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David Brider [userpic]

Fifty facts about Doctor Who (part 1 of I don't know how many...)

November 17th, 2013 (10:20 pm)

1.) No one person created Doctor Who. One of the key people in the programme's development was Sydney Newman, who joined the BBC as head of drama in 1962 - he was looking for a new family drama serial to fill the slot between Grandstand and Juke Box Jury, an attempt to shake up what he saw as the staid image of the BBC. Alice Frick of the BBC Survey Group, working firstly with Donald Bull and then with John Braybon, were commissioned by Donald Wilson, Head of Serial Dramas, to prepare reports about the possibility of a science fiction series/serial, initially in the context of adaptations of novels such as those by John Wyndham and Isaac Asimov. Newman and Wilson, together with BBC staff writer Cecil Webber, prepared a format document for the series, which eventually became the programme we now know as Doctor Who. The producer assigned to the new series was Verity Lambert, and her story editor was David Whitaker. It was entrusted to writer Anthony Coburn to transform the notes from Newman, Wilson and Webber into scripts for the first four episodes, which Waris Hussein was assigned to direct. (Despite what you may have read on Trivial Pursuit cards, Terry Nation did not, in fact, create the series!)

2.) As for that format document - it contained much we would now regard as familiar, but much that is subtly different: the programme should be a series of serials running about six or seven episodes each, with “Dr. Who,” a frail old man lost in time and space, who is given this name by his travelling companions because they don't know who he is. With those companions – a teenager called Biddy, and Miss Lola McGovern and Cliff, a mistress and master at Biddy's school – Dr. Who travels through space and time in his mysterious “machine”. The series would have an educational remit – teaching the younger viewers about aspects of science or (depending on when the machine landed) history. These idea were refined by Coburn - Biddy became Susan, the Doctor's granddaughter, Lola became Barbara Wright, history teacher, and Cliff became Ian Chesterton, science teacher. The Doctor remained the Doctor, but the mysterious (and in the initial document, invisible) “machine” became the “TARDIS” - “Time And Relative Dimension In Space” (an “S” was later added to the end of the “Dimension”) - and somewhere along the line the idea had developed that it should be capable of blending in with its surroundings – but to save money, this “chameleon circuit” would be broken, leaving it stuck in the shape of a Metropolitan Police Box, then a familiar sight on street corners.

3.) The initial cast included Carole Ann Ford as Susan; Jacqueline Hill as Barbara; William Russell (who a few years before had starred in The Adventures of Sir Lancelot) as Ian; and William Hartnell, whose recent roles had included appearances in Carry on Sergeant, The Army Game, and This Sporting Life, as Doctor Who.

4.) Ah yes, about that. Ask many fans, and they'll tell you that Doctor Who is the name of the series, but the character is The Doctor. That's...not entirely accurate, though. For the first eighteen years, the lead character was listed in the credits as either "Dr. Who" or "Doctor Who" (which would be revived briefly for the 2005 series starring Christopher Eccleston), and on a handful of occasions, he was referred to as Doctor Who in the programme - most famously in the story The War Machines where the evil computer WOTAN announces that "Doctor Who is required".

5.) The programme's iconic theme tune was composed by Ron Grainer, whose other compositions include theme themes to Steptoe and Son and The Prisoner, and was realised by Delia Derbyshire of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop – no actual instruments were used; instead, the whole thing was made up of loops of tape. Meanwhile the opening title sequence utilised a method called “howlround”, which involved pointing a camera at a monitor that was showing the camera's own output.

6.) The initial episode, An Unearthly Child, was recorded on 27th September 1963, but after feedback from Newman and Wilson, who felt that some aspects of the programme needed changing (such as the characterisation of the Doctor), it was re-recorded on 18th October, and broadcast on Saturday 23rd November 1963. Because of a power cut in some areas of the country, and the broadcast being overshadowed by the assassination of President Kennedy the day before, it ended up being repeated the following Saturday, immediately prior to the second episode. Contrary to one popular myth, the transmission of the first episode was not delayed by ten minutes because of coverage of the Kennedy assassination - it was at most about 90 seconds later than scheduled.

7.) The programme was not initially anticipated to have a long life, although exactly how long it would last seems to have been in a state of flux. There are indications that it may have been expected to end after as few as 13 episodes.

8.) The Daleks first appeared properly in the programme's sixth episode, The Survivors (the end of the previous episode, The Dead Planet, showed Barbara being menaced by something that was mostly unseen apart from the sink-plunger-like attachment. Although the programme had been moderately successful up to then, the Daleks contributed hugely to its success - their first serial started with viewing figures of 6.9 million for its first episode, but that rose to 10.4 million for the final episode. It was inevitable that creatures that popular would return for a rematch (although they were initially planned as just a one-off) - which they did in the serial The Dalek Invasion of Earth

More to come...later...