As part of our 50th anniversary celebrations, we’ve looked back at some of the important, fan-favourite tales of all of time and space, taking on one Doctor each month, including Wirrn Dawn, Mawdryn Undead and The Unicorn and the Wasp. And it all concludes with this month’s An Unearthly Child… (Don’t forget to check out Part One!)
Thanks to Sydney Newman, Doctor Who had a main character: a tetchy old man, cut off from his distant home planet. And that man’s name is the Doctor.
An Adventure in Space and Time scribe, Mark Gatiss, wrote in the recent anniversary book, The Doctor: His Lives and Times:
“They say no one ever built a monument to a committee. But between them, Sydney Newman, Waris Hussein, Verity Lambert, David Whitaker, [and] Anthony Coburn conspired to create something magical… The alien we will come to know and love is a very different character [in An Unearthly Child]. The Doctor, like us, is only at the beginning of a journey.”
Whilst the creative side of things were finally coming together, the practical side would prove just as challenging – and, as Gatiss says, the reason Doctor Who became such a success is purely down to an incredibly dedicated team.
What Lurks Down The Lane?
The new family-friendly show was allocated Studio D at Lime Grove, in which they needed to create not only the Doctor’s means of travel, but also all of time and space. Each episode was given a budget of £2, 300, and a further £500 would be used to realise the as-yet-unnamed TARDIS interior. A memo on the series’ direction, however, stated that “hardly any time at all is spent in the machine: we are interested in human beings” (though the production crew soon flew in the face of this idea – out of necessity – in the third adventure, The Edge of Destruction).
There were many concerns over the limited space available at Lime Grove, as well as the old lighting equipment. It was hoped that filming could move to the more-extensive Ealing studios, but by June 1963, it was apparent that Studio D was the only place available.
Nonetheless, the series was still being planned out. In May, the show was given a proper name: Dr. Who after the mysterious central time traveller. Other characters included 15-year-old ‘it’ girl, Bridget (nicknamed Biddy); the “physically perfect, strong and courageous” Cliff, in his late 20s; and the school mistress, Miss. McGovern (24), who is “timid but capable of sudden rabbit courage.”
The exterior of “The Machine” (later “The Ship”) could’ve been achieved one of two ways: as “something humdrum… such as a night-watchman’s shelter” or as invisible (“a shape of nothingness”). Because of this latter suggestion from writer, C.E. Webber, the introductory episode was provisionally titled Nothing at the End of the Lane.
The Doctor was to have two main secrets to be either slowly revealed or simply hinted at over time. The memo stated:
“In his own day, somewhere in the future, [the Doctor] decided to search for a time or for a society or for a physical condition which is ideal, and having found it, to stay there. He stole the machine and set forth on his quest.”
We now know that the Doctor did steal the TARDIS, though he journeys on simply to see the universe, not to search for an ideal. His second secret also forms the basis of Time Lord society – though there is a massive deviation from the character we know now:
“The authorities of his own (or some other future) time are not concerned merely with the theft of an obsolete machine; they are seriously concerned to prevent his monkeying with time, because his secret intention, when he finds his ideal past, is to destroy or nullify the future.”
Newman didn’t agree with the Doctor’s secrets at all, even branding the second one as “nuts”! He didn’t like Webber’s notion that the machine would be invisible either, instead wanting a “tangible symbol.”
Whilst the exact circumstances are greatly debated, the team finally agreed what the TARDIS would look like outwardly; further notes on the series noted it would have “the appearance of a police telephone box standing in the street, but anyone entering finds himself inside an extensive electronic contrivance.”
Story plans were being worked on too: the series would debut with Webber’s The Giants, in which the main concept of the show would be introduced before a first adventure saw the characters “reduced to the size of pinheads” and trapped in Cliff’s laboratory. The following story, to be written by Anthony Coburn, would be set in the Stone Age. But the two stories soon changed position and Coburn’s first episode was rewritten as an introduction to the show.
Dr. Who would also be “recorded as if it were going out live,” so many sci-fi concepts had to be toned down; notable is Newman’s insistence that “BEM” (Big-Eyed Monsters) would be impractical.
Of course, an abundance of BEMs would soon enter the series and become a staple of Doctor Who, and this is largely due to the persistence of Verity Lambert.
Newman approached only a small number of potential producers for the series: firstly, Don Taylor as a peace offering (Taylor disliked that Newman was given such an important role at the BBC); and then Shaun Sutton, who had a history of producing children’s dramas and, though eventually taking a part in Doctor Who, turned down the offer as he wanted to move onto more ‘adult’ programmes.
Sydney remembered a young production assistant working in the drama department when he worked for ITV, and particularly how gutsy she was. He described finding Verity as “the best thing I ever did on Doctor Who.”
Vision mixer, Clive Doig said:
“She was a feisty, exciting person. She instilled a great passion into Doctor Who. It was her first big series and she really, really loved it all.”
Newman asked her what she knew about children, and Verity replied, “Nothing.” Nonetheless, she was invited to talk about Doctor Who with Sydney and Donald Wilson – and on Friday 24th June 1963, she arrived at BBC Television Centre as the first female drama producer.
Doctor Who Hassle
Verity immediately got on with Waris Hussein, a young Indian charged with directing the first episodes of the series, both acknowledging that they were out of their depths. But that didn’t stop them – quite the opposite, in fact!
There was a lack of confidence in Doctor Who, however; Sydney received a phone call from the Assistant Controller (Planning) Television, Joanna Spicer, in which she complained about the lack of scripts, lack of proper procedure, and the stress it would put on several departments including design. Newman replied in a memo dated 27th June 1963 that, with only five weeks until expected broadcast, of course they were keen to cast actors and actresses able to “wear well over something like 52 episodes” and that the limitations were out of his hands.
The argument left Doctor Who’s running time reduced and transmission date delayed a further eight weeks. Newman did the team proud, though, and showed confidence in them and the series. Both sides were right to some extent: the show’s genesis certainly was hassled. Only on 10th July did a designer get attached to the first serial – Peter Brachacki, who wasn’t particularly enamoured with Doctor Who regardless – and the search for who would fill the four lead roles was ongoing.
The series’ direction was coming together, however, with Terry Nation (Survivors; The Avengers) drafted in to script a serial, as well as John Lucarotti (City Beneath the Sea; The Troubleshooters), who would write about the TARDIS crew journeying with Marco Polo.
Verity suggested her friend, Jacqueline Hill should play Barbara, and Carole Ann Ford’s appearance in Z-Cars led to her casting as Susan, now established as the Doctor’s granddaughter (Anneke Wills, aka. Polly, was in the running too, but her agent forgot to tell her about the audition!); meanwhile, William Russell, best-known from his titular role in 1956’s The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, was taken on as Ian Chesterton. But what of the leading man? Doctor Who, exactly…?
Director-producer, Rex Tucker (The Gunfighters) had approached Hugh David (The Invisible Armies; Swizzlewick) for the part of the Doctor, but he turned the offer down because he was concerned over carrying another high-profile role following his performance as Stephen Drummond in Knight Errant Limited.
The job of casting the Doctor went to Verity and Waris, the former having seen William Hartnell in The Army Game and This Sporting Life, and had been impressed by his performance. She offered him the job and though he was initially uncertain, both Lambert and Hussein talked him into it. (Hartnell even called the producer a “loveable and charming person.”) Hartnell fell in love with the Doctor, affectionately noting that “Dr Who isn’t a scientist. He’s a wizard.” Most famously, he said:
“If I live to be 90, a little of the magic of Doctor Who will still cling to me.”
I wonder what he would make of Doctor Who’s success today…