Welcome to my writing!

For a long time I've wanted to set up an online repository of my interviews, reviews and other writings ... and here it is! Use the Subject List to the right to select an author/topic and you will get all the entries which relate to the selected subject. Have fun browsing through!

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Doctor Who Where Are You?


6 December 1989 was a sad day for the millions of Doctor Who fans world-wide as this was the date on which the final new episode to be made was first transmitted on BBC television in Britain. Since then there have been vague promises from the BBC that Doctor Who was safe with them for the nineties, there have been several attempts to produce a Doctor Who film, none of which have as yet come to fruition, there were several production companies interested in making a new series if the BBC did not wish to do so themselves, but none of them seemed to be able to get the project off the ground. Finally, Stephen Spielberg’s Amblin production company was involved in talks and discussions about a new series, these plans having given way to a single producer, Philip Segal, and a single studio, Fox, and the current proposition to produce a two-hour long TV movie of Doctor Who, which, if successful, might lead to a new series going into production. As of writing there is still no news on the casting of the Doctor – suggestions have included Alan Rickman, Eric Idle, John Cleese, Dudley Moore and, the current favourite, Simon Callow – or his companions – Pamela Anderson was a hot favourite for a time – or production dates, although it has been suggested that the movie could be in production in 1995 amid new rumours that its start date has moved to May 1996.

The story of Doctor Who starts way back in 1962 when the BBC commissioned an internal report into science fiction with a view to getting some sort of SF-related show on the air. The results of this initial report were taken forward by Sydney Newman, who had just started as the BBC’s Head of Drama, Donald Wilson, the head of the Script Department, Alice Frick and John Braybon, drama script editors, producer/director Rex Tucker and a writer called C. E. Webber, who between them eventually outlined and formalised a format for a series in which an elderly man and his granddaughter, together with two schoolteachers from the granddaughter’s school, have adventures in time and space via the elderly man’s own time machine.

Doctor Who actually started transmitting on Saturday 23 November 1963, with the elderly man now known only as ‘the Doctor’, the title of the series reflecting the unknown background to the leading character and also the nature of the series itself.

The first story, 100,000 BC, saw the Doctor and his granddaughter Susan, and the teachers, Ian and Barbara, travelling back in time in the Doctor’s time machine, called TARDIS, the initials standing for Time And Relative Dimension In Space, to the stone age where they all became involved in a power struggle between two would-be leaders of a tribe that had lost the secret of fire. From this humble beginning, Doctor Who was to become the longest running science fiction series anywhere in the world, and was seen by viewers across the globe.

One of the aspects of the series that has enabled it to survive for so long is the concept of changing the actor playing the lead role. The first Doctor was played by William Hartnell, an elderly, white-haired figure, but towards the end of a battle against the dreaded Cybermen – one of the Doctor’s greatest foes – he collapsed. To the amazement of his companions at the time he then changed his appearance before their eyes.

This process was called regeneration, and using it the Doctor could effectively cheat death and build a new body for himself. The Doctor has so far regenerated six times, and each time his new persona has been markedly different from the one before.

The first Doctor could be brusque and harsh, but there was always a human side to the character. He had a strong sense of justice and of what was right, and always sided with the oppressed. He was very fond of his granddaughter Susan and was visibly moved when she left him. He also became quite attached to his other companions, Ian and Barbara, Vicki, Stephen, Dodo, Ben and Polly, and always tried to ensure that they were safe as they travelled through space and time.

The second Doctor was played by Patrick Troughton and was a marked contrast to the first incarnation. The second Doctor had a Beatle-like mop of brown hair, and a pixie-like enthusiasm for all the situations in which he found himself. He liked playing the clown as this was the best way to lead his enemies to underestimate him, and he often pulled a recorder from his pocket to tootle a tune in times of stress. Initially his companions Ben and Polly were very suspicious of this stranger who claimed to be the Doctor but they soon came to realise that this was the same person. Others who travelled with the second Doctor were the young Scot Jamie, Victoria and Zoe. This was the era of the great Doctor Who monsters with Daleks, Cybermen, Ice Warriors and Yeti coming up against the Doctor and his friends.

Eventually the Doctor was captured and put on trial by his own people, the Time Lords, and sentenced to exile on Earth with a new appearance, that of actor Jon Pertwee. Along with the change of appearance came a change in style and manner. The third Doctor was a bit of a showman and a bit of a dandy. He wore velvet smoking jackets and shirts with frilled cuffs and fronts. He loved action and took every opportunity to leap into hovercraft, auto-gyro, fast car or multi-terrain vehicle in the pursuit of his enemies. His companions were Doctor Elizabeth Shaw, Jo Grant and journalist Sarah Jane Smith and his greatest foe was the Master. The Master was a renegade Time Lord dedicated to the downfall of the Doctor, and the third Doctor came up against him on numerous occasions.

The Doctor had to regenerate once more after his body was riddled with deadly blue radiation from the cave of ‘the Great One’, a giant spider on the planet Metabelis 3. The fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker, was typified by his incredibly long scarf, battered felt hat and a child-like innocence to all around him. This Doctor was perhaps the most alien of them all, and could agonise over the death of a daisy, while remaining apparently unmoved over the wiping out of an entire civilisation. The Doctor travelled with Sarah Jane Smith, Harry Sullivan, the savage Leela, K-9 the electronic computer shaped like a dog, the Time Lady Romana who went through two incarnations whilst travelling with the Doctor, Adric, Nyssa and Tegan and none of them, with the possible exception of the second incarnation of Romana really got to grips with who the Doctor really was.

