Season24@30. People often refer to episode 1’s notorious cliffhanger but rarely the way its resolved which must surely rank as one of the most awkward. Somehow Glitz gets down to a ledge that was not there previously when we saw the Doctor’s feet dangling above a precipice. If Glitz managed to do that, why didn’t the Doctor use the easier route? Then the Doctor has to clamber down his mate in the most ungainly fashion. Combined with the clearly plastic `ice` that surrounds them it’s hard to imagine that even back in 1987 anyone was impressed.
Season24@30. Its very easy with thirty years hindsight to be picky about old Doctor Who but you do wonder exactly why this episode already has a great cliffhanger yet chooses to follow it with an incomprehensible one. Was this not obvious back then? Ace and Mel’s shadowy encounter with the monster is classic Who stuff and would have made for a perfect conclusion to matters. Instead the image of the Doctor dangling from his umbrella is left in the minds of the public for a week. These two opposing scenarios do sum up the episode rather well though. While there are a lot of interesting ideas drawing on all fantasy genres the staging is not the best and after the gusto of `Delta and the Bannermen` this seems like a step backwards though at the time longer term fans preferred it; I should know, I was one of them!
Some of the best bits of CT were the copies of press clippings and this issue features one about Verity Lambert taking over as Chairman of the BFI Production Board. Meanwhile Gary Russell is not pleased with the scheduling of repeats which are to be shown at 5.40 against the news and we can apparently all breathe a sigh of relief at the news that John Nathan Turner is staying on for the twentieth season.
Season24@30. We wouldn’t perhaps readily associate Sylvester McCoy as being the rebel Doctor but just look at what he gets up to in this episode. Tearing about the countryside on a motorcycle without a helmet, worrying cows, tying a ribbon on a goat and then being responsible for wrecking poor old Goronwy’s lovingly assembled collection of home made honey which he’s already mentioned goes back decades. Not that Goronwy seems to mind; in fact he makes a point of giving the Doctor a jar of the golden stuff at the end. Nothing much seems to phase him mind- the last shot of the story is of him seeing the Tardis dematerialise and looking as if he’s just seen the local bus go past. It is in this spirit that we too are invited to enjoy the final episode of a story that has managed to have a fairly high slaughter rate as Doctor Who goes yet still keep its shape as a rock and roll shindig of an adventure.
Gordon is gone! As might have been suspected Mr Blows does not retake the hot seat this month and Co-ordinator David Saunders explains he had returned to the publishing world and “therefore felt he did not wish to devote his Doctor Who time to doing that as well.” Nothing to do with his version of CT being unpopular with members and also upsetting the producer then? In case you think I’m being unduly harsh on Gordon, I should say his prior period editing the DWAS fanzine `Tardis` produced some brilliant material. Anyhow after proving more than capable last issue Gary Russell becomes the actual editor this time.
Season24@30. There’s a fab little moment which personifies this most unusual story. The Doctor lifts a wooden gate for Ray to drive her bike through and then goes back to close it (countryside code of course) but does so leaving himself still on the outside. There’s a look, a sort of half shrug and then he just ducks underneath. It’s a tiny bit of comic timing that shows both that this adventure will not be hemmed in by what we might expect from Doctor Who and also that it is a very playful story indeed. At times it is more like a moving postcard than an episode. This attitude is there all the way through starting with the resolution of the cliffhanger which is both clever and then later a bit silly. Gavrok prefers to send a signal to blow up his informant and all that is left afterwards is his pair of smoking blue suede shoes. Its an album cover at least! Yet later Gavrok can’t find Delta because he made the mistake of vapourising his informer.
|Gavrok on the lookout for space buns and tea!|
Dudley Simpson, who has died aged 95, clanged and chimed the soundtrack to my childhood and had a musical accompaniment for every new twist that Doctor Who took in the Seventies yet how much did I know about Dudley Simpson? Very little except he was Australian. I wonder what he thought sometimes when presented with the footage of some of those stories and how he managed to think of something to match them. There is no other composer whose incidental music I know so well- in fact there are very few I could even name!
