News Categories
Archives

WHOops! When Doctor Who Gets It Wrong

Guest contributor Francis Milan looks at some of the mistakes over the years.

With a history spanning over four decades, and a fanbase who remembered every minute of it, the production team of the revived Doctor Who had little leeway when it came to Making It Up. Whereas it was once generally accepted that Susan named the TARDIS or that the Doctor was referenced as Dr. Who, now the mere mention of the Daleks being robots, or the TARDIS being spelled in lowercase letters (get your act together, DVD subtitle man) can have the community up in arms.

Times change when it comes to our tolerance of bloopers and canon blunders. Back in the early 60s, for example, the Peter Cushing movies were made; as wonderful as they were, could they happen today? Would the BBC have gotten away with selling the rights of Doctor Who’s format to filmmakers who would essentially tear it to pieces and start afresh? Almost certainly not.

These days, getting it right is the bane of the production team’s existence.

2005-doctor-who-billboard2005 was one of the most significant periods in the show’s history. Doctor Who was making a long-awaited return to our screens, with Eccleston and Piper at the helm of the TARDIS, and the Beeb ensured the whole world knew it. The advertis-o-meter was reading off the scale as the duo’s faces were pasted onto a billboards nationwide. Look at the photo to the right. Fans were outraged at the very sight of it. But why?

Are you there yet?

Yup. The TARDIS doors – one of Britain’s most iconic thresholds – were opening outwards. Outwards! The forums exploded. The fandom was in disarray. Had 40 years of respectable, inward-opening TARDIS doors just been reduced to nothing? What if the Doctor and Co materialised inside a cupboard?!

idiots-lantern-number-plateWhether I exaggerate or not, the mere fact that a concern was raised somewhere in the dark depths of the web about a billboard backdrop goes to show that the fidelity of Doctor Who matters. Throughout New Who’s début series, blunders continued to be made. In World War Three, what did Rose mean when she advised Jackie to check the middle shelf for vinegar when there were only two shelves in the unit? The next year, in The Idiot’s Lantern, the Doctor and Rose intended to take their scooter for a spin around the streets of New York – so why did it have a British number plate? That’s irresponsible, Doc.

There are issues which stem from an inconceivably long timeline of fairly strict canon. Who could forget the Metebelisgate? Just last year, Matt Smith’s mispronunciation of the word ‘Metebelis’ (a planet Pertwee fans will remember well) motivated many a viewer to write to Doctor Who Magazine expressing their scorn. The Eleventh Doctor’s stressing of the ‘TEB’ syllable differed from that of the Third Doctor’s, who had originally opted to strain the ‘BEE’ syllable. Something left viewers feeling uneasy.

dr-who-hartnell-creditOf course, the classic controversy – the blunder which resurfaces with a vengeance time after time – is Dr. Who. Those early Who-makers must have wondered, back when creating the show, whether people would mistake the mysterious premise ‘Doctor Who’ to be our protagonist’s name, and ever since, the Whoniverse has been trying to shake it off. Three years into the original series, the Doctor was even referred to as Dr. Who on-screen… er, probably. In The War Machines, supercomputer WOTAN spoke the legendary line, “Doctor Who is required”. Wait, did he just…? Did he…? Woah. And in 1970, a cock-up in the title-sequence department gave serial The Silurians a Target-novel-esque prefix, as the story went to air as Doctor Who and the Silurians.

Do blunders like that grind your gears? Do you accept them for their charm? Or do you like to fix the errors with a continuity of your own?

In an infinite universe home to a man who knows all too well that anything’s possible, who’s to say that we can’t find a way, logical or otherwise, to explain Doctor Who’s sore spots? There’s always a way. The Third and Eleventh Doctors differ on pronunciation as they do on their taste for wine. The Doctor’s scooters are all fitted with psychic number plates. Mickey could have reorganised his kitchen cabinets during Rose’s 12-month absence. WOTAN’s an idiot.

This, for those who don’t know, is the wonderful world of retconning. Believe me, I was a member of the fandom for eight years before wondering what that term meant. For those who watch the show from a critical yet loving perspective, retconning is a way of life.

