The Five Faces of Doctor Who

five-faces

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.

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Doctor Who – The Three Doctors

three

Since yesterday marked the twentieth anniversary of Jon Pertwee’s death, it seemed rather fitting to watch one of his Doctor Who stories as a small tribute.  But which one?  After a few moments deliberation I plumped for The Three Doctors.  It may not be the best Third Doctor story, nor is it the strongest showcase for Pertwee’s talents,  but it’s undeniably good fun.  And after a hectic week, it was the ideal way to welcome the arrival of the weekend …..

Pertwee’s Doctor was a curious mix of arrogance and charm.  His arrogance is at its height in his early seasons, where the Doctor is clearly still more than a little miffed that the Time Lords have exiled him to Earth and decides to take it out on just about every human he meets.  Not even poor Jo escapes his snappy nature and thoughtlessness (the sandwiches scene in The Sea Devils is presumably designed to be humorous but it just makes the Doctor appear self-centered and insensitive).

By The Three Doctors he was clearly mellowing, although he can’t resist aiming a few jibes at the Brigadier.  But the most interesting example of the Doctor’s regal nature occurs in episode one, when he and Jo return to UNIT HQ after investigating the mysterious disappearance of Mr Ollis.  As the Doctor enters the lab, he shrugs off his cloak without a backward glance – no doubt fully confident that Jo (as she was) would be there to take it off him and hang it up.  It’s the briefest of non-verbal moments, but it’s something that speaks volumes about the relationship between the Doctor and Jo.  It’s hard to imagine some of the Doctor’s later companions being quite so pliant and biddable!

But somehow Katy Manning manages to make it all work.  Jo could easily have turned out to be nothing more than a doormat, but Katy’s humour (and undeniable sexiness) help to prevent Jo from being the cardboard cipher she otherwise could have been.  However, whilst Jo’s in pretty good form in this one, what’s happened to the Brigadier?  The Time Monster was the first example of the dumbing down of the Brig and it’s a process continued here.

Luckily it’s only a short-term thing and he’s back to his normal self by The Green Death, but the Brig’s sadly at his most pompous and blinkered in this story.  When it works (his sublime double-take as he spots Troughton’s Doctor for the first time or his reaction to the inside of the TARDIS) it’s brilliant, but there are times when the script seems to treating him as little more than a figure of fun, which is a far cry from the efficient soldier of season seven.

There’s something which has always bugged me about the first episode.  When the Doctor and the others find themselves under attack from the jelly organism they take refuge in the TARDIS.  The Doctor attempts to take off, but tells Jo that he can’t because the organism is preventing him.  What?!  He’s been exiled to Earth for three years and during all that time the TARDIS, unless it’s been under the control of the Time Lords or another outside force (such as Axos), has been immobile.  A sloppy piece of scripting, fire the script editor I say!

The Gell Guards are highly amusing but also not in the least threatening and the brief battle between them and the UNIT soldiers (“holy moses”) isn’t exactly one of UNIT’s finest moments.  But the always reliable Pat Gorman is lurking about, so that’s some small consolation.

With the Doctor and the Time Lords facing the same crisis (an energy drain from a mysterious black hole) there’s little the Time Lords can do to help the stricken Doctor.  But wait, there’s just enough energy to lift the second Doctor from his timestream.  Hurrah!  The return of Troughton’s Doctor is a joyful moment and even if his Doctor has deliberately been written down at times to make the Pertwee Doctor the dominant force (“what’s a bridge for?”) then he’s still a highly entertaining force of nature.

He’s possibly at his best in episode two, after the Third Doctor and Jo have crossed over to the black hole.  This leaves the Second Doctor back at UNIT HQ with the Brig and Benton for company.  To be honest, this entire episode is little more than padding for all three of them (the Doctor achieves nothing in his fight against the organism, so they all could have travelled into the black hole at the start, rather than the end, of the episode).  But the run-around nature of this instalment isn’t really an issue, because it’s all such fun.

