The untold truth of Doctor Who

The BBC series Doctor Who is a grandaddy of the science fiction genre, with adventures dating back to its debut in 1963, and over that half-century, The Doctor's journey has taken some wild and weird turns. The series follows an alien who travels through space and time; it's a setup whose narrative possibilities are practically limitless, and the show's taken full advantage.

From fan theories becoming canon to near misses that could've fundamentally changed the structure of the series, the story of Doctor Who is a wild and storied one. We're also digging into little-known facts about some of the series' most iconic villains (which only serves to make them even creepier), ways the show changed the TV industry, and some casting decisions that could've made for some very different Doctors over the years.

Let's tackle the untold story of Doctor Who.

The Doctor's regeneration was based on acid trips

One big reason Doctor Who has lasted so long is the fact that it's not beholden to one star. The producers built in a process to change the main actor and have it fit right in with the narrative: regeneration. By regenerating, the Doctor changes to a new actor with a different personality, though he typically retains most of his memories. It gives enough wiggle room to recast the role as needed, and though it's certainly a risky move on the surface, it's been a key part of the show's longevity. So how'd they come up with the idea? Tripping on acid. Seriously.

According to the BBC, the producers described the process in an internal memo in the 1960s. According to the creative team, the regeneration was supposed to be a "horrifying experience" where the Doctor "relives some of the most unendurable moments of his long life, including the galactic war." The Doctor is forced to face everything he's done in the moment of regeneration, and the producers say it's essentially like he "had the LSD drug and instead of experiencing the kicks, he has the hell and dank horror which can be its effect." You'll never watch a regeneration the same way again.

Stage actor Ron Moody almost played the Third Doctor

When Patrick Troughton left the role of the Doctor in 1969, well-known stage actor Ron Moody was offered the gig to become the next Doctor. He turned it down and Jon Pertwee eventually landed the role—but it's still tempting to wonder where Who may have gone if Moody had accepted the job.

Michael Jackson and Bill Cosby were once considered for the Doctor

Thanks to regeneration, plenty of different actors have taken up the Doctor's mantle—and some potential stars that could've taken the franchise in very different directions. According to The Times, Michael Jackson and Bill Cosby were at the top of the list to play the Doctor in a 1988 film adaptation that never materialized. These might seem like some outside the box choices for the role, but remember, this was the late 1980s—Jackson was trying to branch into film with efforts like Captain EO and Moonwalker, and Cosby was in the midst of The Cosby Show. As fans continue to wait for a female or black take on the iconic character, it's amazing to think the show could've embraced that diversity more than 25 years ago. Just think: In an alternate universe, there's a trilogy of Doctor Who films starring Michael Jackson. The King of Pop—and the king of time.

The creepy Weepings Angels are played by real people

The Weeping Angels are one of the most terrifying villains on Doctor Who, and once you find out how they're brought to life, they'll freak you out even more. Living statues that move closer when you blink and banish you to be lost in time with a touch, they're fantastically scary, especially for a show that bills itself as family-friendly. Though it'd be easy to assume the Weeping Angels are actual statues being moved around the set, they're actually actors and actresses wearing extensive prosthetics. Some behind-the-scenes footage of the Angels being put together during production is basically nightmare fuel.

Steven Moffat turned his own 'stupid' 1995 fan theory into canon

It's crazy to think, but Doctor Who has been around long enough that kids who watched the series growing up are now old enough to actually be writing and producing the series, and that's exactly what happened for showrunner Steven Moffat. In 1995, when he was still just a fan, Moffat posited a fan theory in a Doctor Who chat room. His idea was that the universe developed the word "doctor" to describe a healer or peacemaker from the Doctor's travels throughout time and space. Put simply, he inspired the word itself. Moffat admitted his theory was "stupid," but said he was "rather proud" of it anyway.

Fast forward 16 years, and Moffat is running Doctor Who. In the 2011 episode "A Good Man Goes to War," Alex Kingston's River Song gives a speech to the Doctor, telling him, "The word for healer and wise man throughout the universe. We get that word from you, you know. But if you carry on the way you are, what might that word come to mean?" Yep, Moffat basically turned his fan theory into legitimate Who canon.

Douglas Adams was a Who writer in the late 1970s

Douglas Adams is a sci-fi hero thanks to his Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy book series, but he also cut his teeth as a script editor and writer on the old school Doctor Who series in the 1970s. His best-known Doctor Who work is the Tom Baker-era story "City of Death," a beloved serial that pitted the Doctor against Count Scarlioni. That episode is still touted as one of the best of vintage Who, though it wasn't Adams' only contribution to the Who-niverse. He was also wrote the unaired serial "Shada," which was never completed due to a strike at the BBC. It was supposed to be the final serial of the show's original 17th season. It sat on the shelf for more than a decade, until a narrated version (with Tom Baker) featuring some finished footage was released in 1992. It was also turned into an audio drama (with animation) in 2003, and adapted as a novel by Gareth Roberts in 2012.