For when Doctor Who Gets It Wrong, there is a retconner there struggling to set it straight again. They keep the show on track, and reaffirm our faith in the logic of the Who universe. Where would the show be without them? Wallowing in a pit of half-baked misery. Though no-one would notice, I suppose, because there wouldn’t be any retconners there to notice. Nonetheless, we owe a debt to those members of the community who suggest a reason why Peter Cushing’s Doctor is canonical, or why, in the opening shot of Rose, America appears to be bathed in sunlight despite it being the middle of the night there. (Though no-one’s figured that one out yet – anyone?)

Retconners far and wide, I salute you. May we never have a worse habit.

Step back in time...

COMMENT GUIDELINES

Please be civil and keep article comments relevant and on topic. Flag and report any offensive/trolling behavior, or contact us with details.
Please do not post SPOILERS including anything from leaked episodes! Your account could be banned. For complete details on our comment policy please read.
130 comments
James42
James42

These so called mistakes are really just nitpicks. The scooter for example, yes it had a British number plate, but the episode was based in England not USA. It matters not where they were supposed to be, but where they ended up. 

Anyway, the less Doctor Who goes to America the better. It maybe full of Aliens, idiots and religious nutters, but we don't need to be reminded of the fact.


indyfromaz
indyfromaz

And not a peep about The Boom Mike Guy (uncredited) in The Warriors' Gate. :)

What's a RetConner to do...


beskar
beskar

Half the stuff mentioned in this piece aren't actually blunders...

GermanDoctor
GermanDoctor

The Actors who played the Doctor called themselves "Doctor Who". Until the late 70s they were credited as "Doctor Who" (Dr. Who) and even Christopher Eccleston was credited as "Doctor Who". I hate how every Who Specialist, who actually just watched the new Series, outrages when somebody refers to the character like that.





trenzalew
trenzalew

I love all the little 'goofs'. They're part of the charm.

[[Account Deleted]]
[[Account Deleted]]

What ep was Metebelis mispronounced in?

I became a Whovian last year, and am in the middle of watching all Matts eps in order.

wetsun
wetsun

Can anyone tell me how the appearance of Peter Capalldi in Volcano day where his family is rescued by the tenth doctor is explained away ? In that episode he called the tardis a work of modern art.Maybe a story can be developed along the lines of Family of Blood episodes where the doctor entrusted all his memories to Martha Jones in a fob watch..?.Does anyone have any info on this oversight ?.After all Martha's appearance at the end of series two was down to her having a twin sister who was deleted by the Cybermen.That is the magic of writing stories,asking the question "What if ?"... anything can happen. 

floppy_who
floppy_who

The thing that got me about the 2005 poster when it came out wasn't so much that the doors open out wards, more the fact that they appear to be attached to the side of the TARDIS....

calliarcale
calliarcale

"The next year, in The Idiot’s Lantern, the Doctor and Rose intended to take their scooter for a spin around the streets of New York – so why did it have a British number plate? That’s irresponsible, Doc."  Not really.  The scooter came from the TARDIS; why should we assume the Doctor would be itching to be in compliance with New York state licensing laws?  It's not like such things have generally been a big deal to him anyway.  (Plus, you can totally operate a vehicle in the US with non-US plates.  They'd like you to eventually get local plates if you're moving in.  But would he be pulled over for having British plates?  No.  In fact, I saw a British car in my home city in middle America not too long ago; they'd had it here long enough to have gotten Minnesota plates, but they'd kept the British ones too.)

Meh Meh Meh Meh Meh
Meh Meh Meh Meh Meh

One thing I noticed that is like someone to Clara-fy:

In JTTCOTT, the TARDIS is laying down. The Doctor and the trio of dudes are able to enter the TARDIS because it has "its own gravity field" or something. Why, then, does the Doctor need a rope in The Eleventh Hour when he jumps into the sideways TARDIS? He should just splat down on the floor as normal.

And what about when River jumped off the building running from the Silence? She would fall into the TARDIS, but if the gravity switches as you enter, wouldn't she fall onto the TARDIS floor with as much force as she was falling with? That would be a very bad death for River.

I guess TEH can be attributed to the "broken" TARDIS, but what about River? Does only the new TARDIS have its own gravity?

minifigureman11
minifigureman11

It really, REALLY annoys me when people call the Doctor, Doctor Who! But the rest of the mistakes don't really matter in my opinion.

AdamLewisSmith
AdamLewisSmith

I thought the Idiot's Lantern was set in the UK not New York? 

troughton who?
troughton who?

