An Unearthly Series - The Origins of a TV LegendBookmark and Share

Saturday, 23 November 2013 - Reported by Marcus
The Beginning
The final episode in our series of features telling the story of the creation of Doctor Who, and the people who made it happen.

On Saturday 23rd November 1963, at 5.16pm, exactly 50 years ago, Doctor Who was first broadcast on BBC Television.


The story so far... Since the spring of 1962, a new science-fiction series has been slowly, but sometimes surely, growing into life at the BBC. From the vague suggestion that the Corporation should look at making such a series, through brainstorming sessions, a new head of drama, script problems, re-made episodes, the threat of cancellation and constant arguments over budget and resources, the absolute determination of a small but determined production team has seen the new programme, called Doctor Who, at last ready to face the sternest test of all - the opinion of the British viewing public, on a day when world events have left most of them likely to be too shocked to take it in at all...

Despite events in Dallas, the schedules on BBC Television for Saturday were relatively unaffected by the news. It was the days before rolling news and continuous live updates. Grandstand, the long-running sports programme, was on air as usual, with live coverage of rugby union, where Cardiff were playing New Zealand, forming the bulk of the afternoon. A 1'47" news flash had been broadcast at 4pm, with Corbet Woodall bringing viewers up to date with events from America. Grandstand came off air just after 5.15pm and was followed by a 50-second presentation junction looking ahead to the evening's entertainment, which included Juke Box Jury, with Cilla Black, Sid James, Don Moss and Anna Quayle, the police series Dixon of Dock Green, the American series Wells Fargo and the Saturday film Santa Fe Passage.

It was at exactly 16 minutes and 20 seconds past five that the opening titles of Doctor Who ran and the nation was introduced to a brand-new science fiction series.

The ratings were sound, but not spectacular, with 4.4 million viewers tuning in. A power cut had hit a sizeable area of the country, meaning many people had been unable to watch, and for this reason executives agreed to repeat the first episode a week later, just before transmission of the second.

Press response, however, was favourable, as was the BBC's own audience research into the story. A Reaction Index of 63 was recorded, roughly the average for drama at the time. Detailed research, released in December, showed viewers in a research sample thought this a good start to a series that gave promise of being very entertaining.
AUDIENCE RESEARCH REPORT

'Tonight's new serial seemed to be a cross between Wells' Time Machine and a space-age Old Curiosity Shop, with a touch of Mack Sennett comedy. It was in the grand style of the old pre-talkie films to see a dear old Police Box being hurtled through space and landing on Mars or somewhere. I almost expected to see a batch of Keystone Cops emerge on to the Martian landscape. Anyway, it was all good, clean fun and I look forward to meeting the nice Doctor's planetary friends next Saturday, whether it be in the ninth or ninety-ninth century A.D.' wrote a retired Naval Officer speaking, it would seem, for a good many viewers in the sample who regarded this as an enjoyable piece of escapism, not to be taken too seriously, of course, but none the less entertaining and, at times, quite thrilling - 'taken as fantasy it was most enjoyable. I presume it is meant for the kiddies but nevertheless I found it entertaining at Saturday teatime and look forward to seeing the Cave of Skulls in the next episode'. Some viewers disliked the play, either because they had a blind spot for science fiction of any kind or because they considered this a rather poor example, being altogether too far-fetched and ludicrous, particularly at the end - 'a police box with flashing beacon travelling through interstellar space - what claptrap!' Too childish for adults, it was at the same time occasionally felt to be unsuitable for children of a more timid disposition and, for one reason or another, proved something of a disappointment to a sizeable number of those reporting. Generally speaking, however, viewers in the sample thought this a good start to a series which gave promise of being very entertaining - the children, they were sure, would love it (indeed, there is every evidence that children viewing with adults in the sample found it very much to their taste) but it was, at the same time, written imaginatively enough to appeal to adult minds and would, no doubt, prove to be quite intriguing as it progressed.

The acting throughout was considered satisfactory, several viewers adding that it was pleasant to see William Hartnell again in the somewhat unusual role (for him) of Dr. Who, while the radiophonic effects were apparently highly successful in creating the appropriate 'out of this world' atmosphere, the journey through space being particularly well done.
BBC Head of TV Drama Sydney Newman was out of the country for the launch, staying in New York. On Wednesday Donald Wilson sent him the following telegram:
TELEGRAM

To: SYDNEY NEWMAN. WARWICK HOTEL. 65 W 54th STREET, NEW YORK.

Date: 27 NOVEMBER 1963

DOCTOR WHO OFF TO A GREAT START. EVERYBODY HERE DELIGHTED REGARDS DONALD.

When the series went on the air it had a very uncertain future. Just 26 episodes were confirmed, with an option for an additional 13 if it did well.

With hindsight, that future was secure and the series would flourish. The arrival of the Daleks at the end of the fifth episode would capture the imagination of the nation and push the series to the forefront of British consciousness. Ratings for the first year would peak at over 10 million viewers and the series would become an important weapon in the BBC's battle to win dominance of Saturday night against rival ITV.

The show would survive many changes: the loss of the first production team, the changing of the companions, and in 1966 the replacement of the lead actor. It would survive the transformation into colour and being shunted around the schedules. Ratings would veer from a disappointing 3.1 million to an astonishing 16 million. Most importantly, the series would beat cancellation in 1989, being reborn in 2005 for a new generation, having been brought back to life by those who had adored it in their youth, allowing fans across the world to experience the wonder of the show, just as their parents and grandparents had done before.

Today, Doctor Who celebrates its 50th anniversary with a global broadcast of the 799th episode The Day of the Doctor. The series is at the heart of the BBC's strategy for the future. It brings in millions of pounds for the Corporation through overseas sales and merchandise deals. It is at the centre of the BBC's Saturday night schedule and breaks all records for digital engagement. Eleven lead actors have now graced our screens as the Doctor, with the 12th lined up to take over next month. The series that started life as a vague idea from a working group in 1962 is now an international phenomenon. If all the episodes were shown back to back, the screening would last for 15 days, 10 hours and 9 minutes. It holds the Guinness World Records for "the world's most successful sci-fi series" and "the world's longest-running sci-fi series".

But more than all the awards and accolades, Doctor Who holds a very special place in the hearts of the people who love it. Something about Doctor Who touches the very soul, inspiring generations of fans in their love for the series. The first 50 years are complete. The story goes on.


SOURCES: The Handbook: The First Doctor – The William Hartnell Years: 1963-1966, David J Howe, Mark Stammers, Stephen James Walker (Doctor Who Books, 1994); Radio Times Vol 161 No 2089; BBC Written Archives. The Genesis of Doctor Who
Compiled by:
The Doctor Who News Team




An Unearthly Series - The Origins of a TV LegendBookmark and Share

Friday, 22 November 2013 - Reported by Anthony Weight
News Has Just Come In...
The penultimate episode in our series telling the story of the creation of Doctor Who, fifty years to the day after the events took place.

