Friday 22 September 2017

He'll see you again: it's 50 years of Doctor Who

Ed Power unearths some little-known facts about the sci-fi institution

Doctor Who's Who: David Tennant
Doctor Who's Who: David Tennant
William Hartnell
Tom Baker
Matt Smith
Ed Power

Ed Power

It starts with a lingering shot of a neighbourhood Bobby trudging down a dingy street. The camera pans right, alighting on a old-style police box, half obscured by mist and black and white static. In the background, the faintest strains of a synthesiser beat can be discerned, thrumming with dystopian menace.

Thus began the first episode of the cult science fiction series Doctor Who, 50 years ago this week. From the humblest of origins – the budget for the original series was so minuscule that when an alien ripped its space-pants in one episode, there was no time or money to re-do the scene – "The Doctor" has become one of the most beloved figures in sci fi.

In the run-up to a special anniversary edition of the show tomorrow, the hype has been louder than the sound of 50 Daleks trying work out how to climb an escalator. Being a hardcore geek can be a lonely existence. Not where Doctor Who is concerned – with his swishing scarves, endearing eccentricities and photogenic assistants, everyone's a fan.

To whet your anticipation for the anniversary broadcast, we've compiled the definitive list of little-known facts about Doctor Who.

* Doctor Who became immortal by accident.

The idea of 'regenerating' the Doctor was hatched after original incumbent William Hartnell fell ill in 1966. Sensing he would not be able to continue, the producers replaced him with Patrick Troughton in the first of the now famous reincarnation scenes. l 'Doctor Who' was the first show to send us scurrying behind the sofa in terror.

The phrase 'hiding behind the sofa' was minted after children starting cowering in dread from the scary space monsters on Doctor Who, according to The Economist magazine. "Hiding behind the sofa whenever the Daleks appear," was, The Economist asserted, a British cultural institution up there with "Bovril and tea time".

* Many of the original 'Doctor Who' episodes are forever lost in time in space.

Just as a huge tranch of Irish TV from the '60s and '70s was permanently lost when RTE wiped its archives, many early episodes of Doctor Who were scrubbed by the BBC. However, duplications were sometimes sent abroad for rebroadcast and are uncovered every now and then.

Just this year nine missing episodes, including the classic 'Web of Fear' – in which a yeti roams the London Underground – were discovered at a transmission station in the Nigerian city of Jos.

* 'Doctor Who' helped the cause of women in the workplace

Verity Lambert, the original producer of Doctor Who, was the first female drama producer at the BBC. This would later become ironic with the series accused of sexism for its roll- call of ditzy and nubile Doctor's assistants.

* It was supposed to be good for you

Doctor Who was intended to serve as an educational show for kids. The Doctor can travel backwards and forwards in time, the perfect excuse to visit historical events (it was also cheaper to dress extras as English Civil War soldiers than killer robots from the year 3050).

* Sherlock Holmes was almost 'Doctor Who'

Two flamboyant problem solvers with cultivated eccentricities, the similarities between The Doctor and the Baker Street consulting detective were recognised early on. So it was fitting that, following David Tennant's departure in 2010, the role of Doctor Who was offered to future Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch. He politely declined, wary of the high profile the part brought – and the danger of type-casting. "I didn't really like the whole package – being on school lunch boxes."

Other members of the 'Dr No' club include Billy Nighy, Billy Connolly, Hugh Grant, Eddie Izzard and – seriously – Catherine Zeta- Jones. In the '80s, the Irish actor Liam Cunningham campaigned for the part, to little avail.

* Some time and space anomalies are best not contemplated too deeply.

In a temporal twist that could have come straight from the show, tenth doctor David Tennant married the actress Georgia Moffett, who had played his daughter in an episode called (obvious enough really) The Doctor's Daughter. Her dad, meanwhile, was none other than fifth doctor Peter Davison.

If life really was like an episode of Doctor Who, the wedding would surely have been crashed by Cybermen under the command of Tennant's vengeful great grandson. Alas, as the couple imposed a media blackout, we'll never know for sure.

* The scarf was an accident

Through the '70s and early '80s Doctor Who was renowned for his extravagant scarves. In fact, his lurid taste in accessories was a happy mistake. A costume designer erroneously provided the BBC's in-house knitter with too much wool and she created an enormous scarf. Fourth Doctor Tom Baker was so chuffed with the results he insisted on wearing the multi-hued monstrosity.

The Day of The Doctor is on BBC 1 tomorrow at 7.50pm

Irish Independent

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