Season15@40. Though in many respects a conventional mid - 1970s story, `Image of the Fendahl` is home to some experimentation. Robert Holmes’ final work as script editor suggests a path the series might take which as it turned out didn’t happen. Instead the story stands in splendid isolation at the end of the so called `gothic` era of the show and it’s production values- in the very capable hands of George Spenton-Foster shine along with Chris Boucher’s intriguing storyful of high concepts. There are enough brain popping ideas in here for several stories and Boucher pulls them together for what was also his final contribution to a show whose appeal he seemed to implicitly understand.
Season24@30. A smorgasboard of ideas tapping into an iconic era this episode packs as much into 25 minutes as some stories do into 90. It is buzzing with concepts aplenty from an escaped alien Queen, time travelling holidays, a machine that changes various species into whatever form they need to be in for the holiday and a coach that is actually a spaceship. It’s the sort of mix we might expect in a modern story but for it to turn up in 1987 in the original series is surprising. It seems clear we can trace a line through this season from `Time and the Rani’s` final backwards look to Doctor Who as it had been in recent memory through `Paradise Towers` sometimes frustrating mix of old and new to this shiny example of Doctor Who as it could be. It is a hugely enjoyable visual feast and do you know what the weird thing is? When it was shown thirty years ago I didn’t like it!
Positive Feedback is the main title as the letters page moves to the front in a clearly light news month. However most of the letters are not that positive. “I dislike CT’s new title and logo”, “There is little to be pleased with about the new bulletin”, “don’t bring up the topic of DWApathy again”, “What is wrong with our dear BBC.” Oh dear the members are not happy though you have to admire Gordon B printing so much stuff that criticises what he’s doing even if you sense he likes a good argument. Also there seems to be a missing issue of the DWAS fanzine `Tardis`. “the parcels bringing it from Edinburgh to London for distribution having gone astray.” There’s a story here that would never be followed up possibly involving a fiendish alien plan!
Season24@30. Anyone flicking channels back in 1987 and catching sight of a silver sprayed Richard Briers doing his best zombie voice might have had their idea of what Doctor Who was like reinforced. What could have been quite a strong scene is completely undermined both by the performance and the design decisions. Its representative of a story where the great and the ridiculous share the screen in equal measure. In this final episode however much writer Stephen Wyatt tries to draw together the story strands the results cannot escape the feeling that things are coming to a conclusion because it’s the last episode rather than organically and shows how all that running about back in part 2 could have been better utilised.
|The Anvil Cap was all the rage in 1987!|
The Doctor Who Appreciation Society’s monthly newsletter Celestial Toyroom – or CT as everyone called it- was the Whofan’s main news source in the pre Internet days and we can see how the news broke and what else was going on. So lets’ travel back to 1981 to the world of Doctor Who and its fandom…
The front page reports the wedding of Tom Baker and Lalla Ward which had taken place on 13 December 1980 and says, slightly surprisingly, that “the couple are still intent on remaining in acting profession.” The DWAS sent a telegram of congratulation to the couple. CT also reported their interest in working on a project together…
Meanwhile “some good news and some bad news”. John Nathan –Turner will be staying on as producer (I think this is the good news) however the 19th season (yes, they were called Seasons and not Series in those days) will return to just 26 episodes, the previous one having had an extra 2 episodes. Actual news for the then current season told us that `The Keeper of Traken` includes one Anthony Ainley playing Tremas. Did anyone spot the anagram? Probably not.
