Well, it’s sneaking up quietly on us – you’d think that the BBC might be promoting it a little bit more yet so far: nothing – but this weekend marks the fiftieth anniversary of the world’s favourite science fiction television show about a regenerating time traveller and his penchant for getting into scrapes with alien adversaries mostly in modern day Cardiff, Wales and Victorian England, England (narrowly beating out Rai Uno’s Signor Mussolini e la Macchina del Tempo Bikini); I’m talking, of course, about the BBC sci-fi TV series Doctor Who.
So, to commemorate the occasion of the anniversary of Doctor Who’s first showing on BBC TV in 1963 I’ve compiled a list of fifty facts about the Time Lord, safe in the knowledge that nobody else will have thought to do the same.
1. Many early episodes of Doctor Who have been lost as the tape on which they were recorded was reused as costumes for Blake’s 7.
2. When asked who is the sexiest companion most Doctor Who fans look uncomfortable and mumble something incoherently. But it’s probably Adric.
3. In the episode Earthshock, Doctor Who’s companian Tegan describes herself as “just a mouth on legs”, an inside joke referring to the initial design for her character.
4. On set the TARDIS is known as “The Shaggin’ Cabin” and it can comfortably accommodate three.
5. At the Phoenix 2010 Doctor Who convention organisers accidentally booked Neil Tennant to appear instead of David. Everyone, including the fans, was too polite to say anything so the main speaking event consisted of ninety minutes of uncomfortable silence followed by an a capella rendition of West End Girls.
6. K-1 was infested with robo-fleas and was left by the roadside by Patrick Troughton’s Doctor Who in The Macra Terror.
7. You can tell which episodes of Doctor Who were produced by Russell T. Davies by reading the end credits of the shows.
8. Terry Nation’s bad service at a local restaurant led to him penning a vitriolic tale about Stavros and where he could stick some oversized salt shakers. The BBC’s legal department stepped in, effected a few changes, and the Doctor’s most famous foes were born.
9. K-2 had an incurable fear of beards and had to be put to sleep.
10. A very disturbing storyline was canned when Sylvester McCoy refused to appear in anything so dark. The story was later expanded and spun off into a show in its own right: Byker Grove.
11. I had four “Enemies of Doctor Who” jigsaws when I was young. The Sontarans (pictured above) plus Giant Robots, Zygons, and one other enemy species I can’t remember. As facts go this one hasn’t been a very useful one to try to impress dates with so probably best you steer clear of it.
12. K-3 fell into a tar pit.
13. The Sonic Screwdriver is irritating and overused.
14. A full-size internal set of the TARDIS was built in an attempt to “accidentally” lose Bonnie Langford. The plan failed. She’s a tricky one, that.
15. A Voord who falls to his death in The Keys of Marinus story was actually director John Gorrie; William Hartnell’s contract stipulated he could kill one member of the crew in a manner of his choosing per episode.
16. Daleks are ribbed for her pleasure.
17. Doctor Who has never been shown on television in the Central African Republic as time travel is a cultural taboo and punishable by death.
18. K-4 was the evil one but his susceptibility to rusting proved to be his downfall.
19. Doctor Who fans are called Whoguenots and are all members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France.
20. None of the six episodes of the story Fury from the Deep exist which is just as well as it’s mostly about companion Victoria Waterfield’s “time of the month”.
21. The Rod of Rassilon is exactly as filthy as it sounds.
22. Tom Baker regularly hosts Masque of Mandragora-themed orgies in his mansion in Surrey.
23. K-5 was sold for scrap when Doctor Who’s gambling habit was at its peak.
24. The Judoon language is truly awful.
25. Before settling on the name of The Master the writers of Doctor Who toyed with the idea of calling the Doctor’s foe The Quantity Surveyor as they felt it conveyed a sense of menace particularly well. The Royal Institute of Quantity Surveyors threatened “an unholy reign of terror” and the name was changed.
26. Asking Christopher Eccleston “Are you my mummy?” results in a broken nose.
27. Sontarans were originally meant to sport afros but BBC budget constraints enforced the design with which we’re all more familiar.
28. Mark Gatiss’s love of Doctor Who started when he appeared in the 1977 story The Talons of Weng-Chiang; he was a talon.
29. K-6 also fell into a tar pit.
30. Sophie Aldred’s companion character of Ace was afraid of clowns but in real life it’s the other way around.
31. A planned Doctor Who/Russ Abbot’s Madhouse crossover series was cancelled when producers realised the concept was just the wrong side of mental.
32. An extra row was knitted to the end of Tom Baker’s scarf for every episode he was in allowing eagle-eyed viewers to instantly identify how far into his tenure as the Doctor any particular show was. In Tom’s final episode the scarf had reached one fifth of a kilometre in length.
33. William Hartnell was commemorated with a solid gold, lifesize statue erected in the centre of Scunthorpe which was odd as he had no connections to the town and steadfastly refused to visit it.
34. During filming of The Three Doctors Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee perfected their bickering character traits by staying up all night throwing peanuts at one another.
35. K-7 was captured by carnies, mounted on a pole, and used to replace a damaged carousel.
36. A Doctor Who children’s special due to be screened during a Christmas episode of Crackerjack had to be cancelled when guest companions Jimmy Savile, Stuart Hall, and Rolf Harris couldn’t be found in time for filming.
37. Stephen King’s guest storyline for Peter Davison’s Doctor Who had to be rejected as the actor has a deadly allergy to turnips.
38. Colin Baker only ever spoke Gallifreyan while filming his Doctor Who scenes. His English-language voice was dubbed over by highly-regarded voice artist Mel Blanc.
39. When Jon Pertwee’s attempt to buy Bessie from the BBC at the end of his stint as the Doctor was rebuffed the actor took hostage and ultimately killed seven members of the production team.
40. The Queen Mother claimed that her favourite episode was The Exploding Planet because the nude volleyball scenes reminded her of her wayward teen years.
41. K-8 shouted a lot and was housed in a padded room for his own safety.
42. Matt Smith tried three different personas when reading for the role of Doctor Who; the racist Doctor and the misogynist Doctor were eventually rejected.
43. The World Health Organisation tried to assert a trademark right to the WHO part of the sci-fi series but were defeated after a time war instigated by Lalla Ward in her persona of Romana.
44. Actors who play cybermen routinely complain of smelling like aluminium foil at the end of the day. They should be grateful they’ve got a job at all in this economic climate.
45. Steven Moffat has said that he would like to regenerate like the Doctor if anything serious should ever happen. This stems from a belief based largely on fact that Russell T. Davies is trying to kill him.
46. The episode Rose Goes Clubbing In Romford would have been excellent but it was never filmed.
47. Owing to the success in recent years of the Christmas specials of Doctor Who the BBC are considering similar annual one-off episodes to celebrate World Hydrography Day in June.
48. Nobody knows for sure what happened to the actual horns of the Nimon in the The Horns of Nimon but I wouldn’t be surprised if Janet Ellis – who appeared as Teka in the story – nicked them. Shifty eyes, you see.
49. Karen Gillan had many things to say about her time playing Amy Pond in Doctor Who but her strong Scottish accent rendered most of it unintelligible.
50. The original name for the United Nations (later: Unified) Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT) was to be Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart’s Defence of Earth Elite Patrol (BALSDEEP).