Who was the MVP of the earliest days of DOCTOR WHO? Recently uncovered evidence suggests that perhaps writer Anthony Coburn — best-remembered for scripting the first ever story, “An Unearthly Child” — deserves a lot more credit for the series’ mythos than he has been given credit for before.
A box of never-before-seen scripts and paperwork belonging to Coburn was uncovered in the British town of Herne Bay, and the materials suggest that Coburn conceived the TARDIS after seeing a police box near BBC headquarters. The discovery was made by prop-maker and lifelong WHO fan Jason Onion, who was researching the town’s connection to the long-running series.
Onion initially brushed off the script discovery as merely copies of the first four 1963 episodes that were penned by Coburn and would later come to be known as “An Unearthly Child.” Onion said:
“With the consent of Anthony’s wife, Joan Coburn-Moon, and other family members, the family lent me a box of his work and I saw the scripts, but put them to one side. When I scanned the cover later, I realized it didn’t have the right title for the first episode. I had a look, and as soon as I saw the first few pages I knew it was not the episode 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.”
The pages turned out to be early drafts of the episodes, including two versions of the first episode, and alternate second episode, three other scripts — and the “Masters of Luxor” story, which was dumped in favor of the original Dalek serial, “The Mutants.”
Onion explained the value of the document trove:
“You can see that the template for the Daleks came from Anthony. You can see in these episodes a device to unlock the TARDIS, which became the sonic screwdriver, and the science of regeneration and renewal of the body, which were all created in Anthony’s mind. This find completes the genesis of DOCTOR WHO from Anthony Coburn’s imagination. The drafts explain the mystery of Doctor Who, his origins, his people and all the background.
“It explains the TARDIS’ original name, the planet Doctor Who came from and that his granddaughter, Susan (called “Suzanne” in the scripts) — was a princess saved from another world.
“He created the cornerstones of DOCTOR WHO that have been expanded and built on ever since. It was all devised in Herne Bay, and he should never have been forgotten like he has.”
“It is possible, with continuing support and consent from the Coburn family, that these scripts could be seen publicly and displayed somewhere. It may be possible to arrange something 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.”
Indeed, how fitting it would be to finally give one of the founding fathers of DOCTOR WHO the recognition he so richly deserves after so many years. After all, his work would appear responsible for a lot of the popular elements that have allowed WHO to last five decades! Of course Coburn was fondly remembered for writing the script that started it all, but now we know he contributed so much more.