With Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary coming this Saturday, Nov. 23, it’s Doctor Who Week worldwide, with no shortage of celebrations of the show’s legacy — and excitement building for the special anniversary episode. Just in case it looked like the celebrations might go off without a hitch, along has come a lawsuit trying to derail things.
The Independent has reported that Stef Coburn, the son of the show’s first writer, is suing the BBC over the rights to the TARDIS, the Doctor’s now iconic spaceship and time machine in the shape of a blue police box. Coburn argues that any informal permission that his father, Tony Coburn, gave to the BBC expired upon his death in 1977, and is demanding that the BBC pay for every use of the ship in the show since then.
Coburn insists that he has no malicious intentions nor does he want to force the BBC to stop using the design, but only seeks recognition and recompense, a sentiment that he rather snarkily expressed when he said, “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 favourite children’s programme.” He’s clearly not interested in making himself popular with the show’s fans.
Coburn claims that he’s suing now because his father’s widow only passed him the rights earlier this year, but it’s hard not to find the timing slightly suspicious. One rather suspects that Coburn is hoping the BBC will pay out to avoid marring the anniversary, but he might not be in luck — they’ve successfully defended their rights to the TARDIS once already. London’s Metropolitan Police sued for the trade mark rights in 1996 in a cse that went on until 2002, but were ultimately forced to pay the BBC £850, plus legal costs.
It’s hard for anyone who wasn’t involved, and doesn’t have access to the BBC’s archives, to know whether Coburn’s claims will stand up in court. What is clear, however, is that this bears all the trademarks of being simply the act of a son looking to cash in on something that his father did 50 years ago, and capitalizing on the show’s current success to do so. It’s hard not to suspect that recompense, rather than recognition, is at the forefront of Coburn’s mind.
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