeared in the Doctor Who episode “The Talons of Weng Chiang” as Mr Sin.

49In November 2011, Harry Potter director David Yates revealed that a Doctor Who film is in its very early stages. It’s the latest in a long line of rumours of a new big-screen adventure for the Time Lord.

50. Doctor Who is the world’s longest running sci-fi series ever, according to the Guinness Book of Records with an incredible 785 episodes having been shown in the last fifty years.

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3 replies
  1. Nick F.
    Nick F. says:

    Actually, Simon Pegg has appeared in DW, ST, and SW as well as Deep Roy.

    SW: Clone Wars – Dengar
    ST – Scottie
    DW – The Editor

    Reply
    • Balzer
      Balzer says:

      Cushing’s Dr. Who is based on the TV version of Doctor Who, so while he’s not a Time Lord, he’s very definitely a Doctor Who.

      Which means both 21 and 41 are right.

      Reply

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