21/11/2018

Radio Times 1973 Doctor Who Special


In the Seventies select BBC programmes would merit a Radio Times Special, a separate glossy magazine going into the production in far more detail than the weekly listings magazine was able. Mostly these were for historical dramas like the BBC’s 1972 adaptation of War and Peace. In 1973 to celebrate its tenth anniversary Doctor Who was awarded such a Special and it definitely lived up to its name. Covering the entire history of the show it was, for fans, a wonderful gift in those pre Internet, pre Doctor Who Magazine times. Older fans would be able to wallow in the nostalgia of the early days while younger ones would be seeing information and photos about Sixties Doctor Who for the very first time. The previous year’s excellent Making of Doctor Who had listed story titles but for some fans their first knowledge of what those old stories were actually about came from the Special.

What the magazine also does is show the care and attention the BBC gave it’s programmes back then. The 1973 Special comes complete with a specially shot iconic gatefold cover image featuring Jon Pertwee’s Doctor in heroic red, blue and crimson on the front. Facing him on the back cover are a Sea Devil, a Cyberman and a Dalek plus a couple of smaller Daleks in the distance. It is an interesting choice for many reasons not least because the big Dalek is only half visible and pride of place goes to the Sea Devil. They really liked the Sea Devils in the 70s as the Making Of book also had them sharing the cover with the third Doctor. The setting for this photo is an alien planet with a surface that looks like a lumpy pancake. The whole thing is like an album cover. It is such a great picture that the editors avoid covering it in text, instead restricting that to the bottom right hand corner of the cover. It describes Doctor Who as “BBC1’s great adventure series”. The cover price is 30p!

Opening it up in 1973 was astonishing because the inside cover contains small frames of the title sequence. And not just any title sequence but the re-jigged third Doctor one that we had not yet seen! In terms of colouring and style this is my favourite ever Doctor Who title sequence and ended up only being used for the 1974 season. Spread across the best part of two pages it looks gorgeous.

Over the next page the classic `Three Doctors` photo is reproduced ahead of brief interviews with each of the actors. I’m not sure when the William Hartnell one was done as he sounds chatty and lucid whereas by 1973 was apparently ailing. Perhaps they got him on a good day. He says he always knew the series would be a great success, mentions the letters he’d receive asking him to solve complex questions and how the role was “a test for any actor”. His favourite memory of the show is an off screen fete he opened in costume. “I’ll never forget the moment we arrived. The children just converged on the car cheering and shouting, their faces all lit up. I knew then just how much Doctor Who really meant to them.”

Patrick Troughton tells how he was very reluctant to play the role to the point where the idea of him doing it as “a windjammer Captain” was seriously mooted. Thankfully for everyone he went for “the cosmic hobo” based on Charlie Chaplin.  The Yeti were his favourites and he speaks fondly of his co-stars. “Doctor Who was a jolly fellow and I just bubbled along,” he says. Current incumbent Jon Pertwee is depicted as very much the Seventies star interviewed in a hammock by a swimming pool at his vila in Ibiza. The interview includes another preview- this time of the Whomobile car – while he too talks of the process of selecting a way to play the role. He talks of having fun in the studio –“my main concern is to make people feel at home”. He finds the Daleks “boring” (he’s going to love the story later in the magazine!) and the Draconians are his favourite. Of the series he says, “Its got to be scary” because he reckons children like to be scared.


31/10/2018

Derrick Sherwin 1936- 2018


When people list the great Doctor Who producers and showrunners, Derrick Sherwin is often overlooked because his period as producer was brief involving just two stories. However they were hugely significant stories and his influence on the programme was considerable. He cast both Jon Pertwee and Caroline John, created UNIT and has also been credited with creating the Time Lords. He rejigged the series to an Earthbound setting and also oversaw the programme’s move from being shown in black and white to colour. Provocative, outspoken and passionate he sounds like a difficult person to work with but his influence on Doctor Who looms large to this day. 


05/10/2018

The Hand of Fear@42


It’s testament to the effectiveness of the story’s conclusion that all this time later following multiple returns to the series for the character, Sarah’s departure remains one of the original series’ rare emotional moments. It’s presented in a very English manner, all repressed and buttoned up as neither the Doctor nor Sarah says what they really want to say. The genius of the scene though is that Sarah has only just been having a bit of a strop and if nothing else had happened would undoubtedly have been talked into one more journey and another and… Instead the Doctor gets a call and realises he can’t take her to Gallifrey. It adds weight to the feelings of both because for sure the Doctor wants her to stay. Incidentally when Sarah does meet the Doctor again in `School Reunion` her reaction is so in tune with this farewell scene.  The end of part 4 is such a good sequence, especially from both actors, that it can lead you to think the whole story has been as subtle which despite some strong elements it hasn’t.

