It was great when it all began
I am now a disillusioned Doctor Who fan.
I was quite happy with Season 23 at the time, but after watching Revenge of the
Cybermen it turned a little stale. Then came Season 24.
After being enthralled by the opening regeneration sequence and then the starburst into
the excellent computer graphics titles, I was brought down to earth with a bump. Time and
the Rani just seemed a waste of time and the excellent characters of the Rani, Ikona, Urak
and, of course, the Doctor.
I say I was brought down to earth with a bump rather than a thud, as I just had the
hazy memories of Logopolis onwards, and the even hazier memories of Seasons 17 and 18.
Having been born the day after the first episode of Planet of the Spiders was shown, I
missed out on all episodes pre-74. Although I only clearly remember watching from the
beginning of Season 17, I have been irritated by my parents disturbing my viewing of the
BBC video of Pyramids of Mars by telling me that I had seen it before!
My memories of the Five Faces season being very scant, I at first agreed with JNT's
idea that, quote, "quite often the memory cheats - it may be twenty years later, or
fifteen years later. I think the appreciation of it in retrospect is perhaps a little
cloudy - the viewers are ageing", and that these older viewers were just wallowing in
nostalgia and fogetting any bad stories and wobbly sets, etc. But I have since been
re-educated and have revised my views on the matter. After watching (or rather
re-watching) Carnival of Monsters memories came flooding back, and Season 24 became stale,
mouldy and maggot-ridden (excuse the metaphors if you're eating!). Granted, Carnival of
Monsters wasn't exactly a classic, but after Season 24 it deserved a BAFTA award!
If Carnival deserved one BAFTA then Silurians deserved ten. As a child of the four
parter, and remembering large lumps of padding in recent seasons, my initial reaction to
Silurians was "Oh no! It's going to dra-a-aggg. Anything worth watching will be
crammed into the last five minutes." I couldn't have been more wrong. There were
hardly any slow moments, with a wonderfully tense atmosphere between the cave system and
the atomic energy centre. The pace wasn't just kept up by people running around shooting
each other, which, as far as I have seen, many other seventies' programmes suffered from.
The drama was in the dialogue and the long tense silences.
I think that the story gained something from being in black and white, as it stopped
scrutiny of the Silurian costumes and the dinosaur, which may not have been as effective
in colour. Talking of Silurian costumes, what happened to them in Warriors of the Deep? As
far as I can see, being cryogenically suspended must have affected their evolution a
"nd lost them the use of their third eye.
But forgetting that (and Warriors of the Deep is worth forgetting) the question is now
begged, why can't the BBC make anything as good as Doctor Who was then now? Unfortunately
they can, but it certainly isn't Doctor Who. I did wonder why another fanzine made such
comparisons between Doctor Who and Star Cops. I now understand why. Granted, the effects
were far more advanced in Star Cops than in Doctor Who in the 70s, but the drama content
of WHO was just as good, if not better. (In my view, I'd say it was better, but that could
just be post-seeing-old-stories-for-the-first-time euphoria.)
I'm tired of being wrong, but again I was when I thought that there couldn't be
anything better than Silurians. If ever there was a Doctor Who film produced in the 70s
then Spearhead from Space was it. It was the perfect choice for release on behalf on BBC
Video as, in my view, people of all ages will enjoy it, whether they are Doctor Who fans
or not. Having always felt uneasy in the presence of shop-window dummies and waxworks
after only reading the Nestene books, seeing this video gave me greater reasons to feel
Another question - what has happened to the frightening Doctor Who stories? Spearhead
was genuinely scary, not only because of the Autons, but because of the sense of reality
that seemed to pervade the whole situation. However far-fetched the storyline seemed to be
- aliens invading Earth in the form of plastic dummies - the stark reality of Autons
indiscriminately shooting down hapless shoppers took away the whole strangeness of it all.
Spearhead from Space was an excellent opening for Jon Pertwee's first season. As far as
I am concerned the two stories I have seen from Season 7 are most definitely the best
Doctor Who stories I have ever seen. I think that they definitely gained something from
being set on Earth in a seemingly normal situation which starts to take a strange turn.
At the moment I am writing as if Doctor Who started in the 1970s, but before then there
were the sixties with the Hartnell and Troughton eras in glorious monochrome. Only having
the almost non-existent memories of An Unearthly Child and The Krotons meant that the
black and white stories were a complete blank to me, as it is only recently that many of
the stories from that era have been novelised, and only then as adaptations of the
After my initial reaction to Silurians being as seven-parter, you can imagine what I
thought The War Games would be like, being only two episodes short of the record set by
The Dalek Masterplan. But The War Games didn't drag at all. Though it could have been made
as a seven parter, I think that if it had been some of the story would have been lost -
not so much plot as atmosphere (for instance, the Doctor and his companions being caught
on either side of the lines in the First World War sector, and being accused of spying in
both). Like Silurians, I didn't really consciously notice that The War Games was in black
and white. (Obviously I realised, but I got so engrossed in the plot that it wasn't
absolutely obvious after watching for a while.)
