Tor.com content by

Constance Cochran

How the Doctor Became the Doctor

“A frail old man lost in space and time. They give him this name because they don’t know who he is.” —BBC’s background notes for Doctor Who, from 1962

The BBC has a terrific article about the original concept notes for Doctor Who that are now available digitally on the BBC Archive Project. The concept notes, written in 1962 by Cecil Webber (the BBC’s children’s writer), reveal the uncertainty about this new project. “We are not writing science fiction…neither are we writing fantasy…in brief, avoid the limitations of any label.” Another document in the archive details what kinds of science fiction stories the BBC considered suitable for adaptation—no robots, no “BEMs” (Bug-Eyed Monsters), no outlandish settings.  io9.com has more in-depth coverage, especially on the Beeb’s wariness of science fiction.

Before Star Wars and the age of special effects blockbusters, the TV and movie industry didn’t see science fiction as a guaranteed money maker. BBC Archivist Jim Sangster says that in the 1960s in England, science fiction “was seen as niche and American.”

On the Doctor Who concept pages, Sydney Newman, head of BBC drama, had scribbled emphatic notes. Newman is credited with shaping the Doctor Who concept into the show it became. For example, the TARDIS was originally conceived as “an absence of visibility, a shape of nothingness” but Newman quickly nixed that idea. Instead, Webber’s mention of “a night-watchmen’s shelter” became the police call box. The original notes suggested that the Doctor “malignantly tries to stop progress (the future)…while searching for his ideal (the past).” Newman objected, “Don’t like this at all…I don’t want him to be a reactionary.”

The archive, titled “The Genesis of Doctor Who: The Creation of a Television Hero” is a revealing look into the origins of a science fiction television mainstay. It also contains the original concept for another series called The Troubleshooters, which became the spin-off Torchwood, as well as some rare behind the scenes images.


[Image from the BBC Archives, © BBC]

Searching For the Eleventh Doctor

As you’ve probably already heard, David Tennant will be stepping out of the Tardis for the last time in 2009, after four Doctor Who specials. Of course rumors are flying from one end of the internet to the other (with discussion coming from multiple continents), and bookies are tallying odds.

At Tor.com, we’re also wondering who will be next to wield the sonic screwdriver. Here’s a round-up of the recent speculation.

[Front-runners and long shots below the fold…]

Saving Doctor Who

Underwire has a post on how the fans of the classic TV series are rescuing Doctor Who episodes by making their own reconstructions of lost footage.

The backstory is that when Doctor Who started airing on the BBC in 1963, the show was popular, but the BBC didn’t foresee that anyone would care about the episodes four decades later. Under the impression that the footage was archived at another location, and needing the film storage space, the BBC had some of the classic episodes destroyed.

In this time of living in the future, with DVDs, DVRs, DVD recorders (not to mention that reliable hanger-on, the VCR), and many digital copies of episodes available via iTunes, or streaming on sites like Hulu.com, it seems impossible that episodes of a TV show could become lost.  Also, DVD boxed sets of older series pop up all the time—assuming, of course, the source material still exists.

[More on the rescue of The Doctor below the fold.]

Finding the Doctor

In an earlier post, Tor.com’s Pablo Defendini covered a Q&A with Steven Moffat from San Diego Comic Con. [And more of that interview will be posted shortly.] Starting with series five, Moffat, who wrote several of the most memorable episodes of the BBC’s Doctor Who revival, including “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” and “The Girl in the Fireplace” (both of which won Hugo Awards) and the very scary “Blink,” will take over as showrunner. The fourth season recently ended.

When I was a little kid I’d watch Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor Who on PBS with my Dad. For decades I carried around in my head images of the Doctor’s wild curly hair and long scarf, K-9 and the TARDIS. None of the plots stuck with me although I remember being scared of Daleks and I always had a distinct memory of Sarah Jane being very put out because the Doctor returned her to earth in the wrong place.

After many years, and more Doctors that I didn’t watch, Russell T. Davies — whose name I either curse or speak with reverence — revived the franchise with Chris Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor. I resisted. At that point I still referred to the TARDIS as a “phone booth” and had a lot of other stuff to watch. I resisted.

When I finally watched, it took eight minutes into the first episode and I was gone, completely hooked.

[more below the cut…]

The show took strongly enough with me that when Nine changed to Ten, it felt wrong, all wrong. What had they done with my Doctor? And if anything should happen to Ten and we get an Eleven, I’ll probably say the same thing (it may not hurt quite as much; they say you never really let go of your first Doctor). Every companion that comes along, I think is the best one, until the next one. “Who was the best companion?” is about an unanswerable as “who was the best Doctor?”

According to epguides.com, the series started November 23, 1963 and ran almost every year (skipping a few years) until 1989. New Who started up in March of 2005. That’s a lot of backlog to catch up on, even considering a number of the earliest episodes are lost. But the more deeply I get pulled in to New Who the more curious I am about the history.

For now I’m perfectly content (aside from the occasional rant) with my New School Who. Doctor Who, as a character and an idea and a franchise, is fantastic. It veers between cheesy plots and superb science fiction, mixed with convincing drama, humor and sadness (sometimes it does it all of that at the same time; did you hear that the TARDIS can do your laundry, too?) The ideas and emotions hit a universal note. I’d recommend it to people who have a heartbeat.

[Image by Andrew Wong, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5. Full image details here.]

Surprised By Science Fiction

Ronald D. Moore’s update of Battlestar Galactica is the go-to show for many who like science fiction and many who usually won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. During the run of the series, people in the latter group have written articles, blog posts, or reviews expressing shock that they actually like a science fiction series. Well, they like this particular science fiction series — much to their confusion. Meanwhile, that other science fiction, that’s still weird/scary/full of actors covered in prosthetics, and not worth their time.

Why this blinking and stunned reaction to the idea that science fiction can offer layered, brilliant drama, that it can be really good?

You’d think the word would’ve gotten out about science fiction by now. Yet a compelling piece of science fiction with universal appeal (prosthetics or not) often gets treated as if it were the one saving grace of a tattered genre. A lot of the reactions to those works, instead of blowing away the preconceptions, seems to instead reinforce them – oh, this one’s not like other science fiction. This one’s actually cool!

How much more cool does the genre have to offer up before this stops becoming an event? It shouldn’t be news that science fiction is entertaining and resonant.

Battlestar Galactica is one example of terrific science fiction. So are a lot of other series I could mention right now (and probably geek out over, with a lot of hand gestures). Sometimes, as with Battlestar Galactica, one particular work happens to become an ambassador. Why so much doubt that there’s more where that came from? The ambassador’s an introduction, not the final word.