April 08, 2013
A biased change of approach for this week’s entry of 50 Glorious Years - we aren’t going to look so much at the content of the show in 1976 (though another fine year it was), but the developments that happened outside of the show - and outside of the UK. For the most glorious thing about 1976 from my perspective is that Doctor Who returned to Canadian television, one not one but two different television stations on the same day - Saturday September 18th 1976. The two stations were CKVU in Vancouver, and of course TVOntario, providing the entirety of Canada’s most populated province with the chance to watch the show. This of course was a huge development as far as Doctor Who fandom in Canada (and North America) was concerned - it was the first time since 1965 that the series had been seen in Canada. While CKVU showed the series until 1982, TVOntario’s run was so popular that it stopped only when the licence to show the series was given to a national broadcaster in YTV in 1989 (although TV Ontario would show some repeats into the early 1990’s).
I would probably not be here typing this if it weren’t for TVO showing Doctor Who, starting in 1976. I didn’t tune in until 1981, but it was a TVOntario broadcast that did the trick. I am sure the same thing I am sure can be said of many Ontario-based readers of my age (or slightly older or slightly younger). Not only did Canadian fandom really start to get going thanks to the TVO broadcasts, but Doctor Who fandom in general has a lot to be grateful for - it was the sales of many of the Jon Pertwee episodes in colour to CKVU and TV Ontario that has allowed fans all over the world to enjoy these episodes in their proper colour, the BBC having wiped many of their original Jon Pertwee master tapes.
Speaking of fandom, things weren’t just getting started in Canada - the Doctor Who Appreciation Society formed in May 1976, to date the longest running Doctor Who fan club (DWIN isn’t far behind!) and the one that made the most impact (effectively succeeding the Doctor Who Fan Club as the “official” fan club in the UK, to the extent that anything was “official”). They became the first fan club to organize and hold a Doctor Who convention, which would take place the following year in 1977.
But 1976 is where things really started for Doctor Who in Canada (with all due respect to those lucky enough to watch the first 26 episodes of the series as shown on CBC in 1965). The story which began TVOntario’s run and introduced the show to a new generation of viewers who had never seen it before and probably knew nothing about it - why, none other than the “continuity-light” The Three Doctors. The series was a huge hit, which should have nailed the coffin shut on the “continuity causes ratings dips and makes the show unpopular) about 9 years before the same crap argument was levelled at the show in the UK. As for CKVU, they also got Jon Pertwee episodes to begin with. It is often forgotten with Tom Baker’s massive popularity in North America that in Canada at least, it was Pertwee who was the first “hit” Doctor.
Posted by Luca on Monday, April 8 at 5:38 pm
April 07, 2013
Alien oddness abounds in The Rings of Akhaten, the second episode of the 2013 season. Let us know what you thought of this episode - whether you want to sing its praises or if you walked away from the episode with criticism.
Posted by Luca on Sunday, April 7 at 12:16 am
April 01, 2013
Arguably the one of the best years to be a Doctor Who fan, particularly in the UK, where there were basically two seasons that had most of their episodes broadcast this year. It started with the 2nd episode of Robot broadcast in the first week of January of 1975. A run of 19 episodes continued all the way to the end of Revenge of the Cybermen part 4, before a gap of a few months and a new season of 26 episodes starting in September with Terror of the Zygons and with the calendar year ending off with The Android Invasion part 4. That’s a total of 35 new episodes that were broadcast in 1975, and that doesn’t even include omnibus-version repeats of The Ark in Space and Genesis of the Daleks both of which were originally broadcast in 1975 as well.
And let’s not just talk about quantity, but quality. In addition to the above stories mentioned (many of which are amongst the greatest of all time in many-a-fan’s opinion), let’s not forget Pyramids of Mars was included in this as well. The quality was no doubt reflected in the soaring popularity of the series. Tom Baker became a house-hold name overnight and the series attained record ratings this year, with The Ark in Space garnering 13.6 million viewers and placing as high as 5th on the weekly chart - the highest chart position the series ever reached in the classic series days (generally speaking top 10 finishes were rare for Doctor Who back then, even when the show was at its most popular).
It wasn’t all happening on screen - Target novels were now coming out more regularly, where fans could re-live some of the latest adventures and classics from the past. The Doctor Who Annual and comic strips were also still publishing. After being relatively quiet since the days of Dalekmania, Doctor Who merchandise was coming more and more to the fore, something that would only increase as the years went by. Thoughts started to develop about another Doctor Who movie for the big screen (which would have been the first in 9 years), but somewhat remarkably, a third motion picture cinema film still hasn’t happened to this day…..
