A List of "What Ifs" About the Making of "Doctor Who"

  1. General: What if the (ordinal number) Doctor had been played by someone else?
  2. General: What if (non-Doctor character name) had been played by someone else?
  3. General: What if none of the episodes were lost?
  4. What if Sydney Newman had stuck to the "no bug-eyed monsters" rule and not allowed the first Dalek story?
  5. What if Terry Nation had gotten a Dalek TV series made in the USA?
  6. What if William Hartnell had been written out in "The Celestial Toymaker"?
  7. What if William Hartnell had not had arteriosclerosis?
  8. What if they'd gone with a William Hartnell "clone" for the second actor to play the Doctor?
  9. What if the program had been cancelled when William Hartnell left?
  10. What if they'd made a third Peter Cushing "Doctor Who" movie?
  11. What if Patrick Troughton had been killed when the Gravitron fell over during filming of "The Moonbase"?
  12. What if Wendy Padbury had opted to stay with the program when Patrick Troughton and Fraser Hines left?
  13. What if the program had been cancelled when Patrick Troughton left the series?
  14. What if Roger Delgado had lived to do the "finale" that Barry Letts had planned for the character of the Master?
  15. What if William Hartnell had been healthy enough to make a full appearance in "The Three Doctors"?
  16. What if Elisabeth Sladen had drowned while filming "Revenge of the Cybermen"?
  17. What if Elisabeth Sladen had returned to the series in 1980?
  18. What if Tom Baker's relationship with Lalla Ward had been more harmonious?
  19. What if K-9 and Company had led to a series?
  20. What if Tom Baker had agreed to appear in "The Five Doctors"?
  21. What if Tom Baker had gotten Doctor Who Meets Scratchman made as a theatrical release?
  22. What if "Shada" hadn't been cancelled by strike action?
  23. What if Louise Jameson had returned for the transition from Tom Baker to Peter Davison?
  24. What if "The Two Doctors" had been filmed in New Orleans as JNT wanted?
  25. What if Laurence Olivier had agreed to appear in "Revelation of the Daleks"?
  26. What if the series had been cancelled after "Revelation of the Daleks", instead of being put on hiatus?
  27. What if the series hadn't been put on hiatus after "Revelation of the Daleks"?
  28. What if the character of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart had been killed off in "Battlefield"?
  29. What if Sophie Aldred had died while filming "Battlefield"?
  30. What if the series hadn't been cancelled after "Survival"?
  31. What if Virgin Publishing didn't lose the Doctor Who license (or they never got it in the first place)?
  32. What if they went with other ideas for reviving the series between 1989-1996?
  33. What if the 1996 TV movie had led to a series?
  34. What if Big Finish never existed?
  35. What it "Scream of the Shalka" led to a revival, rather than what we got in the "real" world?
  36. What if Russell T. Davies hadn't succeeded in bringing the program back in 2005?
  37. What if Christopher Eccleston had stayed for more than one series?
  38. What if Christopher Eccleston had agreed to return for "Day of the Doctor"?
  39. What if David Tennant had stayed for Steven Moffat's first series?

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1.What if the (ordinal number) Doctor had been played by someone else?

Originally the show's heroes were really Ian and Barbara. I think Hartnell's portrayal influenced the direction in which the character was taken. An alternative actor might not have supplanted them as the central character of the show. 

Hartnell was replaced because of his health, so he might have stayed longer. It might've ended when he did., or a different concept might have been used to explain the replacement of the star.

On the other hand, the show's schedule was a grind; maybe he would have left sooner, while William Castle was still playing Ian. They might've written the Doctor out and changed the title.

The actor might've hated SF and argued that the show should be all historicals.

4.What if Sydney Newman had stuck to the "no bug-eyed monsters" rule and not allowed the first Dalek story?

The Daleks made the show a success. Nation's stories were also the model for its later character as a violent SF adventure show. Without that story the show wouldn't have become what it did.

5.What if Terry Nation had gotten a Dalek TV series made in the USA?

The show survived without the Daleks as it was. On the other hand, the BBC might have dropped Doctor Who in favour of the US Dalek show.

John Byrne thinks his idea for "Days of Future Past" was subconsciously inspired by "Day of the Daleks", so perhaps the X-story would not have happened. But the show might've done some version of Louis Marks's story anyway; the Daleks weren't part of his proposal.

