UNIT dating controversy

UNIT dating controversy

The UNIT dating controversy is an ongoing debate in "Doctor Who" fandom, concerning exactly when the stories featuring the fictional military organization known as United Nations Intelligence Taskforce or more recently as the Unified Intelligence Taskforce, take place in the timeline of the television series. ["When are the UNIT Stories set?" essay in Miles and Wood (2004), pp. 7–9 ("In the whole of "Doctor Who" fandom, there's no single question as controversial as this."); see also "What's the UNIT Timeline?", "ibid" pp. 59–63] ["The Unit Era", essay in Parkin (2006), pp. 98–101 ("Establishing when the UNIT stories take place is probably the most contentious "Doctor Who" continuity issue.")] ["UNIT adventures, problematic timescale of", entry in Howarth and Lyons (1996), pp. 183–184] [Listed among "extreme examples" of "Doctor Who" continuity contradictions in Richards and Martin (1997), p. 124] [Also addressed in Lofficier (1991), pp. 22–24] [cite web |url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/classic/episodeguide/mawdrynundead/detail.shtml |title=Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide — Mawdryn Undead — Details |accessdate=2007-03-05 |last=Howe |first=David J. |authorlink=David J. Howe |coauthors=and Stephen James Walker |year=1998, 2003 |work=Doctor Who: The Television Companion |publisher=BBC "Doctor Who" website |quote=...perhaps the most hotly debated and criticised aspect of ["Mawdryn Undead" is] that the dates specified in it are completely at odds with the fairly well established time frame in which the UNIT adventures of the second, third and fourth Doctors' eras took place.] [cite web |url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/classic/episodeguide/datingunit.shtml |title=Dating the UNIT stories |accessdate=2007-03-05 |last=Cornell |first=Paul |authorlink=Paul Cornell |coauthors=Martin Day and Keith Topping |year=1995|work=The Discontinuity Guide |publisher=BBC "Doctor Who" website]

The years during which UNIT operated in the original series run (it appeared in stories from 1968-1989) were not made clear and there has been much confusion and debate on the subject. Although there is strong evidence that at least some of the production team intended the UNIT stories to take place in the "near future", this policy was not consistently applied. Whether the stories take place contemporaneously with the broadcast dates, a few years in the future, or even a few years into the past is therefore arguable.

No television story from the original series which directly and literally features UNIT gives a clear date on screen. Dates are offered in several other stories but they have a habit of appearing at face value to contradict one another, whilst a host of unused dialogue and scenes, internal production memos, books by the contemporary creative team and other media have combined to confuse the matter further. It is not even clear when the contemporary production team intended the stories to be set, as different contributions on different occasions and people contradict each other.

Established dates

The following precise, or near precise, dates are established in dialogue:

