Doctor Who is the longest-running science fiction series on television, and has been running non-continuously for over 50 years. In its many seasons and many regenerations of the Doctor, the show has become an integral part of pop culture. Enjoy these 50 facts about Doctor Who.
In 1966, First Doctor William Hartnell’s health problems forced him to leave the show. Not wanting the series to end with their star’s departure, the showrunners came up with the idea that the Doctor could regenerate into a new face. This tactic has allowed Doctor Who to stay on the air for decades.
In the early years of Doctor Who, the BBC would commonly throw out episode tapes instead of archiving them. A total of 253 episodes were destroyed by the BBC, as the network considered them to be of no value. However, copies of these lost episodes have cropped up all over the world, including two serials recently discovered in Nigeria. Now only 97 episodes are missing.
Fourth Doctor Tom Baker’s famous long, multi-colored scarf was not intentionally created. Costume designer James Acheson instructed a costume maker to knit a regular scarf, providing her with several balls of yarn as color options. She misunderstood the instructions and knitted all the the yarn she was given into one gigantic scarf. Both Acheson and Baker liked the huge scarf and decided to keep it.
Baker was sometimes asked to ramble off numbers for as coordinates for the TARDIS. Unbeknownst to everyone else, he would often recite the phone number for the Doctor Who production office.
When Paramount Pictures considered making a Doctor Who movie, their first choice for the Doctor was Michael Jackson. Their back-up for the role was Bill Cosby.
The spin-off Rose Tyler: Earth Defence almost happened, but died in development. Billie Piper had no interest in reprising her role, and showrunner Russell T. Davies thought it would make the Doctor’s goodbye to Rose meaningless.
In Second Doctor Patrick Troughton’s final episode “The War Games,” he and his companions were instructed to stand close to an explosion. When they were unsure, an explosives expert with a scarred face and missing fingers was sent to tell them not to worry about the detonation. Troughton was not convinced, and wanted to see the detonation first. Turns out he was right: When the explosion was set off, a large boulder flew out to the exact spot where the actors had been placed for the detonation.
When Doctor Who returned to TV in 2005, producers thought references to the show’s past would alienate new fans, so the first season was purposefully kept small in scope. The Doctor did not even travel to a planet other than Earth until Season 2.
When Peter Capaldi took over as the Twelfth Doctor, he insisted that there would be no romance between the Doctor and his companions. This made the dynamic similar to the original run of the show. Fifth Doctor Peter Davison claimed the producer would not even allow the Doctor to put his arms around a female companion for fear that the audience would read something romantic into it.
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During the First Doctor’s run in 1965, the episode “Mission to the Unknown” set up the master plan of the Daleks without any appearance from the Doctor and his companions. Unfortunately, this is one of the show’s missing episodes and currently only exists as an audio recording.
When Doctor Who was first created, it was intended as a children’s education series, teaching little ones about science and history. The show has evolved in many ways since then, but the Doctor continues to love children and retain a young audience.
Tom Baker suggested the possibility of a female Doctor in 1980 when he announced his departure from the role, wishing the next Doctor the best “whoever he or she may be.” When the series struggled with ratings in the 1980s, BBC executive Sydney Newman also proposed the idea of a Time Lady. In 2017, the possibility was finally realized when Jodie Whittaker was cast as the Thirteenth Doctor.
Showrunner Steven Moffat objected to Matt Smith’s desire for the Eleventh Doctor to wear a bow tie. Fortunately for Eleven, Smith eventually got his way. It was also fortunate for bow tie retailers, because Eleven inspired a surge in bow tie sales. It seems bow ties are cool after all.
In the show’s early days, episodes were recorded in a single take. If anyone messed up, the other actors had step in to get the script back on track.
Christopher Eccleston wanted to play a grittier Doctor to contrast with the rather posh former incarnations of the character. He chose a leather jacket and kept his Northern accent to give a different impression.
In the episode “Planet of Fire,” Nicola Bryant had a scene where her character was drowning. During filming, a nearby German nudist thought she was actually drowning, and tried to save her. When he found out his efforts were for nothing, he then tried to ruin the filming by running through the background completely naked.
The episode “Fires of Pompeii” featured two future Doctor Who stars in minor roles. Karen Gillan, the future Amy Pond, played the Soothsayer. Peter Capaldi, the future Twelfth Doctor, played Caecilius, the Roman whose family the Tenth Doctor saves. In the Twelfth Doctor’s first episode, he looks in a mirror and says he has seen that face before, referencing Capaldi’s previous role on the show.