Season24@30. It is in this brisk episode that the viewer might start to question some of the design choices. With the narrative simmering nicely part 3 is home to some crucial story points not least the reveal of exactly what is lurking in the basement. Yet what would sound great in a script is somehow undermined by the silly look the designer has given it. Like the rogue cleaners it is too pristine when all around is grime and concrete. In this case resembles something from Top of the Pops, a look reinforced by the ceaseless sub Pet Shop Boys incidental music that has been deployed to accompany every movement. Then there’s Richard Briers’ costume. I only noticed this week that it had CC on the eppulatte of what is more of a quasi military uniform rather than some sort of maintenance gear. It’s as if some of the people working on the story had totally different ideas to others as to how to realise the script. I suppose they just didn’t do tone meetings back then.
|Richard Briers found time to promote his latest single on Top of the Pops|
Season24@30. In an episode where little actually happens the Doctor and Mel seem to end up where they started. Mel is back at Tabby and Tilda’s, the Doctor is roaming the carrydors before ending up again in the hands of the rather flip floppy Red Kangs. One minute they don’t like him then all it takes is a few cans of Fizzaid and they love him only for the arrival of a caretaker search party to turn them against him again. Its fair to say that this episode makes very little difference to the overall narrative.
Season15@40. Or `Invisibull Nme` if you’re reading this in the far future. This story has a poor reputation derived largely from the appearance of antagonist the Nucleus of the Swarm which is basically a giant prawn made out of coloured plastic that needs to be pushed along the floor to move. However dodgy looking monsters came with the territory in the 1970s and if they were a problem then an average of almost eight million people would not have been watching. This is a Bob and Dave extravaganza and for two blokes with such normal names they certainly knew how to throw all kinds of colourful things at Doctor Who viewers over the years. Against a track record that included the Axons, the Gellguards and Eldrad’s blobby domain, the Nucleus seems positively tame by comparison! Besides there are other faults in a story whose relentless enthusiasm often gets the better of its logic. One thing’s for certain - `The Invisible Enemy` is never dull!
Season24@30. A quantum leap from the shenanigans on Lakertya this episode is the moment where Doctor Who emerged from its post `Caves of Androzani` downturn and started to get good again. Stephen Wyatt and the production team create an intriguing environment in which to place the Doctor and Mel. It’s an environment the duo explore just like the old days but this is a strange place that is as much 1987 as anything. Colour coded girl gangs, rule touting officials, eccentric old ladies and corridors that are actually long enough to allow the participants to run properly- this is great stuff. It’s a pleasure to watch.
Season 24@30. After all the meandering of the past two weeks this final episode gets the story into gear with surprisingly effective results. You do wonder about the Tetraps though. This week they come out of their den to have a walk to the Centre of Leisure and there’s about 15 of them we see leaving the Rani’s HQ. Yet only three enter the Centre. Have the others gone shopping? I love the way too they refer to themselves with the forename `Tetrap`. “Tetrap Steve, Tetrap Joyce we’re going to the Centre of Leisure”. The other thing about them is that despite having eyes all around their heads they still turn round to look at things! Tetraps- crazy name, crazy guys!
|Tetrap Joyce and Tetrap Steve on their way to Aldi|
The second of the mid Seventies Doctor Who poster magazines is superior in content terms and is produced by a different team (Harpdown Publishing in Barking) and declares itself to be “a special monster packed issue”. Those two giant posters are of the Doctor from `Brain of Morbius` and Lynx from `The Time Warrior` It does mention inside that it includes “a giant poster worthy of the biggest star of Saturday viewing” by which I assume they mean the Doctor and not Lynx! Unlike its predecessor all of the photos in this issue are in colour and it is as `monster packed` as promised.
Season 24@30. Ah, part 3. Most Doctor Who stories of old had a part 3 in which as little as possible happened but they had to do something to fill in the time. Nowadays you don’t get Part 3isms because there isn’t time but this is a` perfect` example of the artform. Plus I've been thinking that if you’re a Time Lord then you might already know more about time than a load of geniuses from Earth’s history or maybe if you didn’t you’d perhaps consider capturing geniuses who would actually know about time other than the Doctor. The Rani’s plan is just a bit difficult to grasp.
