Cool things: Doctor Who

“The time has come, but the moment has been prepared for…”

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Yes, it’s a picture I got off of Google, tough tortillas, it’s staying up!

The 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of the world’s longest-running sci-fi TV series, and the day of the broadcast of the 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor”, seems like as good a time as any for this post; but this isn’t going to be yet another look back at the show’s history (as such), because there’s already a thousand of those on the Interthingy, such as this one at The Register, and a load of material at BBC News.  Oh no, as with my other “cool things” posts, this is all about my personal experience of the thing in question, which is the only point of view that matters.  (Hey, it’s my blog…)

So, how did it all begin?  Well, growing up in Britain, you’d be hard-pressed not to have even heard of the show, and being (a) a boy and (b) a geek-in-training, naturally I was hooked from an early age.  (I also watched Star Wars and Star Trek from an early age, don’t worry!)  My earliest memory of the show may well be the 1979 Fourth Doctor story Destiny of the Daleks, as I definitely recall Daleks breaking through a black wall that looked to my young eyes like bin liner (I was only able to confirm this in 1994 when I got the story on video), though it may have been a repeat or even a clip on a different show!  I was certainly watching by Tom Baker’s final season, as I remember the Marshmen from Full Circle, and also the Doctor regenerating into Peter Davison at the end of Logopolis (another story which was repeated).

Thus, the Fifth Doctor is the one I spent my formative years watching — an experience I apparently share with Tenth Doctor actor David Tennant, who indeed went on to marry Davison’s daughter after she played his own daughter (albeit a genetically-grown one) in an episode of the show!  As Tennant’s Doctor would say: timey-wimey…

There was also Peter Cushing’s non-canonical version of the Doctor (despite the lies on video/DVD casings, he wasn’t a “Time Lord”, just an eccentric inventor named “Doctor Who”) in two 1960s movies, Dr. Who and the Daleks and Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150AD; while the first was a bit dumb, the second, ever since being broadcast on TV in the 1980s, remains perhaps my most-watched film ever…

I also had the chance to experience the First, Second and Third Doctors courtesy of that thing people are always complaining about the BBC doing nowadays: repeats (reruns if you’re American) — and though William Hartnell died before I was born, I was able to see his one-off replacement, RIchard Hurndall, together with Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee in the 20th anniversary special, The Five Doctors.  Blimey, 30 years ago today (give or take)!  Novelisations (mostly by Terrance “wheezing, groaning sound” Dicks) and the fledgling VHS format also enabled me to experience old stories during the 1980s, and even more so onwards into the 1990s…

Although I didn’t like Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor so much at the time, I was still sad to see the show get almost-cancelled in his time (thanks to BBC1 controller Michael Grade), a general anti-sci-fi policy at the Beeb which also clobbered another favourite of mine, The Tripods (just in case any of you remember that show and thought it was Doctor Who as well).  However, when Baker C. returned in 1986, we were treated to a whole season called The Trial of a Time Lord, though stupidly I ruined my recording of episode 9, something I wasn’t able to rectify until getting the DVD set in 2009!

(It’s worth noting that Grade admitted that he tried to cancel the show not due to falling audience figures or increasing violence, but because he personally didn’t like it — so when I become BBC1 controller, can I get rid of all sports coverage?!)

And while Sylvester McCoy had some awful stories as the Seventh Doctor, he also had some gems: I still feel lucky that, in September 1988, we figured out how to set the video so I could experience the first episode of Remembrance of the Daleks the morning after I’d had to miss its broadcast due to joining my grandparents picking my mother up from the airport.  Mind you, it was a close thing: my recording started midway through the opening titles, and it wasn’t until I got a proper video version in 1995 (it was in a boxed set with a 1960s story, The Chase) that I found out it had a pre-title sequence teaser…

It was, again, sad that the show ended entirely in 1989, aside from a (sadly futile) attempt to bring it back with American backing in 1996, in a TV movie with Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor, of whom it would have been fascinating to see more (I have to content myself with the short preview episode, “The Night of the Doctor”, that was made this year).  However, my fandom of Doctor Who certainly helped me make friends with fellow geeks at university, not to mention one guy who enjoyed watching both this and my Star Trek recordings!  Obviously neither impressed any girls, but hey, English women are too boring to like cool stuff like sci-fi…

