Who knew that Doctor Who knew Mickey Mouse since 1928 or that the British science fiction franchise almost found a home in Disneyland's Tomorrowland? Frequent readers of this column know that I have done some pretty odd things over the years, from appearing on television game shows to writing Tiny Toons comic book stories for foreign publishers to providing the voices of seven different germs for a traveling American Medical Association puppet show that toured schools and malls for a few years.
However, even I was surprised when I got an invitation in October to be a guest speaker at a Doctor Who convention in Orlando.
Doctor Who is the main character in a long-running British science-fiction television series of the same name. Doctor Who is a time-traveling, humanoid-looking alien Time Lord who, accompanied by an Earth companion (generally an attractive, intelligent young woman), explores the universe and generally saves the day in an unorthodox way. His method of transportation is the TARDIS that from the outside looks like a typical blue British police call box.
The program began in 1963 and the doctor, over the decades, has been portrayed by 11 different actors in the television series.
Hurricane Who is a fan-run group that organizes Doctor Who events in the Orlando, Florida, area. Their third full-weekend convention, Hurricane Who: Category Three, took place November 2–4, 2012 at the Doubletree by Hilton Orlando at Sea World.
While their focus is primarily Doctor Who, which this year included an appearance of The Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison), as well as assorted other actors from the series over the years, the organizers decided they wanted to include some alternative programming, especially for spouses and girlfriends who might not be as fanatical about all things Doctor Who.
For instance, Paul Bradford and Scott Tepperman of the Syfy Channel show Ghost Hunters International gave several talks.
On Friday, I did a revised version of "Walt in Space," the presentation I did last year for the Disney Family Museum. After all, it was Walt Disney who traveled through time and space before the British Time Lord. However, I think I surprised the attendees and the programmers when I was able to include some connections of Doctor Who to the world of Disney and thought I might share those with MousePlanet readers, as well.
My first acquaintance with the good doctor was when I was much younger and watching on my local PBS station in Glendale, Calif., the adventures of The Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee), and then the adventures of The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker). I caught scattered episodes of some of the other doctors, but my interest was really renewed in 2005 with the Russell Davies' BBC reboot of the series.
Actor Tom Baker took over the role in 1974 and, with his eccentric hat and enormously long scarf, still remains the most popular Doctor Who for many fans. Baker also performed the role longer than any other actor.
During the end of Pertwee's run, and the beginning of Baker's run, the series was getting a lot of attention in the United States. So, there was a proposal for one of the serials to take place at Disneyland where the Doctor would be tracking down an alien. The premise, of course, was that Disneyland is a pretty alien place of its own, so it would be the perfect place for an alien to hide. Unfortunately, the limited budget for the show killed the idea.
However, in August 1975, the only direct Disney-Who connection to date was made when Tom Baker, in character and costume as The Fourth Doctor, guest-hosted an edition of the British television show, Disney Time, in which he appeared in filmed inserts introducing clips from Disney films.
Disney Time first aired on the BBC television network on Christmas Day 1964. It was shown three or four times a year usually at Christmas, August Bank Holiday and either Easter or spring Bank Holiday (or sometimes both). The show featured clips of both live action and animated Disney films with a celebrity host providing a short introduction to each segment.
Over the years there were some well known celebrity hosts, like Paul and Linda McCartney, as well as Peter Ustinov (who hosted in 1968 to help promote the release of his film Blackbeard's Ghost), but since the show was primarily aimed at a younger audience, the hosts often included performers from children's shows or sitcoms like Rolf Harris, The Goodies, Shari Lewis, Bernard Cribbins, Cliff Richard and the ever popular Rod Hull and his Emu.
The show lasted through the late 1980s when the emergence of videotapes filled the void for a chance to view Disney films.
In 1975, Leslie Douglas Crowther (a comedian and game show host) was the host for the spring show, Tom Baker for the August show and legendary singer Bing Crosby for the Christmas show.
Baker had taken over the role of The Doctor the previous year for Season 12. The delight on August 25, 1975, was seeing the actor dressed and performing as Doctor Who taking a brief break just before reporting in for the first adventure of Season 13.
Since the primary reason to show Disney Time was for young people (and those young at heart) to get a glimpse of Disney films, just like their Yank cousins did watching the weekly Disney television show, Baker only appeared on screen for about five minutes total at various locations throughout a movie theater to introduce the clips.
Here is a description of those segments:
The episode began with a clip of "Sorcerer's Apprentice" from Fantasia. It then segued into a shot of the blue TARDIS materializing outside the entrance to a movie theater. Out of the door steps The Doctor who walks up to a person standing there and taps him on the shoulder.
Doctor: Excuse me. Do you know Mickey Mouse? Donald Duck? (He puts his arms at his side and flaps them like wings and quacks.) You know Goofy?
Man: (puzzled) Aw, you mean Disney films? (Points to theater entrance.) They are there showing now.
Doctor: Thank you. Thank you very much. (The Doctor enters the theater as the man walks away. The Doctor looks directly toward the camera.) I was passing Mars this morning and I suddenly remembered this was my last holiday for a very long time and as I have not seen Mickey Mouse since he did his first professional mouse job in 1928, I thought ‘I know. I'll stop off in London and see him and his friends!' So here I am just in time for Clock Cleaners. (The short cartoon is shown.)
The Doctor tips his hat to two passing attractive young women and then looks directly at the camera.
Doctor: Wouldn't it be fun to have a friend who was invisible to everyone except you? And supposing he was a pirate rolling his eyes and flashing his teeth, filing his nails and swigging rum? Suppose it was Blackbeard's ghost? (Scene from Blackbeard's Ghost shown).
Sitting behind the ticket counter.
Female Patron: One ticket, please.
Doctor: Here you go. No charge.