On the last day before Doctor Who was first shown, there was good news and bad news for the production team, who were now hard at work on the second serial, which would begin its run in December. The good news was that, without an episode yet having been screened, they were to be given a run of longer than the 13 episodes previously guaranteed. The bad news was that, as with the very first episode, the opening instalment of Terry Nation's Dalek serial would have to be made again, this time for technical reasons. All of this, however, was about to be overshadowed by a tragic event in world history, one with which the beginning of Doctor Who would forever come to be associated.

The news from Dallas did not come until the evening, so on the morning of Friday 22 November 1963 - exactly fifty years ago today - the Doctor Who production team had other matters on their minds. Earlier in the week, the Head of Serials Donald Wilson had viewed a recording of The Dead Planet, the episode which had been recorded the previous Friday, the 15th. Soon after it had been recorded, it had been noticed that the studio microphones had accidentally picked up the radio "talkback" between the production gallery and the headphones of the technical crew on the studio floor. Having viewed the episode, Wilson decided that there was no way it could be transmitted in its current state, and the only option would be to remount it from scratch, which would have to happen the following month. Fortunately, the production team were able to use the footage from the very end of the episode of Barbara being threatened by the unseen Dalek, which was needed for the recap at the start of the second episode, The Survivors, due to be recorded at Lime Grove that evening.

There were some concerns about the long-term effects of this event. David Whitaker, Doctor Who's story editor, was worried that the cast would need to have an extra week added to their contracts to ensure all episodes were completed before they moved on to other projects, but no such extra week had yet been arranged by the BBC contracts department. He wrote to Wilson to express his concerns about this, feeling unable to speak to producer Verity Lambert about it as Barbara actress Jacqueline Hill - a personal friend of Lambert's - had told him in confidence that she had been offered a role in a film on completion of her Doctor Who contract. Whitaker wrote:

It may be sympathetic of a gradual lessening of confidence that the four contracted actors and actresses have in the serial itself. I think they are afraid that it is going to be taken off, and what worries me is that it will eventually affect their performances. Already I sense a certain laissez-fair attitude, and I would dearly love to stop this at birth. The only solution I can see is, of course, to tell them that the serial will continue after thirteen weeks, or not, as the case may be. Perhaps it is the indecision which is really making them feel insecure.

Spurred by this, Wilson wrote to Donald Baverstock, the Controller of Programmes for BBC1 and the man ultimately responsible for deciding how many episodes of Doctor Who would be made. Baverstock had already had cold feet about the show's future on one occasion, almost stopping it entirely after the production of four episodes, but Wilson urged him to commit to another 13, to take the total to at least 26.

While Wilson was waiting for his answer, at 5pm on Thursday evening he, along with Lambert, Whitaker, Hill and her three co-stars William Hartnell, William Russell and Carole Ann Ford, attended a press conference to help with the publicity for the launch of Doctor Who. This took place at the Langham, a former hotel opposite the BBC's radio headquarters, Broadcasting House, which was now owned by the BBC.

On Friday, fifty years ago today, Wilson received the answer he wanted. Baverstock agreed to a commission of a further 13 episodes in addition to those already asked for, meaning Doctor Who was now guaranteed a run of at least 26 weeks. The controller also made positive noises about a possible further 13, taking the total to 39, but told Wilson that he would not be able to make a firm decision on this until the New Year. After so much uncertainty about how many episodes would be made, or even if the series would make it to the screen at all, and following the headaches caused by the need to remake The Dead Planet, this was the best news the Doctor Who production team could have hoped for ahead of the show's launch the following day.

However, it was a launch that was about to be completely overshadowed by events totally outside of the control of anyone involved with Doctor Who.

The news that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas reached Britain at 6.42pm, as the cast and crew of Doctor Who would have been preparing to begin work recording The Survivors at Lime Grove. It was the first occasion upon which the cast had seen the Dalek props in full, with the operators having sat in just the lower halves of the casings for the rehearsals. As William Russell recalled in the BBC Radio 2 documentary Doctor Who - 30 Years in 1993, this was the first moment when they realised that something special might be at hand.

We laughed at them when we saw them originally in the studio, because of course we saw them without their tops, with just an actor sitting in this sort of half-dustbin peddling himself around, and we thought they were ludicrous! But when they were all dressed up they weren't ludicrous, and when the sound was added, Peter Hawkins's voice, you know, "I will exterminate you!" and all that business... Wonderful! And they became very frightening things.

Elsewhere in London, the Guild of Television Producers and Directors' annual dinner and ball was taking place at the Dorchester Hotel, with most of the senior executives from the BBC and ITV in attendance. When the man ultimately in charge of all BBC television, Kenneth Adam, was reached at the event, he decided that normal programming should continue, even though Kennedy's death had been announced just before 7.30pm. The BBC went back to its scheduled programmes, showing comedy series Here's Harry and Scottish medical drama Dr Finlay's Casebook, a decision that drew thousands of complaints.

The BBC would be more careful and considered in its programming across the rest of the weekend, and over the following week. But Doctor Who would go on as scheduled on Saturday evening. Just how much of the audience would be in any mood to watch it, and what if any impact it could make in the circumstances, would have to remain to be seen.

Next EpisodeThe Beginning
SOURCES: The Handbook: The First Doctor – The William Hartnell Years: 1963-1966, David J Howe, Mark Stammers, Stephen James Walker (Doctor Who Books, 1994); The Independent - How the Kennedy assassination caught the BBC on the hop; Doctor Who - 30 Years (BBC Radio 2, 1993)
Compiled by:
Paul Hayes




An Unearthly Series - The Origins of a TV LegendBookmark and Share

Saturday, 16 November 2013 - Reported by Marcus
An Extrordinary Old Man
The twenty-ninth in our series of features telling the story of the creation of Doctor Who, and the people who made it happen.

By the middle of November, the show's opening serial had been recorded, and production was proceeding on the second - The Daleks, by Terry Nation.

On Saturday 16th November 1963, exactly fifty years ago today, the British public had their first glimpse of Doctor Who, when the first trailer for the new series was broadcast on BBC Television.

The trailer was shown at 5.40pm, sandwiched between an episode of the cartoon series Deputy Dawg, in which he tries to sell his vintage fire engine, and an episode of The Telegoons, the puppet show version of the radio's The Goon Show. The Doctor Who trailer no longer exists, but the script survives in the BBC archives.


It begins with a clip of the opening sequence.

The voiceover from the series' lead actor.
My name is William Hartnell and, as Doctor Who, I make my debut on Saturday the 23rd November at 5.15.

