December 15, 2013

50 Glorious Years: Episode 41 - 2003

In 2003, the inevitable finally happened. The announcement that Doctor Who fans had all been waiting for came on September 6th 2003 - the announcement that Doctor Who was being brought back as a television series by the BBC. No US network or studio co-production deals to worry about, no contingencies based upon a film happening, and not a webcast with animation. The real deal. It was the best present for the series 40th Anniversary that the fans could have hoped for.

But 2003 had been a glorious year for Doctor Who long before the end of September. The year had begun with the webcast of new animated complete version of Shada with Paul McGann in the role rather than the 4th Doctor. Soon after, an announcement was made that there would be a new 9th Doctor - played by Richard E. Grant - for a fully-animated webcast (done by professional animators Cosgrove Hall) of Scream of the Shalka, a story written by Paul Cornell and meant to provide Doctor Who with a new lease on life. While that was in the works, Big Finish was having a stellar year with some excellent new “regular” releases like Jubilee (later to be the inspiration for the episode which brought the Daleks back to the television series) and also releasing a new series of Doctor Who Unbound audios which explored six different alternate takes on Doctor Who or its mythology, which six different lead actors in the main role - Geoffrey Bayldon, David Warner, David Collings, Michael Jayston, Arabella Weir and Derek Jacobi (three of whom had featured in the classic series, three of whom would feature in the new series) along with guest stars such as Carole Ann Ford, Nicholas Courtney, Nick Briggs and some guy named David Tennant.

The book series was also regularly pumping out releases for all 8 Doctors. DVD releases were becoming more common and featuring more (and better) extras. The final stories to be released on VHS came out in a spectacular “End of the Universe” collection, allowing fans to see many episodes from the 1st 2 Doctors “VIDFired” for the first time (that’s the process invented by Doctor Who fans to make film look like video again). And to celebrate the 40th Anniversary, the BBC did another documentary - The Story of Doctor Who (Mark Gatiss’ pitch to do a docudrama on the origins of the show having been rejected).

But before any of the End of the Universe collection, The Story of Doctor Who or The Scream of the Shalka came out to celebrate the 40th anniversary in November 2003, the biggest event of the year trumped them all on September 26th. Doctor Who was coming back to television. And you just knew that this time, it wasn’t going away again anytime soon.


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December 08, 2013

50 Glorious Years: Episode 40 - 2002

Things continued to progress for Doctor Who in 2002. Episodes 2 through 5 of Death Comes to Time (starring Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred and Stephen Fry as the new character, the Minister of Chance) were webcast early in 2002 (after the first part - the “pilot” episode, had been webcast in 2001), to great success. It led to the commissioning by BBCi (the BBC’s website) of more Doctor Who full cast drama’s with accompanying animation. Only this time, the BBC turned to Big Finish, who now had three years of producing Doctor Who audio plays under their belt. Their first crack at an animated webcast was the 6th Doctor story Real Time, which not only starred Colin Baker in his familiar role but co-starred Maggie Stables as Evelyn Smythe, a companion developed specifically for Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio plays. Real Time also proved to be successfully (at least, commercially-speaking) and so another audio webcast with animation was commissioned later in 2002, although it would not be broadcast until early 2003. The next webcast was to be a full-cast and for the first time, full-production of Douglas Adams’s 1979 script Shada - but with Paul McGann playing the 8th Doctor alongside Romana and K9 (their roles reprised by Lalla Ward and John Leeson, respectively).

The animated webcasts were getting more and more ambitious each time one was done. This was to culminate in 2003, but we’ll save that for the next entry. The Doctor Who flame was definitely being kept alive while it was off the air - the books and audios were both still going strong providing new fiction and drama, while respectively, for the fans. Of particular note is that Paul McGann returned to record a second season of Big Finish audios, this time consisting of six stories, many of which were written by those who would come to be involved in the new series, such as Mark Gatiss, Robert Shearman, Paul Cornell and Nick Briggs. If that wasn’t enough, while the Doctor Who VHS releases were starting to wind down,episodes were now starting to come out on DVD and hitting the shelves of DVD shops around the world to give the old classics another lease of life. With the webcasts garnering large ratings internationally, it seemed like the flame was burning, higher and higher. Sure enough, 2003 would see the explosion that Doctor Who fans the world over had been waiting for…..

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November 30, 2013

50 Glorious Years: Episode 39 - 2001

2001 saw things continue to get more exciting and more hopeful for Doctor Who. The year was most notable for Paul McGann’s return to the role of the 8th Doctor, finally continuing his era that had started with the TV Movie. January 2001 saw the release of Storm Warning, the first of a four-story season of full-cast audio dramas released monthly featuring the 8th Doctor and his new companion Charlotte “Charley” Pollard (ably played by India Fisher). For many fans it really felt like the official continuation of Doctor Who as a drama production. Years later, with the 8th Doctor mentioning his Big Finish audio companions (including Charley) on screen in Night of the Doctor, it only confirmed what they had felt all along.

