Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Flux, Part 1 - The Halloween Apocalypse

As you will know I'm running a fundraiser, through Unbound, to produce a Doctor Who companion book based on this blog. I'm reviewing the new season first on my Unbound page and then, a week later, here. If you want to support this fundraiser then here - https://unbound.com/books/time-and-space/ - is the link. 

Advert over. Let's look at The Halloween Apocalypse.

This is the first part of a six part story: Flux. Those of you who are familiar with this blog will know that these are my instant reactions to each story and whilst I'll try to avoid spoilers if you haven't already seen this. Stop reading now.

I enjoyed this. Chris Chibnall packed a lot in. Threads were begun in this story that might not get all tied together until the final episode so analysing this as an episode in its own right is tough and a little unfair. 

Ah, the Doctor and Yaz are having adventures. The implication of this episode is that they have been travelling together for a while. I like that the Doctor in this story is a little less open. She's keeping secrets from Yaz. I also like that Yaz calls her out on it. I like Jodie's version of the 13th Doctor here a trap set by the Karnavista (Craige Els). I'm going to say that the handcuffs and the bed suggests to me that Chibnall knows exactly what he's doing in terms of helping to encourage the creation of Doctor Who smut. 

The Karnavista is a dog-like being who sounds a bit like Christopher Eccleston (or he did to me.) Although Eccleston will be unimpressed with all the Liverpool FC references. I digress. 

The story introduces us to multiple characters and villains and I won't dwell on all of them here. I think some of the stories will be told in future episodes (as the series trailer hints.) The question is will those stories then be part of the whole Flux event. We shall see.

The most important introductions we get are to Dan Lewis, played by John Bishop. Dan is a proud Scouser and we get some interaction with the issues of the real world here: unemployment and food banks. Dan is a good man and, as befits a character played by a comedian, quite funny. He's arranging a non-date date with Diane (Nadia Albina) who is drawn into the story towards the end. Nadia Albina is a fine actor. I've seen her in both The Merchant of Venice and Othello in Stratford-upon-Avon so I hope they give her more to do. I like Dan. I think John Bishop does a good job in his first story. Although how the world wide audience for Doctor Who will deal with all the Scouse accents I dread to think. Subtitles a-go-go perhaps? 

We also meet Swarm (Sam Spruell) who, it seems, will be the main villain of the Flux (although the massive indestructible Flux itself would appear to be the biggest bad of them all, but perhaps they are all linked.) Swarm is genuinely creepy. It's nice to have a villain that I think would genuinely have scared me as a kid and it is pretty ruthless. There's an implication of battles past, which the Doctor seems not to know about. I have a theory about that but now is not the time and place to go into it. 

We meet Claire (Annabel Scholey), who has also already met the Doctor. She has an encounter with a Weeping Angels. Her use of the line, "the long way round" has also got everyone's attention. Whether this will mean anything or is just a red herring is something I suppose we will only find out later. Perhaps everyone in this story is a pre-Hartnell Doctor? (Sorry, I'm being silly.)

Another thread introduces us to Vinder (Jacob Anderson), who has been trailed as having more involvement in further stories. Add to this the Sontarans - who are the focus of next weeks episode; the Flux itself (which at this point just seems to be an unstoppable, universe ending force); Weeping Angels; Azure (Swarm's sister and, at the beginning of the story, disguised as a human living in the Artic Circle for reasons I don't entirely understand).

By the end of the episode most of the pieces are in place for the ongoing story and what felt at points like a season conclusion has only just started things off. 

There was a lot to take in. Chibnall has given himself quite a lot to do if he's going to tie all this up and the Timeless Child. I have theories. I always have theories.

It was a lot to take in and at a hectic pace. I didn't mention Williamson and his tunnels, which I'm sure will have a larger role to play later in the story. So many threads. So little time. 

A cracker of a first episode though. It is nice to have Doctor Who back and it is nice to have fun watching it. 

Saturday, October 9, 2021

How Many Nimon...?


Let joy be unconfined. The next Doctor Who The Collection will be Season 17. Now, the regular reader of this blog will be aware that I LOVE Season 17. It is my favourite Season of Doctor Who. I suspect it always will be. I have watched and re-watched every story several times. I have watched The Horns of Nimon a ridiculous amount of times. That is my comfort Doctor Who story.

