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(aka An Unearthly Child, The Tribe Of Gum)
Intrigued by a strange pupil named Susan Foreman, schoolteachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright follow her home one night. “Home” turns out to be a time machine called the TARDIS, its police box disguise concealing an immense interior. Susan's grandfather, the Doctor, becomes determined to prevent Ian and Barbara from unmasking them as alien wanderers in time and space. Activating his temperamental ship, the Doctor catapults them back into humanity's prehistory. There the four are captured by a tribe of cavemen, to be sacrificed as a means of regaining the lost secret of making fire.
For a quarter-century after its launch in 1936, BBC Television seldom ventured into the realms of science-fiction. Rare exceptions included Nigel Kneale's horror-tinged Quatermass in the Fifties, and 1961's A For Andromeda, which launched the career of star Julie Christie. In 1962, Donald Wilson, Head of the BBC's Script Department, was asked by Eric Maschwitz, the Head of Light Entertainment, to commission a survey to investigate the feasibility of additional science-fiction projects.
Wilson tasked Alice Frick and Donald Bull of the Script Department with undertaking an initial survey, which they delivered on April 25th. It was followed by a second survey, conducted by Frick with colleague John Blaylock, and submitted on July 25th. They agreed that an ongoing science-fiction series could be developed, with telepathy and especially time travel noted as suitable concepts to explore. Amongst others, Frick and Blaylock cited Poul Anderson's 1955 short story Time Patrol as possibly being worthy of adaptation or emulation. However, nothing further was done with the two reports for the remainder of 1962.
On January 14th, 1963, Sydney Newman arrived at the BBC to take over the post of Head of Drama, replacing Michael Barry. Hailing from Canada, Newman had been a producer for the CBC when he was lured to England to fill a similar role at ABC Television. There, Newman made waves by creating such mould-breaking programmes as Armchair Theatre and The Avengers. He was also a proponent of science-fiction, and oversaw several genre series such as Pathfinders In Space.
Newman was enticed to join the BBC by the prospect of having a veritable carte blanche to shake up both the management structure and the broadcast content of a television channel now widely seen as snobbish and antiquated. Amongst the significant changes Newman effected was to remove authority over youth-oriented drama from the Children's Department; this decision came as a consequence of an expensive overrun two years earlier. Children's drama would now be handled much like adult drama, and made by either the Series, Serials or Plays Departments (into which Newman had split what had previously been a single Drama Department).
In March 1963, Controller of Programmes Donald Baverstock made Newman aware of a gap which needed filling on Saturday evenings, between the sports showcase Grandstand and the pop music programme Juke Box Jury. It was felt that a series with family appeal would be ideal for this timeslot. Newman considered a variety of ideas, including a show about two boys at a boarding school, before finally gravitating towards science-fiction. Amongst those he consulted was Donald Wilson, the man who had commissioned Frick, Bull and Blaylock's work the year before, and who had now been appointed Head of Serials. Newman asked Wilson to develop an idea for a fifty-two-week series, to be made up of several multi-episode stories.
On March 26th, Wilson convened a meeting with Frick, Blaylock and CE Webber, who also worked in the Script Department and specialised in writing for children. The result was an idea for a series called The Troubleshooters about a group of three scientific consultants: a “handsome young man hero”, a “handsome well-dressed heroine aged about 30” and a “maturer man, 35-40, with some ‘character’ twist”. Fleshed out by Webber, the proposal was delivered to the Head of Drama on March 29th.
Newman was less than thrilled. He particularly disagreed with the absence of a younger character, feeling that a teenager would be ideal to help embroil the other protagonists in their adventures. Newman did concur with the suggestion that the programme might involve the use of a time machine, and it was he who came up with the idea that this vessel could be bigger on the inside than on the outside. Newman also found great inspiration in the character of the “maturer man”. Eschewing the suggested age, he developed a frail, grumpy old man called the Doctor who had stolen the time machine from his own alien people. These thoughts were communicated back to Wilson.