There’s the Brig’s shock at seeing the old Doctor back, but even better is the working relationship between the Doctor and Benton.  Originally it seems that Jamie was also scripted to appear, so no doubt he would have performed Benton’s role here.  But luckily for John Levene that didn’t happen, enabling Benton to get a decent share of the action.  Mind you, Levene does seem to be on the verge of corpsing several times and has to pull the most extraordinary faces in order to prevent this.

The brief appearances of the First Doctor is the icing on the cake, even if it’s tempered by how frail William Hartnell looked.  Although he wasn’t that old at the time, illness had taken a heavy toll, leaving him unable to learn even the simplest of lines.  His balance wasn’t terribly good either, so several stage-hands had to prop him up into the capsule – to prevent him from toppling out.  But with the aid of cue-cards held off camera he still managed to capture the authoritative spirit of the original Doctor and, ill as he was, there’s a little touch of magic about these scenes.

If you wanted loud, then you booked Stephen Thorne.  He was loud as Azal in The Daemons and he was even louder in his (mercifully brief) appearance as Eldrad in The Hand of Fear.  As Omega, he starts fairly quietly but then works himself up into a frenzy by episode four.  No doubt we’re supposed to feel sorrow for the tragic Omega, but by the end, as I’m reaching for the remote control to turn him down, I just wish he’d tone it down a little.  Thorne can also do subtle (he’s a gifted audiobook reader and doesn’t tend to rant and rave on those) so it’s a pity he wasn’t encouraged to be a little more restrained here.

Once everybody makes the trip to Omega’s domain the story becomes something of a runaround – highlighted by Dr Tyler’s (Rex Robinson) totally pointless attempt to escape.  But Pertwee’s Doctor does have a decent fight scene – battling the demons from Omega’s mind in a slow-motion dreamscape – and the bickering between the Second and Third Doctors never fails to raise a smile.

So it’s not perfect, but there’s no doubt that The Three Doctors is a very pleasant way to while away 100 minutes.

Doctor Who – More than Thirty Years in the TARDIS

more than

One thing that the range of Doctor Who DVDs (from An Unearthly Child to the TVM) isn’t short of is documentaries.  Just about every release has a plethora of supplementary information – from story-specific features, interviews with people from both in-front of and behind the camera to more tangential featurettes (such as The Blood Show from the State of Decay DVD.  A twenty minute documentary on the use and meaning of blood in society?  No, me neither).

But back at the start of the 1990’s, things were very different.  The only British-made documentary screened during the series’ original twenty-six year run was 1977’s Whose Doctor Who.  Reeltime Pictures catered for the fan market during the 1980’s and 1990’s with the MythMakers series of interview videos, but these (like VHS releases of convention panels) were only preaching to the converted.  A mainstream documentary on BBC1 seemed like a remote possibility.

But 1993 was Doctor Who’s 30th anniversary and even if the show had been off the air since 1989, it still had a certain presence (thanks to healthy VHS sales).  Kevin Davies was keen to make a documentary celebrating the program and he had an impressive calling card – The Making of the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – a popular straight to video documentary that mixed archive footage, outtakes and new interviews.

Thirty Years in the TARDIS was to eventually take very much the same shape – although prior to this format being agreed Davies made numerous other pitches which were rejected.  These included Tomb of the Time Lords which would have featured Ace searching the Doctor’s memory in the Matrix – which would have provided the excuse for a series of clips.  Another intriguing possibility was The Legend Begins, a drama-documentary about the creation of the series (Davies suggested Pete Postlewaite as Hartnell).  We would have to wait another twenty years, and Mark Gatiss’ An Adventure in Space and Time, for this idea to eventually hit the screen.

Thirty Years in the TARDIS was produced by The Late Show team and although Davies had been given a free hand, some higher-ups became concerned with the approach used.  Davies wanted to take the nostalgic route to try and pinpoint why Doctor Who had been such as success whilst The Late Show team felt that the documentary should have a more factual basis and so additional interview material was shot.

In the end, this made the transmitted version a rather uneasy comprise between Davies and his producers.  But even though it was a bit of a hodge-podge, there were still plenty of impressive moments (especially the drama recreations).  However, Davies still felt that there was a better documentary that could be made from the material and so in 1994 More Than Thirty Years in the TARDIS was released on VHS.