The Doctor is an extraordinary old man from another world who owns a time and space machine.




The trail then showed a shot of Susan, dancing to the music of John Smith and the Common Men.
He and his grand-daughter, Susan, played by Carole Ann Ford, have landed in England and are enjoying their stay, until Susan arouses the curiosity of two of her school-teachers…



Shot of Ian Chesterton in his classroom.
…played by William Russell…



Shot of Barbara Wright standing in front of a blackboard.
…and Jacqueline Hill.



Shot of the Doctor.
They follow Susan and get inside the ship and Doctor Who decides to leave Earth…



Shot of the series title card.
…starting a series of adventures which I know will thrill and excite you every week.

(Announcer) Doctor Who begins on BBC Television this Saturday at 5.15.
 
As well as the television promo a radio version was also transmitted in the week before the series' debut. The BBC Publicity team was briefed about the show, with producer Verity Lambert putting out a rewritten memo based on the one issued by Donald Wilson back in July. Reflecting the unease about the series in the higher echelons of the BBC, the memo no longer talked about a programme running for 52 weeks, but just listed the titles of the first three stories. Lambert made a plea for the team to protect spoilers in the series.
It is absolutely essential that the fact that the spaceship, from the exterior, looks like a police telephone box, should remain completely confidential.
Although thirteen episodes were now confirmed and a transmission date was fast approaching, the production team were still having to cope with a number of problems and an inherent resistance to the show from within the BBC. James Mudie, the Head of Scenic Servicing for Television, had been against the idea from the start, worried that late scripts and impossible demands would put undue pressure on his department and jeopardise other productions. In July, he had warned the management to "think twice about proceeding with a weekly series of this nature."

Things came to a head in early November when the Controller of Programme Services, Ian Atkins, decided that the spaceship set was too heavy and cumbersome and needed to be simplified. It was taking too long to be rigged in the studio whenever it was needed, and would have to be redesigned. Mudie jumped on this memo and asked Head of Design J Beynon-Lewis and the designer of the current story in production, Raymond Cusick, to proceed with this as a matter of urgency: "in its present form it is obstructing the night setting operations for the whole of the Television Service."

Cusick informed Lambert of the instructions for the redesign he had been given. Although she had no strong objection, she was adamant that the costs for the redesign should not come from Doctor Who's budget but should be paid for by the design department, as the fault lay with original designer Peter Brachacki. Lambert was not happy that she had been bypassed in the decision process and not included in the memo to Cusick. She complained to her superior, Wilson: "No copy of Mr Mudie's memo was sent to me and instructions were issued to the designer without reference to me, in spite of the fact that no provision of man hours or money has been made for this by anybody up to the present time."

On Friday 15th November the first episode of The Dead Planet was recorded at Lime Grove Studio D, although the following week it would be discovered that the episode was not quite as ready for transmission as had been thought . . .

Throughout the problems, one man remained buoyant, fully behind the series and its untried production team. On Friday 15th November Head of Television Drama Sydney Newman sent Wilson the following memo.
From: Sydney Newman. Head of Television Drama.
To: Donald Wilson. Head of Script Department, Television Drama.

Date: 15 November 1963

STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL

I talked to Donald Baverstock this morning about Dr. Who and am happy to tell you he is very keen about what he has heard about the serial.
He is worried about money and was unable to commit himself at this time to the continuation of the serial beyond thirteen. I would suggest that some time next week you give him a ring and . . . go and see him for a decision. If you handle him right I am sure everything will be OK.
Next Episode
SOURCES: The Handbook: The First Doctor – The William Hartnell Years: 1963-1966, David J Howe, Mark Stammers, Stephen James Walker (Doctor Who Books, 1994); Radio Times: Vol: 161 No 2088; The Destruction of Time




An Unearthly Series - The Origins of a TV LegendBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 5 November 2013 - Reported by Anthony Weight
An Absolute Knock-Out
The twenty-eighth episode in our series telling the story of the creation of Doctor Who, from conception to broadcast.

By early November, the production of Doctor Who was well under way. The programme's début was locked in for Saturday 23rd November, and most of the first serial was now complete - the third episode, "The Forest of Fear", had been recorded on Friday the 1st, and the fourth and final epsiode was now being rehearsed ahead of its recording on Friday the 8th. Pre-production had begun for the second serial, by Terry Nation, with some pre-filming for the story already having taken place at Ealing. With the lengthy and at times troubled gestation period for the show coming to an end, thoughts could at last turn towards giving Doctor Who the strongest possible launch in terms of press and publicity.

One of the best ways for the BBC to promote its programmes in the 1960s was through its own weekly listings magazine, the Radio Times. The magazine was almost as old as the BBC itself, having been launched in 1923, just one year after the BBC began transmissions. In 1963 it turned forty, and was already something of a national institution. Until the deregulation of the TV and radio listings industry in the early 1990s, it was the only place where readers could find detailed information about all of the BBC's programmes for the full week ahead. It was therefore one of the UK's best-selling magazines, most of the population had at least a passing familiarity with it, and it was both a valuable source of revenue for the corporation (unlike on television or radio, the BBC could sell advertising in the pages of the Radio Times) and a tremendous source of publicity, of immense value in promoting programmes.

Gaining a Radio Times cover feature was a particularly prestigious event for any programme, and it was very much hoped by the Doctor Who production team that the new show would be on the front cover for the edition covering 23-29 November, which would hit newsstands on Thursday 21st. Indeed, the Radio Times had for a while actively planned to mark the first episode of Doctor Who with a front cover feature, but by early November these plans had changed. One of the reasons for this was that Douglas Williams, the magazine's editor at the time, believed that the man ultimately in charge of all BBC Television, Kenneth Adam, had a lack of faith in the show's prospects for success.

On Tuesday 5 November 1963, exactly fifty years ago today, word of the Radio Times's change of heart regarding a cover feature for Doctor Who had reached one of those most closely involved in the creation of the series - the drama department's Head of Serials, Donald Wilson. Wilson had been one of the staunchest supporters of Doctor Who all through its development, and had been intimately involved in the creation of the series right from the beginning - it was in his previous capacity as Head of the Script Department that he had been asked, back in the spring of 1962, for a report into the possibility of the BBC producing a new science-fiction series, a report to which the very start of what would become Doctor Who can be traced.

Wilson had defended the still-to-be-broadcast show against attacks and criticism from various levels and departments of the BBC, and exactly fifty years ago today he wrote a memo to Williams at the Radio Times, telling him in no uncertain terms that he was wrong to perceive a lack of faith in Doctor Who, and that in his opinion something rather special was about to be unleashed upon the audience. Wilson's words to the editor contained great prescience:

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 [Adam] 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.

