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.

The format for the main section of the magazine is working through the stories with a brief synopsis of each and lashings of rarely seen at the time photos. For the black and white era these are often given coloured tones so they don’t look completely black and white. In between these are  new interviews and photos of some of the regular cast. I remember the first time I saw some of these photos and avidly read the plots because I had never seen them. Of course some I never have seen as they are missing episodes –which the special does not seem to make a mention of at all- while others, its fair to say, don’t quite live up to the generous synposes here. For example take `Strangers In Space` and its accompanying photo of two Sensorites one of whom is holding a futuristic looking object. This all sounded terrific in 1973 especially as I didn’t even know what deadly nightshade was. Fast forward a few decades and not only is it not called `Strangers in Space` but it is somewhat slow. Oh well. It was later a thing for many fans that a lot of these Sixties stories were given the title of the first episode rather than the overall story title but I don’t know. Some of those titles are more interesting- `The Temple of Evil` `The Dead Planet`. `World’s End` and even `Strangers in Space` plus the fantastic `An Uneathly Child`. 

Carole Anne Ford is the first to be interviewed a decade on from that first story and made to don animal skins for some reason as she mooches around in front of couple of dinosaur models. She talks of Susan’s original character complete with judo, karate and telepathic abilities which was amended to give teenage girls a role model. She does suggest that the Tardis was only intended to have a police box exterior for the first series but it was so popular they kept it, And she remembers the insects that abounded during the making of the first story. For 1965 Peter Purves is the interviewee at a time when he was more famous for being in Blue Peter. Till I saw this I never knew he’d once been in Doctor Who and by the sound of it he sort of wishes he hadn’t been lamenting the lack of action and describing Steven as a “characterless person.” After he left he claims that he only got another part after throwing away the Trilogic Game prop. He is pictured, in what appears to be a reference to `The Celestial Toyroom` surrounded by dolls.

Anneke Wills and Michael Craze’s photo is more in keeping with the show as they are pursued across shingle by Cybermen. Anneke Wills later said that she realised her description in this interview of Polly as “a weedy frightened lady” was inaccurate. Michael Craze talks about meeting his future wife on the show and literally walking the plank.

The 1966/7 spread includes a photo of Astrid which looks like she is wearing helicopter blades on her head! “I’m always ready to swash my buckle” declares Fraser Hines as he and Debbie Watling are photographed hightailing it from a Yeti. He talks mainly about the practical jokes on set and of course his accent mellowing into `tv Scots`. Debbie also mentions the jokes and acting with her father. “I was first seen in Doctor Who screaming at the Daleks,” she says “and I think I continued screaming for the next year.” Needless to say Wendy Padbury, pictured with a computer, also mentions the practical jokes. She says that although she was meant to be different from previous companions “it didn’t take long for her to become a jabbering wreck, screaming in the corner like everybody else.”

For the 1970s the photos become mostly colour making quite a visual impact and the 1970-71 spread is my favourite of the magazine really catching the flavour of the series at that time. Photographed in civvies without the Brigadier’s moustache, Nicholas Courtney talks about working with the real Army on the series and receiving a sort of compliment from one of them declaring “He’s just like our lot.” It may have worn out its welcome later on, but his anecdote about the eye patches derives from this interview. Caroline John mentions driving Bessie without having a licence and is pictured sitting in the car. She talks about joining the show at the same time as Jon Pertwee and the programme “getting a new sense of purpose and being taken rather more seriously.” Together facing a giant maggot are Katy Manning and Stewart Bevan. Of course for the reader at the time she had only just left and it was here that most people learned the two were an item in real life at that time. Like some of her predecessors she emphases the fun and how much she liked the show. “I only left because I thought I ought to branch out a bit.”