But Big Finish weren’t the only ones to produce a new Doctor Who drama this year. 2001 also saw the first new drama broadcast by the BBC since the 1996 TV Movie - only, as befitting the times, it was a broadcast via the internet. The webcast of Death Comes to Time began this year, starring Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace. Although most fans have since not considered this a “canonical” adventure, it was nonetheless an important development in the return of Doctor Who to our television screens. This was the first new story that you could watch since the TV Movie (the webcast included some animation) and it’s success established for the BBC Doctor Who‘s status as a growing, popular brand on the internet and would directly lead to more animated webcast adventures in the years to come.

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November 23, 2013

Happy 50th Anniversary

From the Radio Times, November 14, 1963.

Who know that…

Would lead to this…?

Happy golden anniversary Doctor Who. You continue to be wonderful. In every sense of the word.

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November 17, 2013

50 Glorious Years: Episode 38 - 2000

Doctor Who soldiered on in 2000 unaffected by the lack of any prospects for a new television series. There had been talk in the previous year for a project that the press and DWM had dubbed “Doctor Who 2000”, as BBC1 Controller Peter Salmon had expressed interest in reviving the show with one Russell T. Davies - however, after just a couple of meetings the project was put on ice because it was believed that the rights to make a tv series now lay with BBC Films (as part of any co-production deal with any (likely US) studio that wanted to fund a cinematic Doctor Who movie. It was encouraging note that stayed with fans in 2000, even if it was somewhat annoying that a film which might never be made was scuppering a new series, it was nice that you didn’t need to be named “Alan Yentob” in order to be a BBC1 Controller who wanted to see Doctor Who come back. The enthusiasm for Doctor Who at the BBC also seemed to be exhibited by a new comedy sketch programme called Dead Ringers, which did more excellent Doctor Who sketches - it appeared more and more as though there were Doctor Who fans who were professionals now working with or in the BBC or UK television in general. It bode well for the future, with a belief that one day the show would have to come back because there would be too many people working in British television who grew up with the show and would want it to come back - which in a few years time, is exactly what happened.

In the meantime, there were now two strains of Doctor Who fiction that were going strong in the year 2000 - the books, and the audios. The books had a major sea-change occur mid-year with the publication of The Ancestor Cell and the back-to-basics The Burning, which led a new arc for the books that wiped out much of the previous book continuity and which got many fans of the novels excited once more. The Big Finish audios meanwhile were a great success and moved to a monthly release schedule in 2000, still just with stories starring Peter Davison, Colin Baker or Sylvester McCoy. This was to change for 2001, with one of the most exciting announcements in 2000 being the return of Paul McGann to the role of the Doctor, as he had agreed to star in four Big Finish full-cast audio dramas. Paul McGann was no longer just an actor who had played the Doctor once on-screen. But more on that in next week’s exciting installment of 50 Glorious Years…...

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November 09, 2013

50 Glorious Years: Episode 37 - 1999

1999 was a great year for Doctor Who, one of the best for those years where it wasn’t being made properly for television. The series came back into the public eye in the UK in no less than two occasions, first with February with a new comedy episode, The Curse of Fatal Death, made for the Comic Relief charity television fundraiser, starring Rowan Atkinson as the Doctor, Julia Sawalha as his companion (and fiancee!) Emma with Jonathan Pryce as the Master, and also featuring cameos from Hugh Grant, Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent and Joanna Lumley. The big acting names drew all of the attention, although the episode is also notable nowadays because it was Steven Moffat’s first television script for Doctor Who. The comic relief episode garnered huge ratings for the show (the third straight time in the 90’s this happened when you add Dimensions in Time and the UK ratings for the TV Movie, all spaced three years apart mind you), which should have made everyone realize that there was still an appetite and market for the show.

Later in the year, in November, there was a special Doctor Who Night broadcast on BBC2, this time devised by Mark Gatiss, who by that point had made a name for himself with the BBC as one of The League of Gentlemen comedy group. It featured four Doctor Who comedy sketches written and featuring Mark Gatiss (as well as the likes of Peter Davison and David Walliams), documentaries and an uncut broadcast of the 1996 TV Movie (the first time the uncut version had been broadcast on UK television).

For many fans though, the biggest development for Doctor Who in 1999 was the launch of Doctor Who full cast dramas by Big Finish. The Big Finish Doctor Who audio adventures have become a phenomenom on their own,surviving the comeback of Doctor Who to television (which meant that Big Finish were no longer the only game in town when it came to Doctor Who as a drama) spawning hundreds of new Doctor Who adventures featuring all 8 of the classic series Doctors. They’ve given the likes of Colin Baker and especially Paul McGann to flesh out their Doctors after prematurely curtailed television runs, they’ve given fans a chance to experience un-made television scripts, actually-made stage play scripts, and have even had stories broadcast originally on radio. Like The New Adventures, they started off on a bi-monthly basis, their first release starring Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy in a multi-Doctor story.