Regardless, 1975 was Doctor Who‘s year, arguably like no other year had been. With all this unparalleled success, Doctor Who was unquestionably the world’s top science-fiction series that was still in production, successfully seeing off competition from Space:1999 despite the larger budget the latter program had. The stories and characters for Doctor Who were simply too good and still stand the test of time. All the years later, there is something to be said about the heady days of 1975.
Posted by Luca on Monday, April 1 at 11:09 am
March 31, 2013
Doctor Who‘s 50th Anniversary season is finally upon us! A run of eight episodes comprising what is arguably the show’s 35th Season (or Series 7b as some might call it), starting with the The Bells of Saint John. Don’t be a spoon-head - please risk using the wi-fi to tell us what you thought about this new episode.
Posted by Luca on Sunday, March 31 at 12:48 am
March 24, 2013
1974 was the end of an era for Doctor Who. Jon Pertwee, Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks all left their respective roles in making Doctor Who after a 5 year run (for Dicks, it was actually 6 years as he became script editor for Patrick Troughton’s final season). Richard Franklin would also leave the series in Pertwee’s final story, Planet of the Spiders, leaving the UNIT team back down to the two members that had pre-dated the Pertwee era, the Brigadier and Benton (though in a neat bit of continuity, Harry Sullivan is referenced in Planet of the Spiders before making his debut along with Tom Baker in Robot on December 28th of this year). It was the first year with no Master stories since 1970.
At the time this must have been quite the change - Pertwee’s five year run had been the longest to date and many of the younger viewers would only have known about earlier Doctors from having seen The Three Doctors. And the new guy coming in was so much younger than the Doctor typically was (a marked change from today with the likes of Tennant & Smith in the role) and also largely an unknown entity.
In some ways, this year was also the end of the sixties - the sixties counter-cultural movement that is. Not just in Doctor Who of course, which was mirroring what was happening in the real world, even if unintentionally. Once Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks left, the stories no longer featured hippy characters or remained concerned with environmental issues, featured meditation, counter-cultural fashions and other aspects that were of interest to or symbolic of the 60’s counter-culture as a whole. In the UK there were a gradual fizzing out of the 60’s counter-culture in the mid-70’s which was to end with the birth of the punk movement in late 1976 - at which point Doctor Who (thankfully) ignored what was happening in the real world. It is an interesting contrast in that by watching Doctor Who, you can’t help but notice that the 60’s counter-culture happened, but you’d never know there was a punk movement in the late 70’s.
By the end of the year, Tom Baker starred in his first episode as the Doctor. The Doctor Who world (and arguably, the world itself) was never the same again, and, quite amazingly, things only got better for the franchise’s fortunes as it headed into its 12th season on the air….......
Posted by Luca on Sunday, March 24 at 9:40 am
March 17, 2013
1973 was Doctor Who‘s first big celebratory year. 10 years - an incredible accomplishment for a television series, and even moreso for a science-fiction series. The show began the year celebrating with a special story The Three Doctors, the first multi-Doctor story ever, and concluded the year with numerous special publications and BBC programmes looking back over the show’s decade on television. Incredible to think then that its first big celebration year was now 40 years ago and “only” covers the first 10 years of the series.
Sadly it would be the last time that William Hartnell would appear not just in Doctor Who, but appear in any sort of acting role. He would die just a couple of years later from the illness that, one way or another, had forced him out of the role to begin with. This year would also feature the last appearance of Roger Delgado as the Master, tragically killed in a single-car accident when filming a movie in Turkey. Delgado’s death would spark the departure of many more of the regular cast and crew and eventually bring the Pertwee “family” era to an end the following year. Katy Manning would also appear in Doctor Who for the last time (to date, not counting audios and tv spin-offs) this year.
But it wasn’t all sad departures - this year also saw the debut of one Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, a role that she would play on and off until the actress herself passing away in 2011. Other than (arguably) K9, Sarah Jane Smith would become the most well-known and popular of all of the Doctor’s companions, helped in part by her original run as the Doctor’s companion which, in terms of length of time (but not number of episodes) remains the longest run (December 1973 through to October 1976 - 3 full seasons plus nearly half of another). Doctor Who was back its old format of the Doctor being able to travel anywhere in time and space, but there was one vital difference - the last time the show has this format (in the 1960’s) the Doctor couldn’t operate the TARDIS properly in that he couldn’t direct it to materialize where or when he wanted to. Now the Doctor could. By the end of the 10th season he would be taking deliberate trips to Metebelis Three. It is taken for granted now, but this actually must have been a huge sea-change for fans and viewers at the time - and also a major difference to the writers, because the TARDIS could and would be used in different ways than before - sometimes they would have to write it out of stories temporarily so that a plot resolution wasn’t so easily solved (a good example is Frontier in Space).