Davies had free reign to re-edit the program to his wishes as well as adding an additional forty minutes (bringing the running time up to ninety minutes).  From the perspective of 2015 it’s just another documentary, but back in 1994 it was something rather special.

Although the pirate video network (see Cheques, Lies and Videotape on the Revenge of the Cybermen DVD for more info) was still flourishing at the time (which meant that some of the rarer material featured – studio outtakes, for example – were in circulation) not everybody had access to them.  So a major draw of the VHS were the snippets from studio sessions, including The Claws of Axos and Death to the Daleks , as well as ephemera like the Tom Baker/Lalla Ward Prime Computer adverts.  Even the end credits were fascinating, as they were packed with clips of studio off-cuts.

Jon Pertwee, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy were interviewed, but Tom Baker and Peter Davison were conspicuous by their absence.  Tom did make an appearance via archive footage though and given that many anecdotes were already calcified by this time (yes, Jon Pertwee does mention Yetis in Tooting-Bec!) this probably wasn’t too much of a drawback.

One notable new section concerned the thorny issue about who exactly created the Daleks (was it Terry Nation, Raymond Cusick or Davros?).  This discussion was intercut with Jon Pertwee’s appearance on the Anne and Nick show where he disagreed that it was Terry Nation (much to the amusement of the studio crew!).

The DVD release of More Than is pretty much a direct port of the VHS master which means that many of the clips look rather grotty.  Along with the staggering number of special features, the amount of restoration work carried out the DVD releases is really highlighted when you see exactly how badly the stories used to look.

If you didn’t live through the 1990’s as a Doctor Who fan, then More Than is probably not going to have the same special appeal today as it did then.  Just about every scrap of interesting material can be found in a more complete form somewhere on the DVD range (you want the whole studio spool from The Claws of Axos? You’ve got it) but More Than does manage to compress twenty six years of history into an entertaining ninety minutes.

This obvious nostalgia apart, it remains a very decent documentary that does its best to explain the magic of the series and I’m glad it ended up on DVD.

Whodunnit? – Series Five – Forthcoming from Network

who 5

After something of a gap (mainly due to Network negotiating a new ten year licencing deal with ITV Studios) it’s pleasing to see a number of archive television titles are listed as forthcoming on their website.

Whodunnit? – Series Five is particularly welcome – it’s a lovely slice of 1970’s nostalgia with many familiar faces (both on the panels and featured in the playlets).  After a somewhat shaky start (I love Edward Woodward but he was never best suited to the role of panel-game host – see series one for evidence of this) the programme was firmly in the groove by this time, helped no end by Jon Pertwee.  As ever with Network, there’s always the possibility that release dates will slip, but at present it’s scheduled for release at the end of April 2015.

Doctor Who star Jon Pertwee is your host in this highly popular, light-hearted panel game which invites viewers to play detective – pitting their wits against a panel of celebrity sleuths to solve a fictitious murder mystery.

Devised by comedians Jeremy Lloyd and Lance Percival, the show’s brilliantly original formula presents short dramas laden with clues – and a few red herrings – to be pieced together by the panellists who, having grilled the suspects, point the accusing finger at the likely felon…

A star-studded guest panel for this volume includes Prunella Scales, Connie Booth, Liza Goddard, Terry Wogan, Dinah Sheridan, Patrick Mower and Jimmy Jewel; Françoise Pascal, Kate O’Mara, Josephine Tewson and Denis Lill feature among the casts.

Public Information Films

joe and petunia

Network’s Charley Says is a DVD that I find myself returning to on a regular basis. Partly because it’s television nostalgia in bite-sized pieces, but there’s also an undeniable sense of British cultural history contained within these short films.

The Central Office of Information (COI) was founded in 1946 as a peace-time successor to the Ministry of Information (MOI). Post war, the nation was in a weary state so the Attlee government saw the COI as an ideal way to spread its message that Britain would rebuild and restore itself to her former glory. Yes, propaganda in a way – but it was certainly a potent message, skilfully presented.

