18 surprising facts you probably didn’t know about Doctor Who

Written by Belle Beth Cooper on January 11, 2013

As the longest-running sci-fi show on tv, Doctor Who is rife with fascinating stories and intriguing facts about the cast, production and shenanigans that inevitably take place backstage.

These are some of the more fascinating (and surprising) facts we came across about the series.

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1. 103 episodes of the series are lost

The BBC destroyed or wiped many episodes of Doctor Who in the 1960s and 70s for various reasons including saving space, leaving a huge gap in the series’ archives. In an attempt to recover the missing episodes, which mostly consist of First Doctor and Second Doctor appearances, the BBC and fans of the series continue requesting copies to be returned.

Various private collectors and overseas broadcasters have helped to re-build the collection with surprise findings of missing episodes, even as late as 2011.

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Although the search continues, an audio recording in some form exists of every episode, many of which are recordings made by home viewers during original broadcasts.

2. Doctor Who began as a children’s educational show

When the series was first created by Head of Drama at the BBC, Sydney Newman, it was developed to engage the entire family on Saturday nights after the football. The show’s aim was to inform and educate children about science and history, using time travel and historical figures like Marco Polo.

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Newman originally stated that there would be no use of ‘bug-eyed monsters,’ although it was the introduction of the Daleks that hooked UK audiences and made the show a hit.

3. Doctor Who employed the BBC’s first ever female producer

Verity Lambert was the former production assistant of Doctor Who creator Sydney Newman, and had no production experience when Newman first approached her to produce the series. When Lambert accepted the job, she became the youngest, (and the only female) drama producer at the BBC.

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4. Torchwood is an anagram of Doctor Who used to trick pirates

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When the first series of Doctor Who was being filmed, BBC execs were apparently so concerned about piracy that they code-named the tapes ‘Torchwood’ to protect them from being stolen in transit. The name was then an obvious choice for the later spin-off series.

5. Bill Nighy and Benedict Cumberbatch both turned down the role of The Doctor

Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Sherlock Holmes in the series Sherlock co-created by Doctor Who head writer Steven Moffat, was offered the role of The Doctor following David Tennant’s tenure. He turned it down due to the high-profile that comes with being part of such an enormous franchise, saying, “I didn’t really like the whole package – being on school lunch boxes.”

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Similarly, Bill Nighy turned down the coveted role, citing the amount of baggage that came with it as reason for declining the offer. He refused to say when he was approached, however, because doing so would be “disrespectful to whoever did it.”

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6. The Tenth Doctor is married to the actress who played his on-screen daughter

Tenth Doctor David Tennant married Georgia Moffett this year, who played his daughter Jenny in the episode “The Doctor’s Daughter.” Moffett also happens to be the real-life daughter of Peter Davison, who played the Fifth Doctor.

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7. The creator of Doctor Who wanted a female Doctor

When the original series was struggling with ratings in the 1980s, the show’s creator, Sydney Newman, wrote a letter to BBC One Controller Michael Grade, admonishing the state of the show. He called for a temporary return of Patrick Troughton, who played the Second Doctor, before metamorphosing The Doctor into a female incarnation – a Time Lady.

Newman also suggested adding ‘a trumpet playing schoolgirl in “John Lennon-type spectacles” and her graffiti-spraying “yobbo” elder brother’ to the cast lineup.

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His advice was ignored, with Sylvester McCoy continuing the all-male tradition when he took over the role from Colin Baker in 1987. The show continued its decline until it was cancelled in 1989.

8. The author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a Doctor Who writer in the 70s

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After sending the script for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy pilot radio programme to the Doctor Who producers, Douglas Adams was hired to write the episode “The Pirate Planet.” He went on to become script editor and write two more episodes, “City of Death” and “Shada”.

Unfortunately, “Shada” was being filmed when the BBC production team went on strike, ultimately leaving it unfinished and unusable. Earlier this year, a novelized version of the script was published by author Gareth Roberts. Parts of the episode have also been used in the 20th anniversary episode of the series, “The Five Doctors” and Adams’ own novel, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.

9. The Daleks were inspired by the Nazis

After growing up during WWII, the Daleks’ creator, Terry Nation, originally based the aliens on the Nazis, citing them as “the unhearing, unthinking, blanked-out face of authority that will destroy you because it wants to destroy you.” In fact, they were so similar that Donald Wilson, Head of BBC Serial Dramas, said the first Dalek-based script was “absolutely terrible”.

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The episodes written by Nation carry more salient Nazi undertones, most notably in “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” and “Genesis of the Daleks,” which include allusions to the Nazis in the straight-armed, heel-clicking salute of the Daleks, mentions of taking over the world and destruction of the human race as ‘the Final Solution,’ the explanation that the Daleks were bred for racial purity, and the clear Nazi references in the uniforms worn by the Daleks’ ancestors, the Kaleds.

10. The Whomobile was added at the request of the Third Doctor

Jon Pertwee, the actor who played the Third Doctor, privately commissioned the futuristic vehicle that later came to be known as the Whomobile. When Pertwee convinced Doctor Who‘s producers to include the vehicle in the show, it was hastily added into the episode “Invasion of the Dinosaurs,” with a motor-boat windscreen added to make it roadworthy, since it was not fully completed at the time of filming.

