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article imageDoctor Who never-seen scripts pose questions about its origins

By Mathew Wace Peck     Mar 14, 2013 in Entertainment
A collection of previously missing Doctor Who scripts from its early days appears to shed new light on the origins of the BBC’s long-running science-fiction drama series.
The unmade scripts were unearthed in the UK: in Herne Bay, the home town of the person who wrote them, the late Anthony Coburn.
Coburn was the writer responsible for the first-ever episode of Doctor WhoAn Unearthly Child – which introduced the original TARDIS crew of the First Doctor (William Hartnell), Susan his granddaughter (Carole Ann Ford) and her two schoolteachers Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) and Ian Chesterton (William Russell).
Coburn also penned the following three episodes, broadcast as The Tribe of Gum – but his next script, The Masters of Luxor, which was due to comprise Episodes 5–10 of the first series, was replaced by one written by Terry Nation.
The discovery of the Coburn scripts came to light when the writer’s widow, Joan Coburn-Moon, and family lent a box of his work to a lifelong Doctor Who fan, Jason Onion.
Initially, Onion assumed the box contained scripts of the first episode to be televised. “I saw the scripts, but put them to one side.” However, that wasn’t the case. “When I scanned the cover later, I realised it didn’t have the right title for the first episode,” he later discovered.
“I had a look and as soon as I saw the first few pages, I knew it was not the episode [An Unearthly Child] that had been televised. I just sat there, and stared and stared. I wanted to cover them with glass. They are unbelievably precious, and I had them in my hand.”
In all, as reported in the Herne Bay Times, the box contained two versions of the first episode, an alternative second episode, The Masters of Luxor and three further scripts.
In 1963, the story that was commissioned in place of Coburn’s The Masters of Luxor was Nation’s The Dead Planet, which is famous for introducing what were to become the Doctor’s most popular and enduring adversaries – the Daleks.
The idea for the Daleks has always been credited to Nation – and, indeed, his estate, along with the BBC, still co-owns the rights to them. However, Onion says that their genesis owes something to Coburn. “You can see that the template for the Daleks came from Anthony,” he tells the Herne Bay Times.
Wherever the idea for the Daleks first came from, their iconic look is the work of former BBC designer Raymond Cusick, who died last month. Although the Daleks’ image has undergone some modernisation over the decades since they first appeared, Cusick’s original 1960s design has remained basically unchanged ever since.
As for other concepts that have been introduced to, and become synonymous with, Doctor Who over the years – such as the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, his space–time ship, the TARDIS, and his ability to regenerate – all, apparently, had their origins in Coburn’s scripts.
“You can see in these episodes a device to unlock Tardis [sic], which became the sonic screwdriver, and the science and regeneration and renewal of the body,” Onion explains. “[The] Tardis’s original name, the planet Doctor Who came from and that his granddaughter – Susan in the programmes, but Suzanne in the scripts – was a princess saved from another world.”
As part of Doctor Who’s ongoing golden-anniversary celebrations, the BBC is currently producing a film detailing the early days of the show. Written by Mark Gatiss, An Adventure in Space and Time, stars Harry Potter’s David Bradley. Bradley, 70, will recreate Hartnell’s portrayal of the First Doctor in the 90-minute drama, as well as playing the actor himself.
Whether these missing scripts will contradict any of the already-established history of Doctor Who or elements of An Adventure in Space and Time itself is not yet known.
Of the find, however, Onion revealed that he hopes that it could go on public display, to form part of this year’s Doctor Who 50th-anniversary celebrations.
Genesis of the Daleks
“This find completes the genesis of Doctor Who from Anthony Coburn’s imagination,” Onion enthused. “The drafts explain the mystery of Doctor Who, his origins, his people and all the background […] It is possible, with continuing support and consent from the Coburn family, that these scripts could be seen publicly and displayed somewhere […] for the 50th anniversary of the series in November. It would be fantastic to celebrate Herne Bay’s connection and give Anthony Coburn the credit he deserves.”
Doctor Who returns to TV screens at the end of March, with eight brand-new episodes. Beginning with The Bells of Saint John, by Steven Moffat, the series sees Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman return to their roles as the Eleventh Doctor and Clara Oswin Oswald, respectively.
As already reported by Robert Myles on Digital Journal, the new episodes will see more of the inside of the Doctor's TARDIS than has ever been seen on television before, and herald the return of at least two classic Doctor Who monsters – the Cybermen and the Ice Warriors. The Ice Warriors return signals their first TV adventure since 1974, while the ever-popular Cybermen return in a script by Neil Gaiman.
Smith and Coleman will also appear in at least two special episodes later in the year: Steven Moffat’s 50th-annivesary episode – which will be broadcast on Saturday, 23 November 2013, exactly 50 years to the day after An Unearthly Child was broadcast – and the 2013 Christmas episode. Details of these are being kept firmly under wraps. However, it is understood that the anniversary episode will begin filming in April and the Christmas one in September.
The Masters of Luxor has since been adapted by Nigel Robinson for Big Finish, and released as part of its Doctor Who The Lost Stories range of missing-adventure audio plays.
More about Doctor Who, Anthony Coburn, Matt smith, An Unearthly Child, Jason Onion
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