By the 1960’s, the COI found itself creating shorter films for television. These covered a wide range of subjects and could be either animated or live-action. Since many of them were repeated for decades, they became firmly lodged in the public consciousness.

For those who want to watch online, the National Archive has many of the public information films produced between 1945 and 2006 available on their website.

But for any newcomers to the wide world of PIFs, here is my own personal top five –

Number Five – When in the Country (1963)

This is longer than the normal television PIF and that fact it was made in colour suggests it was intended for cinema release.  It’s nicely animated and whilst, like many PIFs, it does tend to state the blindingly obvious, it’s rather charming nonetheless.

Number Four – Splink (1976)

The Splink campaign was never as popular as the long-running series with Dave Prowse as the Green Cross Man, for the simple reason that the Splink drill was so incredibly difficult to remember!  Still, the appearance of Jon Pertwee is something of a consolation.

Number Three – Dad’s Army – Pelican Signals (1974)

Familiar faces were very often used in PIFs in order to sell the message to the viewers and this one is no different.  The incongruous sight of  the Dad’s Army cast on a 1970’s street is strange, but since they didn’t have Pelican Crossings during the war it’s fair enough.

Number Two – Protect and Survive – Action after Warnings (1975)

This is frankly terrifying.  The suggestion that you can survive a nuclear attack by jumping into a ditch is a bit difficult to swallow as well! The Protect and Survive films, as well as a booklet, were designed only to be used when the government decided that an attack was imminent.  Thankfully this never came to pass, so the films were never broadcast – but several, like this one, have since surfaced and they’re fascinating viewing.

Of course, if there was a nuclear attack then the only thing that you could do would be to die – but that message would have been too fatalistic, so whilst the tone of the PIF is bleak, there’s still a sliver of hope offered to the survivors.

For further reading, in 2007 BBC published a transcript of a radio message that had been drafted for broadcast in the event of an attack.  It can be read here.

Although the Protect and Survive booklet had only intended to be produced when a crisis was imminent, it seems that once it became known that it existed, the government was pressured into releasing it – so it was eventually published in May 1980.  It can be read here.

Number One – Cycle Safety Song – Get Yourself Seen (1978)

And after thoughts of death and destruction, let’s end on a lighter note with a PIF that has a song so catchy I still find myself humming it to this very day!

A cosmos without the Doctor scarcely bears thinking about. Doctor Who – The Five Doctors

four doctors

For me, The Five Doctors defies critical analysis as to watch it is to be twelve again, when it seemed like the best programme ever.  Time may have slightly tempered that enthusiasm, but I still find it’s impossible to rewatch it without a silly grin appearing on my face from time to time.

Is it perfect?  Of course not.  The Five Doctors was a party where many invitations were handed out, but several people (and one very important guest) were unable to attend.  Possibly in a parallel universe they had a story where the 2nd Doctor was partnered with Jamie and Zoe, the 3rd teamed up with Jo and the Brig and the 4th and Sarah were reunited.  Also in that parallel universe, maybe Roger Delgado decided not to travel to Turkey in 1973 to film Bell of Tibet so that he was able to return to the role of the Master for the first time in a decade.  It’s a nice dream.

But what we have is still very decent fare.  Richard Hurndall isn’t attempting to impersonate William Hartnell, Hurndall is playing the first Doctor, which is an important distinction.  The only Hartnell story to be repeated in the UK was An Unearthly Child in 1981, so for many of us Hurndall’s was a perfectly acceptable performance.  And it still is.  He captures the essence of the Hartnell Doctor, there’s certainly the hard edge Hartnell could show from time to time, for example.

Troughton’s back! He may look older, but he’s the major highlight of this story and it’s hardly surprising that they offered him another one shortly after.  He has a wonderful partnership with Courtney and all of their scenes fizzle with memorable dialogue.  Frankly, I could have watched a story with just these two and been very content.