Scandalously, there’s quite a long period in the early 21st century — when I was living at home with my folks, no less — that I hardly did anything Who-related, apart from getting a couple of “missing” stories from the 1960s in audio format (and let me tell you, The Daleks’ Master Plan and The Web of Fear kept me sane during my five-hour stopovers, both ways, at Cincinnatti airport in 2003 when visiting my friends in Michigan!); I wasn’t even able to experience Scream of the Shalka, the online story, because we were on dial-up (ecch!).  At least I got a couple of DVDs when we finally embraced the format in 2002, but at that stage, saving up for my post-grad course, the thought of getting the entire series was far from my mind…

I was pleased when the show was brought back in 2005, but not too enamoured with Chris Eccleston, who I felt was a bit too coarse as the Ninth Doctor (and he quit after his first episode was broadcast — what the hell, man?!).  David Tennant, however, I felt was utterly definitive in the revitalised series as the Tenth Doctor, and I’ve also enjoyed Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor (though I find it quite sad no-one’s linked his fez-wearing with Tommy Cooper — not even a “jus’ like that, ahaha!”).  John Hurt has also been excellent tonight as the “Eighth-and-a-half” Doctor (they’re not renumbering them, apparently, because that would just be silly).  Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor?  We’ll see…

However, it’s still the “classic” series that interests me the most.  In 2011 I began watching the entire show from its humble 1963 beginnings, all in order, generally one episode per weekday night over dinner.  This was partly due to my folks getting me a collection of audio reconstructions of missing stories, which meant I could consider the first two seasons of the show complete from the point of view of my collection.  I’m proud (yes, proud, in a geeky way) to state that I’ve kept going this whole time, with only occasional breaks to watch anime, the last season of 24 (perhaps a future “cool things” post?) and the first season of Twin Peaks.  I also delayed starting the Fourth Doctor’s time until after my holiday in May, because, well, I could!

There was a sad moment in 2012, when I watched my old video of the Pertwee classic The Mind of Evil on VHS, and vowed it would be the last Doctor Who video I ever watched… because if and when I watch it again, I’ll have it on DVD instead, right?  (Or some kind of online…)  I’d specifically rescued that, and also the Troughton story The Krotons, from my general purge of VHS at the end of my “worst month”, January 2012, when moving out of Caledonian Road, because I knew at that point I’d be needing them due to the random releases of the show onto DVD.  Watching the show every night kept me sane during the horrible transition of 2012…

In 2013 (just after my holiday) I started Tom Baker’s time, and have now come full circle (no pun intended, that story is another three seasons away!), as I’ve reached the stories that were broadcast around the time of my birth.  Indeed, I was born literally the day after the faithful robot dog K-9 made his debut, in episode 2 of The Invisible Enemy.  Next week it’ll be The Invasion of Time (resonating slightly with tonight’s special, in fact!), and after Christmas, I’ll be on to the “Key to Time” season…

I haven’t as yet seen the 1960s episodes recovered from Nigeria (why the iTunes exclusive, Beeb?  Apple sucks!), but word on the grapevine (I have a source who has a source, let’s say) is that there were a lot more missing episodes in that haul, and that the stalwarts at the Doctor Who Restoration Team are busy working their collective mojo to restore them to broadcast quality before their recovery is officially admitted…

Since I have only three more seasons of Baker T. to go, and then a few more of Davison, Baker C. and McCoy (and the McGann TV movie), I expect to be finished before the end of 2014, though in all probability I’ll get the revitalised series on DVD (or indeed Blu-ray) as well.  Watching the show nearly every night over dinner (though this has been harder with my, ahem, regenerated social calendar!), has been an experience over the past couple of years, and it’s not over yet…

(And yes, I’ll get back to that C++ Dalek strategy game one day!)

If you’ve made it this far through my interminable ramblings (both in terms of this post and my blog in general), you’re probably wondering who my favourite Doctor is.  Well, I like them all in their own ways (I’m sure I’ll even enjoy Eccleston’s stories more when I watch them again, but oddly I’ve never seen them repeated on BBC3 — it was just Tennant’s ones ad nauseam!), but I reckon Pertwee is my favourite in the classic series, and Tennant in the revitalised series.

The first two Doctors, however, have a fascination for me, perhaps because so many of their episodes (especially in Troughton’s case) were lost in the 1970s.  This era also includes my favourite story, Troughton’s very first, The Power of the Daleks — again, probably due to it being missing (apart from soundtrack, John Cura “tele-snaps” and odd clips).  But oh, perhaps it’s been found in Nigeria?  Now that’d be a Christmas present…

(Phew, this post took a lot of work, and I haven’t even looked for clips on YouTube — stuff it, you can do that yourselves!)

5 thoughts on “Cool things: Doctor Who

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