Last week saw the release of “Shada,” a legendarily canceled Doctor Who story from the ‘70s, finally completed. “Shada” is an icon in Doctor Who history, and one of many storylines from the show’s classic era than never got made. But the modern era has its own set of tales that were in the works, but never made it to TV.
While Doctor Who’s past of missing stories and seasons that never were—thanks to hiatuses and the show’s eventual cancellation—are well documented, we unfortunately don’t know nearly as much about the modern Who episodes and specials that never came to be. A lot of it comes in snippets and fragments rather than complete story pitches. (Russell T. Davies and Ben Cook’s excellent book The Writer’s Tale, charting Davies’ time writing the fourth season and eventually the final specials of his time on the show, is perhaps the best source of information on paths Doctor Who could’ve taken.) But here are just a few of the adventures that almost happened during the past 12 years—some good, and some very much not.
The Ninth Doctor and Rose almost had a very different relationship by the end of Doctor Who’s first season in 2005. Planned to be written by Paul Abbot for the season’s penultimate episode before its two-part finale, the story would’ve been set in ancient Pompeii (a setting eventually revisted in season four’s “The Fires of Pompeii”), and would’ve seen newly-arrived companion Jack Harkness discover that the Doctor had actually spent all of Rose’s life manipulating her upbringing and altering time in an attempt to make the perfect companion. Which... huh.
Abbot had to drop out of writing the episode, however, thanks to commitments to his own creation, the working class comedy Shameless, and the plan for the episode was scrapped altogether. In its place, Russell T. Davies wrote “Boom Town,” which was about the Doctor playing nice with a farting alien who’d previously attempted to infiltrate the British Government and start a nuclear war. Only a slightly different tone change.
As practically one of the first rumors about a story for the revived series, talk of famed actor/comedian Stephen Fry writing a Who story buzzed around almost from the moment the first season aired. But it wasn’t officially confirmed until production on season two was beginning.
Virtually nothing is known about the episode other than the fact it would’ve been set in the 1920s, but it was eventually bumped from production due to budgetary concerns, and replaced by Matthew Graham’s “Fear Her.” When Fry didn’t have the time to make changes to fit new companion Martha Jones into the story instead of the outgoing Rose Tyler, he had to scrap the story altogether.
The “Doctor-Lite” or “Companion-Lite”—episodes, usually near the end of a season, where one of the two primary characters on the show barely appears so production can be initiated on other episodes to save time and money—has become a staple of modern Doctor Who, from stories like “Blink” to “Flatline.” Written by Tom MacRae, “Century House” would’ve been another, planned for the third season of the show.
In this case, Freema Agyeman’s Martha Jones would’ve been the “lite” aspect of the plot, as the Doctor took part in a live episode of the UK paranormal TV series Most Haunted, investigating a house inhabited by a phantom known as the Red Widow, with Martha watching along at home. Scheduling concerns led to the story being pushed back and reworked for Catherine Tate’s Donna Noble in season four, but it was eventually canceled altogether and replace with a far more serious “Companion-lite” story from Davies, “Midnight.”
Another discarded idea from season four of the show, this Mark Gatiss story would’ve seen Nazi soldiers invade the Natural History Museum in London during World War II, only to discover that a secret chamber below the museum was home to a litany of dangerous, freakish monsters. It was eventually scrapped, but elements of the secret exhibitions at museums were eventually used in Steven Moffat’s season five finale, “The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang.”
In The Writer’s Tale, Davies recounts an alternate version of the opening episode of season four, “Partners in Crime,” which reunited the Doctor with Chiswick’s finest temp, Donna Noble. Instead of being about sentient fat-aliens called Adipose, the story would’ve seen the Doctor and Donna cross paths while they investigated a mysterious glass dome that suddenly trapped part of London. Davies acknowledged in the book that it was a welcome change considering The Simpsons Movie ended up using a similar premise the year prior.
Davies and David Tennant’s time on Doctor Who ultimately came to a close not with a full season of stories, but four specials that aired over the course of a year, starting with 2008's Christmas installment “The Next Doctor.” But before the show went with a slightly cheeky, meta acknowledgement of Tennant’s impending exit, the show almost had a far grander idea for a Christmas special: the Doctor meeting Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling.
The special would’ve seen Rowling possessed by an alien creature, bringing the magical creations from her brain to life—with the Doctor having to battle through Hogwarts wizards and other creations to save the world. Although a little similar to the season three story “The Shakespeare Code,” the plan was eventually scuppered, not by Rowling turning down the crossover, but by Tennant himself nixing the idea as too “spoofy.”
Another potential story for the specials pitched by Davies and writer Phil Ford, this Christmas 2009 story would’ve seen the Doctor dealing with a strange Grandmother at a hotel, who’d managed to make her family disappear in the blink of an eye. Davies wanted Helen Mirren to star as the mysterious gran, but the pitch was ultimately rejected in favor of what would eventually become “The Waters of Mars.”
Another special that never was, The Writer’s Tale also includes Davies’ alternate idea for David Tennant’s final story. Instead of the grand indulgence and Master-packed mayhem of “The End of Time,” it would’ve been much smaller scale, with the TARDIS landing on the malfunctioning spaceship of an alien family. Eventually he would sacrifice himself to repair the ship and save the family’s lives, beginning his regeneration. Although the story was scrapped, Davies kept the aliens—the spiky green beings known as the Vinvocci—as part of his scripts for “The End of Time.”
Pencilled in for Steven Moffat’s first season as showrunner, this Gareth Roberts-penned story would’ve seen the Eleventh Doctor paired up with a surly, disgraced Sontaran soldier called Strom. The story was eventually replaced with Roberts’ “The Lodger,” and while Strom was scrapped, elements of his character were eventually used for the bumbling Sontaran, Commander Strax, who became a recurring character throughout the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure on the show.
The reaction to Mark Gatiss’ season nine story about a sleep research station menaced by sand monsters was... mixed at best, but that didn’t stop the writer from pitching a follow-up a season later. Instead of being set after “Sleep No More,” the second story would’ve been a prequel, set in a modern city where the technology that created the nasty sleep-sand monsters was inadvertently created hundreds of years earlier.
When it was eventually announced that season 10 would be the final season for both showrunner Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi—and potentially Gatiss’ final involvement with the show after years as a recurring writer—he decided to scrap the sequel in favore of indulging on an idea he’d had for years: Ice Warriors fighting Victorian soldiers.
Production of Doctor Who’s golden anniversary celebrations was famously fraught, with Steven Moffat openly discussing how close to complete failure the event could’ve been, given the weight of fan expectations. After Ninth Doctor actor Christopher Eccleston declined to return for a multi-Doctor story, Moffat found himself low on options—his current star, Matt Smith, had yet to officially sign on for the special or even for his future on the show (Smith would ultimately depart an episode later, in the Christmas special “The Time of the Doctor”), and neither had potential returning star David Tennant.
Weeks before production was due to begin, Moffat drafted a 50th anniversary special that didn’t star the Doctor at all—and instead just featured then-current companion Clara Oswald. That probably wouldn’t have been received all that well.