23/09/2018

The Masque of Mandragora@42


By 1976 Doctor Who was in the midst of an imperial period of distinction with one classic after another being broadcast and more to come. Yet this story, which debuted Tom Baker’s third season, seems to have been curiously undervalued at the time. It’s less showy than the rest of the season and one of the more cultured scripts the original series had thanks to Louis Marks drawing from his knowledge of the Italian Renaissance. It was certainly well thought of enough to be given prominence in obituaries when the writer died in 2010 with The Guardian mentioning “Machiavellian comedy, a book-burning priest and the musical surnames Rossini and Scarlatti” as influences the story included.
Part One: You’ve got to admire this opening episode for its urgency. My own memory of this story is a certain low key, slow unfurling but part one turns out to be the opposite. Packed into an eventful 25 minutes is a lot of material that lays out the parameters of the story and gives us lots of action. By the end both the Doctor and Sarah are facing the prospect of gruesome executions, both having been knocked out (the Doctor twice). There’s some very dangerous Mandragora energy loose in fifteenth century Italy thanks to the Doctor materialising the Tardis in the middle of it. Oh and we’ve seen a new console room and met our retinue of central players. 

08/08/2018

Fan Scene Tardis77 Issues 7 & 8


Issue 7: This issue sees another re-organisation due to the difficulties of combining CT and Tardis as one publication. From 1978 CT will be a separate monthly newsletter. It doesn’t say how regularly Tardis will come out but anyway this would be the format that the DWAS would use from here on and may well still be using today if they still publish zines? Membership fees of £1.50 per year (yikes!) will pay for this. Debate Corner is a feature that seems to come and go but this issue is still rattling on about whether the Meddling Monk is The Master. NO, HE WASN’T!!! Delightfully on the letters page the idea of female Time Lords is discussed by someone. Of course in 2018 it is interesting that the letter does not seem to suggest that male Time Lords could regenerate into female ones but perhaps a young S. Moffatt was reading this issue? I should mention The Song of Taliesyn a comic strip which is well drawn but seems nothing like a Doctor Who story at all. I wonder how many people read it back then? 

25/07/2018

Fan Scene Tardis77 Issues 5 & 6


Issue 5: The cover heralds the start of a new series called The Doctor’s Diary and inside another new feature called Debate Corner aims to iron out inconsistencies in the series. However it is printing problems that catch the eye when you turn the page as parts of this issue are barely readable due to fading print and large foggy splodges of something or other across them. It’s a shame for Geraldine Landen whose debut issue as editor this is. The first Debate Corner is actually only half a page and runs with a theory that the Meddling Monk is The Master even though no episode ever suggested he was! Secondly it asks how come `Evil of the Daleks` was not “the final end” of the metal meanies as the Doctor suggested it was. The trouble with this sort of thing is that fans are aware of both the fictional and factual background of stories so while speculation can be fun the real answer to such a conundrum is that different production teams had different ideas. Talking of fannish speculation there’s a particularly teeth clenching piece of fiction in this issue that lays out an alternative history of the Doctor and it’s not clear if this is a spoof or not but it is best flicked past.

09/07/2018

Some Doctor Who things that are also real things


The Gravitron

Doctor Who- Weather control device in `The Moonbase` (1966)

Real life- An amusement ride that first appeared in the US in 1983. Brandon Flowers memorably referenced it in his 2015 song `Lonely Town` when he sang about “Spinning like a Gravitron”. At least we don’t think he was talking about the weather machine.
A Gravitron. Patrick Troughton not pictured.

Kraal

Doctor Who- Grumpy, squishy faced aliens from `The Android Invasion` (1976)

Real Life - A traditional African village of huts, typically enclosed by a fence. I don’t think Styggron would like to live there. Mind you he doesn’t like most things.

04/07/2018

Fan Scene Tardis 77 Issue 4


The fourth issue heralds news of Robert Holmes’ replacement in the form of Anthony Read as well as more information about the DWAS’ forthcoming first ever convention. We also find out that the new editor of the zine will be Geraldine Landen. The season poll results are in and in the introduction it is commented that members did find it harder to vote for than the previous year. I wonder how people today would rate these stories especially people who voted in this poll 41 years ago. The results are interspersed with dramatized scenes from the top four stories penned by Andrew Smith. Is this the same Andrew Smith who would write `Full Circle` three years later? 