Unfortunately however, Williams would not be swayed, and Doctor Who did not eventually feature as the cover story of the 23-29 November edition of the Radio Times. As the name of the magazine implies, when it was originally launched it carried only radio listings, and even by 1963 it was still not at all uncommon for the magazine to feature a popular radio programme on the cover in preference to a TV show. In this case, the magazine chose to focus on the return of the popular radio comedy series Beyond Our Ken on the BBC Light Programme (now BBC Radio 2) on Sunday 24th November, with a cover photograph of the show's star, the comedian Kenneth Horne.

However, Doctor Who did not entirely miss out. The previous week's edition, covering 16-22 November, would contain a tease ahead to Doctor Who, and the 23-29 November edition did at least mention the series on the cover, with a feature on the new programme inside. It would not be until the start of Marco Polo in February 1964, though, that Doctor Who gained its first cover feature on the magazine - and even this caused some controversy, as it only featured William Hartnell and some of the guest cast, rather than all four of the series regulars.

The Radio Times would go on to be a strong supporter of Doctor Who, featuring the show regularly on the cover over the following fifty years and also producing special editions dedicated to the programme and, latterly, a section of its own website devoted to the show. In July 2013, the magazine at last made amends for the decision taken back in 1963, by producing a specially mocked-up version of what a Doctor Who-focused cover of the 23-29 November 1963 edition might have looked like, with Hartnell on the front page.

As for Donald Wilson, Doctor Who remained in his charge as Head of Serials until 1965, when he stood down from the role to concentrate on a long-held ambition to adapt The Forsyte Saga for television - an adaptation that was to garner both him and the BBC huge acclaim. He lived until 2002, not seeing the return of Doctor Who to prominence, but more than long enough to have known that he had been entirely justified in his words of fifty years ago today - the show was an absolute knock-out, and it had been destined to run and run.

Next Episode
SOURCES: The Handbook: The First Doctor – The William Hartnell Years: 1963-1966, David J Howe, Mark Stammers, Stephen James Walker (Doctor Who Books, 1994); Radio Times - Why did the very first Doctor Who miss making the front cover of Radio Times?
Compiled by:
Paul Hayes





An Unearthly Series - The Origins of a TV LegendBookmark and Share

Sunday, 27 October 2013 - Reported by Anthony Weight
The Dalek Factor
Part twenty-seven in our series telling the story of the creation of Doctor Who, and the people who made it happen.

After the travails of recent weeks, with the abandonment of the original pilot and the cold feet of the Controller of BBC1, as October began to draw to a close Doctor Who was looking a little safer. It was guaranteed a run of at least 13 episodes, and the second of those had now been recorded, with rehearsals due to begin on the third. Work was also continuing on pre-production and scripting for other serials, most immediately the seven-episode adventure by writer Terry Nation, which was to come second in the running order.

This would include creatures called the Daleks - Doctor Who's first race of alien monsters. On Sunday 27th October 1963, exactly fifty years ago today, draughtsman A. Webb drew up the earliest surviving formal designs for the Daleks, from the plans of designer Raymond Cusick. These would be sent to Shawcraft Models, to be constructed ready for use by 20th November. Nobody at the time knew it, but a legend was being born.

Nation's serial was to be an important one for the young series. Neither producer Verity Lambert nor story editor David Whitaker had been entirely keen on the opening story, An Unearthly Child by Anthony Coburn, but by the time they both joined the series it was too late to change it. Nation's scripts would therefore be the first serial they had entirely sought out and commissioned themselves, with Whitaker having selected Nation after being impressed by his work on the ITV science-fiction anthology series Out of this World. Nation had initially been unwilling to work on the programme, but after parting with his previous employer, comedian Tony Hancock, had taken up the offer. Nation had been able to deliver his scripts quickly and write efficiently within the format of the programme, and Lambert and Whitaker had been impressed with his work. With no other serial in as ready a state as Nation's, his tale of post-apocalyptic struggle on a distant alien world was promoted to second in the young programme's running order.

At seven episodes, Nation's scripts would take up a sizeable chunk of the 13-episode run that Doctor Who had been given in which to prove itself by a somewhat reluctant BBC1. The Head of Serials, Donald Wilson, disliked Nation's scripts and did not want Lambert to use them, but she successfully argued that nothing else was ready. Wilson's superior, the Head of Drama Sydney Newman, did not see the scripts or any designs for the serial, as by this stage he was taking a less hands-on role in the production of the programme that he himself has initiated - he did not see the Daleks until the viewers themselves did, in December.

Cusick had not been the designer originally allocated to the story. Future Hollywood film director Ridley Scott, then also working for the design department of the BBC, had orignally been given the task, but problems with his availability meant that it was Cusick who had to come up with a design to match the description in Nation's script:

Hideous machine-like creatures. They are legless, moving on a round base. They have no human features. A lens on a flexible shaft acts as an eye. Arms with mechanical grips for hands. The creatures hold strange weapons in their hands.

Nation was keen to get away from traditional science-fiction film images of monsters being obviously men dressed up in suits, but when Cusick sought advice on how to realise this concept from Doctor Who's veteran associate producer Mervyn Pinfield, he was dismayed to hear Pinfield suggest just that. Pinfield had been assigned to Doctor Who particularly for his ability to advise on technical matters, and his suggestion for the Daleks was a budget-conscious one. He told Cusick to design a costume of a large cardboard tube around the actor's torso, with other tubes around the arms and legs, and for the whole ensemble to be painted silver.

Cusick found greater inspiration when he spoke directly to Nation. The scriptwriter had been enthused by seeing a performance by the Georgian State Dancers, in which the female members of the Soviet group wore long dresses entirely concealing their legs and feet, and thus seemed to glide across the floor without any visible method of movement. Cusick, inspired by this, experimented with various designs all based around the idea of a seated operator entirely enclosed by the outline of the design, with no visible arms or legs.

Cusick worked throughout October on refining the design, consulting with other experts in the field such as Bernard Wilkie and Jack Kine of the BBC Visual Effects Department. By 27th October, fifty years ago today, he had completed his design, to be constructed by the outside company Shawcraft Models. This was still not quite the final design - after the designs had been delivered to Shawcraft, the company's boss Bill Roberts made his own refinements to make the props easier, cheaper, and more efficient to construct within the time and budget available. Changes Roberts made included having the gun and sucker arms mounted on the same level, rather than at different levels as in Cusick's design. But beyond such comparatively minor changes, the design of the Dalek, the iconic image familiar to millions even fifty years later, all stems from the designs of October 27th.

