The Genesis of Doctor Who | Creating a science fiction hero

Concept Notes for New SF Drama

A summary of ideas for a new science fiction BBC TV series.

BBC ARCHIVE
WRITTEN DOCUMENT
1963

[Page 1 of 2]


TO: Donald Wilson
FROM: C.E. Webber
29th March 1963

SCIENCE FICTION

Characters and Setup

Envisaged is a "loyalty programme", lasting at least 52 weeks, consisting of various dramatised S.F. stories, linked to form a continuous serial, using basically a few characters who continue through all the stories. Thus if each story were to run six or seven episodes there would be about eight stories needed to form fifty-two weeks of the overall serial.

Our basic setup with its loyalty characters must fulfil two conditions:-

1. It must attract and hold the audience.
2. It must be adaptable to any S.F. story, so that we do not have to reject stories because they fail to fit into our setup.

Suitable characters for the five o'clock Saturday audience.

Child characters do not command the interest of children older than themselves. Young heroines do not command the interest of boys. Young heroes do command the interest of girls. Therefore, the highest coverage amongst children and teenagers is got by:-

THE HANDSOME YOUNG MAN HERO
(First character)

A young heroine does not command the full interest of older women; our young hero has already got the boys and girls; therefore we can consider the older woman by providing:-

THE HANDSOME WELLDRESSED HEROINE AGED ABOUT 30
(Second character)

Men are believed to form an important part of the 5 o'clock Saturday (post-Grandstand) audience. They will be interested in the young hero; and to catch them firmly we should add:-

THE MATURER MAN, 35 - 40, WITH SOME "CHARACTER" TWIST.
(Third character)

Nowadays, to satisfy grown women, father-figures are introduced into loyalty programmes at such a rate that TV begins to look like an Oid People's Home: let us introduce them ad hoc, as our stories call for them. We shall have no child protoganists, but child characters may be introduced ad hoc, because story requires it, not to interest children.

[Handwritten note from Sydney Newman: "Need a kid to get into trouble, make mistakes."]


What are our three chosen characters?

The essence of S.F. is that the wonder or fairytale element shall be given a scientific or technical explanation. To do this there must be at least one character capable of giving the explanation, and I think that however we set up our serial, we must come around to at least one scientist as a basic character. I am now suggesting that all three be Scientists, though handsome and attractively normal people. Such vague clicnes as Government Project, Secret Research, Industrial Atomics, Privately Financed Laboratory in Scotland, do not necessarily involve our group in every kind of S.F. story presented to us. Therefore I suggest that they are, all three,

THE PARTNERS IN A FIRM OF SCIENTIFIC CONSULTANTS.
They are a kind of firm which does not exist at present, being an extension of today's industrial consultant into the scientific era. We are in a time which is not specified but which is felt to be just a bit ahead of the present; but the wonder is introduced into today's environment.


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The firm carry on normal lines of research in their own small laboratory, or in larger ones elsewhere if the job requires it; this is their bread and butter; but they are always willing to break off to follow some more unusual case. In fact, they have a reputation for tackling problems which no-one else could handle; there is almost a feeling of Sherlock Holmes about this side of their work. Our stories are the more unusual cases which come their way.

[Handrwitten note from Sydney Newman: "But no one here to require being taught."]

This setup gives us fluidity for an everlasting serial. One, or two, of them can persue [sic] a story, leaving at least one behind to start on the next case when we need to transfer to another story. They are:

"THE TROUBLESHOOTERS"

Each of them is a specialist in certain fields, so that each can bring a different approach to any problem. But they are all acutely conscious of the social and human implications of any case, and if the two men sometimes become pure scientist and forget, the woman always reminds them that, finally, they are dealing with human beings. Their Headquarters or Base illustrates this dichotomy: it consists of two parts: 1. a small lab fitted with way-out equipment, including some wondrous things acquired in previous investigations and 2. an office for interviews, homely, fusty, comfortable, dustily elegant: it would not have been out of place in Holmes's Baker street.

Villains.

It would be possible to devise a permanent villain for the above "Troubleshooters" setup. Our heroes find themselves always coming up against him in various cases: the venal politician who seeks to use every situation to increase his own power; or the industrialist always opposing our heroes. Possibly some continuing villain may create himself as we go, but I suggest that we create ad hoc villains for each story, as needed. It is the Western setup in this respect: constant heroes, and a fresh villain each time.

Overall Meaning of the Serial.

We shall have no trouble in finding stories. The postulates or S.F., from which its plots derive, can be broadly classified, even enumerated; and we all have additions or startling variations up our sleeves. But I think we might well consider if there is any necessary difference between the dramatic and the literary form, as regards S.F.

a. S.F. deliberately avoids character-in-depth. In S.F. the characters are almost interchangable. We must use fully conceived characters.

b. S.F. is deliberately unsexual; women are not really necessary to it. We must add feminine interest as a consequence of creating real characters.

c. Because of the above conditions, S.F. does not consider moral conflict. It has one clear overall meaning: that human beings in general are incapable of controlling the forces they set free. But once we have created real characters, we must consider the implications in terms of those characters in their society. Drama is about moral conflicts: it is about social relationships. Experienced S.F. writers may disagree with me. Well, let them create their own live S.F. drama. but for me, it seems a fine opprtunity to write fastmoving, shocking episodes, which necessarily consider, or at least firmly raise, such questions as: 'What sort of people do we want? What sort of conditions do we desire? What is life? What are we? Can society exist without love, without art, without lies, without sex? Can if afford to continue to exist with politicians? With scientists? And so on.


- DOCUMENT ENDS -

Document Type | Memo

29 March 1963

Document version

Writtenin

1963

Synopsis

Using Alice Frick's research as a starting point, Head of Drama Sydney Newman commissioned a team to come up with concepts for a family drama for Saturday evenings. This report from writer CE Webber (with pencil notes from Newman) compiles some of the suggestions and tries to push for a new TV show called... 'The Troubleshooters'.

Did you know?

Author of this document Cecil Webber (known as 'Bunny' to his friends) was a respected writer for children's TV, having been responsible for adaptations of Richmal Crompton's 'William' stories. Although 'The Troubleshooters' didn't progress beyond this stage, the outline here does share some similarities with the 1970s BBC science fiction series 'Doomwatch', as well as the 'Doctor Who' spin-off 'Torchwood'.

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