At this stage, it was hoped that the first episode of the new series could be ready for videotape recording on July 5th. One of the BBC's more primitive studios -- Lime Grove Studio D, in Shepherd's Bush, London -- was earmarked for the production. Film sequences would be completed at the BBC Television Film Studios in Ealing, London the week before. The debut transmission would follow on Saturday, July 27th. Meanwhile, BBC veteran Rex Tucker was brought in to serve as interim producer, pending a permanent appointment. Consideration was also given to having him direct the opening serial. Tucker encouraged the input of a trainee director named Richard Martin, who was an avid science-fiction fan. Accounts differ as to whether it was Newman or Tucker who christened the new series Doctor Who.
Webber continued to develop the series guidelines, and around the start of May he submitted a first draft of Doctor Who's format document. In it, Webber suggested that each serial should be six or seven installments long, yielding about eight adventures over the course of the year. He recommended that each episode end on a cliffhanger, a suggestion much liked by Newman.
Webber fleshed out and named the four principal characters. Fifteen year-old Bridget, nicknamed “Biddy”, would be poor but trendy. She would be a student of Lola McGovern, 24 years old, who “tends to be the one who gets into trouble” and Cliff, 27 or 28 years old, who is “strong and courageous, a gorgeous dish”. Cliff was apparently named for pop star Cliff Richard. The trio would encounter “a frail old man lost in space and time” who “is suspicious and capable of sudden malignance”; he “seems to have some undefined enemy” and “is searching for something as well as fleeing from something”. Due to the old man's amnesiac state, the others would christen him “Dr Who”.
Webber was very concerned about the presentation of Dr Who's time machine, insisting that it should be neither too high-concept -- such as a plastic bubble -- nor too fantastical. He dismissed the idea of having it look like a night watchman's shelter as being simply “a version of the dear old Magic Door”. Instead, he proposed that the Ship should be “an absence of visibility, a shape of nothingness”, achieved by virtue of the Doctor painting the exterior with a light-resistant paint. Webber noted that the machine would be faulty, plunging the four characters haphazardly back and forth in time and space; this was another aspect much liked by Newman. Webber suggested that, while three of the characters left the vessel to explore their surroundings, one would always remain behind to activate the time machine at the appointed hour, implying that the characters would not actually need to be within the Ship in order to be transported with it.
Webber noted that the first episode should mostly concern the meeting of Biddy, Lola and Cliff with Dr Who, and their discovery of his time machine; he called this episode “Nothing At The End Of The Lane”. As a hook for future developments, Webber emphasised the character dynamics: Dr Who disliked the others, Cliff mistrusted the Doctor, Biddy had misgivings about Lola, and Lola “admired” Cliff. He also enumerated two “secrets of Dr Who”. The first was that the Doctor had fled his future era to seek a perfect society in the past; he would therefore be very antagonistic towards scientists and inventors, and even try to halt progress. The second secret was that the authorities of the future were trying to stop Dr Who from eradicating their own time.
Finally, Webber suggested that the first two stories should be brief, only four episodes long, and not deal with time travel at all. As an introductory adventure, he put forward the idea of the four characters being shrunk to minute size. He also discussed the idea of a Christmas serial, throwing out ideas involving Bethlehem, Aladdin, Merlin, Cinderella (indicating that her Fairy Godmother could be Dr Who's estranged wife pursuing him through time) and the characters of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (suggesting that Jacob Marley was “Dr Who slightly tipsy”).
Newman was not happy with Webber's document, particularly disliking its portrayal of the Doctor. Newman wanted Doctor Who to have an educational bent, and felt that the title character should be very much at ease with science and scientists. He also discarded Webber's notions about the time machine's appearance, desiring a tangible symbol for the Ship. It was at this point that Newman decided to become more actively involved in the series' development alongside Webber and Wilson. On May 13th, the decision was made to push back the start of production by four weeks, to August 2nd. Newman was now eyeing August 24th as the premiere date for Doctor Who.
The next draft of the format guide was produced by Webber on May 15th, and addressed many of Newman's concerns; notably, the section on Dr Who's “secrets” was dropped entirely. The decision was made at this stage to find a new name for Biddy, with Wilson preferring Sue over suggestions such as Mandy, Gay, Jill, Janet or Jane. Cliff was now described as being skilled in judo and gymnastics, and Sue would have a crush on him. Dr Who was listed as 650 years old, and he would experience “flashes of garbled memory which indicate that he was involved in a galactic war”. His time machine was “an old beat-up model which Dr Who stole when he escaped from his own galaxy in 5733”. In discussing the first episode -- now untitled -- Webber described how Dr Who would be encountered in the fog, first by Sue and later by Lola and Cliff.
