Son of original Who writer sues BBC claiming he owns the TARDIS

Contributed by
Nov 11, 2013

Doctor Who's 50th anniversary is supposed to be a time of celebration, but it might end up a time for serious legal battles instead.

Fifty years ago, the very first Doctor Who story starring First Doctor William Hartnell, "An Unearthly Child," aired on the BBC. The writer of that story, Australian BBC staff writer Anthony Coburn, had the honor of being among the first scribes to lend his name to one of the most influential science fiction series of all time. He also had the honor of being the first to write about the Doctor's legendary time machine, the TARDIS. Now, decades after Coburn first wrote about the Doctor, his son Stef has announced plans to sue the BBC over rights to the iconic blue police box, claiming his family should have been paid every time the box was used in a Doctor Who story.

Coburn claims that the BBC has breached the copyright of the TARDIS every year since 1977, the year of his father's death. He believes that, while his father may have given the BBC permission to use the iconic time machine, that permission expired when his father died, and then passed to his mother, who seems to have never said anything about it. Now that his mother has also passed away, Coburn believes all permissions for use of the TARDIS have passed to him, and that the BBC owes his family financial compensation for every use of the time machine since 1977. 

"It is by no means my wish to deprive legions of Doctor Who fans (of whom I was never one) of any aspect of their favourite children's programme," Coburn said in a statement. "The only ends I wish to accomplish, by whatever lawful means present themselves, involve bringing about the public recognition that should by rights always have been his due, of my father James Anthony Coburn's seminal contribution to Doctor Who, and proper lawful recompense to his surviving estate."

The BBC has said it will investigate Coburn's complaint, though the company has received no other complaints about the rights to the TARDIS since it first registered a copyright on the time machine in the 1980s. According to Coburn, he would've filed a complaint sooner, but believed he didn't have the rights until after his mother passed. Now he claims the idea for the TARDIS was conceived after his father saw a blue police box on Wimbledon Common in the early 1960s. If you browse the BBC's own script archives from the early days of Doctor Who, though, it looks like the conceptual crafting of the TARDIS was likely a group effort, even if the name itself could have been the work of one man. 

So this is either a case of a family member trying to capitalize on a particularly high-profile time for Doctor Who, or a real misstep on the part of the BBC. What do you think's going on here?

(Via The Independent)

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