Since the show was first debuted in 1963 – and then revived in 2005 after a 16-year break – Doctor Who has gone on to become a global cult phenomenon. In the canon of science fiction television, the show stands tall. It might be the most popular sci-fi series ever created. And it all started with a low budget, black and white, studio-set curiosity that none of the producers ever expected to run for even close to the six decades it’s enjoyed so far.
Here are 18 things you never knew about one of the biggest shows in the galaxy.
18. David Tennant predicted he would become The Doctor as a schoolboy
David Tennant, voted Britain’s favourite Doctor in a 2013 Radio Times poll, seemed almost born to play the title role in Doctor Who.
The actor was convinced of his suitability in the part from an early age, too: at 13, Tennant wrote in a school essay entitled Intergalactic Overdose that he “was convinced that I was going to play the part of the Doctor on TV”. Meaning Tennant was either a very confident and prescient schoolboy, or that he really can time travel.
17. David Tennant’s Doctor Who connection goes deep
Tennant, obsessed with Doctor Who as a child, may have predicted his eventually taking the role but probably still never dreamed of having the kind of connections to the show that he now has. Not only was he the tenth Doctor, but Tennant is now married to Georgia Moffett, who played the Doctor’s daughter in 2008. Moffett’s father, and now Tennant’s father-in-law, also happens to be Peter Davison, who played the fifth Doctor.
16. Michael Jackson could have played the Doctor
The list of past Doctors is an eclectic lineup of actors of varying styles, but the part of the Doctor has tended to be filled by personalities with eccentric qualities. It makes a kind of sense, then, that the part could at one point have been taken by Michael Jackson: in the late 80s, as Paramount was looking to make a feature adaptation of Doctor Who, top of the dream casting list was none other than the King of Pop. Jackson was interested, too, but the feature never came to be.
15. A number of other big names could have taken the role
If Michael Jackson hadn’t accepted the role of the Doctor in Paramount’s Doctor Who, the studio had a backup ready to go: Bill Cosby, then at the peak of his popularity thanks to sitcom The Cosby Show. Over the years, there have been many interesting potentials considered for the role, including Brian Blessed, Joanna Lumley, Rowan Atkinson, Judi Dench, Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy and horror legend Peter Cushing.
14. The Doctor just has a whole pot of sonic screwdrivers lying around
In the debut episode of series ten, the pilot, The Doctor just has a whole pot of old sonic screwdrivers in a pot on his desk. Also notice the raven behind? This is a reference for how dear old Clara Oswald departed at the end of series 9!
It was heartbreaking stuff.
13. There’s another reference to past episode in that debut
The Doctor is a huge fan of William Shakespeare, do it’s only fitting to see a bust of his old friend (from the episode “The Shakespeare Code”) being placed in his office.
12. Matt Smith was ‘discovered’ by one of the Doctor’s ex-companions
A companion to Patrick Troughton’s second Doctor, Wendy Padbury shortly after playing Zoe Heriot gave up acting to become an agent for aspiring thesps. One of the actors she discovered was a young actor named Matt Smith, whom she first signed up out of the National Youth Theatre when he was still learning the craft – and who would in a twist of fate use this moment as a springboard to go on to be the eleventh Doctor.
11. The Doctor has been married four times
Due to his itinerant nature as a galaxy-hopping Time Lord, the Doctor hardly has time to settle down for very long. That hasn’t stopped him from tying the knot on four separate occasions, however, to Queen Elizabeth I, Scarlette, Marilyn Monroe and River Song.
10. The fourth Doctor’s famous scarf was the result of an accident
Tom Baker’s trademark as the fourth Doctor – to date the Doctor with the longest shelf life, with seven consecutive seasons to his name – was the absurdly long scarf that, somehow, became a kind of must-have quirky fashion accessory. The design wasn’t intentional either: costume designer James Acheson had a friend of his knit a scarf for the incoming fourth Doctor without telling her how much of the large amount of coloured wool he’d given her to use. She proceeded to use it all, resulting in a soon-to-be-iconic accident of design.
