We know precious little about the Doctor’s family, and even the facts are disputed. Susan, who we met in the very first episode, An Unearthly Child, is the Doctor’s granddaughter, but some outlines for the show had this as a cover story – that she wasn’t related to him at all; instead, that he was her guardian in another sense, as a sort of witness protection program.
We also hear hints about the Doctor’s background: we know he’s been married numerous times; we’ve met Jenny, his daughter through genetic transfer; and we know he had a brother (and some fans reckon it’s the Master), and if we factor in non-official ranges, that’s Irving Braxiatel.
But this isn’t the time to mull over Lungbarrow, Legacy of the Daleks, and An Earthly Child. Instead, a germ of an idea from First Doctor, William Hartnell could’ve given us not only a study of the Doctor’s immediate family but also the very first Doctor Who spin-off. Sort of.
What Hartnell proposed was an “extension” of Doctor Who, but with the series changing its name, this would’ve been a spin-off or perhaps a sequel. He said:
“At one time [in late 1964], I thought we might extend the series and I suggested giving the Doctor a son and calling the programme The Son of Doctor Who. The idea was for me to have a wicked son. We would both look alike, each have a TARDIS and travel in outer space. In actual fact, it would have meant that I had to play a dual role when I ‘met’ my son. But the idea was not taken up by the BBC so I dropped it. I still think it would have worked and been exciting to children.”
It’s certainly an interesting idea, and speaks volumes about how much William loved the show: after all, at the time this was probably suggested, the show’s mythos hadn’t been expanded far from the details revealed in the first episode. Indeed, apart from Susan, we’d not met anyone else of the Doctor’s own race – a race that wasn’t named, from a planet similarly without a moniker.
The first instance where we met another Time Lord (and saw a further TARDIS) was The Time Meddler, screened in July 1965, so there was obviously some compulsion in exploring the Doctor’s background, but the Monk isn’t portrayed as evil. He wishes to alter history, partly for his own amusement but not with nefarious ends.
And of course the Monk isn’t related to the Doctor. He definitely isn’t his son. We rarely hear of his children, beyond mentions of being a dad and Clara, in Death in Heaven, pretending to be the Doctor and telling the Cybermen, “My children and grandchildren are missing, and, I assume, dead.”
Hartnell’s suggestion came at a time when the show hadn’t even dabbled in duplicates. The Doctor’s met exact doubles of himself or others in various stories throughout Doctor Who‘s history, notably including The Enemy of the World, The Android Invasion, and Meglos – but certainly not during its first two seasons.
While The Son of Doctor Who didn’t go any further, William’s willingness to play two roles might’ve influenced the production crew in 1966’s The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve, in which Hartnell played both the Doctor and the evil Abbot of Amboise. Still, the pair do not meet, sidestepping any potentially-problematic sequences that would mean serious post-production work – in fact, the Doctor disappears midway through the first episode, War of God and doesn’t crop up again until its final episode, Bell of Doom. The serial was co-written by John Lucarotti and Donald Tosh, and it was the latter, in his capacity as Script Editor, that reworked the story to negotiate around tricky editing.
In the closing minutes of The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve, however, the Doctor is afforded a beautiful monologue in which we get a teasing mention of his background:
“And now, they’re all gone. All gone. None of them could understand – not even my little Susan. Or Vicki. And as for Barbara and Chatterton – Chesterton – they were all too impatient to get back to their own time. And now, Steven… Perhaps I should go home, back to my own planet. But I can’t. I can’t…”
The Son of Doctor Who might’ve damaged the mysterious nature of the show’s main character, but a spin-off wasn’t entirely out of the question. While they were rare in the early days of television, ITV’s Armchair Theatre and BBC’s Comedy Playhouse were used as springboards for spin-offs in the 1960s and 1970s. What Hartnell suggested is likely not a strict spin-off, but perhaps akin to The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, a continuation of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the show names often mixed up and viewed as one.
The most notable spin-off idea from the era was Terry Nation’s The Daleks, inspired by the success of 1964’s The Daleks’ Master Plan. Nation famously wrote a pilot, The Destroyers, but the series was never picked up. William’s idea predates this, and can be considered the first abandoned Doctor Who spin-off.
Would The Son of Doctor Who have worked? We’ll never know. But it’s interesting to bode on the possibility that, long before Class, The Sarah Jane Adventures, and K9 & Company, Doctor Who‘s popularity was such that a spin-off was mooted by its lead star.