20/06/2018

Robot


People were a bit surprised when they first saw Tom Baker as the Doctor. They had grown used to the velvet jacketed flamboyance of Jon Pertwee so this new fellow took a bit of getting used to as the Brigadier might put it. Unlike `Spearhead from Space` or `Castrovalva`, Tom’s debut is no real indication of what’s to come either. Caught in the crossover of production teams it seems a modest introduction to a new era. Yet it does –appropriately for the 2018 re-release as part of a blu ray boxset- contain a female antagonist. Plus if the Giant Robot that gave the Target novelisation its name is a bit of a disappointment the normal sized version is impressive enough.. Best of all over the course of four episodes Tom Baker eases gently up through the gears so that by the end he has become the Doctor. 

11/06/2018

Fan Scene- Tardis77 Issues 2 & 3


Issue 2 is fronted by artwork depicting a Voord and a triple chinned Doctor and suddenly I’m thinking- hang on a mo- it was published in late February 1977 with the now acclaimed 1976-77 season in full flow. And they chose to illustrate the official fanzine with something from an old story again for the second issue running? If anything shows the agenda of the people running the DWAS at that time it is this. Editor Gordon is asking members to vote in the season poll for stories they found enjoyable. I wonder if the editorial team would even be able to do that?  News-wise what’s happening in the world of Doctor Who right now is that the documentary producers have apparently found a lot of material related to the show some of which will be included. Transmission date is said to be April 1977. 

14/05/2018

Fan Scene - Tardis 77 Issue 1


Note:`Tardis` started out as an independent Doctor Who fanzine but in 1976 was absorbed into the fledgling Doctor Who Appreciation Society (aka DWAS). This series of posts looks at the zine’s 1977 issues which went out under the appropriately correct title `Tardis ‘77`.
If you saw the posts last year about the first volume of Tardis you’ll recall the rather tatty covers but 1977 gets under way with a much improved front design featuring the second Doctor and a Kroton. The latter are one of those monsters which always look better as artwork than if you see the real thing. Its there to illustrate a series called The Doctor Who Compendium written by Richard Landen which summarises the Krotons, Gonds and HADS. It worth remembering that back in the day such information was not as widely known and there would be many readers who were too young to have seen the story. 

30/04/2018

Who is the Doctor?


Jon Pertwee and Deep Purple. Well it makes sense don’t you think? After all the third Doctor would sometimes be seen sporting a purple velvet jacket and he was one of the handful of tv icons of the day who wouldn’t look out of place in a rock band. Plus Deep Purple did have a song called `Child in Time`. In 1971 the Purps – in their classic line up- were becoming one of the foremost UK rock bands and their management decided they would have their own record label Purple Records which would run until 1979. And one of the earlier releases was `Who is the Doctor` performed by Jon Pertwee. 

20/04/2018

The Time When the Doctor was fired


On 24 November 1986 Colin Baker appeared on the kids show Saturday Superstore a normal promotional event for the incumbent Doctor promoting his latest season. However something he said during the interview seemed far more significant not long afterwards. Asked where he would go if he had a real working Tardis he replied: “I think I’d probably go back to the beginning and start it all again because I’ve enjoyed doing Doctor Who so much that I would like to go right back to the beginning and do it all again, because I’ve met so many nice people and talked to so many nice people that it would be nice…to go back and start from scratch.” These are not the words of someone nearer the start than the end of his tenure because although it had yet to be announced he knew at this point that he had become the first Doctor to be directly sacked from the role.

14/03/2018

Invasion of Time



Season15@40. Up until the startlingly realised revelation near the end of `Utopia`, the most thrilling `live` moment of Doctor Who I can remember is when at the end of part 4 of `Invasion of Time` the Sontarans suddenly turn up. Just like that 2007 reveal I had absolutely no idea it was going to happen and even though I’ve seen it many times since it is still quite a moment.  Then again this is anything but a conventional story, even for this season. It takes risks, plays with the expected format and while far from perfect and rather too long, I prefer it to something more ordinary. 

12/03/2018

Underworld



Season 15@40 There it sits, unloved, at the foot of many a fan poll almost from the moment it was shown. It came bottom of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society series vote in 1978 and has remained rooted nearby ever since.. With `Underworld` though there is no leeway. It’s hardly even Marmite; in this case nobody likes it. So, why is this? Has anybody in fact really watched it? Well, I did. And do you know what? It’s the best Doctor Who story ever. Ok, I’m exaggerating but it is certainly not the disaster it is often described as.