The BBC has released the earliest planning documents for its time travel dramedy Doctor Who – and they pitched a show very different from the one we love. This treasure trove of notes from 1963, online for the first time, presents the BBC's three unbreakable rules for good science fiction, including no robots and no bug-eyed monsters. Read on for a vision of a Doctor Who that could have been – and that could have looked a lot more like Torchwood. In 1962, the head of BBC serial dramas requested a study on whether "SF" could be adapted for television. The answer? Not really. "People aren't all that mad about SF," the first report observes, "but it is compulsive." And most SF was American, leaving the BBC with only the "modest writer" Arthur C. Clarke and the "clumsy and old-fashioned" C.S. Lewis to adapt. (in another jab at C.S. Lewis, he is labeled "boring and platitudinous" – perhaps they're lucky he passed away the day before "An Unearthly Child" aired, and couldn't complain that the TARDIS stole his "bigger on the inside" shtick). Television SF, they conclude, "must not be written by SF writers." Most SF of the day consisted of "the imaginative short story with philosophic overtones" – fine on paper, but no good for television. One wonders if they'd ever heard of a little thing from across the pond called The Twilight Zone. But the Beeb prevailed! And a follow-up memo concluded three basic rules for a proper SF serial, which boil down to: 1. No Bug-Eyed Monsters 2. No Tin Robots 3. No elaborate SF settings (ie, the interior of a spaceship or the surface of a planet) The Daleks, the Cybermen, the TARDIS console, and several Welsh quarries all hang their heads in shame.
Once they'd established the ground rules, the BBC's best and brightest were still stuck on a premise – and their solution sounds suspiciously similar to Torchwood. "Partners in a firm of scientific consultants!" announces the new series' concept notes, hoping that bold-face type will make a consulting firm sound exciting. Cecil Webber, writing the pitch, wanted our heroes to be called "The Troubleshooters." A young man, a young woman, a child, and "a maturer man with a character twist" (Ian, Barbara, Susan, and the Doctor?) would solve off-beat scientific mysteries, with some freelance adventuring on the side. So, basically, Torchwood. Except the same document also states that "SF is deliberately unsexual." Torchwood, minus the sex. Sounds awesome. The next document, "Background Notes for Dr. Who," brings us a little closer to the show we know, as the "maturer man with a twist" becomes "a frail old man lost in time and space." This draft intended the mystery of Dr. Who (it's really hard to type "Dr. Who" and not "the Doctor," by the way!) to get re-set with each story, remaining inscrutable to the other characters. Dr. Who is a bit of a luddite, who hates scientific progress. He wants to find "an ideal past," and then "destroy or nullify the future." Head of Drama Sydney Newman penciled in a rejection of this idea – not because it sucks, but because he didn't want Dr. Who to be a reactionary.
Webber finishes up the document by offering several theories about Dr. Who's true identity:
"Was it by means of Dr. Who's machine that Aladin's palace sailed through the air? Was Merlin Dr. Who? Was Cinderella's Godmother Dr. Who's wife chasing him through time? Jacob Marley was Dr. Who slightly tipsy, but what other tricks did he get up to that Yuletide?"
Well, he was proven right on the Merlin count, but I'm not so sure about the rest… [BBC]