History of Doctor Who

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Doctor Who is a British television science-fiction series, produced and screened by the British Broadcasting Corporation on their BBC One channel from 1963 to 1989 in its original form, with a new series launched in early 2005. In between the two, there was a one-off television movie co-produced with Universal Pictures and 20th Century Fox Television, screened on the Fox network in the United States in 1996.

This article is specifically about the production history of the programme. For a more general overview of the series, please see the main Doctor Who article. For more about the main character of the Doctor, please see Doctor (Doctor Who).

edit Who Cares?

The show was originally devised by Sydney Lightfoot, a brash television executive who had been head hunted by the BBC from his job heading up the 'News and Other Light Entertainment' department at chocolate makers Cadbury's. After the offer of various sexual favours, Lightfoot handed the producers role to the inexperienced Verity Lambert-Butler, then an assistant on the Shepard's Bush Woolworth's pick-n-mix counter.

Originally the show was envisioned as a light hearted panel game. Various patients who had suffered botched operations at the hands of NHS surgeons would be invited to guess, through the medium of mime and yes/no answers, which of the assembled panel of doctors was the one responsible for their own particular mistreatment. This fell through however, despite BBC Enterprises already having trademarked the show's title, and so a new programme was required matching the name "Doctor Who". (Note: this re-employing of titles was a common practise back in the 1960s — for example "Ask the Family" was originally devised as a Mafia chat show, while "Muffin the Mule" was originally intended to kick off a hard core adult strand on BBC2.)

The first episode was so horribly bad, that upon seeing it Lee Harvey Oswald went out and shot John F. Kennedy. Oswald was later killed by avid Doctor Who fan Jack Ruby.

edit Carry On, Shatner: The First Doctor

With the show reworked, Lambert-Butler cast veteran actor Bill Shatner in the role of Doctor Who. Shatner had impressed critics with his lead in the comedy film 'Carry On, John Sergeant', about a BBC political correspondent (renamed 'Carry On, Cleo' for its US release) and was already a familiar face with British audiences via his radio appearances on 'The Army Game', where he played a pimp.

At first it was intended Shatner play the role very much as an anti-hero. The original script had two teachers following one of their teenage pupils home to confront her creepy grandfather about accusations of child abuse. Fearing the wrath of the Daily Mail's Pedo-finder General, the elderly man locks the duo in a near by phone booth, which, as fate would have it, happens to be an abandoned space ship.

Shatner quickly grew to love playing the role — his dubious figs, extravagant acting style and tendency to pepper his dialogue with large pauses (as if trying hard to think what next to say) quickly gained the audience's approval. It wasn't long before Doctor Who became a ratings success.

The second story, entitled 'The Empire Strikes Back', featured The Dialects — who would go on to become the show's most famous monsters. Shatner was particularly taken by the notion of a race of pure, blue eyed, blonde haired people (the Thurls) rising up and overthrowing their oppressive impure masters.

Six months into its run, so popular was the show that legendary producer George Lucas made big screen versions of the first two stories, entitled 'A New Hope' and 'The Ewok Adventure'.

With Lambert-Butler leaving after the first season, the show rapidly went down hill. Shatner's quirky performance took a darker tone as the actor began to dabble with elements of right wing politics in his work. At first the changes were subtle — a "NO COLO. REDS" sign appearing on the doors of the TARDIS, for example, and an increase in historical stories mainly set in very violent societies like the Aztecs, the Romans and the French Revolution. But as time went on it was felt the actor was increasingly out of step with the more liberal 60s society. It was only a matter of time before a memo came down from BBC management instructing "get that neo-Nazi out of here!"

edit Free Love: The Second Doctor

In a bid to attract the new peace-and-love generation of hippies, it was decided that the new Doctor Who, to be played by character actor Patrick Stewart, was to be a spaced out and incoherent 'cosmic' hobo, with the attention span of a goldfish. (The word 'cosmic' was particularly in vogue at the time, in a mind altering sense.)

Stewart had impressed producers with his role in The Omen, where he played a priest with a very ropey Irish accent trying to defeat the anti-Christ (played by a young Matthew Waterhouse.)