Now, I admit that part of this is nostalgia. Season 17 was the first season where I remember watching every story - except Shada. Obviously. I was 8 years old when it was first broadcast. Indeed, if Shada had been broadcast one of its episodes would have gone out on my 9th Birthday. That is the perfect age. You don't notice the flaws - and Season 17 has many flaws - and you enjoy the fear and the fun. 

My perception has always been that Season 17 is an unpopular series among fandom. It's too silly. It's too cheap. No one is taking it seriously, which is something that the Season 18 production team hammered on about. In the DWM 50th Anniversary poll (which had 241 stories on it) the Season 17 stories did not do well, except one.

Destiny of the Daleks was 154th, City of Death was 5th, Creature from the Pit was 211th, Nightmare of Eden was 190th and The Horns of Nimon was 223rd. Shada, for obvious reasons, wasn't rated.* That doesn't imply a great deal of love for Season 17. Except I got the impression yesterday that its reputation is now much improved. Possibly too much improved for some people. A Twitter conversation I had with James Cooray-Smith on Twitter, a man who knows much more about fandom than I do, felt that its reputation started to improve after 1992. I certainly think that the early deaths of both Graham Williams, the producer and Douglas Adams, who was Script Editor had an impact. Perhaps the series is now correctly rated (except by me, obviously.)

This new Collection also has bucket loads of extras: a Douglas Adams documentary, a Lalla Ward interview, new makings of, new DVD commentaries etc. I should pause here to say that Doctor Who fans are spoiled by these kinds of releases. The effort and love that goes into putting them together is far more than a lot of old television series get. The fact that it seems certain that every Season of Doctor Who will get this treatment eventually is astonishing. (My prediction is Season 1 will come in 2023 for the 60th Anniversary.) 

But I don't want to react to the boxed set itself. I wanted to say a little about why I love Season 17. For me it is that the Fourth Doctor and Romana are out there in the Universe using wit, intelligence and sarcasm to defeat evil. Yes, sometimes it feels like they've let Tom Baker off the leash (or Tom has let himself off the leash) but I will take Tom Baker off the leash over a lot of other television. Season 17 also deals with the some heavy issues: The Nightmare of Eden has a plot about drug addiction at its centre for example that is incredibly bleak. 

I think modern Doctor Who has a lot more in common with Season 17 than it looks (and not just City of Death.) It might not be as realistic but the balance of humour to terror is there even if the money spent on each season is vastly different.

Here's another thing. Season 17 also feels to me like the last fling of the 1970s before everything because so serious in the 1980s. The opposite of grimdark. I used to think that when Doctor Who came back I wanted it to be dark and grown-up. Because I was an adult I now wanted Doctor Who to be for adults. I was wrong about that. Now I want Doctor Who to be something that is more like Season 17. Not exactly the same, but with a similar joy and wit about it. Let our TARDIS team not be weighed down with guilt. Let's just have some fun.

I'm aware though that by writing that I'm showing that I know nothing. I remember watching an interview with Mark Gattiss, where he is talking to Richard Herring, when he said (and I paraphrase): "when I talk to people about what they'd like Doctor Who to be. They always want it to be like it was when they were 7 and it can't be." And that's what I'm doing here really. Wishing that it was 1978/1979 all over again.

Whatever. Let me put all sensible adulthood aside - as if I even live like a sensible adult - and say watch Season 17. It's fun. It's not perfect, but you'll have fun. Even if one of the creatures in it looks like a glowing green bollock.  

*Actually, a brief note on Shada for those that don't know. Shada was going to be the 6 part finale to Season 17. However, due to a management lockout the story was never finished and for many reasons it was never re-mounted. Some footage was filmed, but it was never broadcast. It has had a long afterlife though. A version was released on VHS (with the script book included) and there have been several versions since, including animations. Oh, and there's an version where Paul McGann replaces Tom Baker that was made for BBC Digital. The DVD boxed set will feature another version, with improved animation and in six parts. I'm looking forward to it. It is the unfinished story that continues to regenerate. Will this be the last version? Who knows.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

It's Only a TV Programme

Following my blog on Classic Doctor Who stories for Halloween I was asked on Twitter why I didn't include Image of the Fendahl. Well, it was partly because I didn't want the list to be entirely made up of Tom Baker era stories and partly because it wasn't a list of Doctor Who stories that genuinely terrified me as a child. If that had been the list then it would ALL be Tom Baker and it would absolutely have Image of the Fendahl on it. 

