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

Paul Kirkley presents 55 or so facts about the series you probably didn’t know

21. Tom the Builder: Famously, Tom Baker was working as a builder’s labourer when he won the role of Doctor Who. The day after his casting was announced to the world, he shocked his fellow workers by turning up and putting in the best part of a day’s shift. Minus tea breaks, obviously.

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22. I Was A Doctor Who Stepladder: During taping for Baker’s debut story in 1975, a scene shifter’s strike meant a stepladder couldn’t be removed from the middle of the studio – so they simply wrote it into the script instead. Said ladder features so often in the story, Robot, it probably still receives repeat fees.


23. Knock knock, Who’s there: While returning from location filming in Reigate – doubling, for obvious reasons, as Antarctica – Elisabeth Sladen was so keen not to miss part three of The Android Invasion (1975) that Tom Baker stopped the coach in the middle of a suburban Surrey street, and marched a small party of cast and crew up to the nearest front door. “Hello, my dear,” he beamed at the woman who answered. “I’m the Doctor and this is Sarah. We wondered if we might be able to watch ourselves on your television tonight?” The following year, Baker repeated the trick, settling down to watch an episode of The Deadly Assassin with a dumbfounded young family in Preston, having knocked on their door while travelling home from the Doctor Who exhibition in Blackpool. Seems like someone would do anything to avoid buying a TV licence.


24. Ready for his close-up: Recording 1977’s Horror of Fang Rockin Birmingham, Tom Baker so infuriated the crew that some of them tried to swing a pair of mole crane cameras at his head, until director Paddy Russell saw what was happening and stepped in to save him.


25. Ground control to Major Tom: Keen to explore the idea of a more… um, unusual companion, Tom Baker’s helpful suggestions for fellow TARDIS travellers included a parrot, a frog, a fox, a badger, a grossly overweight woman who would be forced to “wheeze” around after him, and a talking cabbage. He never got his request (though Adric was a bit of a wet lettuce).


26. Swamp things: Because of the wetland location used for 1978’s The Power of Kroll, the green paint used on the various extras and stuntmen playing the marsh-dwelling Swampies had to be water-resistant. And it was. So resistant, in fact, that the actors couldn’t get it off, and had to be taken to a local RAF base and scrubbed with Swarfega. A coach load of green men being bussed into a military base? This is exactly how Roswell-style conspiracy theories start.


27. Humpty numpties: The source of the industrial action that led to the cancellation of Shada – Douglas Adams’ aborted 1979 season finale, for which all the location filming had been completed – was a long-running dispute between studio electricians and the props department that had come to a head over a row about whose job it was to set the hands on the Play School clock. Yes, really. I bet that Hamble was stirring it as well.


28. Little dig: In 2001, Matthew Waterhouse, who played Adric, was used by Who superfans Matt Lucas and David Walliams as the name of a character in the first radio series of Little Britain – narrated by one Tom Baker. In their version, Matthew Waterhouse was a rubbish inventor whose ideas included Sugar Poofs – “real gay men frosted in sugar”.


29. Gentlemen prefer blondes: According to Peter Davison, producer John Nathan-Turner insisted he have blonde highlights in his hair in attempt to turn him “into a gay icon”.


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30. Dummy run: When no-show Tom Baker was replaced by his Madame Tussauds waxwork for a photocall to promote 20th anniversary special The Five Doctors, his fellow Time Lords Peter Davison, Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton wasted no time in picking up the mannequin and using it as a battering ram, before dumping it in a bin.