The most significant change in this draft, however, was in the description of the time machine. Amongst those contributing to Webber's work was BBC staff writer Anthony Coburn, and it seems to have been his suggestion that the Ship should outwardly appear to be a police box. This idea had apparently come to him after he spotted one while on a walk near his office. Police boxes had been a common sight across the UK since the Twenties, with a design by Gilbert Mackenzie Trench most frequently employed. In addition to serving as a shelter for patrolling constables, they were equipped with a telephone via which members of the public could report an emergency, while the light on the roof would flash to alert a police officer to contact the station.
Webber refined his ideas on May 16th. The serials were now noted as being between four and ten episodes long. Miss McGovern was no longer named “Lola” and was described as a history instructor, while Cliff taught science. The first serial, to be written by Webber, was called “The Giants”, and still used Webber's earlier “miniaturisation” concept. Newman and Wilson then made additional edits to Webber's document, and on May 20th it was submitted to Baverstock, who approved of the progress made to date.
In late May, Doctor Who received its first permanent production appointment when another BBC veteran, Mervyn Pinfield, was named associate producer. Given his strong technical background, it was anticipated that Pinfield would support the producer with expertise in visual effects and budgeting. Meanwhile, Tucker had approached actor Hugh David about taking the lead role. David was only thirty-seven years old, but although the Doctor was envisaged as an older man, Tucker thought it would be best to cast a younger actor who could be made up to appear elderly. David, however, had been unhappy with the publicity incurred by his starring role in Knight Errant Limited -- which had concluded two years earlier -- and did not want to endure something similar with Doctor Who.
During May and June, Webber continued to develop “The Giants”, despite the growing misgivings of the other production personnel. Newman was concerned that the serial was “thin on incident and character” and also disliked its use of “giant” animals as antagonists. He feared that this element veered too closely to the “bug-eyed monsters” he wanted to avoid in Doctor Who. Wilson and Tucker were worried that the necessary effects could not be achieved in the outdated Lime Grove Studio D. Finally, it was decided to drop “The Giants” altogether.
For a replacement, the production team turned to Coburn. He had already begun developing ideas for a serial set in the age of the caveman, to possibly come second in the running order after “The Giants”. Incorporating aspects of Webber's first episode, these notions would now form the basis of the programme's debut serial, entitled “The Tribe Of Gum”. Coburn received a staff commission on June 14th; following his departure from the BBC with the dissolution of the Script Department -- another of Newman's innovations -- his serial was recommissioned on July 3rd, now on a freelance basis.
Many facets of Doctor Who continued to evolve. Cliff became headmaster CE Chesterton (whom Coburn, a devout Catholic, named after author and theologian GK Chesterton) while Miss McGovern was specified as a domestic science teacher. Sue -- renamed Suzan and then Suzanne Foreman -- was now an alien princess from Dr Who's home planet, and referred to him as her grandfather. Although Newman felt that this background undermined the intent of the character, Coburn was keen to avoid any unsavoury overtones associated with an older man travelling in the company of a young girl. The time machine was called a “Change and Dimensional Electronic Selector and Extender”. The Doctor availed of hypnosis to assist with his sojourn in 1963 London, using both smoke from special cigarettes and the light atop the Ship. The crisis which resulted in Dr Who kidnapping Chesterton and Miss McGovern arose because the London fog diminished the effect that his mind-controlling beacon had on them.
Tucker left his role as caretaker producer in June, although it was still expected that he would direct “The Tribe Of Gum”. Newman offered the permanent position to BBC Sunday Night Play producer Don Taylor, and to Shaun Sutton, whose lengthy resume included a number of children's serials such as Billy Bunter Of Greyfriars School. When both men declined, Newman instead turned to Verity Lambert, who had been his production assistant on Armchair Theatre. Despite her relative inexperience, Newman felt that Lambert possessed the right combination of independence, intelligence and chutzpah he wanted on Doctor Who.