The 1990’s was probably the worst decade for Doctor Who since it started, given how little new television adventures we got. But for the reasons mentioned above, 1999 ended the decade on a high.

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October 24, 2013

50 Glorious Years: Episode 36 - 1998


1998 was Doctor Who’s 35th Anniversary, and was the quietest major anniversary still to this date. There was no news about a new series or tv movies (although there were reports of a possible feature film by BBC films that did give a brief flicker of hope for a day or two) that fans could even talk or day-dream about. The series celebrated its 35th Anniversary primarily with the publication of The Infinity Doctors novel. Fans also got to celebrate with the VHS release of The Ice Warriors on video, for many the first chance to see these episodes in good quality - well, episodes 1, 4, 5 and 6 that is - ten years after these missing episodes had been recovered. A couple more spin-off videos were made and released featuring monsters from Doctor Who, but there was no celebration of any kind broadcast of new material (be it new episodes or new documentaries).

Times have obviously changed.

What no Doctor Who fan knew at the time was that 1998 would be the last time the franchise had a quiet anniversary, or this quiet of a year. In 1999, things started to change again for the better, and we would never be so quiet again.

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October 15, 2013

50 Glorious Years: Episode 35 - 1997

In 1997 Doctor Who fans continued to wait once again. Only, for the most part, with much less frustration. The word was that the rights to a new series still rested with Universal, the studios that had backed the production of the T.V. Movie, and the rights would not expire until the end of 1997. Which meant that nobody was really expecting any news of a new series until 1998 at the earliest.

The 8th Doctor’s adventures continued in novel form, with first entitled The Eight Doctors in June. That is, the first of the BBC 8th Doctor books - as now, for both the current Doctor (as the 8th was generally considered to be) and past Doctors were now published by BBC themselves, as they chose not to renew the licence that Virgin (the company who had purchased W.H. Allen and the Target novel range back in the late 1980’s) had to publish original Doctor Who fiction, figuring that they could do it themselves and make more money that way. With the publication of The Dying Days in April 1997 (the only 8th Doctor book published by Virgin), a long run of licensed original Doctor Who fiction from W.H. Allen/Virgin had come to an end. Virgin would continue to publish books featuring Bernice Summerfield as the lead character. The first was written by Paul Cornell and was entitled Oh No It Isn’t, and apart from starting off a run of Bernice Summerfield adventures, would prove to be very significant for other reasons in the years to follow….

The spin-off videos continued, with the start of the impressive Auton trilogy, starting in 1997 with the eponymous Auton. The series was meant to star Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier but he wasn’t available to do the filming, so his character was replaced by a new character for UNIT called Lockwood, played by Michael Wade. With the Brigadier not really being a leading character, the new character of Lockwood this actually gave this trilogy a life of its own, and along with the books, help to keep the spirit of Doctor Who alive in its second extended period of waiting for new episodes.

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October 06, 2013

Keep your hair on…...but more missing episodes have been found!

The rumours have been swirling for months that more missing episodes have been found from the worldwide search of the Archives. The Radio Times (a magazine formerly owned by the BBC but still with very strong ties to it have now provided the first confirmation of any sort that missing episodes have indeed been found. And the first ones to be made available could be available for downloading this week. You can read more in the Radio Times article here.

There’s no doubt about it - this is the best present we can have for the 50th Anniversary celebrations.

UPDATE: The BBC have finally admitted it themselves, with a press release you can read right here.

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September 29, 2013

50 Glorious Years: Episode 34 - 1996

Finally in January 1996, the long wait was confirmed to be over - Doctor Who was back! Paul McGann was the 8th Doctor! And it was coming back on BBC1 and, something that is perhaps still hard to believe, network television in the US! Yes, it turned out to be for one-night only on television in May of 1996 (with the filming of the story done for the first and so far only time in Canada - the same country that would be the first to broadcast it), but the TV Movie provided so much more than one tv movie could provide in 90 minutes. Obviously there was now a brand new Doctor for the franchise, for the books, comic strips and in a few years time, the audios. But more than that, it signified that Doctor Who had survived “death” - or as most people call it in television terms, cancellation. The TV Movie burst the bubble of frustration that had existed in fandom after the series had ceased production in 1989. Even though the TV Movie did not do well enough in the US for more Doctor Who tv movies to be made for Fox and Universal, it proved that the show could be a mainstream hit again in the UK - something that should not be taken for granted after the poor ratings the series endured after the 1985 hiatus, and years of BBC brand-damaging its own property. If Doctor Who could come back successfully in the UK once after it’s cancellation, it could happen again. Despite the disappointment that no new tv movies were immediately forthcoming and this would turn out to be the only new proper television story for the show in the 1990’s, the future was definitely brighter after 1996 than it had been in the years before it.

Oh, and Paul McGann rocked as the Doctor.

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