Perhaps the best news of all for fans (other than the new episodes of course) was the start of Target novelizations this year - the first three Doctor Who novels from the mid-1960’s were re-published, so fans could buy and read stories from the series early days (with no repeats going back that far, this must have seem like heaven for fans whether they were around 10 years before or less than 10 years old). The success of these republished novels led the way to an incredible publishing success story with brand-new novelizations beginning the following year, eventually having nearly every story novelized from the original run with sales of over 8 million). For fans of this generation in the pre-home vidoe era, this was the only way to re-live classic episodes.
Despite the departures by the scenes, 1973 must have been a great year to be a fan in the UK (being less than a year old and in Canada at the time, I can’t say I know this from personal experience) - Doctor Who was continuing to get more and more popular, doing new exciting things and celebrating its own past for the first time. If one can pinpoint a year where the show truly became a “national institution” in the UK, then 1973 would probably be it.
Posted by Luca on Sunday, March 17 at 3:03 pm
March 10, 2013
Ah, 1972! What a year that was! Not just for Doctor Who, but so many things in terms of music, film, sporting events…..but let’s focus on Doctor Who. This is the year that started off (on New Year’s Day no less) bringing the Daleks back to television for a new adventure for the first time in 5 years, and then ended off (on the day before New Year’s Eve, no less) bringing back the 1st and 2nd Doctor’s to television for the first time in six and three and a half years, respectively - and what’s more, having the two of them meet up with the then-current Doctor (number 3) Jon Pertwee! Imagine if you were a long time fan back then to see this happening after you had probably given up hope of the Daleks ever coming back and never thought you’d ever see the first or second Doctor’s again…...unbelievable!
That wasn’t all of course - there were a great bunch of stories in between those two as well, with no less than two trips to alien planets and one trip to the past to Atlantis along with sea-based adventure with the Master and the cousins of the Silurians. The Ice Warriors appeared in colour for the first time - and turned out (in this story at least) not to be the bad guys! What a twist! The Mutants was first (and only) story this season not to feature a returning monster or villain, and the first to do so since Inferno. Although the Doctor’s exile would not be formally lifted until early in 1973, for all intents and purposes the show had gone back to not being a contemporary earthbound series (only The Sea Devils fits that bill - the two UNIT stories of the season feature trips into the future and past, respectively).
1972 also saw something significant happen which rarely gets talked about - which is the publication of a book called “The Making of Doctor Who”. Written by Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke, this was the first professionally published factual book about the show. A lot of people who would go on to work for the series in later years first got interested in the idea from reading this book, showing how it could be done. Considering how many more factual books or magazines would follow in the decades to come (not to mention documentaries, DVD extras and an entire tv series), Doctor Who is likely the television series that has had its production documented in some way more than any other. No other tv series (certainly that has been running this long, or even close to running this long) has had its production ins and outs made publicly available - especially the classic series (with the new series there is still a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff which will one day be revealed). It all started with the publication of this book in the fine year that was 1972.
Posted by Luca on Sunday, March 10 at 8:50 am
March 03, 2013
1971 is remembered best for two reasons - one, it is the year with the largest regular cast in the show’s history (The Doctor, one companion, 3 regular members of UNIT and a regular villain for a total of 6 regulars) and also the introduction of the last of the top 3 most iconic adversaries for the Doctor - his most personal one, that of The Master. Eight years in, all of the big three (the Daleks and the Cybermen being the other two) were now in place, and the creative team of producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks ensured the Master’s iconic status by featuring him in every single story of this year. In his first story the Master teams up with the Nestene Consciousness, allowing the Autons to become the fifth returning monsters in the series history (after the Daleks, the Cybermen, the Yeti/Great Intelligence and the Ice Warriors). With the 2nd year of the Doctor’s exile and the establishment of the Time Lords in the Doctor Who universe (outside of the Master, there are two other cameos featuring Time Lords in this season, in Terror of the Autons and Colony in Space and all these returning enemies, Doctor Who had slowly but surely built up its continuity, something it would never truly go back from.