Doctor Who scared me a lot as a child. I didn't hide behind the sofa. O, no I had a far more complicated way of dealing with my fear. I would pretend I needed to go to the loo. Then I would watch the story through the crack in the door, which I think I felt put sufficient distance/difficulty between me and the thing that was terrifying me. Once the scary bit was out of the way I'd come swanning back in. This tactic was completely obvious to my parents and became the subject of some mockery. If I stayed in my seat and got really scared my Mum would say to me, "Don't be scared. It's only a television programme." Whilst that might be true it never really felt just like a television programme.

When I watch stories that terrified me as a child now it seems ridiculous that it had that effect on me. One sequence in particular, which I'll talk about below, was such a disappointment when I re-watched it as an adult, even though it had stayed with me forever. 

So, let's talk about Doctor Who stories that scared me as a child. These are all going to be Tom Baker stories. I was 4 when I watched the first story mentioned on this list. I was 9 (but almost 10) when we reached the last. After that I don't remember Doctor Who scaring me in the same way. It still worried me at times, but that was more the worry of thriller than horror. 

Let us begin.

1. Terror of the Zygons: This whole story creeped me out but my most vivid memory, the one that scared me the most was the moment Sister Lamont turned into a Zygon. I remember it differently to how it actually happens in the story. My brain edits out Harry altogether and everything happens around Sarah Jane. Then theme tune. I never used to sympathise much with Mary Whitehouse about Doctor Who. I think being scared isn't a bad thing in and of itself but I do think she might have been right about how cliffhangers stay with a child. This story was broadcast 46 years ago but that cliffhanger is still in my head.

2. Planet of Evil: There's no specific sequence in Planet of Evil that scared me but the whole story seemed filled with menace to my 4 year-old self. Throughout the story you felt something awful was going to happen and it often did. And then the Doctor falls down a ruddy great hole. It doesn't sound scary but I was 4. It was bloody terrifying.

3. The Seeds of Doom: I have no memories of watching The Brain of Morbius, the story before this one. Morbius you'd think would have produced some terror of its own and it might well have done. But not enough to stay with me. The Seeds of Doom did though. There's moments throughout that have stuck with me. Perhaps it was because it was set on Earth and in the present day. Perhaps it was because it was realistically violent in a way a lot of Doctor Who isn't. It sometimes feels like a Doctor Who crossover with The Sweeney. Or an episode from a missing Euston Films TV series. But the most likely is that Elisabeth Sladen is so good at being scared and you get scared with her and for her. 

4. The Robots of Death: This comes down to the how terrifying the beautifully designed, quietly spoken robots are when they kill people. They're implacable, but beautiful. The uncanny valley has never felt more uncanny. It's remorseless, the body count is huge and people you like die. The Robots of Death was gently terrifying.

5. The Talons of Weng-Chiang: Now is not the time to discuss the flaws of the Talons of Weng-Chiang. We here purely to talk about fear and this story terrified me. There is one sequence in particular which terrified me and which retrospectively seems ridiculous. But I was 6 at the time, which is my excuse. That sequence? When Leela is attacked by the Giant Rat in the sewer. Even now when I watch it and can see how ridiculous the Giant Rat costume is I get a little sting of fear. And, like The Seeds of Doom, I think this is because Louise Jameson sells Leela's fear so well. You are scared because Leela is scared. Leela screams, which she never did. I'm sure there is an argument that perhaps she shouldn't have screamed that it doesn't fit the character but even the strongest and bravest of us when pushed into a life or death situation might crack.

The next two are probably the two that scared me the most. 

6. The Horror of Fang Rock: It's on my Halloween list. It's one of the great Tom Baker stories. Louise Jameson is wonderful in it but it absolutely terrified me at the time. The idea of being trapped with a monster that you couldn't tell was a monster because it could shapeshift made for some sleepless nights afterwards. This one is all about the atmosphere. It is, as I said in my Halloween blog, a tea-time slasher film. It didn't actually give me nightmares though unlike...

