51-and-a-half amazing(ish) facts about Doctor Who

Paul Kirkley presents 51 or so facts about the series you probably didn’t know

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Paul Kirkley, author of Space Helmet for a Cow, a new comic history of the show, presents 51 facts about the series you probably didn’t know, plus another one that’s made up (but not by him…)

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1. The really wild show

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While attempting to recreate the Paleolithic era for Doctor Who’s debut story, An Unearthly Child, director Waris Hussein had a lorry-load of sand delivered to the studio. It turned out to be crawling with fleas that began feasting on the cast and crew, many dressed only in skimpy furs. For the next story he directed, Hussein engaged the services of a spider monkey, which escaped into the production gallery and… did what any frightened spider monkey would do in that situation. The following year, director Douglas Camfield went one better by dumping a decomposing cow under the hot studio lights while recording historical saga The Crusade. Basically, it was a bad day for anyone who got the Doctor Who studio on the cleaning rota.


2. Can the cans

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Introduced in the fifth episode, the Daleks turned Doctor Who into an overnight sensation – but they were very nearly exterminated before they made it to the screen. BBC exec Donald Wilson described Dalek creator Terry Nation’s original script as “one of the worst things I’ve ever read”, insisting “it can’t go out”. Fortunately, the producers didn’t have any other stories ready to replace it – and the rest is history.


3. Whoo-er, missus

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An actor in 1964’s They Keys of Marinus later wrote about his experiences wearing the skintight rubber suit of alien meanies the Voord for a fetish publication (and no, I don’t mean Doctor Who Magazine). Meanwhile, the title of episode two, The Velvet Web, was appropriated as the title of a gay erotica novel. The famously broad-minded William Hartnell would have been so proud.


4. The face that didn’t launch a thousand ships

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Homeric runaround The Myth Makers (1965) didn’t feature Helen of Troy – because the producers decided they wouldn’t be able to afford anyone attractive enough. “None taken”, said the rest of the female cast.


5. Billy’s bling 

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At the height of his success as the Doctor, William Hartnell presented his wife Heather with a solid gold TARDIS, topped with a sapphire. They were basically the Jay-Z and Beyonce of their day.


6. Galaxy Fourplay 

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Before hiring ophthalmologist Dr Kit Pedler as the show’s first scientific adviser in 1966, story editor Gerry Davis had meetings with Patrick Moore and Dr Alex Comfort, later to find fame as the author of legendary rumpo manual The Joy of Sex. We can only speculate what ideas he might have come up with – but no doubt they would have involved some very generous beards.


7. The other Mrs Who

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Second Doctor Patrick Troughton wasn’t convinced Doctor Who could last without its original star. But he took the job because he was supporting two families: he had a wife and three children in North London, and a girlfriend with three children south of the river. His mother never knew anything about his second family.


 8. That sinking feeling

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While filming 1967 Atlantean clanger The Underwater Menace, relations between the cast and director Julia Smith got so bad that Patrick Troughton and the other regulars began devising new ways to make her burst into tears. “We made her life a misery,” admitted Anneke Wills, who played Polly. Smith got her own back in later years by inventing EastEnders, and making everyone’s life a misery. Still, at least one person enjoyed the story: in his diaries, Joe Orton wrote admiringly about the sight of Frazer Hines dressed head-to-toe in rubber “like a Victorian masher”. No, me neither.


9. Bog monsters

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The roar of the Yetis in recently rediscovered classic The Web of Fear (1968) was achieved by slowing down the sound of a flushing toilet. It’s not hard to guess where the sound designer came up with all his best ideas.


10. Pilot error

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For sinister seaweed caper The Fury from the Deep (1968), the production team splashed out on an actual helicopter. But in the bar the night before filming, the pilot downed a crate of champagne and two bottles of brandy, swung from the chandelier, which came crashing down on top of him, and then ate – yes ate – all the empty glasses. Patrick Troughton subsequently refused to take off with this lunatic, so the director was forced to simulate the effects of flight by wheeling a cameraman around in a baby’s pram