Bookmark and Share A Question of Who

11/09/2010 05:09:00 pm - Reported by Chuck Foster

Doctor Who is one of those subjects that can be a bane to competition question setters; apparently innocuous questions like "how many people have played the Doctor?" or "who created the Daleks?" are the subject of heated debate in fan circles - even the perennial question of Saturday morning children shows of "what does TARDIS stand for?" will provoke debate over whether the answer should be Dimension or Dimensions!

Channel 4 fell foul of this problem last Friday with a question set on their prize quiz show The Million Pound Drop, hosted by Davina McCall. During the show, the contestants Johnny and Dee were asked:
Who played Doctor Who for the longest time?
Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston, or David Tennant
The couple, uncertain of the answer, eventually plumbed for a 50/50 chance with McCoy and McGann, but were subsequently told that both their guesses were wrong and the correct answer was actually David Tennant, costing them the game and prize money at that stage of £375,000.

Channel 4 were then inundated by calls from viewers, pointing out that the wrong answer had been given and that it should really have been McCoy, based on him playing the Doctor between 1987 and 1996 (Time and the Rani to the TV Movie).

They have since issued an apology over the question, with a spokesperson saying:
The Million Pound Drop producers have confirmed that the correct answer to this question was Sylvester McCoy and not David Tennant as shown on the broadcast on Friday 5th November. This is due to Sylvester McCoy's final appearance in a 1996 TV movie. We apologise for this oversight and as a result, the contestants, Johnny and Dee, will return to the show to finish the game this Friday or Saturday at 10pm on Channel 4 with the £325,000 they placed on McCoy.

With a long-running series like Doctor Who it is important to set unambiguous questions, such as those used for contestants in the specialist rounds of Mastermind. The question above can be interpreted many ways and, as Who fans of course know, 'time is relative':
  • if worded the way Channel 4 probably intended, David Tennant would have been the correct answer for most years/episodes on screen in the role, or longest actual time; Tom Baker, of course, holds the full record for both of these (seven years/172 ~25m episodes)
  • Sylvester McCoy holds the record for longest serving current Doctor seen on screen, at eight years eight months
  • Paul McGann holds the record for longest time as current Doctor across media (novels, audio), at some eight years ten months
  • William Hartnell holds the record for the longest period being the Doctor on screen, from An Unearthly Child through to Vincent and the Doctor!
These statistics are of course open to individual interpretation, too!