6.What if William Hartnell had been written out in "The Celestial Toymaker"?

Perhaps an actor would've been cast who was supposed to look and come across the same. That was producer John Wiles's plan, so perhaps he would have stayed. I think it was the Innes Loyd and Gerry Davis team who gave the show its final character, and its longevity.

Interesting ideas, LB!

13. What if the program had been cancelled when Patrick Troughton left the series?

Terrance Dicks said that the only reason that Doctor Who wasn’t cancelled when Patrick Troughton left was that the BBC had nothing else to put on in its place, and he and Barry Letts were told that they had a year to turn the show around.  As it happened, the show did turn around, and continued until 1989.

But if the BBC had had a program ready, then Doctor Who might have ended in 1969. Of course, this would have had numerous unpredictable effects on the careers of the people who would otherwise who worked on the show in the 70’s and 80’s

What would the program’s legacy have been if it had been cut short?  Would it have been just another show that was big in its day, or would it have lived on in the public’s collective memory?

Maybe it might have been revived in the 80’s, as Star Trek was.  Personally, I like to think of the show returning with a younger, hipper, harder-edged Doctor, maybe played by a young actor by the name of Peter Capaldi….

The BBC rarely repeated the shows. Apparently, it was restricted by the repeat rules agreed upon with the British actors' union. If it had ended after its third year I guess it would've just been forgotten, except it's possible people in Britain would've remembered Dalekmania. The show's most lasting form might've been the Amicus movies!

By the end of Troughton years there were more exciting monsters to remember. The show also lifted its game visually and creatively in his era.

The Tomorrow People, on commercial TV, was in part a Doctor Who imitation, but it didn't start until 1973, so I would guess it happened because of the Pertwee version's success.

More episodes might still be missing or lost forever, as there would have been fewer fans seeking them out. Or it might be the other way around: perhaps the BBC would've continued selling the Troughton episodes longer if there hadn't been new episodes available.

For clarity, I should say I meant it was John Wiles's plan to replace Hartnell via "The Celestial Toymaker". I don't know what his thinking was about his replacement.

What if Jon Pertwee had stayed for another season?

It might have looked something like THIS.

I'd always heard that Pertwee left because of a couple of factors:

  1. He felt he was becoming typecast as the Doctor, and wasn't receiving offers of other roles because of this.
  2. The death of Roger Delgado, the departure of Katy Manning and the imminent departures of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks made him feel like the "family" was breaking up and it took the heart out of doing the show for him
  3. In later years, Pertwee claimed that he went to Shaun Sutton, the BBC's Head of Drama, and asked for a raise to stay, and had been turned down.  Barry Letts has said that this was nonsense, and that any raise - or refusal - would have come through him and not Sutton.

I think you'd have to change at least one of these factors for Pertwee to have stayed longer.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

What if Jon Pertwee had stayed for another season?

It might have looked something like THIS.

2.What if (non-Doctor character name) had been played by someone else?

 

The Meddling Monk could have been played as a straight villain. But presumably Butterworth was cast because those involved wanted a comic performance.

 

Jamie was kept in the show because the character had gone down so well. If Frazer Hines had not played him he probably wouldn't have joined the TARDIS crew. Perhaps Ben and Polly would have been replaced when the actors' contracts were up by a younger pair.

 

The Ice Warriors' hissing way of speaking was reportedly devised by Bernard Bresslaw, so if someone else had been cast as Varga they would have different voices.

Sgt. Benton was a minor character made into a regular. John Levene's casting made that possible.

Isobel Watkins and Captain Turner from "The Invasion" might have become UNIT regulars. If Isobel had returned, there would have been no Liz, and no replacement of Liz by Jo.  "Spearhead from Space" instead had Captain Munro. If Turner or Munro had become regulars, there would have been no Captain Yates.

Katy Manning and Jon Pertwee got on very well together. This influenced the way their characters were written. The closeness of the Doctor and Jo is part of the charm of the era. I would think it influenced the way Elizabeth Sladen's Sarah related to her Doctors later.

 

Roger Delgado made the master charming and amusing while keeping him menacing. If he'd been played less well, the character might not seemed worth bringing back after season 8.

