The Radio Times Doctor Who Cover That Never WasBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 30 July 2013 - Reported by John Bowman
It's the Radio Times cover that could have been but never happened - publicising the first episode of Doctor Who back in November 1963.

A special two-page feature in the new edition of the listings magazine - out today and covering 3rd to 9th August 2013 - takes a look at how Doctor Who missed out on the prime Radio Times spot at its birth, including a modern-day mock-up of how the cover of that edition may have looked, and thanks to Immediate Media Co, which now publishes the magazine, Doctor Who News is delighted to bring you a clean version of that dummy front cover.

The Cover Story: Radio Times At 90 exhibition, which opens at the Museum of London at 150 London Wall this coming Friday to mark the publication's 90th birthday, has turned the spotlight on a document from the BBC archive that reveals the corporation's doubts about the programme that has subsequently appeared on the front of the magazine more times than any other show.

Back in 1963, Radio Times existed to publicise only the BBC's output, and an internal memo by Donald Wilson, head of the BBC's serials department, to Douglas Williams, then editor of the magazine, complained that the forthcoming launch of the programme on 23rd November 1963 was not being supported by Radio Times with a cover feature. Dated 5th November 1963, it read:
I was unhappy to hear to-day that the proposal to give 'Dr Who' the front page of the 'Radio Times' had now been abandoned. It was particularly distressing to hear that one reason given was lack of confidence in the programme at Controller [Kenneth Adam's] level. I assure you that this does not exist and if you have a word with [him] I know he will express enthusiasm. I myself believe that we have an absolute knock-out in this show and that there will be no question but that it will run and run.

I would be most grateful, if it is not too late, for the decision against it to be reversed, and that will help me to get this show off to a good start.
However, Wilson's pleas for a reprieve as regards front-page publicity for the show's first episode fell on deaf ears and the cover star for the issue ended up being Kenneth Horne, publicising his popular Light Programme radio comedy Beyond Our Ken, although the new sci-fi series was granted a short mention in a side panel on the front, highlighting an article on page 7 of the magazine. Doctor Who would ultimately have to wait another three months and for the start of its fourth serial - the epic historical adventure Marco Polo - before landing a coveted front cover.

Radio Times wasn't alone in having doubts about the show, though. Many within the BBC were also uncertain what to make of this odd-seeming new drama, as the show's first director Waris Hussein - who also directed Marco Polo - explains in the new edition of the magazine:
Radio Times echoed the prevailing attitude, and it was only when the programme began to make its mark that the magazine started to give it a prominent billing.

As far as I knew at the time, the BBC was fairly indifferent to [creator] Sydney Newman's whole concept of Doctor Who. This was echoed in the placing of the production in basic facilities at Studio D Lime Grove. . . [Producer] Verity Lambert and I were newcomers entrusted with what was considered a fill-in show for children between Saturday football and Juke Box Jury. There was no apparent need to promote an oddball show. . .

Radio Times covers are very important in promoting a show and in the case of Doctor Who I'm proud to say David finally became bigger than Goliath.
Meanwhile, current showrunner Steven Moffat comments on whether he would have pleaded for a cover if he were running things back in 1963:
It's a different show now. I knew Verity Lambert and part of her back then was amazed it broke through in the way it did. For them it was just the show they were doing at the time and they had no idea it would become what it was. But when I look back on the historic Doctor Who covers, I can imagine being a child again and looking at it and scrutinising it and probably thinking, 'I want to write my own stories for it.'
The full feature appears in the new edition of Radio Times.

A postcard set of 101 classic Radio Times covers - including six from Doctor Who - will be on sale at the exhibition, which will have a special display devoted to the magazine's long association with the programme. The Doctor Who covers in the set will be the 5th-11th November 1966 one for the start of The Power of the Daleks and the beginning of the Second Doctor's era, the 1st-7th January 1972 one for the Season 9 opener Day of the Daleks, the 26th March-1st April 2005 one heralding the show's return with Rose, the award-winning 30th April-6th May 2005 "Vote Dalek!" one for the episode Dalek, and the 8th-14th July 2006 Daleks and Cybermen ones for the Series 2 finale Doomsday (and World Cup final!).

The exhibition, which is free, opens on Friday 2nd August and runs until Sunday 3rd November.

FILTER: - UK - Exhibitions - First Doctor - Radio Times