Shame on the BBC! What have we got for the 40th anniversary of Doctor Who? Half-an-hour on Radio 4 in February, a five-minute Children in Need spoof and the promise of another documentary exactly the same as the one they did ten years ago if they can get round to finishing it before Christmas!
Bravo, however, to UK GOLD, who are devoting 24 hours over the 22nd and 23rd November to this greatest of all television phenomena.
I have decided to put together my own viewing schedule for the Dr. Who fortieth anniversary weekend. I wanted to combine as many elements of the series as possible: all the television Doctors, recurring monsters like Daleks and Cybermen, the companions, reunions of Doctors, the historical stories of the early years and, of course, regeneration.
It is not easy to cram all this into just seven serials but I think my choices below combine all these elements.
I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend viewing extravaganza and I have written some comments in blue under each of the stories.
|The Curse of Peladon|
|The Five Doctors|
|The Mark of the Rani|
|Remembrance of the Daleks|
This is my First Doctor choice and one of the historical stories. The William Hartnell era mixed science-fiction serials with historical ones and this one, from 1966, is one of the last. It was said that The Gunfighters sounded the death-knell for the Dr Who historicals because it was so badly received. Shunned and despised for decades, I hope that this story can find new appreciation with today's fans.
It's been a long time since I saw "The Gunfighters" and I really enjoyed it. It is Doctor Who's take on the gunfight at the OK Corral. It has some Dr. Who stalwarts in the form of Charlie the barman, played by David Graham, better known as one of the original Dalek voices or Professor Kerensky in "City of Death". Laurence Payne plays Johnny Ringo and went on to play Dastari in "The Two Doctors" nineteen years later. The story's incidental music is, uniquely, provided by way of song, sung by Lynda Baron, perhaps better known to Dr. Who fans as Captain Wrack in "Enlightenment" and to Roy Clarke fans as Nurse Gladys Emanuel.
I was struggling a bit with the Troughton era. I have tried to avoid stories in my top twenty as far as possible for my fortieth anniversary viewing and I also wanted to watch stories I hadn't seen for a while. Really this was the only one left after taking these factors into account. It contains a fine performance by Patrick Troughton, the Doctor Who debut of Philip Madoc and comes from the pen of the most acclaimed Dr. Who writer, Robert Holmes.
I don't think there is a Troughton story I don't like, although I haven't yet seen or heard them all. The Troughton era is all-too-often forgotten because so many episodes were burnt by the BBC. This story is a very enjoyable yarn and features the return of Roy Skelton providing the monster voice.
The Curse of Peladon
I have chosen an atypical Third Doctor story as this is one of the first non-UNIT Pertwee outings. It sees the return, for the first time in colour, of the Ice Warriors and features the ever-popular Katy Manning as Jo Grant.
The absence of UNIT is not the only atypical feature of "The Curse of Peladon", as the Ice Warriors are completely benign, even acting to save the Doctor when he is in peril. The video of this story has a smooth, orange/yellow look in places which I think is because the BBC archive version is converted from an American 525 line NTSC copy.
I have picked the Fourth Doctor's debut to combine several elements at once: regeneration, UNIT, the introduction of a new companion, and Bessie. It is technically innovative in that it is the first Doctor Who serial to have all the location work recorded on videotape. Robot is written by the outgoing script-editor, and prolific Dr Who novelist Terrance Dicks.
I have to admit I wasn't looking forward very much to "Robot" as I remembered it to be a very routine UNIT outing featuring a ludicrous robotic monster on whom bullets did not work and which happened to speak BBC English, but after viewing, I repent totally and find that these are some of the most endearing features of the serial. What I didn't like so much was the videotape recording of the outside scenes. I think it would have looked much better on film. In this respect, "Robot" is very much a departure for the norm as filming of location work was used for nearly every story until it was abolished in 1986.
The Five Doctors
No Dr. Who anniversary is complete without a reunion of Doctors and The Five Doctors is the greatest one of them all. But even twenty years ago when Dr. Who was still running, the BBC weren't in much of a frame of mind to celebrate a momentous anniversary and so this story had to be part-funded by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation because the Beeb wouldn't put up the money!
I can't fault this story even though I have seen it so many times that I can repeat the script myself. Of course the only disappointment is the absence of the late William Hartnell who nobody, but nobody, could ever imitate with any real conviction. One of the nice features is the Doctors-in-thought scene near the end where the four Doctors combine to overcome Borusa's will, directly lifted from The Three Doctors.
The Mark of the Rani
This Sixth Doctor story introduces a new villain in the shape of the Rani and brings back one of the Doctor's oldest adversaries, the Master. Of course, during the showing of the 1985 season from which this serial comes, the BBC struck again on the money front and said it was too expensive to do Dr Who and Eastenders at the same time so they abolished the longest running science fiction show in the universe. Dr Who returned, thankfully, the following year, but it was never quite the same again.
Colin Baker is a superb Doctor and I wish he could have gone on longer, as he hoped to do. There is a lot of nice location filming in The Mark of the Rani, which features Bergerac's boss Terence Alexander and Kate O'Mara as the Rani. Dr. Who simply does not work in a 45-minute format as it means each story only has one cliffhanger which I think undermines the whole founding principle of the series as a serials with a dramatic ending each week.
Remembrance of the Daleks
I have to include everybody at a time like this and, whilst I despair at what happened to Dr Who between 1987 and 1989, at least with this one I can look at the Daleks and recall what it used to be like in the good old days before John Nathan-Turner.
This has to be one of the better stories of the seventh Doctor's era and is regarded by many fans as superior to the Colin Baker Dalek effort. What I don't like about this era is the level of unexplained incidents and assertions. For example, in "Battlefield", the Doctor claims he used to be Merlin. Equally, the Doctor frequently walks into a situation completely unannounced and is accepted without challenge. This happens here when the Doctor first joins forces with the military and scientific people. In times gone by, the Doctor would have to prove himself before his presence and advice would be accepted - for instance, in the parallel world in "Inferno".
I don't accept the premise established here that the First Doctor was in 1960s London to hide the powerful Time Lord weapon, the Hand of Omega. To my mind, this is an unnecessary act of retrospective revisionism because the Time Lords, Omega and so on were not established at the time Dr. Who began. This story also has references to popular TV culture, namely Blue Peter, Quatermass and Dr. Who itself which I think serves to erode the Dr. Who myth a little bit and make the series at this stage in its long life tend towards self-parody.
In addition to these, I will be watching the very first episode of Dr. Who, "An Unearthly Child" on the exact fortieth anniversary of its transmission, at 5.16pm on Sunday 23rd November 2003.
Absolute magic. This episode is eerie throughout as much of it set either in the dark scrapyard or the alien time machine. I think the viewer is given a very real feeling that the school teachers have stumbled upon something truly extraordinary. The sequence where the TARDIS dematerialises for the very first time is superbly executed. At the end of it, we are left with a sense that something exhilarating, even exhausting, has just happened. The two human teachers are unconscious and the Doctor looks worn out from the journey. This is something which I feel was lost in later years with the TARDIS hopping about all over time and space without having any physical effect on the occupants.