We then come to the 1973/4 preview. None of these stories had been shown when the magazine was published so this was how we found out all of next season. In those days this sort of advance information was unprecedented even if you were in the fan club. The synposes are brief and in retrospect it’s interesting what was left out. There’s also a photo of Lis Sladen and in the background Lynx, our first ever (blurry) view of a Sontaran though he’s not called that in the synopsis which refers to him simply as “an alien space captain.”  Lis talks of getting the role and her infamous “gerroff!” in her first story. Little did we know then how popular she would become.

Terry Nation gets a generous interview which seems a little unfair on some of the other writers but then he did pen a new story for the magazine. In it he reveals that his story about naming the Daleks after an encyclopaedia that ran from DAL to LEK wasn’t true and that there were 132 Dalek related products. He also laments that he wasn’t able to write another successful monster for the series.

It’s a pity that Terry Nation’s story `We Are The Daleks` gives away the denouement of the story but probably nobody really noticed that before they read it. Illustrated in a real sci-fi style by Philip Castle, its not really about the Doctor at all though he appears early on finding the remains of a Dalek on an unknown planet. The reader is then taken back to the origins of this story concerning a thriving Mars colony being attacked by Daleks. Its protagonist is Joel Kendon who works for a mining and astro survey company and ends up on a mission to claim the remote and unknown planet of Ollendorf 2 for the company. The planet is rumoured to be rich in Exxtellium which can be used to shield spaceships against Dalek firepower. In a relatively short story, Nation draws an interesting future world which of course the series at the time would never be able to afford to show and his descriptions of the aerial assault are gripping.

While the story does bear a resemblance to the then upcoming `Death to the Daleks` its’ a harsher version with double crossings and sudden deaths aplenty. Nation paints a grim picture of this planet with its moving mud and increasingly desperate situation for the small crew.  It’s a survival story though not without a moral touch- in fact someone even asks “do we have that right?” when the idea of wiping out the Daleks is mentioned. Clearly Nation remembered that a couple of years later. The ending which posits the idea of Dalek and human evolution coming from the same source –hence “we are the Daleks” – was never followed through either by Nation or other writers though Russell T Davies would later ascribe a more human element to the metal meanies. To be honest back in the day I don’t think a lot of fans were much enamoured with the tale which luxuriates across 20 pages. 20 pages that might have been able to be filled with even more rare photos. Its easier to appreciate it now and something of a coup I imagine to have persuaded Terry Nation to write it.

As if there hadn’t been enough Daleks already you can build one on pages 60-65 though it s made clear this is not a project that could be undertaken at home rather by a group of people in a school. Or, naturally, a power mad maniac in a hollowed out volcano! Amongst the things you’ll need are `hessian scrim` (wasn’t she a space trader?), acetone, 2 car parking lights, 28lbs of modelling clay paper, aluminium tubes, 24 polystyrene balls, several measures of wood and –yes- a sink plunger. Rather optimistically this will only cost £15 in 1973.  To prove that it could be done we see a snap of a Dalek  built to these instructions by sixth formers at Highbury Grove School in London. I wonder how many others were made with this plan. 

The Special ends with some brief pieces written by people who were working on the show at the time, each photographed with a monster of prop of recent vintage. Really this should have been a four page feature and is the most insightful for anyone who wanted to find out more about the making of the series. Dudley Simpson declares; “I don’t think Doctor Who would survive without the music”, graphics designer Bernard Lodge is especially interesting as he’d been involved in all the title sequences to that point. He talks about each mentioning the then unseen 1974 one; “I wanted to give an impression of space and time travel but a sense of magic as well.” Scenic designer Roger Limington talks about various sets and how he uses less rather than more colour because it is less distracting. Terry Walsh talks about how Jon Pertwee always tells him to make the stunts look difficult!

Bernard Wilkie describes special effects as “a combination of engineering and artistry with a spot of conjuring thrown in” while sculptor John Friedlander describes in detail how he makes the realistic `half masks` that aliens such as the Draconians had. Costume designer Barbara Lane talks about the sources she uses for her work while John Scott Martin talks about the dangers of being inside monster costumes.

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