Season 24@30. If you’re a fugitive on a planet covered in rocks it might just be an idea not to sport your normal bright orange and yellow number but perhaps acquire a dark cloak of some sort. Welcome to part 2 in which last week’s cliffhanger is rather adeptly untangled by having the bubble trap land on water. You see sometimes the much maligned Pip and Jane are somewhat better than we remember. Like the scene when the new Doctor and the real Mel finally meet. This perfectly played sequence starts with a little physical comedy, then a series of accusations and counter accusations and then when each realises the other’s identity an affectionate reunion. Well played in every sense.
Season 15 @40. Terrance Dicks understands how Doctor Who works better than most writers and if his material sometimes plays to the wider audience rather than the dedicated fan the story is usually all the better for it. His `Horror of Fang Rock` is one of the show’s definitive community under siege stories never straying from its remote sea lapped lighthouse from start to finish. Production wise it is a triumph evoking sea fog and cold waves with little more than lighting, a realistic looking set and sound effects that mean the tides are constantly ebbing in the background. Lighting was one of the aspects that the programme nearly always got right in the Seventies (and often got wrong in the Eighties) and this story is an excellent example of how to create the sort of mood you might expect from a superior stage production.
Season 24@30. It’s thirty years since season 24 was first broadcast and across the next 14 weeks I’ll be looking at each episode of what was a transformational time when Doctor Who began to re-emerge as a creative force. Though the full extent of this artistic regeneration wasn’t seen till season 25, it is here that the seeds are sown. All four stories are sometimes a contradiction in styles- one minute there’ll be an intelligent or scary moment, the next something silly is happening. Yet it is surprisingly rewarding to re-watch as it was intended- an episode a week – to see just how Doctor Who started to get its mojo back! To start `Time and the Rani` is loud, hectic and peppered with orchestral stings, high camp performances and an unlikely plot. Still it is never boring and as it progresses on you can’t help being carried along by its sheer brio.
Compared to the previous season’s opening salvo of a great big spaceship twisting and turning we have a cheap video effects Tardis, a be wigged Sylvester McCoy and Kate O’Mara ordering her minion to “Leave the girl – it’s the man I want.” For a moment it looks like the series has got even worse! Writers Pip and Jane Baker are not short of ideas but their dialogue sounds exactly like it was written for an arcane stage play; nobody talks like a normal person. Back in the day I never got why the Rani spends half the story pretending to be Mel and yet suddenly now I see it and it still doesn’t make sense. If she’d bothered not to leave the girl, the Rani could have forced the Doctor to fix the machine and avoided having to cosplay at all. That being said, Kate O’Mara’s Mel is a rather cheeky interpretation.
In the Seventies some kids had posters of footballers or pop stars on their bedroom walls. Other kids though had a poster of a grumpy looking Vorus leader of the Guardians looking like he’d just had a particularly bad day. Or Field Major Styre looking rather pleased to be doused with flour! Fold out poster magazines were a big thing back in the day, the simple premise being that as well as features, the whole thing would contain a couple of A4 sized posters and would also fold out into one or even two massive posters. In the early days of Tom Baker, Doctor Who had two of these the first of which featured the fourth Doctor as its centrepiece and the aforementioned aliens as smaller A4 sized posters.
Released in 1976, at the very apex of the show's popularity, 'Doctor Who And The Pescatons' was a cracking gift to fans It only takes one listen to realise that this is a tremendously vibrant and well produced adventure. I mean, you get Tom and Lis (at the time when he was still the Doctor and she'd only just left), you get Bill Mitchell (the 70's ubiquitous advertising voice), Victor Pemberton is at the typewriter (it's a pity he never got to write more on screen scripts for the show) and when the Pescatons roar, if you turn your volume up it's like the most terrifying sound in the world.