Ridley Scott, future director of classic sci-fi movies Alien and Blade Runner, worked for the BBC in the 1960s. He was a designer assigned to early episodes of Doctor Who, including the one that introduced the Daleks. However, before the episode went into production, he left to start work as a director, and Raymond Cusick stepped in instead.
The episode “Invasion of the Dinosaurs” featured the futuristic and versatile hovercar the Whomobile, the Doctor’s other vehicle. Third Doctor John Pertwee personally commissioned the vehicle and supervised its design. After he departed the series, the car remained in his personal collection. The only downside, Pertwee admitted, was that he was pulled over by the police many times, and it frequently caused a distraction when he drove it on the road.
The Chinese government banned Doctor Who along with any other TV show or movie about time travel. Government officials do not want to promote re-writing history, which the Doctor has been prone to do.
Colin Baker hated the colorful patchwork costume that his Sixth Doctor wore; he wanted an outfit similar to Christopher Eccleston’s later costume. Baker referred to his costume’s design as "an explosion in a rainbow factory."
Fifth Doctor Peter Davison’s daughter Georgia Moffett played the Doctor’s daughter in the episode “The Doctor’s Daughter,” opposite Tenth Doctor David Tennant. Tennant and Moffett later got married, making her the Doctor’s wife, the Doctor’s real daughter, and the Doctor’s fictional daughter.
The sound effect of the TARDIS materializing is the sound of house keys scraped along piano wire, then played backwards. Just in case anyone wanted to engineer their own TARDIS sounds.
Doctor Who has inspired several novelty songs and albums during its run on television, including the chart-topping Doctorin’ the TARDIS and the beloved I’m Gonna Spend My Christmas With a Dalek.
Third Doctor John Pertwee had trouble remembering the tech speak the Doctor would often use, so the crew hid cue cards on the set to aid him. He also liked saying “reverse the polarity,” which writers often worked into his technobabble.
The episode “The Twin Dilemma” is considered a famously bad episode. In the episode, the newly-regenerated Sixth Doctor has paranoid mood swings. Scriptwriter Anthony Steven took a long time to write the script for the episode, making increasingly bizarre excuses, including that his typewriter literally exploded while writing the episode.
The name “The Doctor” is a paradox. The Doctor supposedly inspired the word “doctor” and its meaning as a healer through his own adventures, but he also claims he chose the name because of its meaning as a healer. Repeat after me: wibbly wobbly timey wimey.
The Daleks’ creator, Terry Nation, based the Daleks on the Nazis, emphasizing their eugenics and obsession with conformity. The Dalek arms even bore a similarity to Nazi salute.
Hugh Grant was considered for the role of the Doctor when the show returned in 2005, but he rejected the part. He didn't think the show would be successful, but he later regretted his decision when he saw the show’s massive success.
Twelfth Doctor Peter Capaldi was a huge fan of Doctor Who during his youth. He created and published fan art, and he constantly sent letters to the BBC asking for production photos. He also desperately wanted to be named president of the fan club. Assistant to the producer Sarah Newman said Capaldi “haunted” her time working on the show, and stated in a letter to the actual fan club president, “I think he’s the end and I wish the Daleks or someone would exterminate him.” Decades later, Capaldi finally achieved any superfan’s dream of being cast as the Doctor. Unfortunately, that meant the Daleks did, in fact, try to exterminate him.
New Who show runner Russell T. Davies asked beloved author J.K. Rowling to write for the series in 2005, but she was too busy trying to finish writing her own mega-hit series, Harry Potter. Rowling has yet to join the Who crew, but one can always hope.
When Doctor Who returned to television in 2005, the episode tapes were given a code name to prevent the tapes from being stolen and the episode contents leaked. All Doctor Who tapes were labeled with the anagram Torchwood. Davies liked the anagram so much, he chose it as the name for the Captain Jack spin-off.
Disappointed he would not have a part in the 50th Anniversary Special, Fifth Doctor Peter Davison made a webisode of former Doctors Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, and Davison himself trying to sneak onto the set of the episode. The trio steal their old costumes from the Doctor Who Experience, and Davison enlists the help of his son-in-law David Tennant to infiltrate the set.