Shawcraft would have £750 to construct the four Dalek props which would be needed for the making of Nation's serial, but the appearance of the creatures was not the only element that was being developed through October. The Dalek serial had been assigned two directors - the more experienced Christopher Barry would handle the majority of the serial, while newcomer Richard Martin would also direct some episodes, to help learn his trade. Barry had initially approached the Post Office's Joint Speech Research Unit to investigate providing voices for the Dalek creatures, but wasn't quite able to obtain what was wanted. Martin then approached a body which had already worked on Doctor Who, providing the theme tune - the BBC's own Radiophonic Workshop, based at Maida Vale.

The workshop's Brian Hodgson met with Martin, who explained the type of grating, metallic voice that was wanted. Hodgson, inspired by a robot voice he had previously created for a radio serial called Sword From the Stars, came up with the idea of using a ring modulator to process an actor's voice and create the kind of effect that was desired. Hodgson and Martin experimented with using the modulation process on the voice of actor Peter Hawkins, concentrating on the vowel sounds where the modulation was most effective. The trial session took place in Studio G at Lime Grove Studios on 24th October 1963, when Cusick's designs for the creatures they were coming up with a voice for had still not been completed. The two elements would come together to create a sensation - although nobody, of course, knew that at the time.

Doctor Who had still to prove itself - but with less than a month to go until the transmission of its first episode, there was not long to wait to see what the general public would make of this programme that had been enduring such a struggle to reach the screen. Meanwhile, production continued both on the first serial and on the Dalek adventure - from Monday 28th October, Waris Hussein and his cast would begin rehearsing the third episode of the programme, The Forest of Fear, while on the same day at the BBC Television Film Studios at Ealing pre-filming work began on The Daleks, using 35mm film for stunts, model work and other complicated sequences.

Next EpisodeAn Absolute Knock-Out
SOURCES: Doctor Who Magazine issue 331 (Panini Comics, 25 June 2003); Doctor Who Magazine issue 460 (Panini Comics, June 2013); Dalek 6388 - 1: The Dead Planet
Compiled by:
Paul Hayes




An Unearthly Series - The Origins of a TV LegendBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 22 October 2013 - Reported by Anthony Weight
A Crisis Out of a Drama
The twenty-sixth episode in our series telling the story of the creation of Doctor Who and the people who made it happen, fifty years to the day after the major events.

Doctor Who had finally entered regular production, with the new version of the opening episode having been completed, and a new episode being rehearsed. But the Controller of Programmes for BBC1, Donald Baverstock, worried by the financial demands of the series and particularly of the TARDIS interior set, had ordered that production be halted after the opening four-part serial. With Baverstock now on leave, Doctor Who's creators and production team rallied to reverse his decision and prevent the programme from being killed-off before transmission had even begun.

Before Baverstock had departed on three weeks' leave, in his memo to Donald Wilson asking that Doctor Who be stopped after four episodes, he added that he had asked Joanna Spicer and John Mair, from the planning staff, to look into the costs of the series and whether there might be any possibility of continuing. Mair subsequently sent Spicer a memo outlining the story of Doctor Who's production so far, and the costs that had been incurred and might be further incurred in the future. On Tuesday 22 October 1963, exactly fifty years ago today, Spicer held a meeting with some of the key figures involved in Doctor Who and from various BBC production departments, to discuss whether the series could be saved.

Among those present at the meeting along with Spicer were Mair, Wilson (the Head of Serials in the drama department, and thus directly responsible for Doctor Who), the show's producer Verity Lambert, James Bould (the Design Manager for BBC Television) and Jack Kine (the co-founder of the BBC Visual Effects Department). Between them, they were able to thrash out a plan whereby Doctor Who could be allowed to continue - at least for a time. Spicer indicated that Baverstock would be prepared to accept an initial 13-episode run of Doctor Who - returning to a decision he had previously made a week earlier, before his sudden cold feet about the show before going on leave. However, this would only happen if the series could be made within strict limitations on budget and man-hours, with per-episode budgets strictly limited at £2500 each. £75 per episode will go towards the cost of "the ship," £200 on using an outside firm to provide scenic effects, and £500 per episode as the design department's budget. The man-hours allocation is to be 500 per episode.

While more meetings would be needed to work out the exact details, Wilson and Lambert agreed that Doctor Who could produce a 13-episode run within these limitations. Given that the opening serial was due to be followed by Terry Nation's seven-part serial featuring his Dalek creatures, later in the week Lambert and her story editor David Whitaker realised that they would need to add a two-part story after Nation's tale, to create the initial 13-episode run that had been agreed to. With the limited time available, and the fact that there will be no money for additional sets or guest characters, it is decided that Whitaker himself will write a two-part adventure featuring only the four regular cast members, and set entirely on the expensive TARDIS interior set.

During the week, Whitaker also began to establish what stories would follow if Doctor Who were allowed to continue beyond the 13 episodes tentatively agreed to. Being worked on are: a historical story by John Lucarotti in which the time travellers meet Marco Polo; the latest version of the much-desired "miniscules" storyline, now being worked on by Robert Gould; The Masters of Luxor by Anthony Coburn; a possible seven-part historical tale by Whitaker; The Hidden Planet by Malcolm Hulke; The Red Fort, set during the Indian Mutiny, by Nation; and another future-set story, to be four episodes long, with a writer yet to be assigned. This would bring Doctor Who up to the 52-week run originally envisaged by Head of Drama Sydney Newman, should the programme eventually be allowed to continue that far.

By this point, no directors had been assigned to any serials beyond Nation's, on which it has been decided that Christopher Barry will share duties with the less-experienced Richard Martin, a young director who has been attached to Doctor Who for some time. Martin has become very interested in the series, and around this time sends Barry, Whitaker, Lambert and associate producer Mervyn Pinfield a lengthy and detailed memo outlining his thoughts about the TARDIS and its effect on those who travel in it, which reads in part:

The ship is out of time, but in space. The entrance is in both time and space. The entrance (the phone box) can be be described as a time/space ship gangplank. Or compression-decompression (comparison-decomparison) chamber.

The only way to pass down the gangplank is by an effort of will. Therefore if you are afraid or doubtful all you would find is the interior of a phone box, and if you stayed inside you would have a bad headache from the intercellular electronic pulses forming the mental link. Therefore it is not easy to get in and out of the ship. For those unused to it traumatic.

Meanwhile, away from meetings and memos and debates over the future, Doctor Who's regular production is now under way. Having completed the first episode, director Waris Hussein and the cast have moved onto rehearsing "The Cave of Skulls", the second instalment of the opening serial. This was then recorded on Friday 25 October, a week after the previous episode, with Doctor Who to be recorded every Friday until at least 13 episodes have been completed. What would happen after that would depend on whether the costs could be kept down, and how those 13 episodes were received.

The immediate crisis surrounding the future of Doctor Who was over, and it would at least have a chance to make it to the screen. What impact it would have with the audience remained to be seen - but, unknown to anybody, already on the drawing board and nearing completion was a design that would help to take Doctor Who from troubled children's serial to national institution.

