In March 1962, Eric Maschwitz, the Assistant and Adviser to the Controller of Programmes at BBC Television, asked Donald Wilson, the Head of the Script Department, to have his department's Survey Group prepare a study on the feasibility of the BBC producing a new science fiction television series. The report was prepared by staff members Alice Frick and Donald Bull, and delivered the following month, much to the commendation of Wilson, Maschwitz and the BBC's Assistant Controller of Programmes Donald Baverstock. A follow-up report into specific ideas for the format of such a programme was commissioned, and delivered in July. Prepared by Frick with another Script Department staff member, John Braybon, this report recommended a series dealing with time travel as being an idea particularly worthy of development.

In December, Canadian-born Sydney Newman arrived at BBC Television as the new Head of Drama. Newman was a science-fiction fan who had overseen several such productions in his previous positions at ABC Television and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In March 1963, he was made aware by Baverstock -now promoted to Controller of Programmes- of a gap in the schedule on Saturday evenings between the sports showcase Grandstand and the pop music programme Juke Box Jury. Ideally, any programme scheduled here would appeal to children that had previously been accustomed to the timeslot; the teenaged audience of Juke Box Jury; and the adult sports fan audience of Grandstand. Newman decided that a science-fiction programme would be perfect to fill the gap, and enthusiastically took up the existing Script Department research, initiating several brainstorming sessions with Wilson, Braybon, Frick and another BBC staff writer, C. E. 'Bunny' Webber.

Wilson and Webber contributed heavily to the formatting of the programme and its initial cast of regular characters, and co-wrote the programme's first format document with Newman. Newman personally came up with the idea of a time machine larger on the inside than the outside and the idea of the central character, the mysterious 'Doctor'; he also gave the series the name Doctor Who. Later in the year production was initiated and handed over to producer Verity Lambert and story editor David Whitaker to oversee, after a brief period when the show had been handled by a 'caretaker' producer, Rex Tucker. Concerned about Lambert's relative lack of experience, Wilson appointed the experienced staff director Mervyn Pinfield as associate producer. Australian staff writer Anthony Coburn also contributed, penning the very first episode from a draft initially prepared by Webber, and coming up with the idea that the time machine, the TARDIS, should externally resemble a police box.

Doctor Who was originally intended to be an educational series, with the TARDIS taking the form of an object from that particular episode's time period (a column in Ancient Greece, a sarcophagus in Egypt, etc.). When the show's budget was calculated, however, it was discovered that it was prohibitively expensive to re-dress the TARDIS model for each episode; instead, the TARDIS's 'Chameleon Circuit' was said to be malfunctioning, giving the prop its characteristic 'police-box' appearance.

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