In 2005, Doctor Who faced its most unlikely threat – when the BBC’s science-fiction TV series actually managed to break the Geneva Convention!
Doctor Who actually broke the Geneva Convention – in the real world. The first few seasons of Doctor Who were essentially adventures in time and space, far removed from present-day Earth. But the show gradually began telling a different kind of story – an invasion story, in which alien menaces threatened a rather more familiar world. In 1968, this led to the introduction of UNIT, key allies of the Doctor. Originally led by Nicholas Courtney Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, UNIT – the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce – was created to protect the Earth from alien threats. The Doctor swiftly became their official Scientific Advisor.
Russell T. Davies wasted little time bringing back UNIT when he relaunched Doctor Who in 2005. They played a prominent role in the first season two-partier Aliens of London and World War Three, with the Slitheen wiping out their leadership. Davies’ first two seasons were noted for their smart online marketing, and the BBC launched an official UNIT website. Visitors could access a “secure” section of the site by entering a password, and play a missile game based on the episode World War Three. This presented Doctor Who fans a chance to blow up the Slitheen for themselves, just as Mickey Smith did in the episode itself. Unfortunately it also had an unexpected impact – because the website was in breach of the Geneva Convention
How Doctor Who’s UNIT Broke The Geneva Convention
The tale is told in Doctor Who: A History of the Universe in 100 Objects, by James Goss and Steve Tribe. On April 22, 2005, BBC lawyers received a fax demanding the name and insignia on the website be changed at speed. “The homepage of the website claims to be the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce and includes a close approximation of the United Nations emblem,” the letter observed. It noted that the name of the United Nations, its abbreviation, and its emblem are reserved for official purposes of the Organization. The BBC assumed it was a hilarious hoax, and the fax was even pinned up in a kitchen for a joke.
Doctor Who showrunner Russell T. Davies was understandably taken aback when this turned out to be genuine. A follow-up email threatened the BBC’s website editor with imprisonment under the Geneva Convention, and he sent a panicked email to Davies. Fortunately, there was a simple solution – one that ripples on to the present.
Doctor Who Changes UNIT’s Name
Davies clearly still saw the funny side, sending an email back promising to bake the website editor a cake with a file in it so they could escape. Script Editor Helen Raynor came up with a quick fix; UNIT’s name was changed, both on the website and in the show itself. The United Nations Intelligence Taskforce was officially renamed the “UNified Intelligence Taskforce,” and only the most observant fans even noticed Doctor Who canon and lore had quietly changed. Doctor Who‘s most unlikely threat – a breach of the Geneva Convention in the real world – was evaded with ease.
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