By June 21st, the start of recording was delayed to August 9th, with the series premiere now scheduled for September 7th. On June 24th, the final major piece of the Doctor Who production puzzle fell into place when David Whitaker became the story editor, working with the producer to identify and develop appropriate scripts for the series. The next day, auditions were held for the two female leads. On the list for Suzanne was a young actress named Anneke Wills, who failed to appear after her agent forgot to inform her of the appointment; in 1966, Wills would instead be cast as companion Polly.
Coburn continued to develop “The Tribe Of Gum” through June and into July. Dispensing with the Doctor's propensity for hypnosis, Coburn instead devoted more time to detailing Dr Who and Suzanne's background. He revealed that Dr Who was actually a Lord of the House of Dooclare who rescued the young Findooclare, heir to the throne, when their planet was attacked by the Palladin hordes. They were now being pursued through time and space by an unnamed enemy, and the Doctor kidnapped the two teachers -- who had become science master Mr Chesterton and history teacher Miss Canning -- to prevent this foe from acquiring information about them.
Meanwhile, Coburn had also been commissioned to write a second Doctor Who serial, entitled “The Masters Of Luxor”. Despite this, neither Lambert nor Whitaker was particularly fond of “The Tribe Of Gum”, which they felt was unrepresentative of their vision for Doctor Who. They approached producer Terence Dudley about writing a replacement, but were unsuccessful. With time growing short, the production team acknowledged that work on Coburn's scripts would have to proceed.
Delays arising from the script problems caused considerable friction between the Doctor Who office and the BBC Planning Department, forcing Newman to intervene. Finally, it was agreed that the start of production on Doctor Who would be postponed again to September 27th, when a pilot episode would be recorded. Further installments -- including a new version of the first episode, should the pilot prove unsatisfactory -- would then be taped weekly, beginning on October 18th. Part one of “The Tribe Of Gum” would air on November 9th, when Doctor Who would replace The Deputy Dawg Show in the BBC Saturday evening schedules.
Because of the overhaul of the production schedule, it was realised that Tucker would not be available to direct “The Tribe Of Gum”. He was instead shifted back to “The Masters Of Luxor”, with that story's original director, Waris Hussein, replacing him on the introductory adventure. At this stage, it was hoped that Hussein and Tucker would alternate serials over the course of Doctor Who's fifty-two weeks. Lambert and Hussein quickly bonded: both were in their twenties, and whereas Lambert faced discrimination because of her gender (with persistent rumours alleging that she had slept her way into the producer's chair), Hussein likewise dealt with prejudice because he was not Caucasian.
Coburn continued to work with Whitaker to refine “The Tribe Of Gum”. The dialogue was amended to refer to the lead character only as “The Doctor”, a convention that would be adopted in future serials as well. Miss Canning and Suzanne became Barbara Wright and Susan, while Chesterton gained the forename Ian. The explicit details of the Doctor and Susan's background were largely excised, while the time machine became the TARDIS, standing for Time And Relative Dimension In Space (although some later episodes would instead use the plural “Dimensions”). The lead caveman Gum was renamed Kal, and Old Mother no longer survived the story's events. The ending was also revised to make it more action-packed, as opposed to Coburn's original version in which the tribe befriended the time travellers after Ian successfully made fire.
By the middle of July, Whitaker had produced a new version of the format guide. In addition to using the most recent names of the companions, he also emphasised that the time machine could travel “sideways” as well as backwards and forwards in time and space, and that the characters would rely on their ingenuity rather than science-fiction technology to solve problems. Whitaker also indicated that the travellers could not change history. The Doctor was now described as simply “over 60”, and the reason for the Doctor and Susan being on 1963 Earth was given as Susan wanting to “go to school and create at least one complete section of experience”. It was noted that the Ship was incapable of travelling into the Doctor and Susan's own future, beyond the year 5733.