9. The crew get a nod from time to time
Bernard Wilkie was the man behind the visual effects on six Doctor Who stories during the second and third Doctor’s era.
In the 2017 Doctor Who TV story Twice Upon a Time, his name appeared on the interior of the First Doctor’s TARDIS console as one of the labels on the console.
8. Two Doctors previously appeared in the show as other characters
A whole five years before he was cast in the title role, Peter Capaldi was already made familiar to Doctor Who fans in the episode The Fires of Pompeii, playing Caecilius under tenth Doctor David Tennant. This makes Capaldi one of only two actors to play the Doctor who had previous to that casting starred in the show as a different character. Colin Baker was the other, playing Commander Maxil in a three-parter prior to being cast as the sixth Doctor a year later.
7. Peter Capaldi was a Doctor Who superfan as a teenager
Making a cameo in a 2008 episode of the show wasn’t Peter Capaldi’s first brush with the show. As a teenager, Capaldi was a major fan of Doctor Who, and even had some of his Doctor Who art work published in the Doctor Who International Fan Club Magazine. Capaldi wrote to the BBC so often asking for production photos and demanding he be made president of the Doctor Who fan club that one producer’s assistant said she wished someone would “exterminate him”.
6. Ridley Scott was supposed to design the Daleks
Before he made Alien and Blade Runner, and before he even got his break as a director in advertising, Ridley Scott worked as a trainee set designer for the BBC. Scott worked on Z-Cars and the sci-fi show Out of the Unknown, and was due to work on Doctor Who to design the Daleks. Unfortunately, Scott moved to Granada Television to train as a director just before his work on the Daleks was due to start.
5. One episode didn’t feature the Doctor at all
In 1965, the BBC broadcast a third season episode of Doctor Who called Mission to the Unknown. What makes it unique in Doctor Who history is that it doesn’t feature the Doctor at all (or any of his companions), but instead focuses on Space Security Agent Marc Cory, played by Edward de Souza, as he tries to warn Earth of the impending Dalek threat. To date this is the only episode of Doctor Who that doesn’t star the titular Doctor.
5. A huge number of episodes are missing
Owing to its unique nature in Doctor Who history, Whovians would no doubt love to have Mission to the Unknown available for viewing, but it’s one of the many episodes of the show that are now regrettably missing. The BBC once upon a time would regularly wipe its programme archives, episodes of one of its most valuable imports included, due in large part to the costs required to keep old shows in storage. 97 episodes of Doctor Who are now lost.
3. Steven Moffat made his ‘stupid’ old fan theory the plot of one of his episodes
In 1995, just as he was starting out in the industry and a decade before he took charge as showrunner of the rebooted Doctor Who, Steven Moffat wrote out what he has called a “particularly stupid” fan theory on an online Who forum. His theory was that the “earthly” use of the word doctor, meaning healer and wise man, could be traced back to the Doctor helping out humanity so often over the centuries. By the time Moffat was running the show, he returned to this theory, and made it part of the plot of his 2011 episode A Good Man Goes to War.
2. Helen Mirren could have been the first female Doctor
The change in gender from the previous 12 male Doctors for Doctor number 13, set to be played by Jodie Whittaker, has been a long time coming. But Whittaker wasn’t the first woman seriously in consideration for the role. Prior to Whittaker landing the job, Helen Mirren was tipped to play the 12th Doctor, but Mirren later declared she didn’t want the part, preferring to make a Bond villain instead.
1. The first Doctor has been played by three different actors
The producers’ ingenious decision to make the Doctor a constantly regenerating being, turning into different versions of itself over periods of time, has meant that recasting the role with new actors has never posed a problem. However, occasionally the plot has required older iterations of the Doctor to re-enter the story, necessitating some clever recasting. The first Doctor first appeared from 1963-1966, then has returned in cameos in 1973, 1983 and 2017. From 1963-1973, the first Doctor was played by William Hartnell, while in 1983 and 2017 the character was played by Richard Hurndall and David Bradley respectively.