Next EpisodeThe Dalek Factor
SOURCES: The Handbook: The First Doctor – The William Hartnell Years: 1963-1966, David J Howe, Mark Stammers, Stephen James Walker (Doctor Who Books, 1994)
Compiled by:
Paul Hayes





An Unearthly Series - The Origins of a TV LegendBookmark and Share

Friday, 18 October 2013 - Reported by Anthony Weight
Second Time Around
The twenty-fifth instalment of our series marking the major events in the creation of Doctor Who, fifty years to the day since they occurred.

By the middle of October, Doctor Who's path to the screen was starting to seem a little more assured and stable. The Controller of Programmes for BBC1, Donald Baverstock, had agreed to the making of at least 13 episodes, and despite the pilot episode having been rejected by Head of Drama Sydney Newman, the production team were ready for their second attempt at creating a version of the programme's opening instalment. However, on the very day the second version of An Unearthly Child was to go before the cameras, budgetary concerns led Baverstock to have a change of heart about the show's future. On Friday 18 October 1963 - exactly fifty years ago today - the Welshman dropped a bombshell. Doctor Who, still over a month away from its on-screen debut, was ordered to be brought to a halt. Production was to cease as soon as the opening four-part serial was completed...

That Friday evening, the second ever episode of Doctor Who to be made - the new attempt at the first episode - was due to be recorded in Studio D at Lime Grove, the same studio as the first attempt and, much to the chagrin of many of those working on the programme, allotted as Doctor Who's main studio for the foreseeable future. The production had the same cast, same director and mostly the same sets, although (as noted in the previous episode) the junkyard and school classroom sets had needed to be recreated by designer Barry Newbery from Peter Brachacki's plans, as they had accidentally been junked after the pilot recording.

Fortunately for all concerned, the set of the TARDIS interior had not suffered this fate - had it done so, then it is highly possible that Doctor Who would have stopped for good at this point, and never made it to the screen. The high cost of the set was already controversial, and it was this element in particular that had led Baverstock to reconsider the expense involved in producing the series.

The 18th was Baverstock's last day at work before he embarked on three-weeks' leave. Despite having given the go-ahead to a 13-episode run of Doctor Who just four days previously, by Friday he had looked further into the costs involved and had sent a memo to Donald Wilson, the Head of Serials in the drama department. Wilson was one of those most closely involved in the creation of Doctor Who, and effectively the show's "executive producer" as we might now term it.

The memo was a shock - Baverstock had decided that BBC1 simply couldn't afford Doctor Who:

I am told that a first examination of your expenditure on the pilot and of your likely design and special effects requirements for the later episodes, particularly two, three and four, shows that you are likely to overspend your budget allocation by as much as £1600 and your allocation of man-hours by as much as 1200 per episode. These figures are arrived at by averaging the expenditure of £4000 on the spaceship over thirteen episodes. It also only allows for only £3000 to be spent on expensive space creatures and other special effects. It does not take account of all the extra costs involved in the operation of special effects in the studio.

Last week I agreed an additional £200 to your budget of £2300 for the first four episodes. This figure is now revealed to be totally unrealistic. The costs of these four will be more than £4000 each - and it will be even higher if the cost of the spaceship has to be averaged over four rather than thirteen episodes.

Such a costly serial is not one that I can afford for this space in the financial year. You should therefore not proceed any further with the production of more than four episodes.

Baverstock didn't entirely write-off the possibility of continuing to make Doctor Who, going on to state that he had asked the Assistant Controller of Planning, Joanna Spicer, and John Mair, the Planning Manager, to meet with all parties concerned and look into what costs might be involved in making further episodes. However, he did also tell Wilson that:

In the meanwhile, that is for the next three weeks while I am away, you should marshal ideas and prepare suggestions for a new children's drama serial at a reliably economic price. There is a possibility that it will be wanted for transmission from soon after Week 1 of 1964.

What effect this had on Doctor Who's production team on the very day they were preparing to remount their opening episode is unknown. However, Sydney Newman instantly leapt to the defence of the show he had done so much bring to life. Having been given a copy of Baverstock's memo, he immediately wrote a reply pointing out that it had never been intended for the cost of the TARDIS interior set to be spread across 13 episodes - Doctor Who had originally been conceived and planned as having a 52-week run, and the costs of the set were to be covered across 52 weeks rather than 13.

The fight for Doctor Who's future, if it had one at all, and the battle over the costs of the TARDIS set would have to continue the following week. In the mean-time, there was still a series to plan and produce, whether it would make it to the screen or not. In addition to director Waris Hussein and the regular cast going back into Lime Grove to record the first episode that evening, other work was being done on the production of future episodes. Also on Friday the 18th, director Christopher Barry was busy preparing for work on what was due to be the second Doctor Who serial, the futuristic script by Terry Nation. That day, Barry sent script editor David Whitaker a detailed note of comments on the first two episodes of the serial, and also received a reply to an enquiry he had previous made to the Post Office's Joint Speech Research Unit, about how he might realise the voices of the "Dalek" creatures featured in Nation's scripts.

The unit sent Barry a tape with examples of two different types of voice, one produced using a vocoder and the other generated entirely by computer. JN Shearne, the Post Office official who supplied the material to Barry, indicated that they would only be able to produce up to 30 seconds of computer-generated material for him, due to the amount of time and effort required to programme it. The vocoder material was of greater interest to Barry, who heard something of what he wanted for the Daleks in it, but he decided that it would need to be produced in-house at the BBC rather than sourced from the Post Office, as it could then be produced live in the studio during recordings, rather than pre-recorded on tape by the Post Office. So, Barry turned his attentions to what the BBC Radiophonic Workshop might be able to do for him.

Meanwhile, the design of the actual appearance of the Dalek creatures themselves was coming towards its realisation. Originally, BBC staff designer Ridley Scott had been assigned to handle the design work for Nation's serial, but a clash of schedules meant that he was replaced by fellow department member Raymond Cusick. Cusick had taken inspiration both from the description in Nation's script of the creatures "moving on a round base," and from his own determination that the Daleks should not appear in any way human. After discussions with BBC special effects experts Bernard Wilkie and Jack Kine in early October, Cusick was working towards the final plans for his design, which was to have a massive impact on the future of Doctor Who.

On October 18 1963, however, nobody knew that the element which would finally dispel any prospect of an early cancellation for Doctor Who was so close at hand. There was simply a television programme to produce, and the transmitted version of the very first episode was finally put onto tape that evening at Lime Grove Studios. A much smoother and more polished effort than the pilot version, with a more likeable characterisation from William Hartnell as the Doctor (as requested by Newman), there were also many other subtle differences. There was no opening thunderclap at the start of the opening titles, Susan reads a book on the French Revolution rather than drawing ink blots, and hers and the Doctor's costumes are also different.