Dismissing Tucker's casting suggestions -- which included an Australian actress for Susan -- Lambert and Hussein instead spent July conducting their own search. For the key role of the Doctor, Whitaker suggested Cyril Cusack and Pinfield recommended Leslie French, while Alan Webb and Geoffrey Bayldon were also considered. The role eventually went to William Hartnell, whom Lambert had seen earlier that year in the movie This Sporting Life. Hartnell was initially resistant to accepting such an unusual role, but he was persuaded by Lambert's enthusiasm, and by the opportunity to break away from the decades-long typecasting he had endured as various gruff sergeants, policemen and crooks.
To play Ian Chesterton, Lambert's only choice was William Russell, who had been the heroic lead in The Adventures Of Sir Lancelot. As Barbara Wright, Lambert chose Jacqueline Hill, with whom she had enjoyed a close friendship dating back to their time together on episodes of Armchair Theatre. For the role of Susan, Lambert considered actresses including Jackie Lane (who was not interested in a year-long commitment, but who would later be short-lived companion Dodo in 1966). Eventually, the part went to Carole Ann Ford, who had been in the movie The Day Of The Triffids and who could convincingly pass as a teenager despite being almost a decade older than her character's apparent age.
On July 23rd, it was decided to hold back Doctor Who's premiere for another week, until November 16th, due to a planned athletics broadcast on the 9th. Also around this time, the BBC was faced with potential legal action from Zenith Film Productions Ltd, which had attempted to interest the Corporation in a puppet series called The Time Travellers. This concept had been created by Martin and Hugh Woodhouse, who had earlier worked for Gerry Anderson on his Supercar series. Although The Time Travellers had been turned down because of its similarity to Doctor Who, Zenith now claimed that Doctor Who was a copy of their product; nothing would come of this.
On July 31st, all four members of the cast were contracted for fifty-two weeks of work. The BBC retained the option to drop any of them after the eighth episode, the twentieth episode, and the thirty-sixth episode. Two days later, Ron Grainer's services were retained to compose the Doctor Who theme tune. Lambert had originally hoped to commission French group Les Structures Sonores. When this did not work out, a new plan was conceived to have Grainer collaborate with the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop, and in particular arranger Delia Derbyshire, to create an unusual and otherworldly piece of music. Meanwhile, Brian Hodgson of the Radiophonic Workshop began creating sound effects for the series; the TARDIS dematerialisation noise was actually a door key being scraped along a piano's bass strings and then electronically modulated.
During August, the visual look of the main characters started to come together. Seeking an eccentric silhouette for the Doctor, it was agreed that the closely-cropped Hartnell would wear a longer white wig. The production team also wanted a distinctive look for Susan, and Ford recommended a rising star in the hairstyling profession named Vidal Sassoon. Five years later, he would become internationally famous after going to Hollywood to work with Mia Farrow for the horror film Rosemary's Baby.
The first filming for Doctor Who took place at Ealing on August 20th when Pinfield, graphics designer Bernard Lodge, and engineer Ben Palmer recorded the series' title sequence. They employed the “howl-around” technique conceived by Norman Taylor, in which feedback is generated by pointing a camera at a monitor displaying the same camera's own output. It was hoped that the Doctor's face might feature in the footage but an experiment -- using Lodge and assistant Jim Stevens as stand-ins for Hartnell -- was deemed too frightening. Additional work on the title sequence was undertaken at BBC Television Centre Studio 5 on August 31st, while the opening column of light was reused from a 1960 BBC production of the opera Tobias And The Angel.
On September 9th, Doctor Who's first broadcast was pushed back yet again, to November 23rd. Three days later, the BBC announced the forthcoming series to the press. On the 13th, tests were carried out at Lime Grove Studio D for the effect of the TARDIS materialising and dematerialising, which would signify the time machine's arrival and departure.
Whitaker, meanwhile, had made further amendments to Coburn's script, in particular toning down the more overtly romantic aspects of Ian and Barbara's relationship. The part four cliffhanger originally saw the TARDIS materialise near a Frank Lloyd Wright-style house floating in mid-air, leading into “The Masters Of Luxor”. However, this serial had now been dropped in favour of The Daleks, and the closing sequence was altered accordingly. This decision brought an end to Coburn's involvement with Doctor Who. He had been at odds with Lambert and Whitaker for some time, and was not disappointed to leave the series behind.