Pertwee’s back! Although his hair’s a little whiter, he’s still recognisably the same Doctor that we last saw nine years previously.  But his sequences don’t quite have the same appeal as the Troughton ones and it’s difficult to put my finger on why this is.  Terrance Dicks had, of course, been script editor for the whole of the Pertwee era so he should have had no problem in recreating the 3rd Doctor’s characterisation.  But he does has some nice moments whilst traversing the Death Zone though, insulting the Master and finding an appropriately heroic way to enter the Tower, for example.

Pertwee benefits from being matched up again with Elisabath Sladen.  We’d seen Sarah two years previously in K9 and Company which was lovely, but to see her back with Pertwee’s Doctor is something else altogether.  Like everyone else, her lines are rationed so she has to make the most of everything she’s given, and this she certainly does.  The fact that her mittens are sewn onto her jacket is incredibly adorable as well.

"Jehosaphat!"
“Jehoshaphat!”

Tom’s not back! The reason for his non-appearance is well known and it does leave a hole, but we still have a very good story without him.  For many people, Tom Baker was the series, so it’s possibly not a bad thing that he wasn’t here – that way it’s possible to see that there can be a decent tale told without him.

Davison’s still here!  Terrance Dicks said that he was keen to ensure that Davison got the best of the action and he does have some good scenes, although the Gallifrey section is a bit limp and it’s a pity that he wasn’t teamed up with Troughton and Pertwee a little earlier on.  The Doctors were kept apart since there were concerns that egos would clash.  I don’t think that Davision would have been a problem, but Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker certainly would have been an explosive combination.

One slight problem I have with The Three Doctors is the way that Troughton is sometimes written down in order to make Pertwee the dominant figure.  Since Pertwee was the current incumbent it’s sort of understandable, but I doubt that Pertwee would have been happy to play second fiddle to Davison.  And the prospect of Pertwee and Baker together is even harder to imagine.  Pertwee never made any secret of his dislike of the way the series progressed after he left (those cynical souls put this down to the fact that Tom Baker was more popular with both the fans and the general audience than Pertwee ever was) so Tom’s non-appearance was possibly a blessing in that respect.

As for the monsters, we have a rather tatty looking Dalek but we finally get to see that the Pertwee Doctor was right when he said that: “inside each of those shells is a living, bubbling lump of hate”.  Given that it stays in the shadows, presumably the Yeti was rather shabby, but it gives Troughton another lovely comedy moment when he’s rummaging through his pockets in a desperate search for something to sort it out with.

Since they only appeared eighteen months previously, it’s a little disappointing that the Cybermen are so prominent here but it makes both economic sense (the costumes were in stock) and also practical sense (it’s difficult to imagine the likes of the Daleks trundling through the Death Zone).

Mention of the Death Zone brings us to one of the major plus points of this story – the locations.  NuWho has exhaustively mined Wales for locations but as the original series was based in London, trips to Wales were much rarer.  Various locations in Gwynedd were used in March 1983 and they help to give The Five Doctors an expansive, epic feeling.

If Leonard Sachs in Arc of Infinity wasn’t the best Borusa ever, then neither is Philip Latham here. It’s hard to understand how the Borusa of The Deadly Assassin and The Invasion of Time could have ended up as the lunatic obsessed with ruling forever that we see here.  So that makes his corruption (which should be shocking) something of a damp squib.

And if the Old-King-Cole Rassilon is another odd move, we do get to see the Doctors together at the end of the story, which is something to be treasured.  The rarity is why it’s so special, if it had happened more often then the shine would have been taken off it.

"I know what it says, but what does it mean?"
“I know what it says, but what does it mean?”

As it was, it’s Pertwee’s final bow as the Doctor (sorry, Dimensions in Time isn’t canon, and isn’t even a story) whilst Troughton was to have one more appearance to come.  Therefore, while The Five Doctors is a celebration of the first twenty years, it also marks something of an end as over the following years we would start to bid farewell to some of the actors who had done so much to ensure that the series had reached 20 not out.  And while they may be gone, thanks to the magic of DVD their adventures live on forever.  So for me, that’s the best way to approach this story, as an appreciation and celebration of some of the people that made this programme so special.