7. Image of the Fendhal: This is probably the story that scared me more than any other so much so that I had nightmares following this story where I couldn't move. Whatever was chasing me had me frozen to the spot. I remember Fendhaleen haunting my dreams. I was 6. This was like watching an actual horror film. Again it is the quality of the performances that sell it, which is a key to Classic Doctor Who. It works a lot of the time because the actors are good at their jobs. Even those in small parts. It doesn't matter if the thing menacing you out of the dark is a foam rubber creation of the BBC if the actors facing to it act like it is the most horrifying thing they've ever seen. 

8. The Stones of Blood: Again, looking back on this it seems ridiculous but this story freaked me out. The sequence with the campers in particular. It's interesting that I have no memories of the watching the second half of the story with its trial and sparkly judges. I do remember the first two episodes though and how scared I was on stones that walked and that moment where Romana is menaced by The Doctor on the cliff edge that doesn't quite make sense now. I never looked at a stone circle in quite the same light afterwards.

9. State of Decay: This is the last one. I was 9 when this was broadcast and by this point I was more aware of what Doctor Who was. But this story did its job. Perhaps it was the bats. Perhaps it was the obvious horror tropes. It was certainly the baroque Vampires who were the Three Who Rule and the Giant Vampire. The heart beat. Again it was the performances that sold you. Like a lot of these stories it seems weird looking back on it from my 50s. This though would also be the gateway to Hammer films. 

There you are. The nine Doctor Who stories that scared me the most. What were yours? 

And here's an obligatory plug for my Kickstarter campaign to raise money for my Unofficial Doctor Who Companion, Across Space and Time.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Halloween Who

October is the spooky month. Season of ghosts and distant screams. I thought a list of the Classic Doctor Who stories most appropriate for that season. I've picked eight. There are haunted houses; folk Horror and Vampires (amongst other things.) 

1. The Edge of Destruction: this two part story ends the original 13 episode block of the first season of Doctor Who. If things had gone badly this might have been the last Doctor Who story ever. It's weird, it's creepy and it only features the main cast: the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan. Something is inside the spaceship...or is it? The TARDIS crew under the pressure of events start to distrust one another. If you think of it as a haunted house story then I think it makes for a good spooky watch. 

2. Fury from the Deep: the Patrick Troughton base under siege story par excellence. Lost, but now available fully animated on DVD, I remember that the first time I encountered this story was as a pirated copy on cassette. The copying of the copying of it hide much of the dialogue behind a layer of hiss like an aural fog. But somehow the creepiness of the story broke through and I like to think of this as the Doctor Who equivalent of John Carpenter's "The Fog." Let's call it "The Foam". In the words of Van Lutyens : "It's down there. In the darkness. In the pipeline. Waiting."

3. The Daemons: This feels like a classic British horror film, but perhaps without the more gory aspects that a film might bring. An English village with its pub and Church becomes the centre of something strange and occult. There's an eccentric white witch and an existentialist Vicar, Mr. Magister. It's folk horror for tea-time telly. It is fondly remembered by the cast and everyone seems to be enjoying themselves. You could imagine this as a big screen Hammer film: Peter Cushing as The Doctor, Christopher Lee as Mr. Magister; Caroline Munro as Jo Grant and Andrew Keir as the Brigadier. 

4. Pyramids of Mars: This era of Doctor Who is well-known for taking concepts from film and giving them a Doctor Who take. Robot gives us King Kong and the Brain of Morbius Frankenstein (and the Brain of Morbius could have very easily made this list, along with Terror of the Zygons.) I chose the Pyramids of Mars, which is Doctor Who taking on the tropes of The Mummy. It features one of the great vocal performances in Doctor Who history when Gabriel Woolf's take on Sutekh. The faux-Egyptian trapping and English country house setting give it all the right vibe for a spooky night's viewing. It is, at points, generally horrifying and brutal. 

5. The Horror of Fang Rock: This would be my number one choice. We find ourselves trapped on a rocky island off the English coast in a lighthouse. Outside stalks a faceless killer. Or is it outside? Have we let it in? It's a slasher movie, but with a glowing green blob as the Freddy or Jason. The claustrophobic location, the gradually increasing body count and the quality of the performances make this one of my favourite stories. Tom is great in it, although apparently he was an utter pain in the arse on set, but Louise Jameson is the highlight for me. Plus, and here one has to admit to the effect of nostalgia, this story terrified me as a child. But seriously put this on, turn off the lights and it is, possibly, the perfect Halloween story. 

