Doctor Who's Very First Big Secret — From 1963

The season finale of Doctor Who airs this weekend. And after a year filled with mysteries, the episode promises to be a very big deal. Showrunner Steven Moffat, who wrote the script, claims it will "change the course of Who forever... It's full of surprises and questions that have never been answered in the history of Who, including the Doctor's greatest secret."

It won't be the Doctor's first secret, though. That came back in 1963, before a single episode had ever aired. It was part of the brainstorming by the show's creators at the BBC, while they were still trying to figure out exactly what the show would be about — and what mysteries would lurk beneath the surface of the main character.

The idea for the show was originally conceived by Torontonian Sydney Newman, who had taken over the drama department at the BBC after working at the CBC and NFB in Canada. He always knew Doctor Who would be an educational children's adventure show about an enigmatic Doctor with a time machine. But the details still had to be worked out.

One of the first surviving records of those early brainstorming sessions was a series background notes written up in the months before production started. And the idea of giving the Doctor his own secret (or two) is already there, laid out by one of the show's writers:

"The Secret of Dr. Who: In his own day, somewhere in our future, he decided to search for a time or for a society or for a physical condition which is ideal, and having found it, to stay there. He stole the machine and set forth on his quest. He is thus an extension of the scientist who has opted out, but he has opted farther than ours can do, at the moment. And having opted out, he is disintegrating...

"In story terms, our characters see the symptoms and guess at the nature of his trouble, without knowing details; and always try to help him find a home in time and space. wherever he goes he tends to make ad hoc enemies; but also there is a mysterious enemy pursuing him implacably every when: someone from his own original time, probably. So, even if the secret is out by the 52nd episode, it is not the whole truth...

"The Second Secret of Dr. Who: The authorities of his own (or some other future) time are not concerned merely with the theft of an obsolete machine; they are seriously concerned to prevent his monkeying with time, because his secret intention, when he finds his ideal past, is to destroy or nullify the future...

"If ever we get thus far into Dr. Who's secret, we might as well pay a visit to his original time. But this is way ahead for us too."

Of course, not all of that made it into the show. The original ideas had been reworked by the time the First Doctor, William Hartnell, made his debut. Newman didn't like either one of the secrets. In a hand-written note beside the first idea, he wrote: "Don't like this at all. Dr Who will become a kind of father figure — I don't want him to be a reactionary." And beside the second, he simply wrote: "Nuts."

But as any die-hard Doctor Who fan knows, at least a little bit of these original ideas did make it into the show. The Doctor did steal the TARDIS. He can't always resist monkeying with time. And he has been known to opt-out. It will be interesting to see whether any other kernels of those original secrets will pop up this weekend. — whether the Doctor's greatest secret has anything to do with his first.


Read our most recent Doctor Who recap: Doctor Who & The Crimson Herrings.

Adam Bunch is the Editor-in-Chief of the Little Red Umbrella and the creator of the Toronto Dreams Project. You can read his posts here, follow him on Twitter here, or email him at


Post a Comment