Finally, the very first episode of Doctor Who that would be seen by viewers had been made, and the regular production of the programme was at last under way. From this point onwards, a new episode would be rehearsed and recorded every week. However, following Baverstock's memo, for how long that would be allowed to continue would be another matter.

Next EpisodeA Crisis Out of a Drama
SOURCES: The Handbook: The First Doctor – The William Hartnell Years: 1963-1966, David J Howe, Mark Stammers, Stephen James Walker (Doctor Who Books, 1994); Doctot Who Magazine issue 331 (Panini Comics, 25 June 2003)
Compiled by:
Paul Hayes





An Unearthly Series - The Origins of a TV LegendBookmark and Share

Monday, 14 October 2013 - Reported by Marcus
Title Deeds
The twenty-fourth in our series of features telling the story of the creation of Doctor Who, and the people who made it happen.

Production on the new series was progressing. The pilot had been recorded, and a revised episode one was being worked on. Meanwhile, the production team were anxiously awaiting news on whether they would be allowed to continue beyond the first story.

On Monday 14th October 1963 - exactly 50 years ago today - the TARDIS team reconvened to start a week of rehearsals leading up to the re-recording of the first episode. They had been given a second chance and this time they had to get it right.

The rehearsal venue was another drill hall, this time in Uxbridge Road, just a few hundred yards west of the Lime Grove Studios. Like the drill hall in Walmer Road, the building no longer exists and this site is now occupied by the London College of Professional Training. The cast had just four days to refine their characters and take on board all the changes requested by Head of Drama Sydney Newman before appearing in front of the cameras once more.

If they were successful, this would be the start of a long journey for the four main cast members. If the series were to continue beyond the initial four episodes, the actors' lives would be governed by a strict schedule. Rehearsals would be Monday to Thursday, followed by a long exhausting Friday in the studio, rehearsing with the cameras all day and then recording on the Friday evening. The weekend would be spent learning the scripts for the next week before the process began all over again on the Monday. The only respite would be when the actor was granted a week's holiday, in which case the character would be written out of that particular episode, or the role would be rewritten to a brief cameo, pre-recorded on film.

One person missing from the reassembled cast was Fred Rawlings, who had played the policeman in the opening shot in the pilot. He was unavailable for the remount and the role was taken by Reg Cranfield, who would therefore become the first actor to be seen in Doctor Who.

While the actors were rehearsing, they were largely unaware of the BBC politics surrounding the programme, and the memo sent by Head of Serials Donald Wilson, asking for some commitment for the series from the powers-that-be.

In response to Wilson's memo, on Wednesday 16th October Controller of Programmes Donald Baverstock decided, having now watched the pilot episode, that he would commit to funding 13 episodes of the new series. It was not an unconditional offer though, and Baverstock was worried about the spiralling costs of a series that required so much attention.

In a memo he asked John Mair, who was the Planning Manager, to state what "extra programme allowance will be required to finance the special effects requirements and the operating effort needed to work them in the studio." Baverstock intended to review the programme's budget by Friday 18th October, as he was due to take three weeks' leave and he wanted to decide on whether he could agree to an increase in budget before his break.

One departure that had already occurred was that of designer Peter Brachacki. Although he had come up with some innovative work on the first episode of the series, the designer and his producer, Verity Lambert, had never really seen eye to eye. Brachacki did not want to work on the series and had no great enthusiasm for the show. In addition, some of his more ambitious designs had failed to pay off. Originally, Brachacki wanted the walls to be translucent and to pulse with light when the ship was in flight. The cost, however, was prohibitive, as was his plan that the ship's controls would be isomorphic, moulded to the Doctor's hands.

So when Brachacki fell ill and it was apparent that he would be out of action for a while, the production team asked for him to be replaced on a permanent basis. His work was split between two designers, Barry Newbery and Raymond P Cusick, who would alternate between stories. Newbery took over Brachacki's designs for the first episode. One of the first problems he had to solve, though, was that the junkyard set and classroom set, used in the pilot episode, had been broken up, despite Lambert asking that they should be kept, so both sets would need to be rebuilt. The TARDIS interior, however, did remain.

Next EpisodeTitle Deeds
SOURCES: The Handbook: The First Doctor – The William Hartnell Years: 1963-1966, David J Howe, Mark Stammers, Stephen James Walker (Doctor Who Books, 1994)




An Unearthly Series - The Origins of a TV LegendBookmark and Share

Thursday, 10 October 2013 - Reported by Marcus
'Title Deeds
The twenty-third in our series of features telling the story of the creation of Doctor Who, and the people who made it happen.

Production on the new series was continuing, but the process was not without problems. A version of episode one had been recorded,  but was deemed unsuitable for broadcast by the senior managers in the drama department. Changes would have to be made, but the team would be given a second chance.

Any science-fiction series relies heavily on the production's ability to create realistic special effects. A series such as that envisaged by the creators of Doctor Who would need to be able to convince the audience that a whole new universe exists. A universe full of petrified forests and starliners, seas of acid and advanced robots, and all traversed by advanced space-and-time machines. The past would need to be re-created, such as the temples of Tenochtitlan and the prisons of La Conciergerie, as well as a world inhabited by miniature characters.

It would be a tricky task to pull off, even with the might of the BBC operation behind the series. But the feeling in the Doctor Who production office was that various departments were not giving the series the attention it demanded and deserved. One problem had been the work on the TARDIS set, built by Shawcraft rather than the internal BBC Scenic Department. The doors were very unreliable, causing major problems in the recording session the previous week.

The series had still not been commissioned beyond the first four episodes. This was making future planning very difficult, as it was entirely possible that the series would not continue beyond the first story, and so no long-term commitments could be made.

On Thursday 10th October - exactly 50 years ago today - the Head of the Serials Department, Donald Wilson, decided enough was enough. His production team needed some support and the BBC needed to show some confidence in its new sci-fi drama. With this in mind, he sent a lengthy memo to some of the most senior members of BBC management. Included were Controller of Programmes Donald Baverstock, Programme Planner Joanna Spicer, Head of Drama Sydney Newman, and Head of Design Richard Levin.

  
DONALD WILSON
I do not know what 'normal Saturday afternoon series level' may mean, but if it means that the effort required to build the space ship for Dr Who is abnormal, then it seems to me that I should have been told so and I would then have informed everybody that the serials could not be done on those terms and we should therefore have to withdraw the project.

