It’s a little staggering to realise that The Five Faces of Doctor Who repeat season began airing in early November 1981. Thirty five years, where has the time gone?
Back then, the eighteen year old An Unearthly Child and even The Krotons (a mere thirteen years old) seemed like relics from a different age. The flickery black and white telerecordings had a lot to do with that of course, the lack of colour made them appear much older than they actually were. But it’s still more than a little strange that Survival seems like a much more current story today than An Unearthly Child did then, despite the fact that Survival is a whopping twenty seven years old. Funny thing time …..
If you weren’t there, it’s difficult to describe just how important The Five Faces of Doctor Who was. Old Doctor Who didn’t get repeated and the first commercially available story wouldn’t hit the shelves until 1983. So if you wanted to get a feel for pre-Baker Doctor Who then your options were rather limited – Target novelisations were your best bet, although there were also the World Distributors annuals (even if their vision of the Doctor Who universe was idiosyncratic, to put it kindly).
Factual information could be gleaned from Doctor Who Weekly and Doctor Who Monthly, whilst a small handful of books – The Making of Doctor Who, The Doctor Who Monster Book – also offered tantalising glimpses of these “lost” stories. After all, back then we weren’t concerned about the stories which were actually missing from the archives, everything from the past was as good as lost to us.
And then in early November 1981 we had the chance to see how it all started. I’ve written here about how I view An Unearthly Child today, rewinding thirty five years I’m pretty sure I was just as taken with it then. Three episodes of caveman antics might not be to everyone’s tastes, but the grime and despair of those episodes fitted perfectly with the dark winter evenings in 1981 (just as they would have done in 1963). I loved it then and I love it now and I know I always will.
The Krotons had a bit of a bumpier ride. My ten-year-old self found the story a little thin, but Troughton (like Hartnell) impressed right from the start. It’s a story I’ve grown to appreciate a little more over the years, as it’s perfect undemanding fare. And the lovely Wendy Padbury wears a very short skirt, which is nice.
If the internet had existed in 1981 then no doubt it would have gone into meltdown after Carnival of Monsters and The Three Doctors were broadcast the wrong way round. Carnival, thanks to Vorg and Shirna, looked a little odd back then, and it would take a few more watches before the cleverness of Robert Holmes’ script became clear to me. The Three Doctors is good fun, nothing more, nothing less. It was nice to see the Brig in action for the first time though, even if I’d later realise we weren’t really seeing him at his best here.
Logopolis was an obvious choice, as Castrovalva was less than a month away from broadcast (and since it featured Davison’s sole appearance to date, if they hadn’t shown this one then the Five Faces tag wouldn’t have worked). Since it was a current story it rather lacked the “wow” feeling of the others, but in the pre-VHS age, “another chance to see” was always welcome and following this broadcast I wouldn’t see it again for nearly a decade (a pirate copy came my way in the late eighties).
I’m off to recreate those winter evenings from 1981 with a rewatch over the next few weeks of those five serials – splendid stories, all of them.