Son of first 'Doctor Who' writer wants compensation for TARDIS use

Back in 1962, television writer Anthony Coburn penned the script for the first episode of the BBC science fiction series "Doctor Who" and included the first appearance of the mysterious Doctor's spacecraft-time machine that resembled a blue police call box and was called a TARDIS. Now, 50 years later, the writer's son is demanding that the BBC compensate his family for its use of his father's creation all these years.

According to the British newspaper the Independent, Stef Coburn says the TARDIS was his father's idea and that any informal permission the elder Coburn granted to the BBC for the use of the device ended when the writer died in 1977. The younger Coburn now says the BBC is in breach of copyright and should compensate the Coburn estate for its use of the TARDIS.

We should point out here that while any given bit of "Doctor Who" merchandise could feature any of the Doctor's previous 11 incarnations or his myriad of companions or enemies, the TARDIS has been the show's one constant over its 50-year run.

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Coburn has said it's not his intention to fundamentally change the show that so many people love worldwide. But it's also not like he's got a soft spot in his heart for the Doctor. He told the Independent, "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. 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."

In other words, it's all about the cash.

The BBC has said it's looking into the complaint, but also says it registered a copyright on the series in the 1980s.

The battle of creators' heirs versus corporations is not unique to "Doctor Who" or England. For the last few years, the heirs of comic book creator Jack Kirby have been engaged in a legal struggle with Marvel Comics and various Hollywood studios in an attempt to regain control of the rights to many of the characters Kirby helped create in the 1960s, including the X-Men, Fantastic Four and the Hulk. So far, the courts have found in favor of Marvel.

Coburn's complaint against the BBC comes just as the Doctor is reaching a pop cultural climax, with the 50th-anniversary special "The Day of the Doctor" set to air Nov. 23.


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