William Russell, Jacqueline Hill, Carole Ann Ford and William Hartnell in Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child

A Real-Life ‘Doctor Who’ Villain Is Trying To Ruin the Archives for Everyone Else

When the Doctor Who archives drop on BBC iPlayer later this year, a significant story will be missing: the very first Doctor Who saga, An Unearthly Child. Why? Because one person with a vendetta has successfully blocked the four-episode story based on a copyright claim.

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The villain of this story is Stef Coburn, son of An Unearthly Child writer Anthony Coburn, and he’s been a thorn in the Doctor Who fandom’s side for a while now. Back in 2013 he tried to prevent BBC from using the TARDIS—you know, the iconic symbol of the show—unless they paid him “lawful recompense.” This is what Coburn told The Independent at the time:

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. 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.

He was never a Doctor Who fan? You don’t say!

Unhinged tweets and wild accusations

Coburn failed in his attempt and since then, he’s popped up from time to time on X (formerly Twitter) to basically just spew homophobia, transphobia, racism and anti-vaccine propaganda, while supporting and retweeting people such as Laurence Fox and David Vance. His comments on the castings of Ncuti Gatwa and Jinkx Monsoon were predictably disgusting.

Coburn’s tweets have gotten more and more unhinged in recent years. It’s fair to say he definitely needs help and intervention, but that doesn’t excuse his behavior. Recently, he outright accused the BBC of driving his father to his death by “gross professional negligence or deliberate intent.” (Anthony Coburn died following a heart attack in 1977.)

He also claims that “part of the deal” he offered the BBC was that it had to produce Anthony Coburn’s unfinished sci-novel in exchange for the rights to An Unearthly Child, and also that should “anything untoward” happen to him at any point, the rights to his father’s work are going “to the Russian Federation.”

So far the BBC seems to have politely ignored Coburn’s antics, but it may be forced to really reckon with them now that he’s succeeded in getting An Unearthly Child removed from their archives.

Issues of accessibility

Coburn’s actions mean that fans will not be able to use the accessibility features that the BBC has promised to make available for all Doctor Who episodes. All the rest will have audio descriptions, subtitles, and sign language options—but if you want to watch An Unearthly Child with audio descriptions and subtitles (there’s no sign language option as far as I know), you’ll have to shell out money for the DVD. This is a cruel little twist of the knife for disabled Doctor Who fans, but very much in character for Coburn.

There is, of course, Dailymotion and YouTube and file-sharing to fall back on, but it should never have come to that.

It’s a shame Coburn never sat down and actually watched the show his father worked on. Maybe he would have learned something.

(featured image: BBC)

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Sarah Barrett
Sarah Barrett (she/her) is a freelance writer with The Mary Sue who has been working in journalism since 2014. She loves to write about movies, even the bad ones. (Especially the bad ones.) The Raimi Spider-Man trilogy and the Star Wars prequels changed her life in many interesting ways. She lives in one of the very, very few good parts of England.