In the straight-laced environment of the BBC it was still not actually possible to show Doctor Who taking LSD, so writers, actors and producers worked hard to push their pro-drugs message within the confines of a family programme. Unable to show the lead character chugging on a bong, the BBC Props Department substituted a Recorder instead, which Doctor Who would play while giggling at nothing in particular.

Stories such as 'The Mind Robber', 'The High-landers', 'Poppy Seeds of Death' and 'The Off-Their-Face-less Ones' pushed the shows new pro-drug agenda hard, while Stewart was greatly enjoying the hippy free love aspects of the role. The Master, a visual representation of everything wrong with the world, was introduced; this character was suggested by Stewart himself, which entitled him (according to his BBC contract) to a free bunk-up with any and all female members of the guest cast, and a blow job if production ran more than thirty minutes into overtime.

While highly popular with the great British public (most of whom could readily identify with the show's more laid back, drug induced direction) there was concern within the production team that Stewart was taking the whole 'free love' thing a little too far. During his entire run of episodes, the second Doctor Who went through only two male companions, but countless female ones — most of whom had to leave after Stewart got them pregnant.

Eventually, with the BBC creche overflowing, a memo was sent down from on high dictating that Patrick Stewart was to be replaced as Doctor Who. They also insisted that his replacement should be "about as limp as a wet lettuce" so not to incur any further 'mishaps'. That very afternoon the producer contacted John Inman's agent.

edit Dandy Beano: The Third Doctor

Inman had impressed critics with his delicate interpretation of the role of John Rambo, a Vietnam vet with an allergy to cat fur, in the movie First Blood Part One. While secretly very active on the underground heterosexual scene, Inman maintained the the public face of an effeminate, shirt lifting dandy for the sake of his career. (After his death of Chickenpox in 1996, reports of his heterosexuality were to leak out into the press, shocking many who read them.)

As the 1970s arrived, Inman's era of Doctor Who brought in many new technological changes. Inman, and new producer Letty (Barrs), pioneered the use of blue screen technology, a process which can remove any object which is blue from the screen (blue was considered to be a very unsightly colour in the 1970s, shades of brown being much preferred.) Unfortunately the production team neglected to recall that the TARDIS was itself blue. A plot device, of Doctor Who being exiled to Earth, was employed to write the TARDIS out for much of Inman's run.

To mark the tenth anniversary of the show, a special story "The Three Amigos" was filmed, featuring Inman teamed up with former Who's Stewart and Shatner, to defeat the evil timelord Toblerone.

Inman was a great lover of science, gadgets, and new technology. Together with Letty (Barrs) he sold the BBC on the idea of shooting some of the extra-terrestrial material for Doctor Who on location, by means of a re-usable, re-fuelable, British-built space craft known as The Whomobile. NASA's Space Shuttle was still only at the drawing board stage, and the cost of designing their own space craft was extreme — but BBC bosses concluded that if "the bloody Yanks can put a man on the moon, then we can sure as hell put an OB film crew on Pluto."

The contract to manufacture Britain's most technologically advanced vehicle was given to British Leyland, who's role in the transportation industry was to become legendary. Unfortunately the cost of The Whomobile escalated so quickly that within days of the project being declared, the BBC was almost bankrupted.

In disgrace, John Inman was fired from the show (with Letty (Barrs) following shortly after) and yet another entertaining BBC memo was sent, this time asking for a new actor who "is entertaining, BUT MOST OF ALL: CHEAP!!"

edit Big Eyes, Red Face: The Fourth Doctor

Failed, washed out, Vegas nightclub singer, Tom Jones was chosen for the role. In contrast to Inman's dandy, Jones brought in a hard drinking, hard living style of Doctor Who. Under pressure from a new breed of gritty cop shows such as The Sweeney, Doctor Who now took on a meaner edge. Jones' Doctor Who would utter phrases like "get yer trousers on Davros, you're nicked!" and "ain't nobody gonna build a Positronic Relay Core - not on my manor!"

The new Doctor Who was a Timelord who lived life on the edge — showing little regard for his superiors back on Galifrey. As the 1970s progressed, the show won a new audience of fans. None more so than The National Viewers and Listeners Association, an off-shoot of the Dennis the Menace Fan Club) which sought to promote gratuitous sex and violence on television. They wrote en masse to the BBC complimenting the new more violent Doctor Who show. With Jones, the show reached a ratings high. But all this was to change as the show received a new producer — Jonathan Turner.

