Doctor Who’s TARDIS Sparks Lawsuit Over Its Origins

By Nick Venable | Updated

This article is more than 2 years old

an unearthly child doctor who

Now that everyone has had a little breathing room in between lawsuits over where James Cameron gets his ideas, we’ve got something a little more wibbly wobbly going on in the courtroom. The son of a former Doctor Who writer is suing the BBC over breach of contract, claiming his father invented the TARDIS, and they owe him another dimension’s worth of money over it.

Anthony Coburn is a screenwriter who wrote the first four episodes of the first season of Doctor Who, with William Hartnell as the mysterious Time Lord. His son Stef claims Coburn conceived of the big blue TARDIS after coming upon two of the police boxes on a walk through London. Coburn’s death in 1977 is when the son says the BBC first breached contract, and he is demanding that Coburn’s estate be paid for every use of the TARDIS since then, or that the time machine be removed from the show altogether. This is kind of like asking Scooby and the gang to just take a pick-up truck. No mere mortal is going to take the TARDIS away from the Doctor. But Stef Coburn sure is trying.

“It is by no means my wish to deprive legions of Doctor Who fans (of whom I was never one) of any aspect of their favorite children’s program,” he told The Independent. “The only ends I wish to accomplish, by whatever lawful means present themselves, involve bringing about the public recognition that should by rights always have been his due, of my father James Anthony Coburn’s seminal contribution to Doctor Who, and proper lawful recompense to his surviving estate.”

So why hasn’t the snivelly-sounding plaintiff made a stink about it before now? Apparently the copyrights to all of Coburn’s ideas were passed to his widow, who only recently passed them on to Stef, who says he would have done something sooner had the rights been his. The BBC, who is looking into the matter, registered a trademark on TARDIS in the 1980s.

As well, they have this page up on their BBC archives website, which states that show creator Sydney Newman envisioned it with screenwriter Cecil Webber. Give it a read below.

doctor who notes

“It is visible only as an absence of visibility…” Some fifteen-year-old’s head just exploded. You’ll notice they refer to the “machine” as a humdrum common object, “such as a night-watchman’s shelter.” Since my hometown doesn’t have anything like police boxes or night-watchman shelters, so that I can’t make a personal judgment call, I’ll leave this matter up to the courts. It’s kind of hard to tell just how big of a case Coburn’s son has, given the only thing he talks about is ideas. Maybe someone would like to go into the future and tell us what happens? Step into my big blue outhouse.