1. The introduction of a female Time Lord
First in the list of 10 times Doctor Who changed the shape of the future, is the concept of a female Time Lord or ‘Time Lady’. It’s not a new idea. The notion of a female time lord has been bandied about for decades. When Dr Who was going through a rough patch in the 1980s (let’s face it, it was dire) Sydney Newman, a Canadian film and television producer, who played a pioneering role in British television drama from the late 1950s to the late 1960s, wrote to the BBC about the need to improve the dwindling viewing figures by introducing an actress to the main role.
He said he did not want to create a typical Hollywood heroine, as a character ‘with no flaws is a bore’. However, the powers that be at the BBC rejected his advice, and fifth Doctor Peter Davison also dismissed the idea of a female Doctor: ‘It’s not as if you would have a female James Bond’.
2. Experimental music
Our second foray into 10 times Doctor Who changed the shape of the future looks at the development of music. From the very beginning, Doctor Who needed a range of alien sounds, and the sound library at the BBC struggled to furnish those from its recordings. Verity Lambert, the founding producer of Doctor Who (and the first female producer at the BBC!), recruited Brian Hodgson of the Radiophonic Workshop and a number of technicians. She asked them for the sound of “the rending of the fabric of time and space” – and Brian used his mother’s front door key, scraped across the strings of a broken piano, with feedback effects and a razor blade to bring the thunder of the TARDIS engines to our screens.
After this, Lambert gave the ‘sculptors of sound’ as much leeway as they needed as long as they kept the budget low. Dick Mills, a member of the Radiophonic Workshop from the start, noted that between 1972 and 1989, the scripts would include lines like “K9 blasts the robot parrot out of the air” or “the Doctor turns into a cactus” or “Sputnik collides with a 1950s bus” – and it was his job to construct a sound to persuade viewers that such a thing was happening. Budgies chirping, puppies fighting, a tub full of Swarfega – all of these are sounds that made an appearance in one way or another.
3. Smart watches
In a 1967 Episode: The Ice Warriors, the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) is working alongside a security chief named Packer who has a watch telephone. In appearance it looks like a modern Apple Watch, and it allowed the character to see the people he was talking to. In many 60’s sci-fi shows, you saw something that today you might recognise as Skype, so that’s the third instance of 10 times Doctor Who changed the shape of the future.
4. The Tom Baker scarf
Now I’m not really suggesting that Tom Baker’s long scarf was cutting edge – but it is an icon and it does keep you really warm. Legend has it that the costume designer for Tom’s first series, James Acheson, was supposed to have provided several balls of wool for a knitter to choose from while making a normal-sized scarf for the Doctor. Instead, she knitted the lot into one single, gigantic item.
5. The Sonic Screwdriver
Like the hand held communication device from Star Trek, the sonic screwdriver has proved attractive to scientists. In 2012, a team from Dundee University announced they had developed the first mechanism that could lift and turn objects using an ultrasound field, a device that can have numerous possible applications in science and surgery. Physicians have relied on sound-pressure waves for medical imaging since the 1940s (think ultrasounds), and recent research suggests that high-frequency ultrasound therapy, or HIFU, could treat some cancers.
Another exciting medical possibility, mirroring the ideas from Doctor Who include the invention of nanogenes. Nanogenes appeared alongside Christopher Ecclestone after an alien warship crash-landed in London, releasing a swarm of tiny, sparkling robots capable of repairing any wound. They worked together to heal injuries.
7. Doctor Who has changed the English language
Doctor Who has been responsible for introducing a number of new words into the English language. Over the years, the Oxford English Dictionary has had to include the following: Dalek, Tardis, and Cybermen (first appearance 1966). The phrase ‘hiding behind the sofa’ was also coined as an expression of TV-induced fear and is now inextricably linked to Doctor Who and the Daleks.
Not so much K9 but robotic dogs in general. Who could watch Tom Baker’s sidekick and not fall in love with him? The loveable mechanical pup could follow commands, fly through space, and beat the Doctor at chess in only six moves. And he did it all with the imperious voice many dog owners would recognise.
In 2011, Japanese firm NSK, developed a four-legged mechanical guide dog that used sensors to interact with its environment and negotiate staircases.
9. BBC own the rights to the TARDIS design
Even though the police box was originally designed for use by the metropolitan police, the Pstent Office ruled in 2002 that the exterior design of the Tardis could be patented by the BBC for use on Doctor Who-related merchandise. Lawyers ruled that, as the Met had stopped using the boxes in the Sixties, the design was now more closely associated with Doctor Who.
10. Computers that help people move
Our final example of 10 times Doctor Who changed the shape of the future concerns computers that help people to move and speak. Daleks may be evil aliens from the planet Skaro, but their hard robotic shell, helps their squishy, squid-like bodies to move and speak. It was unheard of when the Daleks first made an appearance in the 1960s, but now people with disabilities are able to use computers to get around. They can control bionic legs with their minds, or use artificial speech synthesizers to aid their communication.
The Cybermen may be cold and heartless but mechanical implants allow for the control of prostheses by thought.
It is truly incredible, that out of the minds of writers, some visions make it to reality.
Over to you
Do you agree with our 10 times Doctor Who changed the shape of the future? What’s your favourite ever sci-fi invention? Or what would you like to see invented? Post a comment below or join the conversation on Facebook 🙂