Friday, 30 March 2007

Behind The Sofa!

Well it’s almost time for a new series of Doctor Who, so I thought I would stretch my “entertainment based” remit a little and talk about the first of my (occasional) essential television shows.

I am of an age that I can remember John Noakes climbing up Nelsons Column on Blue Peter, Todd Carty when he was Tucker Jenkins and Meg Mortimer’s husband being killed by international terrorists in Crossroads – so of course I can remember Doctor Who first time around as well. Though not quite from the beginning as it had been going for a good ten years by the time I was aware of it. My first recollections of the programme are very vague, I remember I watched it occasionally when Jon Pertwee played his silver haired, dandy, action hero take on The Doctor, and can remember losing interest completely when Tom Baker and his preposterous scarf and curly hair took over in 1974. The odd memory persists however. I think I can remember seeing Sarah Jane and the Daleks, and vividly recall Tom Baker’s Doctor writing “Fake” on the back of a number of forged Mona Lisa’s and possibly even Pertwee driving the preposterous Whomobile . Of course it’s difficult to separate real memories from things I have seen later though! My friend Jackie always reminds me that she was scared of the music… wahoooooooooooo wahooooooooooo it went as a metallic spiral spun round the screen. It was the spiral more than the music that scared me – but then again I was only little! However, up until I was around twelve I wasn’t really that interested in all honesty. Then, in 1981, BBC2 showed a special season of vintage episodes – I think it was called The Five Faces Of Doctor Who, and featured stories from each of the five Doctors. From then on I was hooked. When the series proper returned in 1982 with Peter Davison at the helm of the Tardis – ably assisted by the amazing Tegan Jovanka, the awful Adric and the too clever by half Nyssa (yes there really were that many of them!) – I watched it religiously. Cybermen, Daleks, The Master! They were all there, and when the series celebrated its twentieth anniversary with The Five Doctors I thought I was in heaven – it even brought back Sarah Jane who I remembered loving as a kid! Despite them often being knocked, I loved the Peter Davison years and still do. Shortly after Davison regenerated into Colin Baker I began my first Saturday job so never seemed to be in when the show was on, so the remaining years of the initial run more or less passed me by.

In the early nineties, with the advent of the video releases, I began to re-explore the series, but then I got UK Gold. A complete story every Sunday morning! Within about six months I had totally overdosed on the show and really did feel like I could never sit through an episode again. Of course this was not the case and I positively ate up the 1996 TV Movie starring Paul McGann and was saddened that the mooted new series never happened.

Fast forward a few years. The unimaginable happens. Doctor Who is back in production. I had enjoyed many conversations with Ian Mackenzie and Allan Ferris where we had talked about how they could bring the show back and how they would make it work. Thankfully Russell T.Davies hadn’t been listening to our ideas though! I nervously waited for the series, and found myself totally bowled over by the re-imagination of this classic concept. We had Christopher Eccleston bringing his heavyweight acting prowess to the ninth incarnation of The Doctor, along side a revelatory Billie Piper as his companion Rose. Lessons had been learnt from the likes of Buffy and Smallville and story arcs and recurring secondary characters all helped to bring the show right up to date. No doubt the show was a balancing act, but Davies managed to include enough elements of the old series to keep all but the most rigid fan happy – although not so much that it alienated newer viewers. Also the new regeneration of the series has a budget that can do justice to the stories, and we have monsters designed impressively using the most up to date CGI techniques, where as it was not unusual in the past to have them made of bubble wrap or corrugated card board.. Anyway it was back with a vengeance, I loved it, the public loved it and even the critics loved it. Once again, a whole new generation cowers behind the sofa on a Saturday evening and children play at Doctor Who and the Daleks! Action figures abound, the annual is back and a whole new range of novelisations to add to the many hundreds that have already been published.

I had said right from the start that the two things that I would really love to return to the show were Sarah Jane Smith and the Cybermen. So when they were both announced for the second series I couldn’t quite believe it! As David Tennant took over the controls of the Tardis the second series was even better than the first. This last Christmas also saw the pilot for The Sarah Jane Adventures which was excellent and I can’t wait for this spin off – very reminiscent of old style Who – to begin later in the year. Whatever the strengths or weaknesses of the original series may have been it never had the emotional impact of this version which frequently moves me to tears or laughter. Also, in the past, I never quite became the fan I am now. I am slowly getting all the “Classic” Doctor Who releases on DVD, and have been known to read the odd novelization! (and yes some of them are very odd indeed) and even, shock horror, I buy the magazine now! But that’s as far as I will go! Honest! I’m really not the type to go to conventions dressed as a Terileptil or (god forbid!) Colin Baker.

What’s most interesting to me is a comment that Russell T. Davies made along the lines that Doctor Who will never go away – he will always live on in literature or the arts in some respect. This has certainly been proved over the years when the show has been off air. Countless books have been published along with CD dramatizations of plays – some of which have gone on to be broadcast on radio. We even had a stage musical once upon a time, but I can’t help feeling the less said about that the better! So will The Doctor fade away at some point? I doubt it. It seems that back in 1963 when a group of TV executives came up with this timeless concept that they created a true British fictional hero to rank alongside the likes of Sherlock Holmes. As once again playgrounds echo to the strains of “Exterminate!”, not to mention the plaintive cry of “Are you my Mummy?” it seems that the wandering galactic hobo from Gallifrey will never really vanish from popular British culture. I look forward to the third series with great interest – but firmly on the sofa and not hiding behind it!

So there you go! A little look at Doctor Who – and you thought I only liked musicals!

Most Who fans will disagree with me I am sure, but I do like The Five Doctors. Other than that I would say that all the current releases of the classic series have their merits. Of the early years there is a boxed set containing the first three stories (which include the debut of the Daleks) alongside the crotchety elderly Doctor that was William Hartnell, we have three companions – my favourite being school teacher Barbara. Barbara is a very strong character, challenging the Doctor at every step of the way and is atypical of female roles of the time. From the Patrick Troughton years Tomb Of The Cybermen is excellent, and the recent release of The Invasion, another Cyberman adventure, is well worth seeing. In the sixties it was common practice for the BBC to tape over shows after they had been broadcast so much of sixties Doctor Who is missing as a result, with the Troughton era being particularly sparsely represented. The Invasion had two episodes missing but thanks to contemporaneous sound recordings made by fans and the animation of Cosgrove Hall they have recreated the missing episodes for this edition. It’s fascinating viewing to see what television was like back in the sixties and how different story telling was then - particularly science fiction on a low budget! From the Pertwee era I would plump for The Claws Of Axos imaginatively filmed as it is. Anything with Sarah Jane is worth watching of course so the Baker era Genesis Of The Daleks (often voted the best ever story) and The Pyramids Of Mars are excellent choices – and the later City Of Death (cue the fake Mona Lisa’s) is also one of the best stories. The plague ridden The Visitation is possibly the best of the Davison stories currently on DVD, and I would plump for the Colin Baker The Two Doctors just because it sees Patrick Troughton’s final appearance in the series. Although I hated them at the time the Sylvester McCoy stories stand up quite well now and Remembrance Of The Daleks is probably as good as anything else from the first twenty years or so! As for the new series? Well you should be watching it!

In Closing
Destiny (Romanavoratrelundar)

Resurrection (Tegan Jovanka)

Revelation (Perpugilliam Brown)

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