Bringing DOCTOR WHO To The Screen

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Christopher Morley looks at the people responsible for bringing Doctor Who to the screen, in both 2005 and 1963.


Some of those who tuned in to watch Doctor Who return to our screens in 2005's Rose were probably blissfully unaware that the Time Lord with a Mancunian accent had actually already lived many other lives up to that point! The process of rebooting/continuing the programme was something of a labour of love for show-runner Russell T Davies, though not without its challenges.



Persuading the BBC to allow him another crack at the Doctor in the first place might be viewed as his first real victory given Michael Grade's vehement opposition to it during his time at the head of the Corporation in the late Eighties- which must at least in part have led to the post- Survival cancellation of the programme as it stood back then..........luckily he had supporters in Head of Drama Jane Tranter & Controller of BBC One Lorraine Heggessey! As Tranter told BAFTA:
"Once Russell said he wanted to do it there was never a moment of looking back."
Heggessey championed the man at the helm too- calling him an "absolute Doctor Who fanatic". He had indeed been pushing since the early Nineties for the Doctor's return to our screens as accompaniment to tea on a Saturday night, & used a BBC statement announcing the big return to inform the public that...
"I grew up watching Doctor Who, hiding behind the sofa like so many others. He's had a good rest and now it's time to bring him back. The new series will be fun, exciting, contemporary and scary."

He then took the decision not to give Paul McGann a call to reprise his role as the Eighth Doctor. Speaking at a BFI event featuring a screening of the 1996 Doctor Who film, McGann implied that he would have returned had he been asked, and speaking to the Radio Times following his return to the role for The Night Of The Doctor, he said...
"that was the first phone call - or any kind of contact - that I'd had since '96 from anyone associated with Doctor Who. You have to see it from my perspective. I don't expect the phone to ring. Why should I?"
Christopher Eccleston was then cast as the Ninth Doctor, having previously worked with Davies on The Second Coming, with no regeneration sequence showing the transition between Doctors.



This was later hailed as an inspired choice by the Daily Mirror's Matt Goddard:
"By avoiding the Ninth Doctor’s regeneration Davies let us discover the Doctor just as viewers did in 1963 and leaving all manner of mysteries to this day."
Quite true, & entirely fitting as we now move on to look at those who launched Doctor Who in the first place!


The birth of the programme was not without its stumbling blocks either, as we'll soon discover. November 23rd 1963 saw viewers get their first glimpse of a benevolent traveling alien known only as The Doctor, and followed the adventures he and his human companions had through time and space.

Originally developed by Canadian Sydney Newman, BBC’s head of drama, the day-to-day creation of the show’s first season fell to script department head Donald Wilson, BBC staff writers C. E. Webber and Anthony Coburn, story editor David Whitaker, and producer Verity Lambert.

Having secured William Hartnell's services in portraying the Doctor, there was the relative inexperience of the production team to consider. Not to mention the fact that one of them was a woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry! In fact when she produced the first episode of Doctor Who, Verity Lambert was the only female producer at the BBC, as well as being the youngest at 28.


Director Waris Hussein was also a fairly recent Cambridge graduate, & would later recall helming An Unearthly Child as...
"...a very peculiar sensation, being that age and having to control a whole show. In those days we shot continuously on four cameras with very few breaks in the tape. You had to know exactly what you were doing. It was almost mathematical in its strategy."
It's fair to say he had certain other misgivings too! Having forged a friendship with Lambert he went on to add that...
"I walked into her office having read these four scripts and I was shocked because I didn’t know what to do with them. The first one [An Unearthly Child] was fine – introducing the characters, the school and the peculiarity of the junkyard, and the phonebox that then becomes the TARDIS. What I didn’t know how to cope with was the three following episodes about the quest for fire. I mean, look, you graduate from Cambridge with honours and you’re directing this piece about cavemen in skins. I thought, ‘Where have I landed up in my life?’"

The higher-ups weren't entirely convinced either. Production documents from the birth of Doctor Who included a report on whether science fiction should be commissioned in the first place, with its findings suggesting that the Beeb weren't entirely sold on its merits. Points raised include:
"SF is largely a short story medium. Inherently, SF ideas are short-winded. The interest invariably lies in the activating idea and not in character drama. Amis has coined the phrase "idea as hero"which sums it up. The ideas are often fascinating, but so bizarre as to sustain conviction only with difficulty over any extended treatment. SF is overwhelmingly American in bulk. This presumably means that, if we are looking for writers only, our field is exceptionally narrow, boiling down to a handful of British writers."
At least the authors of the report conceded that:
"In the time allotted, we have not been able to make more than a sample dip, but we have been greatly helped by studies of the field made by Brian Aldiss ,Kingsley Amis, and Edmund Crispin, which give a very good idea of the range, quality and preoccupations of current SF writing. We have read some useful anthologies, representative of the best SF practitioners and these, with some extensive previous reading, have sufficed to give us a fair view of the subject. Alice Frick has met and spoken with Brian Aldiss, who promises to make some suggestions for further reading. It remains to be seen whether this further research will qualify our present tentative conclusions."
51 years later we think you'll find Doctor Who got along just fine!

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