Time flies by doesn’t it? Right now we’re less than a few weeks away from "The Day of The Doctor," the mega episode celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the longest running sci-fi series ever. It’s going to be an epic day for fans everywhere with the added bonus of a multi-simultaneous broadcast across the Time Lord's favorite planet. Something I think Sidney Newman, Doctor Who’s creator back in 1963 would have been extremely proud of.
As CBN’s resident Whovian, I thought to myself 'how am I going to honor this momentous occasion?' I had a few ideas such as sending EIC Matt McGloin a Tardis Cake with a Kaled stripogram bursting out of it. However – and yes this will disappoint him – I thought 'why not do a retrospective of the last 50 years from my view as a Brit fan.' After all, that’s foremost why I started writing "Reverse the Polarity" in the first place!
So for the next three weeks I’m going to do just that: breaking the 12 Doctors down into nice neat hand-sized chunks. Except...hold it! What about John Hurt's Doctor? Well, until "Day of the Doctor" airs I'm keeping him in the shadows until we know where he fits into the puzzle. I'm sticking to the golden rule as it stands: that a Time Lord can presently only regenerate 12 times first set out in "The Deadly Assassin" back in 1976, which set the blueprint for everything Time Lord ever since.
Of course, there are “other Doctors” out there before Mr. Hurt appeared last season. A recent issue of Doctor Who Magazine (DMW) did a great article listing ALL 73 actors, actresses and stuntmen who have played the role: everyone from Peter Cushing who played “Dr Who” in the '60s Dalek movies, to Arabella Weir who played an alternate Universe female Doctor in the radio adventure Exile in 2003, and more famously Joanna “Purdey” Lumley in “Curse of the Fatal Death.” Do not worry! I’m not going to dwell on the other 61! I want to get this typed up well before bedtime.
Every fan has their “moment” when they first encountered the series; mine was in June 1973. Back then, Doctor Who was just one of a plethora of British sci-fi programs on TV. ITV, BBC’s rival channel, had The Tomorrow People (just recently brought back) and fantasy kiddie programs like Into the Labyrinth. It was a Saturday early evening, when my Dad was at the TV fiddling with the knob to switch between the three main channels when a black and white image of Jon Pertwee and his plucky assistant, Jo Grant, appeared. They were in some kind of cave being menaced by giant maggots!
Now you might thinking: 'Here’s a 6-year-old on the eve of his 7th birthday and he’s going to be terrified hiding behind the sofa having nasty nightmares that night in bed of giant creepy green glowing maggots crawling from underneath his bed to get him!' And yet I sat on the soft - not behind it - and watched in a trance-like-state as Perwee’s dashing Third Doctor (with his red cape and white hair) and Katy Manning throw rocks at the encroaching wriggly creatures. Then the credits came up, and I asked – 'is it over?' Not by a long shot. Next Saturday while I blew candles off my cake I watched the next episode learning how this mysterious bloke and his screaming companion got out of the cave. And I watched the next episode until "The Green Death" ended. I had come to like this new program only to find that it would be a year until the next series started!
It was a bit of a hit and miss thing watching Who back then. With Elizabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith becoming the Doctor’s new girlfriend (well what else could it be even though it didn’t cross my mind how odd a couple they were?) let alone he was pushing 750! I definitely remember Linx the Sontaran running amok in Medieval England, and more importantly, learning that The Doctor comes from somewhere in Ireland. I remember seeing one-eyed Alpha Centauri and gladly missing out on plastic Dinosaurs invading London. And then just as I got used to Pertwee – along comes "Planet of the Spiders" and wham - he gets killed off by radiation and turns into someone else!
That someone was Tom Baker. And hold your hand up if Tom Baker is your Doctor? Because that is what he became, an icon for the series making the program not only a British product but a global phenomena. Yeah, I too had my Mom knit me a twenty meter multi-collared scarf. I had a sudden fondness for Bassett’s Jelly Babies, and in the woods my friends and I would pretend to be chased by Cybermen from Nerva space station or Davros would send his newly designed Daleks after us. Speaking of Daleks, who would think you could get scared of a mobile trash bin with a sink plunger shouting 'exterminate?' Me neither, and yet due to the genius of Terry Nation and that chimney pot in Gloucester at a school for girls that gave Dalek designer Raymond Cusick inspiration, the image of the Daleks burned into our minds. Even so, I’m not buying the Union Jack/Patriot Dalek that asks you if you would like a cup of tea!