6. State of Decay: Doctor Who does classic Vampires. But with added SF. I love this story. It has all the trappings of a Hammer Vampire film (something Lalla Ward would have been familiar with). The Three Who Rule are a joy. It has spooky castles, baroque clad Vampires, villages filled with wary peasants and blood. Yes, the Great Vampire isn't quite the sequence you'd like it to be but where else but Doctor Who would you see a giant Vampire staked through the heart by a space ship? 

7. Frontios: This one might be the oddest choice but the centre of this story is dark. The atmosphere is fearful and frightening. It's played dead straight, which means in some ways it feels like Alien. The novelization makes more of the body horror at the centre of the story and yes, giant Woodlice are not the scariest of creations but it is a disturbing story. A planet that eats the dead. 

8. Ghost Light: The Doctor Who haunted house story. The Doctor and Ace arrive at Gabriel Chase and something is not quite right. The atmosphere that pervades this story is perfect for Halloween. Of course, being Doctor Who what is going on isn't supernatural but extra-terrestrial. That still doesn't stop this having a proper Victorian ghost story feel about it.  

9. The Curse of Fenric: Doctor Who takes another run at Vampires. Again, like Ghost Light this story is built on a foundation of creepiness. We have a base under siege. We have an isolated English location.  We have a fog. We have Viking runes. We have a threat from the sea. The Fenric vampires are not the Hammer style Vampires of State of Decay, even if they draw on vampire mythology and superstition. For Halloween purposes it is perfect.

So, there you are. Nine classic Doctor Who stories to watch over Halloween.

If you like this blog I am crowd funding for my unofficial Doctor Who companion, Across Time and Space. You can go to Kickstarter and give it some support. Thanks.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Doctor Who Things That Make Me Happy (Fan Led)

I am attempting to raise money for my book, Across Time and Space, an Unofficial Doctor Who companion via Kickstarter (it's 800+ pages covering Doctor Who from 1963 to the present day. It's a joy. Honestly.) That fundraising gives me an opportunity to give a 'shout out' to some of the other fan led Doctor Who projects that I love. So, below is a list. A starting point if you will. I've put Twitter accounts in where applicable. 

Perhaps the granddaddy of these is Big Finish (@bigfinish) They’ve been making Doctor Who audio dramas of excellent quality since 1996 (although if memory serves the first releases weren’t until 1998). So, during what I like to call the Interregnum, that period between the end of Doctor Who in 1989 and its return in 2005 (with the 1996 Paul McGann blip), they were one of the main sources of new Doctor Who (alongside novels and DWM’s comic strip.) The quality was excellent, and it gave older Doctors a chance to shine again. There’s Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann and recently Christopher Eccleston but every era has been represented in some way. I love Big Finish’s work and they’ve shown us how much we missed because Paul McGann only got one (and a tad) TV adventures. But, for me, the way they’ve let us see how good Colin Baker’s Doctor could have been if the BBC had cared a bit more at that point is the highlight of the work they’ve done.

However, Big Finish must now be one of the largest producers of audio drama in the UK (or the world) and I don’t just want to talk about the more industrial scale successes.

Let me point you in the direction of Millie McKenzie (@cowbearcreates) who makes Doctor Who figures from polymer clay. They’re beautiful objects. They demonstrate the creativity of Doctor Who fandom and I know own a mug featuring a picture of her Horns of Nimon figures. Because, as you probably already know, I love The Horns of Nimon. You should follow her on Twitter.

Which brings me to Clayton Hickman’s (@claytonhickman) ongoing digital restoration and colourisation of old Doctor Who photographs. I’ve been impressed with the work he’s recently done on old Radio Times covers. He also has finds rarer and more interesting photographs from Doctor Who’s history.

Also doing fab things with Doctor Who is Andydrewz (@Andydrewz). Here’s a man who knows how to exploit photoshop to make entertaining ‘what if’ Doctor Who items. They’re clever and funny, which makes a change. Go to his Twitter to see annuals and merchandising that never was.