It annoys me when, on the occasion someone calls the Doctor "Dr. Who" leagues of fans get up in arms with bloodthirsty cries of "he's the DOCTOR not DOCTOR WHO". Can people call him what they want? In universe, yes, it is simply the Doctor. But outside the show, he is more commonly known as Doctor Who. Ask a stranger in the street who their favourite Doctor is, and they'd be confused as to what you're talking about. Ask who their favourite doctor WHO is, and they'll know. Plus, if the actors themselves refer to the character as "Dr. Who", anybody can.

Dannie Madsen
Dannie Madsen

Who the hell cares? The doors have the ability to open inward and outward. That's it. Dr. Who is not a mistake. Saying "Dr." doesn't require a name after. That's it. "Doctor Who and the Silurians". Can't explain, but who the hell cares? The number plate. Your explanation is great. That's it. Metebelis pronounced different. He is a different incarnation, so that is the explanation. That's it.

Planet of the Deaf
Planet of the Deaf

I'm waiting for Three and Eleven to meet up and sort out the correct pronunciation of Metebelis once and for all...perhaps they should go back and ask one of those giant spiders

The Finn
The Finn

These are all minor details IMHO. And I think the early production crew really thought that his surname is "Who", as in one story (I think it was Fury from the Deep) he passes himself of as "Doctor von Wer", that is to say "Doctor [of] Who".


edoe101
edoe101

My honest thoughts.... I really couldn't care less about these sort of little errors. It just doesn't affect my enjoyment of the show. You say Metebelis, I say Metebelis, it doesn't matter. It's just a little error. That will be all. 


Malohkeh
Malohkeh

There's a good case to be made that his real name is "Dr. who".

Fahad Ayaz
Fahad Ayaz

I'm surprised no one's quoted the TARDIS, herself, yet:

The Doctor: Yes. Yes, I have actually rebuilt a TARDIS before, you know. I know what I'm doing.Idris: You're like a nine-year-old trying to rebuild a motorbike in his bedroom. And you never read the instructions.The Doctor: I always read the instructions.Idris: There's a sign on my front door. You have been walking past it for seven hundred years. What does it say?The Doctor: That's not instructions!Idris: There's an instruction at the bottom. What does it say?The Doctor: "Pull to open."Idris: Yes, and what do you do?The Doctor: I push!Idris: Every single time. Seven hundred years. Police box doors open out the way.The Doctor: I think I have earned the right to open my front doors anyway I want.Idris: Your front doors? Have you any idea how childish that sounds?The Doctor: Oh. You are not my mother.Idris: And you are not my child.                                              hehe squee! :D




Huknar
Huknar

And this is why I cringe every time the current title sequence ends.

Night at the Whovies
Night at the Whovies

Never forget from Victory of the Daleks:  As the TARDIS de-materialises, Amy's hair is blown back while Churchill's cigar smoke casually drifts in the opposite direction.

dragonsfyre
dragonsfyre

It's not THE Doctor either. THE is only when referencing him / himself in the 3rd person. As in "Don't worry, the the Doctor will be there when you need him." or. "I am the Doctor."

Correct usage, as demonstrated by Davros: "Welcome to my new empire Doctor."

Romanadvoratrelundar
Romanadvoratrelundar

I accept the massive mismatches as charm (eg the doors opening outwards - meh), but in the back of my mind I retcon smaller mistakes just so they don't bother me. For example, with the licence plates, I always thought that the Doctor originally got the scooter in the UK and figured that if he got in trouble in the US he could just flash his psychic paper and get away with it. After all, getting new licence plates is kind of a pain...

Polyphase
Polyphase

Great article. I cringed at the pronunciation of Metebelis as well and another strange moment was in Flesh and Stone when they jump up.
AMY: Doctor!
DOCTOR: It's just a corridor. The gravity orientates to the floor. Now, in here, all of you. Don't take your eyes off the Angels. Move, move, move
.

The statement below struck a raw nerve :)

and the Beeb ensured the whole world knew it. The advertis-o-meter was reading off the scale

It's funny that, I was a massive fan of Classic Who but I had no Idea here in Australia that it was back. You can imagine my surprise when I came across The Shakespeare Code. A mixture of excitement and frustration that I had missed the first 2 seasons.

Warisfiller
Warisfiller

People need to stop being so freaking autistic about the "Doctor Who' stuff it's stupid.

Smspeak
Smspeak

Maybe when the Doctor jumped into his own timestream in NotD, different versions of him were throughout time and space like Clara was?