*In "The Web of Fear" (1968), Anne Travers discusses her father's expedition to Tibet (depicted in the earlier serial "The Abominable Snowmen", 1967) with Victoria, asking: "And you met him - when was it you said? In 1935? In Tibet?", to which Victoria responds: "Yes!" The Professor himself says in a different scene that it was "over forty years ago", thus placing the events of the story on or after 1975. In "The Invasion" (1968), the first story to feature UNIT, it is said that the events of "The Web of Fear" took place "about four years ago", setting "The Invasion" in 1979 at the earliest. This would have the stories featuring UNIT and the Third and Fourth Doctors taking place in the 1980s.
*In "Carnival of Monsters" (1973), the Third Doctor's companion Jo finds a copy of "The Illustrated London News" with a dateline of Saturday, April 3, 1926. She then says: "I just want you to admit the truth, that's all. Well, instead of swanning around some distant galaxy, we've slipped back about forty years in time and we're on a little cargo boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean". If she means forty years from her present, this would place the Third Doctor UNIT stories in the 1960s. If she meant her entire time frame, this places Jo's birth in 1966 and her career with UNIT in the late 1980s.
*In "Pyramids of Mars" (1975), the Fourth Doctor's companion Sarah states, "I'm from 1980". This would seem to place the Third and (most of the) Fourth Doctor UNIT stories in the late 1970s - or a "very" busy 1980.
*In the spin-off "K-9 and Company" (1981) Sarah has been back on Earth for some years, with the Doctor having left a present for her in 1978. Dialogue confirms that the story is set in 1981. This would place the relevant UNIT stories in the mid 1970s at the very latest, unless the time traveling Doctor left at a point in time earlier than his adventures with her.
*In "Four to Doomsday" (1982), the Fifth Doctor is attempting to get Tegan to her first day of work as an airline hostess on time and sets temporal coordinates for 28 February 1981, establishing the date she entered the TARDIS in "Logopolis". Tegan is left behind at Heathrow in "Time-Flight" (1982) and when she rejoins the TARDIS in "Arc of Infinity" (1983) she states that she had worked that job for a time, implying that her return to the 20th Century was close in time to her initial departure. In "Time-Flight", the Doctor wonders if Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart has become a General "by now", implying that it is several years since his last contact with UNIT and therefore setting the UNIT stories in the 1970s.
*In "Mawdryn Undead" (1983) it is established that Lethbridge-Stewart retired in 1976 (and was not promoted to a General) and worked at a British public school from 1977 until at least 1983. Lethbridge-Stewart also states in dialogue that Sergeant Benton left UNIT in 1979. The story features two timezones — 1977, which features celebrations of the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, and 1983, which is repeatedly confirmed as taking place "six years" later. This is apparently incompatible with Sarah Jane Smith's "I'm from 1980" statement in "Pyramids of Mars" (above).
*In "Battlefield" (1989) the Brigadier has now retired from teaching and the Seventh Doctor tells his companion Ace (who is from the late 1980s) that they are "a few years in (her) future". The serial includes a few subtle hints (mostly relating to technology such as telephones) that it takes place later than the year of its transmission. The novelization further confuses the issue by noting a car's tax disk is set to expire 30.6.99 and Elizabeth Shaw's UNIT id was to expire 31.12.75.
*UNIT is referenced in the 2007 episode, "The Sound of Drums" in which the President of the United States says the UNIT protocols for first contact with aliens were established in 1968; this date is consistent with "The Invasion" being broadcast in that year.
*"The Sarah Jane Adventures" serial "Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?" (2007) shows Sarah Jane Smith as a 13 year old in 1964. Sarah says that that she is 23 in "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" (1974), making most of her stories contemporary with their original air dates.
*At the end of "The Sarah Jane Adventures" story "Revenge of the Slitheen", Sarah calls upon UNIT to clear up the mess left by the aliens. At the close of the phone call, she says "my love to the Brig", apparently confirming that the Brigadier is still alive in that time frame which is implied to be in 2008 or 2009 based on information given in the earlier story "Invasion of the Bane" and the main series.
*In The Sontaran Stratagem the Tenth Doctor tells Donna Noble that he worked for UNIT "in the Seventies...or was it the Eighties?", a direct reference to the controversy.cite web|url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/s4/episodes/?episode=s4_04&action=factfile|title=The Sontaran Stratagem: Fact File|date=2008-04-26|work=Doctor Who|publisher=BBC|accessdate=2008-04-26] The succeeding episode, "The Poison Sky" also confirms that the Brigadier is still alive, and implies that he is still in service with UNIT.

Contradictory clues

In addition, there are many other contradictory details that confuse the picture.

*Some stories feature calendars, but these can contradict one another. "The Green Death" (1973) features four such references. One in a leap year when February 29 falls on a Tuesday (1972 is the only one in the 1960s-1990s), another on Thursday 5 April (1973), a third sometime in May and a fourth on Sunday 28 April (1974). In "The Android Invasion" (1975) a calendar in a fake pub the date for every day as Friday 6 July (1973, 1979, 1984 or 1990) but there is no indication whether this indicates when the fake pub was set up, when the information came from, when the invasion is scheduled for or is merely a random date. However, there is evidence that the days of the week in the Doctor Who universe may be out of sync with those in reality - the serial The War Machines quotes several cases of day and date, but these are wrong for 1966, the year the serial was later established as taking place (in "The Faceless Ones").
*Where politics are concerned, the stories offer a very different picture from the time when they were transmitted. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is called "Jeremy" in "The Green Death" (intended to be Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe who never attained that position) and is a woman in "Terror of the Zygons" (1975), four years before Margaret Thatcher became the first female to attain the position. In "Robot" (1974) a newspaper clipping refers to Edward Heath as a leading figure in opposition, defending the record of his government, implying a contemporary setting. In the much later "Battlefield" the monarch of the United Kingdom is a King. Even later still, Queen Elizabeth is referenced in the revived series episode "Doomsday", set sometime in 2007). The United Nations is more interventionist than its 1970s real-life counterpart, whilst the Cold War at times is on the verge of turning into World War III in some of the earlier stories, but by "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" and "Robot" the Cold War is over.
*"The Web of Fear" (1968) and "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" (1974) both have sequences set in the London Underground. All the route maps and station names shown are contemporary to the broadcast of the story, with the two new lines and several changes of the names of featured stations that were made in the next few years being ignored. In particular, part of the action in "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" takes place in a base hidden beneath Trafalgar Square tube station. In real life, the Bakerloo Line Trafalgar Square station combined with the Northern Line Strand station in 1979 to form Charing Cross station.
*With a few exceptions, no stories attempt to predict future fashions or technology, except when it is central to the plot. The result is that the stories made in the 1970s look very strongly like the 1970s.
*In "The Ambassadors of Death" (1970), Sergeant Benton comments that the distress signal SOS was done away with "years ago."
*On the occasions that money is mentioned, most amounts given correspond to those in use at the time, such as "Spearhead from Space" and "Doctor Who and the Silurians" (both 1970) featuring pre-decimal currency whilst it costs 2 pence for a telephone call in "The Seeds of Doom" (1976), even though in real life the United Kingdom adopted decimal currency in 1971 and was subject to significant inflation. In the later "Battlefield", a vodka and coke, a glass of lemonade and a glass of water in a village pub costs 5 pounds (paid for with a £5 coin that, as of 2008, is not in common circulation). Compare "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (1978), in which £5 is enough for Ford Prefect to buy six pints of beer and leave a generous tip.
*The technology displayed on occasion is significantly more advanced than reality. In "The Ambassadors of Death" and "The Android Invasion" the United Kingdom has a fully functional space programme that is able to send missions to Mars and Jupiter, respectively. However, "The Christmas Invasion", said to take place in 2006, depicts the UK has only having just sent its first unmanned probe to Mars. Laser guns are in development in "Robot" and then used by UNIT in "The Seeds of Doom". Many of the science establishments seen are engaged in extremely advanced research. On most occasions, however, UNIT personnel are armed and equipped with contemporary or slightly dated/surplus British military equipment (notably L1A1 SLR battle rifles and 58 pattern webbing).
*The BBC has a third channel, "BBC 3", in "The Dæmons" (1971). In 1971, the BBC had only two terrestrial channels (though had aspirations to launch a third channel in subsequent years). The actual BBC Three, a digital channel, was not launched until 2003.