Victor Pemberton’s contributions to the series may have been relatively brief but they were certainly significant. He is credited with inventing the sonic screwdriver (though would always generously defer that credit to the designer) and wrote `Fury from the Deep` which remains, along with `Marco Polo`, the holy grail of missing stories, the `Tomb of the Cybermen` of today its reputation unsullied by endless forensic reviews, its presence only defined by a handful of clips. As for the sonic it’s survived fairly well! He also appeared in the show as an actor and wrote the `Pescatons` record one of the best audio adventures the Doctor has ever had. He was also, as many convention attendees will attest interesting and friendly to all.
He first worked on Doctor Who fifty years ago in a script editing capacity before penning `Fury from the Deep` which was said to be partly based on the radio serial The Slide. One of the missing stories people would most like to see in full the extant material consists of clips of especially horrific content snipped by censors. These moments have only heightened expectations not least the scary Messrs Oak and Quill. The sonic screwdriver made its first appearance in this story. In 1976 he wrote `Doctor Who and the Pescatons` which again re-used similar ideas to stunning aural effect.
Outside Doctor Who in the early Seventies he created and wrote all 13 episodes of the 1972 espionage themed series Tightrope. He also wrote 7 episodes each of Timeslip a tale set across several eras of the twentieth century and Ace of Wands about a mysterious magician. Later series he contributed to include The Adventures of Black Beauty and Within These Walls. He also wrote acclaimed radio dramas including The Slide and Our Family as well as a large number of novels – Goodreads currently has 32 listed. Additionally he worked as a producer notably on Fraggle Rock and several documentaries. In interviews, he was always honest on his views on the series even if they were critical –he wasn’t overly fond of the modern series- and it’s a shame he didn’t write more stories in the late 60s or early 70s.
The Nineties saw a slew of fan produced Doctor Who spin offs of varying quality but none has the provenance of Downtime. It stars three iconic series regulars- Nicholas Courtney, Elisabeth Sladen and Debbie Watling - in their original roles and is written by Marc Platt who’s `Ghost Light` was part of the last regular season of the original series. Even more impressively it is directed by Christopher Barry who helmed such series classics as `Brain of Morbius` and `The Deamons` and it even features the Yeti, John Leeson as a DJ and Geoffrey Beevers! You can’t get much more Doctor Who than all that! Shot during an unseasonably wintry late March in 1995 it is a good watch for fans of the series as well as a fitting tribute to the main stars none of whom sadly are still with us.
Fifty years ago Debbie Watling joined Doctor Who as Victoria Waterfield and became one of the most recognisable companions and in some ways the archetypal one. Her screaming was so strong that it once defeated the monsters and for that reason she was considered to be a product of her time. It’s difficult to fully assess her character as most of her episodes were wiped though people who saw them say she was a vital addition and had great chemistry with co- stars Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines. While her performance was of a somewhat demure Victorian girl out of time, in real life she was a lively addition to the cast and sometimes the victim of pranks at their behalf.
Does Doctor Who frighten you? asks the strap line for issue 6’s cover. I don’t know about that but the drawings above the question certainly do frighten me! It’s April 1976 and the Doctor Who Appreciation Society is a heartbeat away from going national (check out last year’s posts about the Society’s early years). Before it does though there’s one more issue of `Tardis`. News items this issue include Tom Baker being mobbed in Southampton, the new season featuring “more space and historical flavoured adventures” and first news of a forthcoming record that would turn out to be `The Pescatons`. Somehow though there’s room for speculation about why there was no Tardis sound during one of the take offs in `Pyramids of Mars`. This question would definitely have been trending on Twitter if they’d had it then!