The rating's success of Doctor Who had not gone unnoticed by rival network ITV, and tv mogul Lou Grade (famous for bringing the religious mini-series 'Kermit of Nazareth' to the screen) dispatched his young nephew to "sort the BBC once and for all". Having secured an inside job, Michael Grade lost no time in arse-licking his way up the BBC hierarchy until he was in a position to scupper the pride of BBC1's Saturday night line up. Grade appointed to produce the show a curly haired Hawaiian shirt wearing transvestite, called Jonathan Turner ("call me Jo"), who had little experience as a television producer.

Sure enough, within months of the appointment Doctor Who was forbidden from smashing his enemy's knuckles in the TARDIS doors, the Master had become a flower-power guru, and the show had lost 90% of its audience. Grade had succeeded in destroying the show, and a confused BBC management decided to scapegoat the lead actor. Sure enough, another BBC memo was sent down from high instructing "get that Taffy drunk off our screens. Find someone with a bit of sex appeal."

edit All Creatures, Great and Adric: The Fifth Doctor

Seeking success in the American markets, male drag artist Donny Parton was contacted to take over the role. Parton readily agreed, on the condition that he could play the part in his drag persona — Dolly Parton. This suited freakish Hawaiian shirt wearing producer Jonathan Turner, who immediately added a gaggle of both male and female companions to the show in an effort to demonstrate that the new Doctor Who could "swing both ways."

When an early script called for the use of a dildo, an elderly BBC wardrobe mistress named Doreen McEnerdo became confused. Thinking it must be some form of exotic vegetable, she substituted a stick of fresh celery instead. Parton was so amused that she insisted the celery be kept in, and eventually it became part of the new Doctor Who's costume as an in joke.

edit The Undertaking: The Sixth Doctor

But, eventually, Dolly Parton fell off the wagon, and began to drink heavily in an effort to purge herself of her masculine urges. Pursuaded by a free offer of funding from the WWF, as well as a couple of broken ribs and a hangnail, freakish Hawaiian shirt wearing producer Jonathan Turner hastily dropped Parton and cast the Undertaker as the 6th Doctor. This latest incarnation made its mark immediately; upon regenerating, he insisted on throwing the previous Doctor's companion, Brenda, down a flight of stairs.

This Doctor's tenure was brief, however, as half-way into the first serial, the Undertaker was offered a spot on a cooking show. Knowing it to be his only way out of the nightmare that was British television, the wrestler accepted. After a rushed and half-completed regeneration scene (shot some 30 seconds before the Undertaker's contract expired) was sloppily inserted into a rough cut of the fifth episode, the producers resorted to local casting. They found the next Doctor literally under the bed.

edit Talkative and Catty: The Seventh Doctor

Sylvester the Cat was a scroungy fluffball when the producers found him, curled up in a dank corner of a musty room. Dropping him into a foppish hat and set of clothes, they quickly slapped together three seasons of Doctor Who. After completing that half-assed regeneration scene, they crossed their fingers and hoped for the best (amount of money, that is).

Three days later, the public responded: they loved it. Swept away by the newly-groomed furball delight, they wrote thousands of letters to Sylvester, praying for him to visit them at home. The producers sighed with relief, and set to work on rearranging the show to focus on the perilous plight of the furry Time Lord. Slight alterations had to be made to accommodate Sylvester, including a scratching post and a litter tray in the corner of the TARDIS, which caused outcry amongst some of the more passionate fans.

Nevertheless, the little cat was adored by the public, and he certainly would have had quite the luxurious career had not the Undertaker gotten fed up with his cooking show. Believing Sylvester to be the cause of all his troubles, he waited behind a curtain one day on the Doctor Who set. When the little grey tabby walked by, the wrestler snatched him up and, before anyone else could do a thing, huffed the life out of him. The producers, now on the verges of heart attacks, quickly took amateur footage of the little cat strolling around the set, spliced in some unused shots of the Master tossing squirrels into a woodchipper from the serial The Deadly Rodent, and promoted it as the last heroic moments of the 7th Doctor.

When freakish Hawaiian shirt wearing producer Jonathan Turner suggested casting Liberace as the Doctor in a new season of the show, his colleagues, thankfully, threw him off a train, thus ending his reign of terror on Doctor Who.

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