It is the longest-running sci-fi show on tv, Doctor Who is packed with fascinating stories and interesting facts about the cast, production, and shenanigans that surely take place backstage.
These are some of the more interesting (and surprising) facts we came across about this magnificent TV series.
The BBC erased or wiped many episodes of Doctor Who in the 1960s and 70s for many reasons including saving space, leaving a huge gap in the series’ archives. In an effort to recover the lost episodes, which mostly consist of First Doctor and Second Doctor appearances, the BBC and fans of the series continue demanding copies to be returned.
Many private collectors and overseas broadcasters have accommodated to re-build the collection with shocking findings of missing episodes, even as late as 2011.
Although the quest continues, an audio recording in some form survives of every episode, many of which are recordings made by home viewers during original broadcasts.
When the series was first created by Head of Drama at the BBC, Sydney Newman, it was developed to engage the entire family on Saturday nights after the football. The show’s aim was to inform and educate children about science and history, using time travel and historical figures like Marco Polo.
Newman originally stated that there would be no use of ‘bug-eyed monsters,’ although it was the introduction of the Daleks that hooked UK audiences and made the show a hit.
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.
When the first series of Doctor Who was being filmed, BBC execs were apparently so concerned about piracy that they code-named the tapes ‘Torchwood’ to protect them from being stolen in transit. The name was then an obvious choice for the later spin-off series.
Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Sherlock Holmes in the series Sherlock co-created by Doctor Who head writer Steven Moffat, was offered the role of The Doctor following David Tennant’s tenure. He turned it down due to the high-profile that comes with being part of such an enormous franchise, saying, “I didn’t really like the whole package – being on school lunch boxes.”
Similarly, Bill Nighy turned down the coveted role, citing the amount of baggage that came with it as reason for declining the offer. He refused to say when he was approached, however, because doing so would be “disrespectful to whoever did it.”
Tenth Doctor David Tennant married Georgia Moffett this year, who played his daughter Jenny in the episode “The Doctor’s Daughter.” Moffett also happens to be the real-life daughter of Peter Davison, who played the Fifth Doctor.
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.
Newman also suggested adding ‘a trumpet playing schoolgirl in “John Lennon-type spectacles” and her graffiti-spraying “yobbo” elder brother’ to the cast lineup.
His advice was ignored, with Sylvester McCoy continuing the all-male tradition when he took over the role from Colin Baker in 1987. The show continued its decline until it was canceled in 1989.
After sending the script for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy pilot radio program 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”.
Unfortunately, “Shada” was being filmed when the BBC production team went on strike, ultimately leaving it unfinished and unusable. Earlier this year, a novelized version of the script was published by author Gareth Roberts. Parts of the episode have also been used in the 20th-anniversary episode of the series, “The Five Doctors” and Adams’ own novel, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.
After growing up during WWII, the Daleks’ creator, Terry Nation, originally based the aliens 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, Head of BBC Serial Dramas, said the first Dalek-based script was “absolutely terrible”.
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.
Jon Pertwee, the actor who played the Third Doctor, privately commissioned the futuristic vehicle that later came to be known as the Whomobile. When Pertwee convinced Doctor Who‘s producers to include the vehicle in the show, it was hastily added into the episode “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” with a motor-boat windscreen added to make it roadworthy, since it was not fully completed at the time of filming.
In Pertwee’s last episode as the Third Doctor, “Planet of the Spiders,” the car was used once again, this time in its complete form. Pertwee retained ownership of the vehicle after he left the series, naming it the Whomobile during press interviews (without the consent of the show’s producers, who apparently had a rule about not making plays on the show’s name).
Although he later ridiculed the ‘wonderful cunning of Catholicism,’ Tom Baker, who played the Fourth Doctor, was ‘intensely Catholic’ but said he joined a monastery when he was 15 as a way of getting out of Liverpool. Although he says it was ‘annihilating boring,’ Baker stuck it out in the monastery for five years before moving on to the Royal Army Medical Corps, where he became interested in acting.
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.
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 program altogether. The Telegraph later labeled the phrase as a common cliche, thanks to the series.
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.
And as if that’s not impressive enough, Roy also played all 165 Oompa Loompas in Tim Burton’s 2005 remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
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.
Well-known actor and author Stephen Fry was invited to write an episode for season twenty-eight. When it became apparent that the 1920′s-based episode would be too difficult to fit into the season, it was pushed back and substituted by “Fear Her.” While it was intended to be added in the following season, the important rewrites, including replacing Rose Tyler with Martha Jones, were too time-heavy for Fry to finish, and the script was ultimately abandoned.
William Hartnell played the First Doctor until 1966 when Patrick Troughton took over. When it became obvious that Hartnell’s health was failing, story editor Gerry Davis and producer Innes Lloyd came up with the idea of regeneration to allow them to replace Hartnell with a new actor and continue the show.
According to inside memos published by the BBC, the process of regeneration was modeled on a bad LSD trip, making it a ‘horrifying experience.’
Due to Colin Baker’s disappointment at the way he was treated (having been accused of low ratings and fired from the show as a result, among other things), he refused to come back to the show for his regeneration scene. McCoy, who took over as the Seventh Doctor, was left to stand in for Baker instead. The scene is often whipped by fans, and io9 named it one of the 12 poorest deaths in science fiction history.