Davies refused to hire writers who had worked on the original series for the new seasons.
The production crew had many difficulties operating K-9. The cameras interfered with the remote control signal, making it difficult to control. Getting the small robot dog in the same shot as the actors was also a common problem, and it was constantly stopping when it ran into the smallest of obstacles on the floor.
Doctor Who’s production did not always go smoothly. Before the series went into full production, the BBC rejected its first pilot due to a number of set and technical issues. The network executives had some faith in the series, however, and the BBC Head of Drama ordered a second pilot.
Since the Doctor spent 900 years on Trenzalore in the episode “The Time of the Doctor,” the Doctor’s longest-serving companion is Handles the Cyberman head.
The companion Mel was so unpopular that an audience research report stated, “56 per cent of respondents who answered a questionnaire on the Paradise Towers story wished she had been eaten.”
The estate of Dalek creator Terry Nation still owned the copyright to the Daleks when the series was revived in 2005. The estate and the BBC had difficulties agreeing on editorial control, and Nation’s estate accused the BBC of trying to "ruin the brand of the Daleks." An agreement was finally reached, and the Daleks returned to their rightful place as the Doctor’s perpetual nemesis.
First Doctor William Hartnell began to have memory problems due to his illness, and forgot lines of dialogue. He would ad-lib strange lines in their place, and many were kept and justified as part of the Doctor’s character.
Caitlin Blackwood, the young Amy Pond, and Karen Gillan, the regular Amy Pond, are actually related. The two Amy Ponds are real-life cousins, but they only met for the first time on the set of Doctor Who. That explains the resemblance.
Doctor Who’s first episode was scheduled to be broadcast on what happened to be the day after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The news coverage surrounding the assassination delayed the broadcast, affecting roughly the first minute and a half of the episode. The BBC ended up rebroadcasting the episode, this time unaffected by major world news.
David Tennant had been a fan of Doctor Who since childhood, and he wrote an essay in grammar school about how his greatest desire was to play the Doctor. When he was finally cast as the Tenth Doctor, his first question was, "Can I have a long swishy coat?"
When the Daleks first appeared, they were controlled from inside by Dalek operators. The operators had to move the eyestalk, dome, and arms, as well as flash the lights on the Dalek’s head to match the voice actors’ dialogue. This made controlling the Dalek a complex procedure. Former Dalek operator John Scott Martin commented, "If you were related to an octopus then it helped!"
The Sonic Screwdriver appeared in the original run of Doctor Who, but producer John Nathan Turner ordered it written out in the 1980s. He felt the versatile device made the Doctor’s life too easy. When creating the new incarnation of the Doctor, Davies brought the Sonic back, feeling the Doctor should not be limited by something as simple a locked door.
Steven Moffat’s idea for the terrifying Weeping Angels came from a real statue: He took his inspiration from a carved figure in a graveyard that he would see on family vacations. Moffat was attracted to the idea because the graveyard was marked “dangerous,” inspiring him to create the frightening and lethal statues.
Verity Lambert, one of the founding producers of Doctor Who, was also the first female producer in BBC’s history. She was also the youngest drama producer at the BBC when she was hired for Doctor Who.
The Master has been complicating the Doctor’s life since the 1970s, constantly popping up as the Doctor’s nemesis. However, there was also a plan to reveal the Master as the Doctor’s brother. Unfortunately, the original actor for the Master died before the plan could be put in development, and the story has never resurfaced even in reprisals of the Master.
Although the Daleks became an instant hit after they were introduced, BBC executives thought little of the iconic villains. Head of Drama Sydney Newman considered them merely "bug-eyed monsters," and got angry with producer Verity Lambert for bringing them into the show. Network executive Donald Wilson thought the first Dalek script was one of the worst things he had ever read, and he insisted the story could not air. There was no story to replace it, however, so the Daleks went on as planned.
Everyone knows that the Doctor’s time machine, the TARDIS, is shaped like a regular blue police box, but did you know that the only reason that it looks that way is because of a broken chameleon circuit, the part of the TARDIS that allows it to blend into its environment? However, the Sixth Doctor briefly managed to fix it in the episode “Attack of the Cybermen.” Unfortunately, the Doctor was not impressed with the TARDIS’ out-of-practice results, and it caused some navigation issues. The blue box quickly returned as the TARDIS’ usual form.
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