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

31. Surrey seems to be the hardest word: Nicola Bryant, who played 80s companion Peri, pretended in her audition to be American – even though she was actually from Guildford. She then had to keep up the pretence both on and off-screen, much to the amusement of co-star Peter Davison, who was married to American actress Sandra Dickinson, and had rumbled Bryant straight away.

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32. Making waves: Filming her debut story Planet of Fire (1984) in Lanzarote, Nicola Bryant’s drowning acting was so convincing, a German nudist swam out to rescue her. Annoyed at the deception, the same German later tried to ruin a scene by running starkers through the back of the shot.


33. Bum steer: While recording the Sixth Doctor’s first story, The Twin Dilemma, in late 1983, Colin Baker decided to cement relations with new co-star Nicola Bryant by biting her on the bottom. “It broke the ice,” he ‘explained’. He’s lucky it wasn’t all that got broken.


34. Distressing scenes: Doctor in Distress, a charity record released after Michael Grade tried to axe the series in 1985 (sample lyric: “There was a Brigadier and a Master, and a canine computer / Each screaming girl just hoped, that a Yeti wouldn’t shoot her”) boasted a stellar line-up including impressionist Faith Brown, Bobby G from Bucks Fizz and Sally Thomsett off Man About the House. Not exactly Band Aid, then, but there was one superstar talent in the room – the man who knocked out the grating tune on his Fairlight synthesiser was none other than future Oscar-winning Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer (The Lion King, The Dark Knight etc).


35. Short story: Despite being only 5’ 5” tall, Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy once acted as a bodyguard for The Rolling Stones.


36. Badge of honour: Legendarily fierce Blue Peter editor Biddy Baxter initially refused to allow Sophie Aldred’s Ace to wear a BP badge on her bomber jacket, insisting such a privilege had to be earned. A production secretary was duly dispatched to check the badge’s provenance, and was able to confirm that, in 1970, it had been won fairly and squarely by 11-year-old Sophie Aldred, of Blackheath, for her brilliant design for a rocket launcher built using a washing-up liquid bottle and a length of garden hose. They should probably have put her in charge of the special effects as well.


37. Sick to the back teeth: During recording for 1988’s The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, a cage door being manually operated by members of the crew pulling on wires crashed down on actor Ian Reddington’s head, hard enough for him to need dental work to repair his smashed back teeth. According to the future EastEnders and Corrie star, as he was led off set, he heard one of the wire operators say to the other: “I told you that would happen.”


38. Keep your hair on: Philip Segal, producer of the 90s Doctor Who TV movie, was furious when Paul McGann arrived for filming in Vancouver minus the long, wavy locks he’d sported when he’d cast him. McGann – who’d had a crewcut for a recent Gulf War drama – suggested simply playing the Time Lord with short hair, but Segal was having none of it, and a stylist was duly engaged to run up two curly wigs at $5,000 a piece.


39. Squee-m of the Shalka: In 2003, Richard E Grant played an alternative Ninth Doctor in animated 40th anniversary webcast Scream of the Shalka. Among the supporting cast was a young Doctor Who fan called David Tennant – who only found out about the production because he was recording a radio play in the studio next door, and begged the director to find him a part. “I play Caretaker Two,” he beamed. “It’s very hard not to get excited. I would kill to do more of these.” As it turned out, he wouldn’t have to resort to such drastic measures.


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40. Doctor Hugh: The Daily Mail’s infamous story naming Bill Nighy as the Ninth Doctor earned the paper a Shafta at an awards ceremony celebrating the year’s worst journalism blunders. But Nighy later confessed he had been approached about the role, but declined because it came with “too much baggage”. Russell T Davies also admitted he’d offered the part to Hugh Grant. “Let’s be honest,” said Davies, “Christopher Eccleston would be my first choice. However, if Hugh Grant had said ‘yes’, of course we’d have cast him. Yes, we did make those offers, but it’s not serious, because the one who was seriously interested was Chris.” Everyone clear on that? Good.