Filming for episode one, An Unearthly Child, took place at Ealing on September 19th. The TARDIS exterior made its first appearance; the design by Peter Brachacki hewed closely to a typical Mackenzie Trench police box. The only actor required was Leslie Bates, who cast the shadow (later revealed to be Kal) seen at the end of the installment. On the 20th, the main castmembers assembled for their first photocall; none of the actors had met prior to this occasion. As became standard throughout the Sixties, a week of rehearsals then culminated in the taping of An Unearthly Child in Studio D on September 27th; Fridays would be the regular recording day for Doctor Who for the next three years.
One of the chief sets in use this day was the TARDIS console room. It was designed by Brachacki (although it wound up being much more modest in scale than he had originally envisioned) and constructed by an independent firm called Shawcraft Models of Uxbridge. A persistent thorn in directors' sides for many years to come was the central column, which often failed to oscillate. However, this wasn't Brachacki's intention at all: he meant for the column to rise to its full extension and remain that way while the TARDIS was in flight, with its interior mechanisms rotating to provide the Doctor with data about the journey. The column would then descend back into the console once the time machine had reached its destination.
On this occasion, however, it was another element of Brachacki's set which proved troublesome. The TARDIS doors initially failed to close properly, and stagehands struggling to shut them became clearly visible in the completed footage. This mishap forced the second half of An Unearthly Child -- beginning with Ian and Barbara's entrance into the TARDIS -- to be recorded twice.
On September 30th, having viewed both versions of the pilot episode, Newman informed Lambert and Hussein that An Unearthly Child would have to be recorded again. Apart from a number of technical blunders -- for example, Jacqueline Hill's shoe became jammed in the classroom set at one point -- Newman also felt that the pacing was slow and the Doctor too unlikeable. Susan's alienness would also be toned down, and her assertion that she hailed from the 49th century (a slight change from the 5733 date earlier cited in the format guide) was replaced with a vague statement about coming from another time and planet.
The remaining filming for 100,000 BC was completed at Ealing from October 9th to 11th. Most notable amongst this material was the fight between Kal and Za. Hussein allowed production assistant Douglas Camfield to deputise for him on some of this footage; Camfield would later become one of Doctor Who's most prolific directors. At this point Brachacki, who had been generally dismissive of the programme, was replaced as set designer by Barry Newbery.
Meanwhile, Baverstock had not yet agreed to further production of Doctor Who beyond the initial four-part serial. He finally relented on October 16th, giving the green light for nine further episodes. Two days later, however, Baverstock sent Wilson a memo just before departing on a three-week leave, retracting his go-ahead due to significant budgetary overruns. Fortunately, Baverstock had been acting on erroneous data -- in particular, he had not accounted for the fact that the cost of the TARDIS console room set would be spread out over the entire season and not just the first thirteen episodes -- and Wilson and Newman were able to reach an agreement with the Planning Department for Doctor Who to proceed.
An Unearthly Child was remounted on October 18th; it was around this time that the serial was renamed 100,000 BC. Missing from the original recording was Fred Rawlings, who had played the policeman; he was replaced by Reg Cranfield. The remaining three episodes were then recorded on consecutive Fridays until November 8th. Oddly, the production lost one of its caveman extras when actress Margot Maxine refused to appear on camera with her teeth painted black.
Doctor Who's debut was originally to be accompanied by an appearance on the front cover of the Radio Times, the BBC's listings magazine. However, this decision was reversed at the start of November by Kenneth Adam, Director of Programmes, who was pessimistic about the success of the new series. In the event, the first major promotion for Doctor Who came in the form of a trailer, broadcast at 5.41pm on November 16th; a second trailer was transmitted on the 22nd. On the 21st, a press conference was held to launch Doctor Who, attended by Whitaker and the four lead actors. On the same day, the BBC Home Service aired a radio trailer read by Hartnell.
Unfortunately, the debut of Doctor Who was vastly overshadowed by the November 22nd assassination of US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. In combination with a widespread power blackout during the broadcast, these events prompted the BBC to repeat An Unearthly Child the following Saturday (except in Northern Ireland) immediately before episode two, The Cave Of Skulls. Despite many false starts and hurdles in its path, Doctor Who was finally charting a course towards the future...
|Updated 4th May 2020|
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