Off-screen evidence

Published books, contemporary interviews, publicity material and behind the scenes documents all point to a degree of uncertainty amongst the production team as well. For example:

*A document prepared during the making of "The Invasion" by director Douglas Camfield states that he assumed the story was set in 1976.
*The "Radio Times" and an announcement at the start of the original transmission of the first episode of "The Invasion" both state that the story takes place in 1975. Announcements and publicity material were normally produced by the series' production office, usually by the script editor.
*In a pair of 1969 interviews then-producer Derrick Sherwin and newly cast Doctor Jon Pertwee told the press that the series (and thus the UNIT stories) would be set in a near future time when things such as space stations would become reality, with Pertwee confirming this would be in the 1980s. [cite web |url=http://www.cuttingsarchive.org.uk/news_mag/1960s/cuttings/endoftim.htm |title=End of time for Dr. Who |accessdate=2007-06-10 |year=1969 |work=Unknown newspaper; clipping at The Doctor Who Cuttings Archive]
*A recorded but unused line in "The Claws of Axos" (1971) discusses comets due in the period 1969–1975, strongly pointing to an early 1970s setting for the story. By this time Sherwin had moved on as producer.
*The 1972 book "The Making of Doctor Who", written by then-script editor Terrance Dicks and regular writer Malcolm Hulke, dates "Spearhead from Space" to 1970. However the second edition of 1976 (rewritten by Dicks alone, after he had stepped down as Script Editor) does not specify a date.
*In the original shooting script for "The Time Warrior", during Sarah Jane's interrogation by Linx, she was asked what year she had come from. The answer was an unequivocal "1974." The line was dropped from the script before the episode was filmed. [ Production subtitles from DVD release of "The Time Warrior", BBC Video, 2008 ]
*The 1974 novelisation of "The Sea Devils" (1971), also by Hulke, refers to North Sea oil starting to be exploited in 1978, indicating an early 1980s setting for the story.
*The 1981 Writers' Guide for the proposed series of "K-9 and Company" stated that Sarah's travels with the Doctor took place between 1973 and 1976, coinciding with the real-life tenure of actress Elizabeth Sladen, who portrayed her.
*"Mawdryn Undead" was originally written with a different former companion in mind (Ian Chesterton) and much has been made of how this generated the UNIT dating "mistake", though other early 1980s stories and the above mentioned guide support "Mawdryn Undead"'s dating of the story.
*The "official" UNIT website (http://www.unit.org.uk) produced by the BBC for the 2005 series notes in its history section that UNIT was formed in 1968 in response to the "London Underground" incident ("The Web of Fear"), and in its news section that January 25 2005 was the 35th anniversary of UNIT's involvement in "Project Waxwork" (the concluding episode of "Spearhead from Space" was broadcast on January 24 1970). These would date the stories as being contemporaneous with their original broadcast. With a joking nod to the fan controversy over dating of the original stories, the site also notes that " [UNIT] quickly expanded, making our presence felt in a golden period that spanned the sixties, the seventies, and, some would say, the eighties."
*The "official" Guinevere One website (http://www.guinevere.org.uk/index.html), a tie-in to "The Christmas Invasion", establishes that Britain "did" have a space program that was active into the 70s; the British Rocket Group (brought from Quatermass into Who in "Remembrance of the Daleks") were the key force. It is mentioned the space program restarted after the change of government in 1997 (which could be a reference to the Who novel "The Dying Days", which featured the restarted British Mars Probe missions in 1997).
*The website for "The Sarah Jane Adventures" (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sja/) includes a video clip that covers highlights from Sarah's career as a journalist. The clip gives the years for "Invasion of the Dinosaurs" and "The Seeds of Doom" as 1974 and 1976 respectively, making the stories contemporaneous with their year of broadcast.


