- The BBC has been blocked from releasing the first Doctor Who story by the son of writer Anthony Coburn due to disputes over the show’s rights.
- The omission of the four episodes comprising An Unearthly Child from the BBC iPlayer’s Doctor Who library is a blow to the preservation and accessibility of the show’s classic era.
- Stef Anthony Coburn claims that the BBC disrespected his father’s contributions and took the episode’s trademark without permission, leading to a decline in his father’s health. He blames the BBC for not allowing viewers to watch the episode.
The BBC has been blocked from releasing the first Doctor Who story by the son of writer Anthony Coburn following a vicious dispute over the broadcast rights. Directed by Waris Hussein, An Unearthly Child was the show’s debut story, introducing William Hartnell’s First Doctor as he, granddaughter Susan (Carole Ann Ford), and schoolteachers Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) travel from 1960s London to humanities’ earliest days. Broadcast on November 23, 1963, the episode was overshadowed by the coverage of US President John F. Kennedy’s assassination but has since been recognized for its pivotal place in pop culture.
While the BBC iPlayer’s expanded Doctor Who library will feature nearly every story in time for the 60th anniversary, the BBC has revealed to RadioTimes.com that all four episodes comprising An Unearthly Child will be omitted due to disputes over the show’s rights.
“This massive iPlayer back catalogue will be home to over 800 hours of Doctor Who content, making it the biggest ever collection of Doctor Who programming in one place but will not include the first four episodes as we do not have all the rights to those.”
The omission comes due to the intervention of Coburn’s son, Stef Anthony Coburn, who claimed on Twitter that the broadcaster’s offer to re-license the four episodes did not meet his demands.
He stated the BBC offered “pittance” to the re-license, and despite a counter-offer, it seems they have not reached an agreement. Coburn further broke down the issues regarding the rights below, setting the blame on BBC.
An Unearthly Child Streaming Removal Is A Blow To Doctor Who‘s Battle Over The Preservation & Accessibility Of Its Classic Era
Coburn’s current dispute with the BBC is the latest conflict over his father’s Doctor Who contributions. The writer’s son previously challenged the corporation over claims that his father named the TARDIS, leading to threats of a legal dispute over the trademark in 2013 that never came to fruition. Outside his claims, Coburn has also voiced his displeasure over reports surrounding Doctor Who season 14’s production, making several bigoted remarks over the casting of Ncuti Gatwa and Jinkx Monsoon on Twitter while promoting far-right conspiracies.
While the ownership rights surrounding several classic elements of Doctor Who are in complex situations due to the nature of TV production at the time, Coburn’s actions stand out as unfortunate for several reasons. Not only will An Unearthly Child’s absence from the BBC iPlayer’s library deprive viewers of a chance to revisit the show’s origins in time for the Doctor Who milestone 60th-anniversary, but it was set to receive a series of new accessibility options, allowing more people to enjoy the story than before. As such, Coburn has prevented his father’s legacy from reaching new audiences for the foreseeable future.
With the dedicated efforts made to preserve and recreate lost classic Doctor Who stories, Coburn’s decision will be a massive blow to viewers. Despite its initial rough reception, Coburn’s father’s work alongside creators Verity Lambert and Sydney Newman, Hussein, and the cast had long been held as a pivotal piece of the franchise’s history. While potential discussions and disputes could change the situation, An Unearthly Child’s current distribution removal will dampen the excitement over the show’s milestone celebrations.
Coburn Further Explains The Rights Dispute
He claimed that the BBC had long disrespected his father’s contributions to the series, accusing the broadcaster of contributing to his decline in health.
He alleged that the BBC took the episode’s trademark without getting permission or offering any payment to his father. He even claims that the actions likely killed his father.
He later claims that the BBC are at fault since their offer is “unreasonable.” He also stated that “The Tribe of Gum” would not be available on iPlayer.
Coburn ended his explanation, again iterating that the BBC failed to provide a fair deal on the rights. He claims that the BBC “will NEVER AGAIN have the right to distribute Tony’s episodes” and blames them for not allowing viewers to watch the renowned episode.