Then there’s podcasts. There are lots and lots of Doctor Who podcasts out there. Each one takes its own take on things but two of my favourites are Radio Free Skaro (@RadioFreeSkaro), which is three Canadians (and occasional guests) covering all aspects of Doctor Who. Then there is Verity (@VerityPodcast), which gives a voice to female Doctor Who fans. They’re an intelligent bunch who have helped me open my mind to other ways of seeing Doctor Who stories. As a bonus mention the is Lazy Doctor Who(@LazyDoctorWho), which is a podcast working its way through Doctor Who in a…well…lazy way. It is the creation of Steven (from Radio Free Skaro) and Erika (from Verity). They’re doing something similar to what I’ve already done but at their own pace. I like it both because it is smart but also because it has a gentle vibe to it that makes it a joy to listen to.

Finally let me point you in the direction of the Black Archive (@theblackarchive) These books are in-depth analysis of every Doctor Who story. They will make a great companion to my book if you want to understand the background to the stories in more detail. The best thing about the Black Archive is that they don’t have an entirely set format. Writers can tackle the bits of a story they’re most interested in, which makes them a fantastic resource. Highly recommended.

Those are some of my choices. Oh, and a shout out to @MrTARDIS who runs a Doctor Who YouTube channel. I’m slightly biased because I’ve appeared on it but he’s also a positive chap, which I like in a Doctor Who YouTube Channel. Plus a handful of things where I’ve got a little personal skin in the game: the fanzine Terrible Zodin (@TerribleZodin) edited by Leslie McMurtry. Fanzines were a really big thing when I first came into fandom but technology has seen them gradually disappear replaced by podcasts and YouTube Channels. Terrible Zodin is still out there (but the next issue is probably the last). They’ve published some of my work and are friends of mine. Even allowing for that it is a great read.

On a similar ‘people I know and have done stuff with on occasion’ let me throw in @TinDogPodcast, @TheFlashingBlade podcast and @LukeOverthinks (whose content is not all Doctor Who but with whom I’ve done a couple of podcasts – a William Hartnell World Cup and a Sylvester McCoy World Cup.

So, who have I missed? There’s a lot of content out there that I’m sure to have missed. Throw me some suggestions, especially podcasts and fanzines. Have I missed anyone really obvious?

Saturday, September 25, 2021

RTD - The Return


So, yesterday the BBC announced that Russell T Davies (hereafter RTD) would be returning to Doctor Who as showrunner. To quote the official Press Release: "Russell T Davies will make an explosive return to screens to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of Doctor Who in 2023, and series beyond." This deal isn't just RTD. The BBC are working with Bad Wolf to produce these new episodes, which means the return of Julie Gardner and Jane Trantor too. 

This news set Twitter alight. It seemed to mostly be received with happiness. I did see one or two concerns about bringing back an old showrunner, but I think the BBC would certainly have wanted a safe pair of hands in place for the 60th Anniversary. 

The Chibnall era of Doctor Who has been...divisive. As with all eras of Doctor Who to some degree or another. Someone always loves the Doctor Who you don't love and someone always dislikes the Doctor Who you love. It's an unwritten rule of Doctor Who fandom. Some of that dislike of Chibnall's era is based on the casting of a female Doctor. Not all of it. But a chunk of it. 

My personal view of Chibnall's era is that I won't really know how I feel about it as a whole until it is over and in the past. I have, mostly, enjoyed it. I have said before you have to work very hard to make a Doctor Who story I don't like. But it isn't without its flaws. There's a little too much telling not showing. The Doctor is often a passive figure: The Timeless Children being particularly guilty of this. Not always, but perhaps a little too often. 

I don't have a particular issue with the idea of pre-Hartnell Doctors. I've written elsewhere about how the Doctor we know now is not the Doctor played by William Hartnell. Change is a core part of the series. But the problem is that whenever you introduce a new element of mystery to the Doctor's origins you set yourself up to fail. Because either you have to leave it in the background to keep it mysterious or you have to close it down and then it is no longer a mystery. You make a rod for your own back.

I also think Chris Chibnall made a tactical error getting rid of the Christmas Day Specials. They kept Doctor Who front and centre in the British cultural calendar. I suspect Christmas Day Specials will return under RTD.

Now, I can never know what happens behind the scenes at the BBC - I'm sure some people out there do - but I also think Chibnall made an error by being too secretive. A new season of Doctor Who would come and go then we'd hear almost nothing until a little before hand. I think to keep Doctor Who front of mind - and particularly if you are going to be forced to have longer gaps between seasons - you need to drip information out there. I don't know Chris Chibnall but I got the impression that he wasn't entirely comfortable with being the public face of Doctor Who. But in 2021 a showrunner of Doctor Who has to be out there selling Doctor Who.