Spin-off stories in ofter media have also offered dates for the UNIT stories but have had little success in producing a clear answer:

*The 1993 radio play "The Paradise of Death" by early 1970s producer Barry Letts is set at the time of the later Third Doctor stories and appears to have a 1990s setting, most notably references to virtual reality. (In the 1994 novelisation, however, Letts limits these references.)
*The sequel, 1996's "The Ghosts of N-Space", which is set again around the last Third Doctor stories, sees the sighting of a comet which appears every "157 years" and which was last seen in "1818", making it 1975.
*The novels in the New Adventures and the Missing Adventures line written in the 1990s took the editorial view that the television stories were set some time in or around the 1970s and left it down to individual authors to decide on dates. This resulted in a number of contradictions: for example, the events of "The Invasion" have been variously dated to the late 1960s, mid-1970s and late 1970s. The novel "Who Killed Kennedy" by David Bishop sets the UNIT stories at around the time of their original transmission. The New Adventures novel "Return of the Living Dad" by Kate Orman, parodies the dating controversy by introducing "fans" of the Doctor who, due to government censorship of alien invasions, know he worked for UNIT, but cannot work out exactly when.
*The author's introduction to the Past Doctor Adventures novel "The Face of the Enemy", by David A. McIntee, suggests that "Mawdryn Undead" may take place in a parallel universe where the Brigadier retired in 1976. Dave Stone's Past Doctors Adventures novel "Heart of TARDIS" features a UNIT which is active under Lethbridge-Stewart's leadership in the 1980s, although there are further contradictions with established "Doctor Who" history and it is possible that Stone is less than serious. In Lawrence Miles's "", Sarah comments to the Eighth Doctor about her uncertainty as to when she travelled with him. The Doctor replies that some "time slippage" occurred and that it was his fault, but does not elaborate further.
*Ben Aaronovitch, author of "Battlefield", in a chronology prepared in-house for New Adventures writers, states that the story is supposed to take place around 1997.
*In the Big Finish Productions audio play ', the now-General Sir Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart states that UNIT has been fighting alien invasions for forty years, and that he "put down" a Silurian base thirty years before. Of course, these could be approximations, and there is no indication in which year "The Coup" takes place. However, in ', the character of Captain Andrea Winnington is said to have been born in the 1980s, which would set the events of the audio plays in the mid-to-late 2000s at the very earliest, and therefore place the events that Sir Alistair speaks of in the mid-to-late 1970s.
*It is stated that when Sam was released from prison in 1967, there was a document containing the Brigadier's initials and the UNIT call sign, although both the Doctor and Sam knew that the Brigadier was still Colonel and UNIT didn't exist back then. This strongly applies to the dates of both The Invasion and The Web of Fear in their respective order above.



*Howarth, Chris & Steve Lyons, "Doctor Who: The Completely Useless Encyclopedia" (London: Virgin Books, 1996), ISBN 0-426-20485-9
*Lofficier, Jean-Marc, "Doctor Who: The Terrestrial Index" (London: Virgin Books, 1991), ISBN 0-426-20361-5
*Miles, Lawrence & Tat Wood, "About Time 3: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who — 1970–1974, Seasons 7 to 11" (New Orleans, LA: Mad Norwegian Press, 2004), ISBN 0-9725959-2-9
*Parkin, Lance and Lars Pearson, "AHistory: An Unauthorised History of the Doctor Who Universe" (Des Moines, Iowa: Mad Norwegian Press, 2006), ISBN 0-9725959-9-6
*Richards, Justin & Andrew Martin, "Doctor Who: The Book of Lists" (London: BBC Books, 1997), ISBN 0-563-40569-4

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