Over almost 53 years, it’s safe to say Doctor Who has changed a lot (not least the actors playing the Time Lord), but a few details have always stayed the same. The Doctor is a genius scientist from the planet Gallifrey, who travels time and space in his phone box-shaped TARDIS with his companions.
Except that the series almost wasn’t like that at all, as revealed in an early pitch for the series unearthed by a fan. For a time, the Doctor was going to be a human with an invisible time machine – as well as hate technology.
Everything could have been very different. Just imagine if the iconic Tardis had ended up as described below – completely unseen, with no identifying exterior at all.
We do not see the machine at all; or rather it is visible only as an absence of visibility, a shape of nothingness (Inlaid, into surrounding picture). Dr. Who has achieved this "disappearance" by covering the outside with light—resistant paint (a recognised research project today). Thus our characters can bump into it, run their hands over its shape, partly disappear by partly entering it, and disappear entirely when the door closes behind them.
Of if the Doctor had ended up with a “hatred for scientists, inventors, improvers” that the original pitch intended?
He can get into a rare paddy when faced with a cave man trying to invent a wheel. He malignantly tries to stop progress (the future) wherever he finds it, while searching for his ideal (the past). This seems to me to involve slap up-to-date moral problems, and old ones too.
Other surprising early ideas include the idea of the adventurers also travelling through matter (including a shrinking episode, which did eventually happen in 2014 episode Into the Dalek), the names of the lead characters (where Susan, Ian and Barbara are Biddy, Lola and Cliff) and the Doctor suffering memory loss (which is why he can’t pilot the time machine).
A page from the document by C.E. Webber, with notes by Sydney Newman
And then of course there’s the Doctor’s secret intentions to destroy part of time, which are succinctly described in a note by co-creator Sydney Newman as “nuts” (see above).
The authorities of his own (or some other future) time are not concerned merely with the theft of an obsolete machine; they are seriously concerned to prevent his monkeying with time, because his secret intention, when he finds his ideal past, is to destroy or nullify the future.
You can read the full pitch (with Newman’s notes) here or see the actual document here, but perhaps luckily for us all Newman wasn’t overly happy with a lot of these ideas. The premise was rewritten before the series aired while other key details (including the Doctor’s alien origin) changed and evolved as the show went on to become the Doctor Who we know and love today.
On the other hand, a show where an angry Luddite zooms around in an invisible bubble might have been even more popular. Who’s to say?
Doctor Who returns to BBC1 this Christmas