1971 was also the year of synthesizer’s in Doctor Who - they were a relatively new bit of technology now available in the market and featuring in the popular music of the day (in particular, in the British progressive rock bands that were starting to dominate the charts - something that can also be reflected in the narrative of the episodes of this season as the Master actually listens to King Crimson in his limousine in The Mind of Evil - the track “The Devil’s Triangle” for you trivia fans out there). Dudley Simpson handled all of the incidental music for this season (which was the very first time that had happened) but was instructed by Barry Letts to use synthesizers for all of the compositions in an effort to make the series more modern, futuristic and alien sounding.
All these moves clicked with respect to the ratings - they increased for the 2nd consecutive year, with the turning point being the lack of a ratings decline when the episodes were broadcast in the warmer months of May and June, as had happened the previous two years. This time ratings held up in the warmer months, with the turning point story being Colony in Space which saw good ratings throughout its run, demonstrating once more that “received wisdom” of the fans and what the general public liked (at least in the UK) are not necessarily the same thing. But while the programme was becoming more successful in the UK, worldwide the show was in a bit of a decline. The BBC hadn’t marketed the colour episodes of Jon Pertwee yet as not enough markets that traditionally bought Doctor Who had colour television (which would lead the BBC to make black & white copies of the Pertwee-era episodes, which is the only reason why several episodes from the Pertwee era exist at all - including this season’s The Mind of Evil). Meanwhile, party affected by the lack of rights to show Dalek stories, the BBC had found that sales of Troughton episodes were not as brisk as the Hartnell ones had been (it was also much easier to start off a new market with An Unearthly Child than it was with any other 60’s story, where you needed some background for who the characters were), and the series had no profile in North America. This would change soon….
This season, the 8th in the show’s history, was the last to feature 25 episodes (the previous season being the first). Presumably concerned about the requirement to have at least one story feature an odd-number of episodes, the decision was made to increase the seasonal episode count to 26 starting in 1972. But that is another entry…..
Posted by Luca on Sunday, March 3 at 7:36 am
February 24, 2013
1970 was the year that Doctor Who proved it could continually stretch its format. The series had previously gotten rid of format that saw it alternating between science-fiction stories and “historicals”, turning it into a series that just had the sci-fi stories. But they were sci-fi stories that could take place in the Earth’s past or future or present day, or on many alien planets. For Season 7, the series turned into a contemporary, earth-bound sci-fi action series. For the only time in the show’s history time-travel was completely abandoned (other than cameo trips of a few seconds into the future in both The Ambassadors of Death and Inferno) - all the stories took place in the present day. For the first time there was even a 7 part story (The Silurians) which didn’t even feature the TARDIS at all! If the Doctor went into space, he had to do it as normal human would - as indeed he did in The Ambassadors of Death (a story about a rescue of astronauts from a trip to Mars - broadcast at the exact same time that the Apollo 13 crisis was happening back on Earth - how’s that for being “contemporary”!).
There was of course a new Doctor - the third one! And you could even see him in colour (if you were one of those in the UK who had a colour tv set at the time of course - not everyone did, with BBC1 (representing a third of the UK tv channels at the time and 50% of the “mainstream” ones) only having gone into colour in November 1969). The success of Jon Pertwee demonstrated that the change of lead actor wasn’t just a one-off fluke they happened to get away with, but rather that this was something that the show could continually do (and of course, continually would do). Note as well that this time the production team chose not to launch the new Doctor with a familiar old enemy to reassure viewers this was the same man and the same programme (despite all of the major changes) as had been done with Patrick Troughton back in 1966. The only familiar element that had come back was the Brigadier in the form of Nicholas Courtney (who had only been in 11 previous episodes in 1968, now more than a year later). Looking back on it now however, the quality of the 1970 season is so high that you can see this show hooking in viewers and getting them quickly to believe that this the same good ol’ Doctor Who even if Nicholas Courtney hadn’t been available and they had to cast a new actor for a newly created character in the role. Which isn’t an insult to Nicholas Courtney, but rather a compliment to everyone involved in making this season such an incredible one - the writers, actors, directors, script editor and producers.