Which brings me to one of RTD's key strengths. We all know he is one of the great writer's of modern TV, but his love for Doctor Who shines and his personality - or the one he presents publicly* - helps sell Doctor Who. I suspect that will be one of the key differences we see. And who better to be out there front and centre for the 60th Anniversary? 

The other thing is that I think RTD's Doctor Who of 2023 is not going to be a cut and paste version of his 2005 Doctor Who. TV has changed since then, Doctor Who has changed since then, British society has changed since then and RTD has changed since then. RTD is smart enough to know that. I suspect the two eras will have some things in common, but I think they will have differences too. I enjoyed RTD's era of Doctor Who a lot, but I think - to steal a joke from elsewhere - RTD2 will be different. I'm pretty confident it'll be good.

And, if nothing else, it was nice to see Doctor Who fandom having fun for a day. 

*I have no idea what RTD is like in private. I've never met him. It's just that some people are good at projecting a personality in public that isn't what they're like in private. 

If you like this blog I am current working with Unbound to crowdfund an 800 page Unofficial Guide to Doctor Who built on the foundations of this blog. Here's where you can pledge your support. Thank.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

And You May Find Yourself....


So, how did I become a Doctor Who fan and how did I end up writing - roughly - 400,000 words about Doctor Who? As you can see from the photo above I'm old enough to have been born in black and white, although Doctor Who itself was in colour. Jon Pertwee was battling The Autons for the second time when I was born. I missed all that. Obviously.

However, my first memories of Doctor Who start in 1975, when I was 4. I have scattered memories of Season 13: the nurse turning into a Zygon; bits of Planet of Evil and a couple of memories of The Seeds of Doom.* I was scared a lot. I do sometimes question my Mum and Dad's decision to let me watch some of these things. 

Season 14 I remember more of, particularly The Robots of Death and The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Leela is the first companion I have clear memories of. By this point I had developed a technique for dealing with fear. When Doctor Who reached a moment that I was too scared to watch I didn't hide behind the sofa. I pretended I needed to go to the toilet. Then I would stand outside and watch through the crack in the door. Everyone knew this was what I was doing and it became a standing joke.

Seasons 15 and 16 I remember a lot. I was 7/8 by this point. I loved Doctor Who at this point. Season 17 is the moment I remember everything. Season 17 is much maligned, but it is - and probably always will be - my favourite season of Doctor Who. I loved the fourth Doctor and Romana. They seemed to be having fun. Fun at the expense of the bad people. At that point I couldn't see the budget problems. Doctor Who was still scary. My Mum used to tell me, at moments of peak far, "it's only a television programme." But in the heat of the moment it never felt like that. I suspect 1979/1980 might be the most fun years of my childhood. We were living in Newquay, Cornwall. The sun always seemed to be shining, even when it obviously couldn't have been. Memory is a funny thing. We were outside a lot. School was fun. Yes, I said it. 

Then in 1981 Tom Baker stopped being Doctor Who. Now, I vaguely knew there were other Doctors but Tom Baker had been Doctor Who for all of my life. (Or at least as far as I could remember.) Logopolis was a shock. I remember being sad that the Fourth Doctor had gone. I don't remember if I really liked the Fifth. I kept watching Doctor Who, but not quite with the same zeal as I had before. Or at least that's how I remember it. But, as John Nathan-Turner once said, "the memory cheats."

If there was ever a time I came close to not watching Doctor Who it was 1983/1984. I was 12/13. There were other things to occupy my attention. I still watched most of the time, but not all of the time and I was certainly not in fandom. We moved to Buckinghamshire and I went from a mixed Cornish comprehensive to an all boys Buckinghamshire Grammar School. I didn't like it. But because we'd moved to Buckinghamshire a year after I would have taken the 11+ when I got into Grammar School they had a class specifically for the kids that arrived a year late. There I met Rick. Rick was my conduit back into Doctor Who. He told me there was a new Doctor Who coming. Now, I must have still been talking about Doctor Who enough at this point for Rick and I to end up discussing it. 

