Thursday, November 20, 2008


(Note: I originally posted this on my personal blog, but since it is about Doctor Who pre-production reports, it only makes sense to crosspost it here. --THE HISTORIAN)

In 1962, the new Head of Drama at the BBC commissioned a report on the idea of development of a science fiction program for the channel. The "Quartermass" series (beginning with 1953's "Quartermass Experiment") and "A for Andromeda" serial (1961) had led to the belief that a regular SF TV series might be possible.

Well, we all know where the report led, but most people have never actually read the thing. Now we can; to celebrate Doctor Who's 45th anniversary, the BBC Archive has put a bunch of original documents detailing the program's development online. I've read the original report and it's a fascinating "outsider's" look at SF in 1962 and why it might or might not be popular with the public at large. Although talking about the British public in general, I think the general ideas were probably applicable to a US television audience as well, especially in the "general audience will have to catch up with science fiction, rather than vice versa." To be honest, reading this and the obvious work done to lay the groundwork for what would become Doctor Who, I think I might understand a little more about why it ran (essentially) uninterrupted for 23 years, watched by a wide variety of people, whereas the original Star Trek lasted for 2 for a general audience, then got a third season thanks to die-hard fans and stayed a cult/kids show until the late '70s. Not to say one is any more quality than the other, but the planning and production of both were vastly different. Doctor Who seems to have been quite consciously developed as "bringing the people to SF," whereas Trek was certainly "bringing SF to the people." DW brought the audience to them, ST had to wait for the general audience to catch up with it.

Anyway, I found it really interesting. Anyone else?

I do make a distinction between TV and radio here; it's true that radio shows like "X Minus One" had been moderately successful at adapting SF stories, but they used sound rather than visuals which I think makes a big difference. I don't know; I feel like there must be a distinction there, but I'm finding it hard to articulate. Again, anyone else?

Additional: Here's the follow-up report identifying possible sources of adaptation (or ideas) for SF TV series. Notice which one has been highlighted by someone receiving the report; I had no idea the seed of Doctor Who came from a Poul Anderson novel! I should probably read that at some point...

1 comment:

Alzarian said...

One could argue that Doctor Who only really faltered with the public, when it started buying into the myth that it was just a science-fiction show, like all of the others, during the 1980's. Now, don't get wrong, I love 80's Who, but even I realize that it was aiming for a smaller demographic than it had in earlier decades. One could also argue that its renewed success in the 21st century was due to the good folks at the BBC returning to this fundamental concept - grab the audience, then take them to the SF, and not the other way around, if that makes any sense...