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In Pertwee’s last episode as the Third Doctor, “Planet of the Spiders,” the car was used once again, this time in its complete form. Pertwee retained ownership of the vehicle after he left the series, naming it the Whomobile during press interviews (without the consent of the show’s producers, who apparently had a rule about not making plays on the show’s name).

11. Tom Baker joined a monastery at the age of 15

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Although he later ridiculed the ‘wonderful cunning of Catholicism,’ Tom Baker, who played the Fourth Doctor, was ‘intensely Catholic’ but said he joined a monastery when he was 15 as a way of getting out of Liverpool. Although he says it was ‘annihilatingly boring,’ Baker stuck it out in the monastery for five years before moving on to the Royal Army Medical Corps, where he became interested in acting.

12. The Fourth Doctor’s iconic scarf was created by accident

When costume designer James Acheson provided more than enough wool for the bohemian-style scarf required for Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor, the knitter, Begonia Pope, misunderstood his instructions and knitted all the wool she was given. Baker liked the overly-long scarf, and went on to wear it for the show anyway.

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13. The cliche ‘hiding behind the sofa’ was popularized by Doctor Who

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According to The Economist, the idea of hiding behind the sofa while watching Doctor Who is as British as Bovril and tea-time. The phrase apparently originated from the number of scared children hiding behind furniture during the most frightening scenes of the show, as they were unwilling to miss the programme altogether. The Telegraph later labelled the phrase as a common cliche, thanks to the series.

14. Deep Roy is the only Doctor Who actor to also appear in both Star Trek and Star Wars

After playing Keenser in 2009’s Star Trek, Deep Roy became the only actor to have appeared in all three of these sci-fi franchises. In 1983 Roy played Droopy McCool in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, and in 1977 he appeared in the Doctor Who episode “The Talons of Weng Chiang” as Mr Sin.

And as if that’s not impressive enough, Roy also played all 165 Oompa Loompas in Tim Burton’s 2005 remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

15. Ridley Scott almost designed the Daleks

When it came time for the famous Daleks to be designed, Ridley Scott was working as a designer at the BBC, and was originally slated for the job. Due to a scheduling conflict, Scott was unavailable and the job went to Raymond Cusick instead.

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16. Stephen Fry wrote a script for Doctor Who that was never filmed

Well-known actor and author Stephen Fry was invited to write an episode for season twenty-eight. When it became apparent that the 1920’s-based episode would be too complicated to fit into the season, it was pushed back and replaced by “Fear Her.” While it was intended to be included in the following season, the necessary rewrites, including replacing Rose Tyler with Martha Jones, were too time-heavy for Fry to complete, and the script was eventually abandoned.

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17. The Doctor’s regeneration was introduced to overcome the First Doctor’s ailing health

William Hartnell played the First Doctor until 1966 when Patrick Troughton took over. When it became apparent that Hartnell’s health was failing, story editor Gerry Davis and producer Innes Lloyd came up with the idea of regeneration to enable them to replace Hartnell with a new actor and continue the series.

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According to internal memos published by the BBC, the process of regeneration was modeled on a bad LSD trip, making it a ‘horrifying experience.’

18. Sylvester McCoy played both the Sixth and Seventh Doctors in his first scene

Due to Colin Baker’s frustration at the way he was treated (having been blamed for low ratings and fired from the show as a result, among other things), he refused to return to the show for his regeneration scene. McCoy, who took over as the Seventh Doctor, was left to stand in for Baker instead. The scene is often lambasted by fans, and io9 named it one of the 12 worst deaths in science fiction history.

Know a good fact that we missed? Let us know in the comments.

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About the Author

Belle Beth Cooper

Belle has spent the past four years as a freelance writer and social media consultant. She has written for The Next Web, Desktop Magazine and Social Media Examiner. Belle now spends her days wielding a pencil as Attendly's Head of Content.

5 Comments

  1. January 21, 2013 at 4:15 am

    Not only did Douglas Adams write for Doctor Who. One of the Hitchhiker novels was intended to be a Doctor Who episode, but got rewritten into a HHGttG novel. I believe it was the third.

  2. February 15, 2013 at 4:01 am

    Simon Pegg has also appeared in all three big franchises. He played the Editor in The Long Game in Doctor Who, Dengar the bounty hunter in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Scotty in Star Trek (2009).

  3. July 2, 2013 at 9:38 am

    Number 5 isn’t true at all. Matt Smith was their first choice. Benedict has said that in interviews when asked if he’d want to take the role. Matt Smith however, first auditioned for the role of John Watson in Sherlock, but didn’t get the part as Moffat thought he was more of a Sherlock Holmes than a Watson.

  4. October 24, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    I think the female electronic music composer Delia Derbyshire and her story should be included : http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delia_Derbyshire
    http://www.delia-derbyshire.org

  5. October 24, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    The bit about Colin Baker’s regeneration scene he wasn’t even informed it was happening he did part onj bad terms but because of this they didn’t even offer him the chance to do the regeneration scene, he was given one of the hardest deals in the history of the show all I can say is thanks for Big finish as he is excellent on there, I also enjoyed watching him on the show, it was also supposedly similar circumstances disagreeing with the producers why Tom left and why he wouldn’t have nothing to do with the show for a long time ie. The 5 Doctors……

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