After the Doctor sustained a nasty fall from a radio telescope during a battle against the Master, he regenerated once more into the form of Peter Davison. In contrast to the fourth incarnation, the fifth Doctor was perceived as an English gentleman. He had a passion for cricket and liked to dress in cricketing whites even when there was no game to be played. He flew breathlessly and headlong into danger and always tried to look after his companions in a brotherly way. He travelled with Adric, Nyssa, Tegan, Turlough and Peri and all of their lives were changed by their experiences with him.

The next regeneration was brought on by the Doctor contracting the fatal disease Spectrox Toxaemia and Colin Baker took over the role. The sixth Doctor was initially unstable and prone to violent fits of temper. His companion Peri was initially very unsure of where she stood, but the Doctor eventually settled down and she enjoyed several lively adventures with him. With a bright coat of clashing colours, the Doctor was always the centre of attention, and his personality reflected his dress sense. His companions were Peri and computer programmer Mel. This incarnation of the Doctor underwent another trial by his peers, this time led by the Valeyard, an evil manifestation of the Doctor. The Valeyard’s plans failed and the Doctor was found innocent of all charges.

After the TARDIS was attacked by the Rani, another evil Time Lord, the Doctor regenerated into the slighter and more mysterious figure of the seventh Doctor, played by Sylvester McCoy. This incarnation of the Time Lord revealed hitherto unseen talents and harboured deep, dark secrets. His companions Mel and then Ace really did not understand what the Doctor’s motives were, but more and more clues and hints emerged that the Doctor might really be much more than just a Time Lord. He seemed to have a dark history which was on the verge of unfolding, and which we may now never discover.

One of the most popular aspects of the series has been the monsters. In only the second story, called 'The Mutants' (aka 'The Daleks'), and written by Terry Nation, a race of alien creatures was introduced that were to become as popular as the programme that spawned them and ultimately led to their own entry in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The exterior of a Dalek is just an advanced travel machine for the twisted and mutated being that lives inside. The Daleks have no morals and no pity and their attack cry of ‘Exterminate!’ echoes around the galaxy as they conquer and destroy everything that stands in their way. The Doctor and his friends have crossed their path on several occasions and he has become their greatest nemesis.

The Daleks were the first alien menace encountered by the Doctor, but they were by no means the last. Over the years there have been many different alien races, monsters, creatures and enemies featured in the series, the majority of which have come to a sticky end at the hands of the Doctor.

Along with the Daleks, the silver Cybermen stand as perhaps the second most popular creatures to appear in Doctor Who. Once human, they had steadily replaced their bodies with limbs of metal and plastic until only their brains remained. In this form they finally abolished emotions from their race, becoming coldly logical and dedicated to their own survival. Other memorable foes include the Ice Warriors, green, scaly creatures from Mars which tried to invade the Earth, and the Yeti, robots created by an alien intelligence which tried to take over the Earth, first using a Tibetan monastery as a base, and then by invading the London Underground train system. More recently we met the Haemovores, blood-sucking creatures from the depths of the sea, Sil, a maggot-bodied creature intent on maximising his personal profits and gains at the expense of others, and the Vervoids, a race of lethal plant-creatures which tried to take over a space liner.

As the years passed, so the creatures became more sophisticated. Doctor Who featured early examples of animatronics as well as puppets, cable control, radio control and more traditional forms of monster costume and make-up created from latex and clay. Doctor Who has always been at the forefront of technology and was among the first television programmes to make use of Colour Separation Overlay (CSO) or Chromakey (where one image is overlaid onto another by using a blue-screen process), the Quantel digital image processor and HARRY, a sophisticated electronic paintbox. Doctor Who even pioneered the use of rubber and latex masks, slave cameras (where the camera movements on a model can be synchronised with those on a real-life subject allowing the two to be seamlessly combined) and even a slit-scan process developed from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey to create the innovative title sequences for the late Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker years.

Despite the fact that we have not seen any new Doctor Who on our screens for some six years now, there is still an incredible wealth of merchandise being produced about the programme. Virgin Publishing have been developing the Doctor and his companions in two series of original novels for several years. The New Adventures pit the seventh Doctor against foes old and new, while The Missing Adventures are completely new stories featuring older Doctors and companions. Virgin have also been at the forefront of publishing high-quality and critically acclaimed factual books about the series, including titles like Doctor Who The Sixties and Doctor Who The Seventies which look in detail at the decades in question and also a series of Doctor Who Handbooks, one per Doctor, which look at the era of each of the Doctors. BBC Video have been releasing old Doctor Who stories at the rate of one or two a month and are over half way to having the complete available back-list available to rent or buy. Marvel Comics publish a monthly Doctor Who Magazine, and there are also telephone cards, trading cards, belt-buckles, lamp-shades, calendars and all manner of other tie-in pieces of merchandise being produced.

Doctor Who may be out of production for the moment, but it is still as popular as ever. There seems little doubt that one day it will be back.

David J. Howe