Current Doctor Peter Capaldi was a hardcore Who fan as a teenager

Much the same way showrunner Steven Moffat relished the chance to make his fan theory canon, current Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi is also living out a childhood dream. Capaldi was a hardcore Doctor Who fan as a teenager, and has made no secret about the fact that the show is what inspired him to get into show business (though he originally just wanted to work on set design and help build a TARDIS). As a teenager, Capaldi wrote a lengthy essay about the awesomeness of the show's opening credits in a Doctor Who fanzine, and also sent letters to the Radio Times celebrating the show's 10th anniversary (complete with hopes that every school in Britain will build its own Dalek) when he was just 15 years old.

Ridley Scott almost built the Daleks

A young Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, The Martian) worked as a set designer on Doctor Who, and was originally attached to do set design for "The Daleks," the episode that introduced the pepper pot-esque killing machines. That's right: Ridley Scott almost designed the first Daleks. But Scott left the BBC for a job at Granada Television in Manchester to start training as a director just before production started, and set designer Raymond Cusick was assigned to bring author Terry Nation's description of the Daleks to life (on an ultra-small TV budget). Who knows how they might've looked if Scott had stuck around? On the flip side, we may never have gotten Alien or Blade Runner if he hadn't jumped ship from the BBC, so we're calling that one a win.

Edgar Wright could've directed the New Who pilot 'Rose'

When the BBC started getting its Doctor Who revival off the ground in 2005, the network was looking for a buzzy director to helm the premiere episode "Rose." It turns out Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) was at the top of the list. Wright cut his teeth on the British sci-fi comedy Space, and was busy directing Shaun of the Dead at the time. Sadly, that project kept him a little too busy to take the Doctor Who gig—a decision he's joked his mother "has never forgiven [him] for." Hard to blame her. Instead, Keith Boak (EastEnders, Silent Witness) landed the job.

Doctor Who broke the glass ceiling for the first female producer at the BBC

Verity Lambert was hired as the first producer for Doctor Who back in 1963—making her the first female producer at the BBC. Lambert was in charge of the first two series of Doctor Who and left the project in 1965, but her legacy lives on: after her start on Doctor Who, Verity started her own television company, and work on several shows over the ensuing decades. Upon her passing in 2007, former Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies said "There are a hundred people in Cardiff working on Doctor Who and millions of viewers, in particular many children, who love the programme that Verity helped create." Her story, along with the saga that launched Doctor Who, was also chronicled in the TV movie An Adventure in Space and Time.

The first Doctor of the modern era didn't like the direction of the show

Though he's softened his stance on Doctor Who as of late, Christopher Eccleston has famously disliked Doctor Who following his one-year stint as the man in the little blue box when the show relaunched in 2007. The actor told the Daily Record he'd "had enough" with the show, and once he realized he and the showrunners "were never going to compromise" over the creative direction of the seires he decided to leave—leading to the first regeneration of the modern era, which introduced fan favorite David Tennant to the TARDIS. Despite his quick exit, Eccleston still deserves a lot of credit for successfully relaunching the show. The actor was actually invited back to the 50th anniversary special (which brought Tennant back for a cameo, alongside Matt Smith), but negotiations broke down before a deal could be made. Eccleston's role was eventually reworked to introduce John Hurt's War Doctor.

Hugh Grant was offered the role of the 9th Doctor

Before Christopher Eccleston signed on to relaunch Doctor Who, film star Hugh Grant (About A Boy, Four Wedding and a Funeral) was approached to play the Doctor. Metro reports he was offered the role before the launch of the season but declined because he didn't think it would be successful. It makes sense the BBC would've been interested in a bankable star to help generate some buzz, and in Britain, Grant would definitely be on that list. Yeah, a swing and a miss on judging that role though, Hugh.

Bestselling author Terry Pratchett had a love-hate relationship with the series

Before his passing in 2015, author Terry Pratchett (Discworld series) had a major love-hate relationship with Doctor Who. The author took a guest stint editing SFX magazine in 2010, and wrote an essay in which he talked about his complicated relationship with the series. His opening line: "I wish I could hate Doctor Who." Pratchett went on to talk about watching the original series premiere all those years ago, going over how the character changed in the new version of Doctor Who. Pratchett took issue with how the Doctor became almost a godlike figure in later years, and argued that the show never quite gives in to its sci-fi leanings. If you're also conflicted about Doctor Who, it's well worth a read.

Tom Baker's Doctor sold computers in the 1980s

Product placement isn't a modern day phenomenon—shows and consumer goods companies have been working together for decades (with various degrees of success). Case in point: Fourth Doctor Tom Baker's stint as a salesman for Prime Computers in the 1980s. Baker starred in a hilariously cheesy series of commercials hawking the computer brand, in which he had to (you guessed it) use Prime Computers to save the world. It seems they even use Prime Computers on Gallifrey (sigh). The company was moderately popular in the 1980s, and peaked around 1988. The company went defunct during the following decade, but lucky for us, the internet has made these commercials gloriously eternal.

A lawsuit could have axed the Daleks from New Who

When the BBC was gearing up to relaunch Doctor Who, the network obviously aimed to reintroduce the series' most memorable villains. There was just one problem—the rights to the Daleks were being contested in court. The Daleks were created by Terry Nation, and the rights holders for his estate challenged the BBC's use of the characters. Thankfully for fans who want to see the Doctor continue facing off with the deadly pepper pots, the BBC ultimately won the right to use the Daleks as they see fit.