Thursday, 12 March 2015
113 Dr Who
First watched : 30 December 1972
This is absolutely rock certain. I first watched Dr Who at 17.50 pm on Saturday 30 December 1972 at my friend Patrick Brennan's house. It was the first episode of the first story in the fourth Jon Pertwee series The Three Doctors. As the show was in its tenth series it was billed as a tenth anniversary special with the three men on the cover of Radio Times although the whole series had long finished by the time the actual anniversary date.
I was aware of the programme before then; I remember a lot of talk at school about The Sea Devils when it was first broadcast earlier in the year but didn't push against my mum's concern that I might find it too frightening. So I was probably a little apprehensive at Patrick's suggestion that we watch it before I was driven home.
I didn't find it frightening but thrilling and intriguing and it was a toss-up whether this or Top of the Pops was now at the top of my must-see list. I'm not a superfan of the series and haven't explored many of the numerous blogs on the series but the general consensus seems to be that The Three Doctors is a little disappointing. It concerns a rogue Time Lord Omega seeking to overturn the order of the cosmos who can only be stopped by bringing the Doctor into contact with his previous selves. It was also proposed to bring back a former companion from the Troughton era, the Scots Highlander Jamie but the actor Frazer Hines was too busy with the recently-launched Emmerdale Farm so John Levene's Sergeant Benton had a meatier-than-usual role when the script was revised.
The production team had a more serious problem to surmount. William Hartnell had left the series in 1966 partly because arteriosclerosis was making it difficult to remember his lines. His health hadn't improved in the meantime and he hadn't worked at all after 1970. With his family concerned about the original role's demands his participation was restricted to pre-recording a few scenes sitting in a dark room ( at Ealing Studios not his garage as a persistent myth argues ) rather too obviously peering at cue cards. The rest of the cast saw him "stuck in a time eddy" on a convenient TV monitor and interacted with the recording as best they could. Even though I'd only just turned eight I realised something was amiss.
As noted above there's a lot out there about the series from people who've pored through every episode with a fine tooth comb so I'm only going to chronicle my own relationship with the programme over the years.
The Three Doctors was also a significant milestone as it marked the point where Pertwee's Doctor and the series were liberated from Earth-bound adventures with U.N.I.T. and the TARDIS could roam free again although UNIT still featured in most adventures for the rest of Pertwee's stint. The following story Carnival of Monsters took full advantage of that as did Frontier in Space which lost me a bit though I did recall The Master when the character was resurrected a few years late, and the first Dalek story for some years Planet of the Daleks featuring the cheapest monsters ever the invisible Spiridons. My first series climaxed with the wonderful, genuinely terrifying The Green Death , an anti-pollution epic set in Wales with giant maggots as the monsters. It was also Katie Manning's last appearance as Jo Grant.
The last Pertwee series was a mixed bag. The Time Warrior introducing stalwarts Sarah Jane Smith and the Sontarans was a good start but Invasion of the Dinosaurs was a big disappointment with its ludicrous plasticene creatures. The following Death To The Daleks where they are forced to work with the Doctor in a terrifyingly hostile environment is one of my favourites although it has a mixed reputation. I also enjoyed The Curse of Peladon despite it being a sequel to a preious story I hadn't seen but the Pertwee era ended with a terrible letdown, the interminable Planet of the Spiders which is mired in Buddhist claptrap and has the series' most boring villain ever in Lupton, a middle-aged businessman who looks like he's wandered in from The Brothers by mistake. Half of episode two is taken up with a self-indulgent sop to Pertwee's love of speed, an extended multi-vehicle chase sequence whose resolution could have occurred at any point in its duration.
I wasn't sure I'd take to a new incarnation but Tom Baker immediately won me over and his first series included the classic Genesis of the Daleks. Three weeks after the series finished I badgered my uninterested Dad to take me to Blackpool for the Dr Who Exhibition on 26 May 1975. My diary entry reads :
Went to Blackpool Dr Who Expedition. Had Wirn (sic ) , Robot, Dinosaurs, Daleks, Cyberman, Draconian, Aggedor, Spiders, Alpha Centauri, Yeti, Axon Monster, Ogron, Mutoes and Exxilons.
It was a great thrill to see things like the Robot so soon after the story had been broadcast but in a way that was probably the high water mark of my engagement with the series. The second Tom Baker series was transitional with UNIT being phased out although it ended very strongly with two of the scariest stories The Brain of Morbius and The Seeds of Doom.
. The following series saw my first break in watching it. The departure of Sarah Jane broke the last link with the Pertwee era. I hated the next story The Deadly Assassin which made the Time Lords seem a bit mean and ridiculous and then rejected Leela who came in at the next story. I was a little too young to appreciate exactly what Louise Jameson brought to the series and just saw her barbarism as something that would involve the Doctor in a lot of tiresome exposition.
And so I dropped out for the best part of a year until a Christmas 1977 repeat of the story The Robots of Death and the hype around the imminent arrival of Star Wars drew me back to the series and science fiction in general. Leela departed not long after and I stayed with the series right up to Tom Baker's departure in March 1981. As with Pertwee his final story Logopolis was awful - Baker's disillusion with the series was visible on screen and his co-stars seemed genuinely apprehensive around him - and made another break with the series much easier.
I had no great animus against Peter Davison. He was the best thing about All Creatures Great and Small but I thought him completely unsuitable for Doctor Who; having a likeable comic actor in the role would change the whole tone of the series. I watched a bit of The Five Doctors in 1983 a one-off 25th anniversary special with Richard Hurndall replacing Hartnell who'd died in 1975 and some footage from an incomplete serial awkwardly crowbarred in because a still pissed-off Baker refused to participate. The publicity shots featured a waxwork of Baker borrowed from Madame Tussauds.
The first regular Davison story I saw was Resurrection of the Daleks in 1984 at university where the cynical common room audience was howling with derision at Rodney Bewes's every line. The following story Planet of Fire saw the most memorable debut of any companion as Nicola Bryant's Peri arrived bulging out of a wet bikini. I certainly was old enough to appreciate her and had a whole new reason for watching it again. Davison exited in the next story.
I did like Colin Baker from his work in The Brothers although he was such a good villain I wondered how he'd translate to a heroic role. Despite this, it took the reappearance of the Daleks in Resurrection of the Daleks ( broadcast March 1985 ) to get me watching again partly because going to more away matches made it difficult to see every episode of a story.
I'm not sure I watched C Baker's last series right through to the end; I think one story featuring Bonnie Langford was enough to scare me off and this time it was more or less for good. By this point it was common knowledge that Michael Grade had the programme in his sights and there was a suspicion that Langford had been brought in as a deliberate act of sabotage. This was compounded by the choice of Baker's replacement, Sylvester McCoy who I remembered as the silly gurning man from Vision On.
I boycotted the show throughout his tenure and then it was gone. I did watch the abortive 1995 resurrection where McCoy gave way to Paul McGann and Eric Roberts played the Master in a doomed attempt to interest the Americans but thought it was disappointingly vacuous.
Then ten years later it was back. I watched the first episode out of curiosity but it failed to grip me ; I don't think much of Ms Piper as either pop star or actress. Since then I've caught odd bits of it but never really wanted to be drawn back in whilst others have re-embraced it. I'm glad it's back if only to rub Grade's nose in its popularity but I prefer to stick with the memories.