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.



No comments:

Post a Comment