Kevin Lindsey's casting may have helped establish the Sontarans, although the costume was also good. He presumably devised their vocal style, and the way he used his tongue made Linx's face more alive. If he'd not been available for "The Sontaran Experiment" the clone idea might never have arisen!

 

The production team wanted Pauline Collins - Samantha in "The Faceless Ones" - to become a regular, but she turned them down. If another actress had been cast she might have agreed, in which case there would have been no Victoria. Some of the stuff involving Victoria in "The Tomb of the Cybermen" looks to me written for Samantha: her having a handbag, her sparring with Hopper.

21.What if Tom Baker had gotten Doctor Who Meets Scratchman made as a theatrical release?

It might not have been a success commercially. It's hard to guess. There were a number of TV property movies made in Britain in the 70s: sitcom movies, and two The Sweeney movies. But SF looks cheap when a lot of money isn't spent on it, and that wouldn't have happened. It likely wouldn't have been released in cinemas in the US.

22.What if "Shada" hadn't been cancelled by strike action?

 

It wouldn't be regarded as a classic. There are good ideas in it, like the professor who's a retired Time Lord and the TARDIS room, but it's a weak story overall.

Yeah, what I've seen of "Shada" didn't impress.  The audio adaptation with Paul McGann isn't bad.  If nothing else, it was interesting hearing him work with Lalla Ward and John Leeson.

1. What if the (ordinal number) Doctor had been played by someone else?

Let's go with #4:

That depends very much on Who. For a growing international audience, Tom Baker defined the Doctor at that time. It's difficult to know what, how, and if the show would have gained its larger audience with another actor.

SF/Fantasy fans who recall Tom Baker would remember him as Koura in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.

Or #11:

The resurgence of bow tie sales in the UK during the Matt Smith era wouldn't have happened.

3. No lost eps.

The fannish reflections on and recollections of  "The Web Planet", during its temporary lost time, would have been more grounded.

4. What if Sydney Newman had stuck to the "no bug-eyed monsters" rule and not allowed the first Dalek story?

This thread would not exist. Without the Daleks and the subsequent non-historical episodes, we would not have had a long-running successful show. By 2021, only a few people in Britain would even recall the show. It would not have crept into pop culture so that, for example, the passing Doctor Who reference in Georgy Girl would be absent, replaced with something else. Multiply that by every reference since.

An old-style British police call box would look like an old-style British police call box, to those who recognized it.

Years of Doctor Who appearances on Children in Need would never have occurred.

8. What if they'd gone with a William Hartnell "clone" for the second actor to play the Doctor?

Initially, that would have looked like a good thing. Over time, it would have damaged the series by diminishing the potential created by significantly rethinking and retooling the Doctor with each change of actor. Doctor Who would be recalled as that interesting low-budget British SF TV series from the 1960s.

If revived later, I think it likely would have been remade with no connection to the original series.

10. What if they'd made a third Peter Cushing "Doctor Who" movie?

There would be three Peter Cushing "Doctor Who" movies. I suspect this one would have affected very little, long-term, and I doubt the role had any major influence on Cushing's fame, one way or the other.

20. What if Tom Baker had agreed to appear in "The Five Doctors"?

We would have had a more integrated story, but I don't know if that would have had many long-range influences on the series. The original script featured Sarah Jane Smith, and Elisabeth Sladen probably would have appeared.

33. What if the 1996 TV movie had led to a series?

The revived popularity of the series would have happened sooner, with some of the movie's odder ideas (the Doctor is half-human) becoming canonical. However, the Doctor might never have had "last of their kind" syndrome bestowed upon the character.

The series would have lost a lot of its British character and atmosphere.

The mainstreaming of steampunk style would have occurred sooner.

36. What if Russell T. Davies hadn't succeeded in bringing the program back in 2005?

Doctor Who fandom would be a tiny and dwindling subset of contemporary fandom, especially internationally. This thread might not even exist.

From a personal perspective, a not-insignificant element in The Con would have been written very differently, since there would be virtually no contemporary teenage Whovian fans.

37. What if Christopher Eccleston had stayed for more than one series?

Due to availability of various actors at different times in their career, we may have had very different subsequent Doctors.

Interesting ideas, JD.

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