Enter the Sixth Doctor. Colin Baker's era is when I became a Doctor Who fan. If there is another era of Doctor Who coloured by nostalgia for me, it is Colin Baker's era. I loved it. Now, I can see lots of flaws in it. Then I didn't. I loved Colin's brash version of the Doctor. And gradually I fell back in love with Doctor Who. 

So, I started reading DWM and then DWB. It was DWB that made me realise that, weirdly, there were Doctor Who fans that didn't like Doctor Who very much. It was at this point I also started buying - or getting for Christmas - Doctor Who VHS and books. I remember a trip to a bookshop around Christmas when my Nan told me to pick out some Target Books I'd not got and she'd take them away and wrap them up to give me on Christmas Day. I think Galaxy 4 was one of them. 

This was all part of my exploration of Doctor Who's past. It is at this point that it is easy to turn into one of those grumpy old men that goes on about how young people today with access to downloads don't know they're born. The past is a different world. Official Doctor Who VHS releases were dripping out of the BBC but to watch older stories you usually had to dip into a world of unofficial VHS or C-90 cassette tapes. Sometimes these were fine. Sometimes they were sixth or seventh generation copies that you could barely watch. I have particularly fond memories of Rick and I watching a copy of The Mind of Evil where the audio was pretty good but the picture was awful. My Uncle walked in, watched for a couple of minutes and asked 'what the hell is this?' Or listening to cassette copies of William Hartnell stories where the sound was washed away through hiss and distortion. But it was exciting. All these new discoveries. 

When Sylvester McCoy came along I was ready. I recorded them all on VHS so I could watch them over and over again. By the time I was off to University at Lancaster in 1989 Doctor Who fan was the most obvious part of my identity. I was writing off for autographs by this point so when I went off to University I took some of those and stuck them on my wall. I took my Target books and VHS. Not that I had anything to watch them on in my first year. Unless you rented a TV and video recorder from the Visual Tech department. 

I remember doing that once to watch Terror of the Zygons and ending up with six or seven people in my room gathering to watch it. Most of whom I didn't know that well. The Skarasen got some good natured ribbing but everyone seemed to enjoy it.

By this point though Doctor Who was on its last legs. I loved the McCoy era but the BBC seemed to have given up on it and putting it on against Coronation Street was the kiss of death. I had good natured battles in the TV Room trying to watch it, but I always lost. 

I put an ad in DWM at this point trying to gather a Lancaster and Morecambe Doctor Who society together. It worked. We had a few meetings. One of which, at the John O'Gaunt, the then editor of DWM John Freeman came along to and bought us some pages of the comic strip from the forthcoming Doctor Who Annual to look at. I suppose this is the point that I entered fandom proper. I have grown to love the social part of Doctor Who fandom, even when I'm failing once more to persuade a fellow fan that The Web Planet is absolutely brilliant. 

By this point I also owned far too much Doctor Who stuff. I still do. 

So time moves on. VHS is replaced by DVD and Blu-Ray. Then streaming and downloads. Paul McGann comes and goes. Then in 2005 they bring Doctor Who back. And it is brilliant. I felt that all my attempts to get my friends to love Doctor Who during its long absence were vindicated. Mainly because by that point a lot of them had kids who loved Doctor Who. I even had an ex-workmate on Facebook tell me I'd been right about Doctor Who all along. 

I had reached a point by 2010 where I'd watched pretty much every episode of Doctor Who that then existed and for some reason I thought the time had come to do a full watch from An Unearthly Child to, well, wherever we were in 2010.

I watched Hartnell and Troughton. I was surprised by how much I loved the William Hartnell era. Watching it in order helped you get used to the rhythms and styles of 60s TV. Plus William Hartnell has some of Doctor Who most fabulous companions. Then I watched the first season of Jon Pertwee. And thought I'd blog about the whole season. 

Then I decided I'd blog each story, which I did. Then I had to watch William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton all over again to add them to the blog, which is one of the reasons if you look at this blog it is so strangely ordered. 

And so we arrive at the present day and Across Time and Space, which is my 800 page companion to Doctor Who - which you can support here - Unbound

I hope you enjoyed my wonder through memory lane. There's lots I've missed out. Obviously. But I'd love to know your stories. 

*All this time as a Doctor Who fan but I still have to spend time remembering whether the title of the Tom Baker story is The Seeds of Doom or The Seeds of Death. And the other way round. Why is that?