Issue 5 is my favourite of these pre DWAS issues because it has an absolutely gigantic, step by step account of the Blackpool Doctor Who Exhibition. I know I’ve just run a series of posts about that but I wanted to save this one for here. Some people will find it dull to read, others of a certain vintage will find themselves re-living every sight and sound. There's even a clip from Tom Baker's column for the magazine Reveille in which he describes switching on the Blackpool Illuminations. This mega feature, reprinted at the end of this post, was treated like a separate wraparound booklet inside which the rest of the issue resided. It’s a cool fanzine idea that was surprisingly not done that often by any editors though few will have published such a lengthy article! Its penned by Stuart Glazebrook, better known back in the day for his artwork, but his account here certainly shows how he could perfectly capture an event with words too.
Early 1976 saw issue 3 which was, unsurprisingly, a Jon Pertwee special and the first to be edited by Gordon Blows. The great thing about this issue is that rather than being somewhat removed from what was happening on screen `Tardis` now has news and therefore becomes a much more essential read. Back in 1970s the print and tv media only covered major Doctor Who related stories like a change of Doctor or new companion. For anything else fanzines became the go-to place for details.
A new series of occasional posts looking at early Doctor Who fan publications.
`Tardis` fanzine Issues 1 and 2 (1975)
As is quite well known amongst Doctor Who fans `Tardis` was the official fanzine of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society (DWAS) from its foundation in May 1976. However it’s less well known that the zine had already been going for a year before this and indeed it was the original `Tardis` that actually brought some of the fans who would form the DWAS together which is rather appropriate. The person who actually started the zine though was Andrew Johnson a lifelong fan of the series from Essex who already edited another zine and started `Tardis` because he realised that there was a lot to say about the series.
By 1983 it seemed as if perhaps there had been some sort of backblast backlash – how else to explain the fact that this year the corridors were extremely dark with the carpet or floor or whatever being more like an inky void. The exhibits ranged from a Gundan that seemed to be headbanging through a line up of the Time Lord council, Omega and his bird (the Ergon), a Dalek running rings around a totally out of it Davros and displays from `Mawdryn Undead` and `Terminus` One exhibit in the corridor was a montage of various costumes but sadly only lit up once an hour! Darkness was in that year!
Why does a two part story broadcast 33 years ago leave such a strong impression? Maybe it’s because while it contains many elements you might expect to encounter in an Eighties Doctor Who story, `The Awakening` cuts out a lot of the filler that often extended stories unnecessarily cutting to the essence of the series. In a lot of ways it’s similar to the series we have now- 50 minutes of mystery, excitement. It is indeed something very wonderful and strange! Little was known by fans about Eric Pringle before he wrote it and the story proved to be his sole contribution to Doctor Who. This always seemed a shame as he appeared to have found a way to create a well thought out story packed with interesting characters, an alien with real visual impact and romps along at quite a rate. I used to think it should have been 3 parts but now I realise it is perfect as it is.
By the early 1980s the Blackpool Doctor Who Exhibition had become established as a major attraction for the resort and a destination for fans from all over the UK who would badger their parents to let them go. Each year the exhibits would change so as to include costumes and props from that year’s series. By 1981 Doctor Who itself had changed with a refreshed look and a new Doctor in the form of Peter Davison. The final Tom Baker series though was in the spotlight for the 1981 displays with something from each story which you could see for the entrance fee which was now 40p!
Things on a long running television programme cannot stay the same and they will change which doesn’t always sit well with people. Fans however are well versed in the art of dealing with change and it seems appropriate, as we wait for a new Doctor to be announced, to bring together the sum of their experiences. When these things happen all you have to do to get through it is follow the standard response patterns in this handy dandy guide. Just work your way through each step and you’ll be fine. There, there.
#1 A new Doctor is cast. “Who’s Next? It’s Patrick Housego!”
- OMG Not Patrick Housego
- He will ruin the series
- He’d be better off cast as The Master
- Actually he was ok in that historical series
- Oh the costume looks ok
- Maybe he won’t be too bad
- He’s the best Doctor since Tom Baker
- I hope he never leaves
- What! He’s leaving after only three years. The series