MarkThomasLangdon
MarkThomasLangdon

*sigh* The reason the Twelfth Doctor and the character from The Fires Of Pompeii look alike is because they're both played by the actor Peter Capaldi. That's it. There's nothing else to explain. Capaldi is an actor who happened to play a couple of different unrelated characters in a TV show.

YaelMoise
YaelMoise

@wetsun It was Martha's cousin, not sister. They just looked alike. As to Capaldi, it WILL be explained, apparently. 


According to Moffat, it seems that RTD had an explanation for it (Capaldi was in TW, too), and he shared it with Moffat who seems to be interested in doing it. 

Mind you, Moffat lies.

Polyphase
Polyphase

@minifigureman11 If you watch the Classic DVD extras you will notice that all the actors etc call him Doctor Who so it has to be his name and be taken as canon :)

KingOfTheInterWebs has a Broom
KingOfTheInterWebs has a Broom

@Dannie Madsen  The Doctor was actually referred to as Dr. Who in at least the script of An Unearthly Child. It was a way that the producers, writers and directors referred to the character in the script because it was the title of the show. The mistake was bound to happen. I agree, I don't really view Dr. Who as a blunder, more as a kind of code set up by the production team in the early days of writing. It may set my teeth on edge hearing it said when talking about the character but as far as the people who say it go, why should they know any better? They call The Doctor, Dr. Who because they don't know any better, it's an understandable mistake.

Moxx
Moxx

...The rectonners care! You've just done a bit of retconning yourself. People care because it's fun to care. I think it's unfair to assume, on a Doctor Who website, that people don't take Doctor Who as seriously as many of them do. It's wrong to think there is any harm in striving to add some legitimacy to the Whoniverse when you cherish the show so much.

MeglosProductions
MeglosProductions

@The Finn  The story you're thinking of is The Highlanders. Another example is when Hartnell's doctor introduces himself as Doctor Caligari in The Gunfighters:


"Doctor Who"?

"Yes, quite right"

Malohkeh
Malohkeh

@The Finn And then there's "Dr. Who and the Silurians". And the infamous "Dr. Who is required". And him signing "Dr. Who" on various occasions. And him being credited as "Dr. Who". Maybe the answer to the question was the question itself (how's that for confusing?).





Polyphase
Polyphase

@Malohkeh Agreed, My philosophy is that if it's good enough for Tom Baker
it's good enough for me :)

Toto92
Toto92

What Idris says in that episode, that is the fault in my opinion. Because it's true that "Pull to open" is written on the door, but it's the instruction of the little telephone-door, not the actual doors. I don't know how real police boxes were opening, though.


Romanadvoratrelundar
Romanadvoratrelundar

@Polyphase I think the problem with the ABC is that, due to their funding, they don't do a lot of external advertising. Back then you never read the TV guide or watched anything on their channel then you wouldn't know what was on - commercial channels did a lot of print advertising on billboards and the like, but the ABC just never bothered/couldn't afford it.

KingOfTheInterWebs has a Broom
KingOfTheInterWebs has a Broom

@Warisfiller  Autistic? Sure it can be quite distracting when people point out little flaws and sometimes people over do it way to much but I'd say that you need to stop being so offensive and immature.

DonKlees
DonKlees

@YaelMoise @wetsun More to the point, why does it need to be explained? The fact that the sixth Doctor looked just like the guard commander on Gallifrey who shot the previous Doctor was never explained, despite the fact that it was an era in the show's production history where explaining away a continuity question was seen as sufficient grounds to commission a story. Put another way, if the regime that commissioned "Attack of the Cybermen" didn't feel the need to explain the current Doctor looking exactly like a supporting character from a couple seasons back, surely the current team can do so as well.

The Finn
The Finn

@Malohkeh @The Finn The first two examples you mention were already mentioned in the article, that's why I didn't mention them.

floppy_who
floppy_who

I believe the door opened inwards. The telephone hatch opens out wards. Unless of course you're watching the two Peter Cushing movies where the doors open outwards... And the main character is called Dr. Who.....

Diana van der Pluijm
Diana van der Pluijm

@DonKlees @YaelMoise @wetsun That's what I keep saying as well. Let's NOT explain it. Leave it be. Like the little goof-ups mentioned in this article it's possible to just live with them. Not the big muck-ups, though (of which there have been a-plenty in both the classic series and the new series).