The thing was, though that while Tom’s season began to air from 1974 onwards, I was on the verge of a big revelation. The program was changing, and with the ending of UNIT and the Brigadier Doctor Who was moving away from Earth bound stories to ones set on fantastic planets made from the Blue Peter presenters. In 1976 was the big Time Lord story, although being nine I missed out on all the pandemonium from Mary Whitehouse’s National Viewers and Listeners Association who bitterly complained that showing the Doctor being drowned under muddy swamp waters at afternoon tea wasn’t suitable for children under 10. More alarming was what happened a year later having to watch a story behind the sofa when "The Invisible Enemy" aired: with the triple horror of a robot dog (sic), a trip through the Doctor’s brain (ugh!) and a giant space prawn (double ugh!!).
That big revelation was the finding of a paperback book published by W.H Allen and Co. under their Target label called the Doctor Who Episode Guide. This sat alongside novels of broadcasted TV episodes such as Pertwee’s Claws of Axos and Baker’s Planet of Evil. Yet there also was a book called The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and it featured a face of a Doctor that I did not know. In addition, when I began to read the Guidebook – well what a reveal. It now seemed Perwee wasn’t the first Doctor at all. There had been two more before him! So began the exploration into the misty realms of black and white with William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton.
I was thrust into an era of “catch-up.” I found out that William Hartnell’s crotchety old man was the original model. Wearing a wig and owning a scrap yard in Totters Lane in London, he kidnaps teachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright who get suspicious about his granddaughter Susan bunking off school, finding she lives inside a Police Box! Before they can summon social services they find out this blue box has a unique twist – it can travel in time and space!
And so off they go with "An Unearthly Child" with Ian showing caveman how to make fire. They travel to Skaro where they encounter the Daleks for the first time; naff too back then because they can only travel around inside their city powered by electro-static energy transmitted to their mobile life support chassis. Even so, doesn’t stop them from trying to kill the Thals – or somehow surviving when they get a blackout only to reappear in 2164 having invaded Earth and wanting to mine the planet’s core and turn it into a massive spaceship!
I got to read more about the first two Doctors, when in 1979, Marvel UK started publishing Doctor Who Weekly. The Fourth Doctor got prize billing in the lead comic strip drawn by Dave Gibbons who went on to do Watchmen. Back-up strips featured various Who monsters and other characters such as Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer! Later issues, however, began to featured telesnap articles of lost episodes from the Hartnell and Troughton eras. Many tapes from the late '60s had been wiped or lost (although recently nine lost Troughton episodes turned up in Nigeria), but it was common practice to take still photos on set which could be used to illustrate lost stories with a bit of text.
It was a fascinating insight into the eras I had not known about yet. It wasn’t until 1981 when BBC Two broadcasted the Five Faces of Doctor Who that I got to see both of these newbies in the flesh so to speak. This was a time when the BBC still showed regular repeat episodes of past stories – often what had been shown the year before so if you think what BBC America does with Matt Smith or David Tennant episodes is new, it isn’t. Hartnell was represented by "Unearthly" while "The Krotons," then one of a meager number of episodes held in BBC archives, represented Troughton."Krotons" is frankly a terrible story, more so as the feature monsters designed by kids from Blue Peters’ Design a Monster Competition 1967. Not that it’s a bad thing; Who and Blue Peter – a kids show that I also watched keenly when I was knee high to a Kroton have had an enduring partnership – lasting well into the New Who’s arrival in 2005 when keen viewers brought to life the Abzorbaloff in "Love & Monsters!"
1981 was also a transitional year for the program I had now watched for 8 years. The Clown Prince of Galifrey has decided to retire, and as many fans watched Baker’s last performance in Logopolis – plunging to his apparent demise from a Radio Telescope in Cheshire – there was a moment of country-wide mourning. And yet the moment had been prepared for; for out of the shadows emerged a Watcher – no, not that one, another one – it was going to be a completely new ballgame altogether.
Look for Part 2 next week!
Updated with a cool piece of fan art via From A Hat Facebook: