The Days of Dr. Dator and the UnDoctor
Blog TO has a great article about the early days when Doctor Who aired on TVOntario, which will provoke nostalgia in those of us over the age of 30 who lived in Ontario and confusion in everyone else. .
When the Ontario Educational Communications Authority (OECA) began its public television service for the Canadian province of Ontario in 1970, it mostly aired new programming educating kids and adults but following the PBS model also added programming from the UK and elsewhere. One early example was Magic Shadows, which showed a film in serialized format over the course of the week, and Saturday Night at the Movies. The Prisoner and Doctor Who were two early examples of British programming. Who began in September 1976 with a run of Jon Pertwee stories that began with The Claws of Axos. The excellent BroaDWcast site has a listing of TVO’s offerings.
But here’s the rub. In the political climate in which TVO was created, all programming needed to demonstrate educational value, even the shows that were mostly shown for entertainment. They did this in two ways:
- They made it a part of a curriculum and figured out learning goals and ideas and themes to discuss
- They had someone on air discuss these ideas
You can see this with Magic Shadows and Saturday Night at the Movies which had Elwy Yost providing context in the film world, interviewing people who made the films and (in the case of Magic Shadows) exploring areas of science and nature and history that touched upon the films.
With Doctor Who, they brought on board scientist Dr. Jim Dator. Wearing an orange T-Shirt with “DR. DATOR” emblazoned on it, Dator would be seen at the start of every episode in an introduction where he walked down a street, entered a phone booth and wound up inside an office—a handy way of demonstrating how the TARDIS worked. In the style of Masterpiece Theater, Dator would recap the previous episode at the top of the story, they would then show the next episode, and then afterward, Dator would explain concepts from science, or connect themes between stories. TVO also provided a “Resource Handbook” to the season of stories.
My first time watching Doctor Who ever was watching The Three Doctors in 1976. I remember the Jim Dator introductions quite clearly as he explained to me the concept of regeneration and the Doctor’s different incarnations. Of course for some reason I thought the Brigadier and Benton were past incarnations too—then again, I was only 6…
The great thing about this article is that they’ve managed to find two Dator outros, both from Planet of the Spiders. TVO never kept this material, so its very existence is something of a miracle. They also have several Judith Merrill commentaries as well. I never warmed to Merrill: she seemed grumpy, didn’t appear to like Doctor Who very much (she called herself “The UnDoctor” because she apparently disagreed with the Doctor’s approach to things) and suffered from that condition demonstrated by way too many science fiction writers and fans born before 1970 that they need to YELL TO EMPHASIZE A POINT. That said, I still to this day know Asimov’s laws of Robotics because she talked about it.
TVO managed to get its charter loosened so they didn’t require Merrill by the 1980s. But I’m glad they’ve managed to find so many examples of Dator and Merrill’s work—well worth watching, if only as relics from a very different age in the Province of Ontario.
Posted by Graeme on Monday, September 3 at 8:37 am