The Time Lord almost became a Time LADY in a 1980s Doctor Who

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012

When David Tennant announced he was leaving Doctor Who, and before Matt Smith was cast, there were plenty of rumours going around as to who should play the new Time Lord—with some saying it was time a woman took charge of the TARDIS. That didn't come to pass, but back in the 1980s, it almost did!

According to recently unearthed documents, Sydney Newman (who alongside Verity Lambert created Doctor Who in the 1960s and who called the series at the time ''largely socially valueless, escapist schlock'') urged the BBC to regenerate then sixth Doctor, played by Colin Baker, as a woman. Apparently, the thought was that the then-struggling series could only be saved if the Time Lord became a Time Lady.

According to The Telegraph:

Sydney Newman, who devised the long-running science-fiction show when he was head of BBC drama in the 1960s, was asked to help after the show suffered a slump in ratings in the 1980s and was taken off air temporarily.

He told Michael Grade, then the controller of BBC One, that the ailing series could only be saved by regenerating the Time Lord into a Time Lady.

Mr Newman criticised the direction the show had taken, but insisted that it could be revived by turning the lead character into a heroine.

Had the advice been accepted, actresses who could have been considered for the role include Frances de la Tour, Joanna Lumley and Dawn French.

Instead, the BBC played safe and replaced the incumbent Doctor, Colin Baker, with another male actor—Sylvester McCoy, a little-known children's entertainer.

Joanna Lumley went on to play a Time Lady in the very funny 1999 Comic Relief spoof The Curse of Fatal Death, with Rowan Atkinson as the Doctor and Jonathan Pryce as the Master—which was incidentally written by future Doctor Who writer and show runner Steven Moffat.

The show continued its steady decline after the seventh Doctor, played by McCoy, came on board, and it was canceled in 1989. A revival was attempted in 1996 in the form of the Doctor Who movie with eighth Doctor Paul McGann—but it proved unsuccessful. Doctor Who would not return until 2005, under Russell T Davies' brilliant revival of the beloved sci-fi series.

We were also rather surprised—if not completely shocked—to read about Sydney Newman's peculiar ideas as to how to bring about this new female Time Lord. In a written pitch dated Oct. 6, 1986, he recommended that the BBC temporarily bring back Second Doctor Patrick Troughton, saying that:

At a later stage Doctor Who should be metamorphosed into a woman.

He also added that:

This requires some considerable thought—mainly because I want to avoid a flashy, Hollywood Wonder Women because this kind of heroine with no flaws is a bore. Given more time than I have now, I can create such a character.

Not only did Newman write that, but he also said that the companions to this new traveling Time Lady should be—wait for it—a trumpet-playing schoolgirl in "John Lennon-type spectacles" and her graffiti-spraying "yobbo" elder brother!

Then Newman went on to ask as his fee, if the BBC accepted his ideas, of course, to be be taken on and paid as executive director of the series so as to ensure that his proposed concept be properly executed. He also requested that his name be added to the series' closing titles.

Reading all of this makes us particularly relieved that the BBC decided to pass on Sydney Newman's new concept to revitalize the series—even if it took 16 years until Doctor Who came back full force on TV to both popular and critical acclaim. What about you?

While you think about it , here's the Comic Relief spoof The Curse of Fatal Death. Enjoy!