Female Patron: No charge?
Doctor: I'm not entirely without influence.
Female Patron: Thank you. (Leaves.)
Doctor: (Looking to camera) There was once a little boy called Mowgli who was lost in a jungle. One day, he met a cobra snake called Kaa. Now Kaa was no ordinary hissing snake but then Shere Khan the tiger was no ordinary striped tiger either. And Mowgli the little boy wasn't an ordinary little boy. Trust in me. Do you know Jungle Book? (Scene from The Jungle Book.)
[Korkis comment: Of course, Kaa is actually a python and not a cobra.]
Standing outside a huge six foot tall mural featuring the characters from the animated feature Robin Hood.
Doctor: In real life, of course, lions and tigers and snakes are somewhat different. Have you seen Vanishing Prairie or Bear Country or Living Desert? They're really very good True-Life Adventure films. African Lion is another one. Shall we have a look? (Scene from African Lion.)
Camera pans up from the bottom of the Doctor's long, colorful scarf up to his face. The Doctor is standing in a doorway.
Doctor: There was once a gang called The Apple Dumpling Gang. They were three orphan children who discovered a gold mine and found in it the biggest gold nugget in the history of gold mining. Naturally, it had to be kept in the bank for safety. Everybody wanted it, especially Amos and Theodore. Now, Theodore and Amos devised a foolproof plan to steal the nugget. It was a wonderful plan. Nothing could go wrong. They thought. (Scene from The Apple Dumpling Gang.)
Doctor: In the world of fantasy, anything can happen. Beds can fly, fishes can sing and dance, and human beings can talk happily underwater. And if you think that is a bit farfetched, then you haven't seen Bedknobs and Broomsticks. (Scene from Bedknobs and Broomsticks shown.)
Doctor: There's a brand new Disney film that has just been made called Return of the Big Cat. It will be coming out at Christmas and no one has seen it yet. Let's have a look at it now and see what you think of it. (Scene from Return of the Jungle Cat.)
Doctor: Two children with supernatural powers. Two villains capture the children in order to exploit their gifts. They give them ice cream, build them a wonderful place to live in and give them all the toys and goodies they could possibly hope for. Are the children deceived? Escape to Witch Mountain. (Scene from Escape to Witch Mountain is shown.)
Doctor: (sitting in the middle of a row in an empty theater). A dog on his own, without a license, can lead a very anxious life. He needs friends even in a dog's home. Without a license and nametag, who knows who a dog is? Dogs don't talk. Usually they don't sing even about their problems except, of course, in Disney films like Lady and the Tramp. (Scene from Lady and the Tramp shown.)
Doctor: (In same location as previous shot. He opens a note.) It's from the Brigadier. He's in trouble again. (The Doctor runs up the stairs to the outside exit. Stands outside the TARDIS.) And it's time to say 'goodbye' to all of you but I'll be seeing you again very soon. Next Saturday, in fact. (Tips hat.) Goodbye. (Steps into the TARDIS, slamming the door, and it dematerializes. Credits.)
If that's not enough for you, you can catch a poor quality copy of these segments.
This led directly into the four-part Doctor Who serial Terror of the Zygons, which began the following Saturday, August 30. The terror was a Skarasen, a creature that was part-cyborg and part-lizard and lived in Loch Ness, where it was mistaken for the fabled Loch Ness monster. Part of this Disney Time segment was an "extra" on the VHS release of this serial.
In 1987, The Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) appeared in a three-episode serial entitled "Delta and the Bannerman." The premise was the Doctor and his companion, Mel, and a bunch of aliens were to spend a week at 1959 Disneyland. However, when their Nostalgia Tours bus hits an orbiting satellite, they all then end up at a holiday camp in South Wales which was more appropriate for the BBC budget.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Disney Company was actively looking for franchises to purchase, like the Muppets. Disney made several attempts to buy the rights to Doctor Who and its video library. At one point, it looked like a deal would finally be made when the show went into an indefinitely long hiatus in 1989.
Preliminary plans were drawn up for a walk through attraction at Disneyland's Tomorrowland that would have taken guests through the inside of the TARDIS. There were also discussions for a film with an elaborate official announcement of the new Doctor to be made at a special press conference in Tomorrowland. Unfortunately, negotiations stalled and Disney looked for other purchases.
Star Tours originally debuted at Disneyland in 1987, and there has been some speculation that Disney's attempt to purchase the Doctor Who franchise may have been an effort to have a "Plan B" in case the partnership with George Lucas ran into challenges.
In the third novel about The Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), the companion Rose Tyler says she would like to go to Disneyland and the Doctor responds that he can take her to a place with real talking mice.
As I pointed out to an appreciative audience at the convention, Walt Disney never exhibited any interest in science fantasy and fiction, but was more interested in the speculative "science factual" world of tomorrow just around the corner, inspired by the 1939 New York World Fair's phrase of "building the world of tomorrow with the technology of today." However, I think he might have enjoyed a chat with the good Doctor if he had actually shown up at Disneyland in 1959.
(Send an email to Jim Korkis)
Jim Korkis grew up in the Los Angeles area and since the age of five was a frequent visitor to Disneyland. He was an original member of both the Mouse Club and the National Fantasy Fan Club. He attended all the local conventions where he had the opportunity to interview many of the people who actually worked with Walt Disney. Jim describes his house as looking like "a toy shop and a bookstore exploded and I decided to live in the remains". For over two decades, he has been a freelance writer and a teacher and for a while was a dealer in animation artwork and related resources. His columns concentrate on sharing stories of Disney history that haven't been recorded elsewhere.
From 2006 to 2010, Jim wrote under the pseudonym of Wade Sampson. He finally revealed his true identity in September of 2010. Those articles can be found here.