One thing that nobody would necessarily have noticed at the time (particularly with “fandom” and fan knowledge not being then what it is now) but we can probably say in retrospect that 1970 was the year that the mantle had been passed in terms of who was the top Doctor Who writer. In the 1960’s it was definitely the show’s original script editor, David Whitaker. After shaping so much of the show and the original four characters (not just with his script editing for the entire first production run through 1963 and 1964, but also writing one of the scripts of that run, The Edge of Destruction), Whitaker was called time and time again to deliver scripts throughout the 1960’s, and often the really important ones. Need to introduce a new companion for the first time? Let’s call upon David Whitaker to write The Rescue and introduce Vicki. Need to introduce a new Doctor for the first time? Let’s call upon David Whitaker to write The Power of the Daleks. Need to introduce another companion? Okay, let’s get David Whitaker to introduce Victoria in The Evil of the Daleks. Want to introduce Zoe as a character? Right, let’s get David Whitaker to do so in The Wheel in Space. And we haven’t yet mentioned other stand-out scripts he wrote such as The Crusade and The Enemy of the World (nor the first Doctor Who novelization and the first Doctor Who stage play!) 1970 saw the last Whitaker script in The Ambassadors of Death, but it was heavily re-written by others by the time it was broadcast. The task of introducing an important character fell on to the shoulders of relative newcomer Robert Holmes, who had previously written two stories in Patrick Troughton’s final season for 1969. The mantle had been passed, and today Robert Holmes is often considered the greatest Doctor Who writer of all time, as he stayed with the programme (barring a brief break in the early 1980’s) until his death in 1986, but let us not forget David Whitaker who was essentially “the” Doctor Who writer who passed the baton on to Holmes and took that all-important first crucial start to this great race.
Posted by Luca on Sunday, February 24 at 12:55 pm
February 17, 2013
1969 was such a special year for Doctor Who because it was the end of many eras. It saw the end of Patrick Troughton’s tenure as the Doctor, the end of Jamie (who to this day has appeared in more episodes as a companion than any other) as a regular as well as Zoe. (All three are pictured here in a rare colour photo from The War Games). It was the end of Doctor Who in the 1960’s, the end of black and white Doctor Who and the last time Doctor Who would have seasons that were 40-plus episodes long. With a move to 25 episodes and colour starting in 1970, Doctor Who was off the air for six months after the conclusion of the ten-part The War Games, the longest time by far that it had been off the air since its inception. It was somewhat ironic then that a series that was featuring more and more spaceflight within the narrative of its episodes in light of the Apollo 11 moon landing zeitgeist would take its longest-to-date break at around the same time.
Doctor Who had done six seasons, and with the ratings having dwindled in its sixth season and all of its stars moving on, most shows would and should have ended. Not Doctor Who however. It is somewhat amazing that the show pressed on into a new decade and a new era with a 7th season and a new Doctor. It is often noted that the only reason why the series continued is that the BBC couldn’t think of anything else to replace it with (Barry Letts idea for “Snowy Black”, a series which was akin what Crocodile Dundee would later become, was waiting in the wings however if Season 7 had failed) - in terms of providing the same kind of programming and need for the market. But surely that suggests how truly special and irreplaceable Doctor Who is - here was a series that you could do more and more stories with, and with a cast you could always change if needed. The possibilities were (and 43 years later still are) endless. When the BBC tried to cancel Doctor Who in 1985 and eventually succeeded in 1989, it is notable that they didn’t replace Doctor Who with another sci-fi or family series. The type of programming that Doctor Who provided wasn’t wanted by the BBC brass at the time (which is why they tried so hard to get rid of it) and it vanished completely (really, until the show came back again) - but if you do want a science-fiction series that the appeals to the whole family, there’s nothing better that can exist. This is why Doctor Who barely missed a heartbeat between 1969 and 1970 and came back the following year as though it has never been away. But we’ll get to more of that with our next entry…...
Posted by Luca on Sunday, February 17 at 9:05 am
The Doctor Who Blog's mission is to provide witty and insightful commentary on the world of Doctor Who in all its various forms. And to make several bad puns and references to jokes Tom Baker once made.
- 50 Glorious Years: Episode 19 - 1981
- Silver Upgrade
- 50 Glorious Years: Episode 18 - 1980
- Queen Crimson
- 50 Glorious Years: Episode 17 - 1979
- Come Along If You Dare
- 50 Glorious Years: Episode 16 - 1978
- Don’t Hide Your Feelings
- 50 Glorious Years: Episode 15 - 1977
- Ice, Ice, Very Nice
- 50 Glorious Years: Episode 14 - 1976
- The Ring of Clara
- 50 Glorious Years: Episode 13 - 1975
- Wi-Fi Sci-Fi
- 50 Glorious Years: Episode 12 - 1974