The fight exploded yesterday after three film- makers lodged a writ in the High Court yesterday claiming that the BBC had "blatantly breached" undertakings with them by going ahead and making its own Dr Who television movie with Universal, which was shown last May.
The Daltenreys, a consortium of three film-makers, which also includes the singer Bryan Ferry and John Illsley of the band Dire Straits, are demanding pounds 1m in compensation and pounds 13m for lost potential profits.
They say they had planned to make three big-screen versions of Dr Who and were poised to announce their film project when the BBC went ahead with a different television movie. They had lined up Alan Rickman to star as the doctor and had hired Leonard Nimoy - Star Trek's Mr Spock - to direct.
The BBC, however, claims that it made its movie after the film rights, which had been licensed to the Daltenreys in 1987, finally expired - having been extended several times at the consortium's request.
But the Daltenreys argue that to raise money for their film project the principal consortium members, George Dugdale, John Humphreys and Peter Litten, took out second mortgages and spent their own savings to pay the pounds 400,000 Dr Who rights.
By February 1994 negotiations with Rickman and Nimoy had reached an advanced stage.
But a few weeks before their rights deal expired the consortium discovered the BBC was entering a production deal with Stephen Spielberg. Spielberg did not make the film in the end.
Mr Humphreys said yesterday: "The simple fact is that we have been ruined by the BBC. They have behaved in a way that even now we find unbelievable."
After signing their original deal with the BBC, they secured a deal with Lumiere Pictures. They went to the BBC for final approval but claimed they were "obstructed" by BBC executives. It was on 6 April, with only a week to go before their rights expired, that the consortium heard of the BBC's plan to make its own television film.
And their lawyer says they will battle for as long as it takes to reach a settlement.
Stuart Lockyear, said last night: "We will take this as far as we need to. You don't start legal proceeding unless you want to go to court - however long it takes.
"My clients say it is a breach of contract because the BBC set about preventing them making the film.
"They mortgaged their homes to make this film and it is only down to the sympathy of NatWest bank that they are still in them."
Yesterday the BBC pledged to fight the consortium. A spokeswoman said: "We will vigorously contest any legal action. They had the rights from us but even with an extended period of time could not get the production off the ground. The rights reverted to the BBC."Reuse content