What happened in fact was that a certain amount of effort was brought outside to make it possible for the pilot to be recorded on 27 September. The work was defective and this was one of the reasons why we determined that the pilot episode could be very much improved if it was done again. It was not until the deficiencies appeared that I myself realised that the effort we had asked for was not being provided and could not be provided in the future without a large weekly sum of money over and above the agreed budget
Wilson made a plea for some confirmation that the series would be allowed to continue beyond the initial four episodes, pointing out that if arrangements were not put in order for future stories then the team would be left with four actors on contract and nothing ready for them to perform.
If we begin recording weekly on 18 October without a decision being made about the continuation we will be able, given the £800 promised by A.C.(Planning), to complete the first four episodes and the filming of the special effects for the second serial, but if we do not make a decision until after the third recording there will not be time enough to have the design effort and building ready for continuous production after number four. In other words, we would have to cease production for a period of three weeks after the decision is made, during which time we would have to continue paying the four running artists at the rate of £550 a week. We would also be unable to cast the second serial.

To sum up, I think we should commit ourselves to at least eleven episodes on the basis of the existing pilot. (Eighteen episodes would be more satisfactory from the budgeting point of view.) We know that subsequent episodes will be better than this pilot if the effort is available and in view of the changes we have now made in script and characterisation. But in my professional opinion what we have here is something very much better both in content and in production value than we could normally expect for this kind of money and effort.

While discussions were going on at the highest levels about the very future of Doctor Who following its first story, production was continuing on that first story, with three days of filming taking place at Ealing. Supervised by production assistant Douglas Camfield, sets had been rigged on the Tuesday, rather later than planned because of transportation difficulties from Television Centre.

Filming took place from Wednesday to Friday to prepare all the insets that would be needed for the final three episodes of The Tribe of Gum. Sequences involving the paoelthic landscape and the fight in episode four were recorded in this session.

Next EpisodeTitle Deeds
SOURCES: The Handbook: The First Doctor – The William Hartnell Years: 1963-1966, David J Howe, Mark Stammers, Stephen James Walker (Doctor Who Books, 1994)




An Unearthly Series - The Origins of a TV LegendBookmark and Share

Monday, 30 September 2013 - Reported by Anthony Weight
Drop the Pilot
The twenty-second in our series telling the story of the creation of Doctor Who, from conception to broadcast.

By the end of September 1963, Doctor Who finally existed as a television programme. After months of meetings, format documents, script development and occasional arguments, a production team was in place, the four leads had been cast, and the début serial had been decided upon as Anthony Coburn's four-parter mainly set in the Stone Age. On Friday 27th September, director Waris Hussein had shot the opening instalment of Coburn's serial at Lime Grove Studios – the very first episode of Doctor Who to be made.

However, it was an episode that would not be transmitted on British television for another 28 years. 


It had always been part of the plans for the production of the series that the opening episode could, if necessary, be remounted if it was deemed not sufficiently strong for the launch of the new programme. The costs would be met from the BBC Pilot Fund, and the production team would be given the opportunity to have another attempt.

By Monday 30th September 1963 – exactly 50 years ago today – it was clear that this would indeed have to be the case. The BBC’s Head of Drama Sydney Newman, the man who had driven forward the creation of Doctor Who, had viewed the studio recording from Friday evening, and he was not impressed.

Newman’s thoughts on the pilot episode survive in the BBC Written Archives, scribbled down on the back of two pages of script for An Unearthly Child while he viewed the recording. Newman had concerns or observations about many aspects of the production, such as the music, the camera work and the end credits, but his biggest concern – and the aspect that would perhaps show the strongest change between the pilot and the transmitted version of An Unearthly Child – was with William Hartnell’s characterisation of the Doctor.

“Old man – not funny enough,” reads one of Newman’s notes, jotted while the action unfolded in front of him. And again, later – “Old man ain’t cute enough.” Newman decided that the character of the Doctor needed to be softened and made more sympathetic, along with other changes to the episode, and made the decision that producer Verity Lambert, director Hussein, the cast and crew would simply have to try again. As Newman later told Doctor Who Magazine:

That was a dummy run, and it didn’t work out right because Bill Hartnell’s characterisation was a bit too nasty and I thought he would put off the viewers.

More than 40 years after the pilot recording, in the Doctor Who: Origins documentary released on DVD in 2006, Hussein recalled how the news was broken to him and Lambert.

Sydney simply called us in. He called Verity and me in and said “I’ve seen the first episode, I’m going to take you out to lunch,” which he did. Chinese restaurant, I believe, it was in Kensington High Street. Sat us down, and over chop suey told us that he seriously thought of firing both of us! But he said “Look, I believe in both of you, and I’m going to allow you to do it again.” For Sydney to put himself on the line makes him into somebody, as far as I’m concerned, who’s a hero.

Ian Chesterton actor William Russell remembered the events of the pilot’s rejection somewhat differently, telling Doctor Who Magazine that the cast and crew had all been gathered together to watch a showing of the recording, along with Newman:

It wasn’t actually a pilot, it was a first attempt that was not accepted by Sydney. We all trooped into this theatre to see it. He got up at the end and there was this long silence, then he turned to Waris and said “Do it again, Waris!”

Whatever the exact circumstances, what was clear was that work on Doctor Who's first episode would have to start afresh. Incredibly for a series of which 106 transmitted episodes from the 1960s are currently missing, from an era when even broadcast television programmes of high esteem were regarded as ephemeral and disposable, in the late 1970s a 16mm film recording of the complete studio session for the pilot episode was found to exist in the BBC Film Archive. In the early 1990s this session was edited together into a finished episode for the first time, and finally given a television broadcast on BBC2 on Bank Holiday Monday 26th August 1991, as part of a special day of programming called The Lime Grove Story, marking the closure of the studios.

While the first episode would have to be remade and improved, that didn’t mean that work on subsequent episodes had ceased. On the afternoon of Monday 30th September 1963, Lambert held a meeting in her office to discuss the special effects that would be required for the story that had now been promoted to second in the running order for Doctor Who – the post-apocalyptic science-fiction tale written by Terry Nation.

Nation’s serial would ultimately help to cement Doctor Who’s legacy, and ensure the series would still be around and popular 50 years later. However, at this stage there was still no certainty that it would even make the screen. Despite the ambitious plans for a 52-week run, by the end of September the Controller of Programmes for BBC1, Donald Baverstock (as he now was, with BBC2 having its own separate controller in Michael Peacock, despite being some months away from launching), still hadn't guaranteed Doctor Who a run of any more than four episodes.

Doctor Who was at last under way, but its existence was already hanging by a thread.

Next EpisodeThe Foresight Saga
SOURCES: Doctor Who: Origins, The Beginning, DVD Box Set (BBC Worldwide, 2006); Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition - In Their Own Words, Volume One (Panini Comics, 2006); The Handbook: The First Doctor – The William Hartnell Years: 1963-1966, David J Howe, Mark Stammers, Stephen James Walker (Doctor Who Books, 1994)
Compiled by:
Paul Hayes