Not having seen a whole Hartnell story as yet (apart from An Unearthly Child) I am not
in any way qualified to comment on them, but I will say something about the one episode of
The War Machines (episode two) that I have seen. Before actually seeing any Doctor Who
from the sixties and seventies I had a preconceived idea that any television made before
1980 would be pretty trashy (as far as the repeats of ITV sit-coms go, I was right), but I
was wrong (again!). After seeing these stories I am fed up with today's television, which
itself seems trashy in comparison.
But back to the matter in hand - The War Machines (or what little I have seen of it)
was an excellent story, and like the 70s stories it seemed very real. The idea of a
super-computer in the Post Office Tower was a marvellous one. Also seeing it now, in, I
suppose, what you'd call the start of the age of computers, it gave the story just that
bit of an extra edge. Personally I think the War Machines are more frightening that the
Daleks (but again, that's just my view of things - remember I had to wait from 1979 to
1984 to see another Dalek story, so I may be biased).
There was a sinister air to this story, appearing to centre around an old warehouse
where the War Machines were put together and tested, which I thought worked particularly
well. Also very well done was the scene in the warehouse where the tramp had been
discovered and tried to get away. Hitherto I had imagined that sixties programmes only
consisted of groups of people standing in a set talking (you know. costume drama stuff),
so the chasing and eventual killing of the tramp dispelled my original preconceptions
Having only seein the William Hartnell Doctor (or "Doctor Who" as WOTAN
referred to him) in An Unearthly Child, the Doctor seemed to have mellowed quite a bit;
this being the last story of season 3, it was to be expected, as the character had had
time to develop. It was nice to see the Doctor and his companions in a safe position for a
change, rather than in a cell or tied up or being chased by a slavering beast. Instead,
the Doctor and Dodo spent a lot of their time in a comfortable drawing-room.
The endings of the stories seemed a lot better as well. Instead of just cutting off,
and then having the title music and credits rolling over a blank screen (or an end title
sequence in the case of the Pertwee stories onwards), the music and end credits rolled
over the final scene (in this case, Ben being attacked by a War Machine). It was very
effective. I have nothing against the current title sequence as it goes very well with the
programme in its present form (that was meant as a compliment!) but I much prefer the old
sequence, as I think they convey the feeling of mystery and time-travel, which should be
what the programme is about.
Another odd episode I have seen is The Web of Fear episode one, which must rate as one
of the best Troughton stories. The London Underground gives a wonderful setting for the
Yeti to appear - all dark and shadowy. You don't get to see all that much of the Yeti,
apart from one in the museum, and another two in the Underground. The first link that is
realised between the web in space and London is when the Doctor and company discover a
web-covered body. If only they could have stories of this calibre now, with a wonderfully
sinister build-up. Especially the scene in the museum with the wonderful incidental music
: the most chilling bit was as the Yeti opened its eyes and lumbered towards the
proprieter of the darkened museum.
Again, it had a wonderful ending, with an explosion being suppressed by the web, but
still seeing the Doctor being knocked away by the force of the explosion, and then having
the credits roll over the pulsing web. After a few second the web-covered explosives faded
away, but as the credits ended the whole screen was taken up by a close-up of the web -
The Baker years, in my view, did not have the same quality as the early years, and
began to become a little stale and cliched, but still far, far better than Season 24. The
adventures seemed to leave Earth and tried to become as alien as possible. Tom Baker
seemed to become too much of a super-hero. But these years were still very good, and won
excellent audience ratings. As far as I am concerned they are still very well watching,
and the view above may have been gained from the glut of Terrance Dicks books that seemed
to all come out at the same time; and I must admit that having now seen all the BBC Video
Baker stories (apart from Robots of Death which I am watching at the moment), the Terrance
Dicks factor has not loomed its ugly head again.
Revenge of the Cybermen being the first old story that I saw, I thought it the best
thing since (to use an old cliche) sliced bread, but it did, and still does, seem very
good. It was good to see some proper Cybermen that couldn't just be killed by a few
bullets. Instead these Cybermen strode through the bullets as if they were non-existent.
It seems that they were more intelligent then, as instead of having hand-held guns that
could be used against them if captured, they had clever built-in head guns. The storyline
was very good, filling us in on part of the Cybermen's history; the Cyber-wars etc. In the
end it leaves you feeling rather sorry for the Cybermen; after all, all they are trying to
do is survive, and the one thing that may stop their survival is Voga, the planet of gold.
(Now that's the way to get rid of Cybermen!)
The second story on BBC Video I saw (or rather saw two-thirds of) was The Brain of
Morbius. Either they've got some pretty squeamish people at the BBC, or some pretty lazy
ones who could only be bothered to find the 1976 repeat version. There are some pretty
ridiculous cuts, but apart from the more obvious edits the story ambles along, albeit
along a rather strange path. Judgement on The Brain of Morbius would have to be reserved,
but it was, again, better than Season 24.
It was after watching Pyramids of Mars that the disillusionment really set in. I
thought at first that Revenge of the Cybermen could have been just a one-off excellent
story. But Pyramids was just as good, if not better. Apart from the obvious remake of
Frankenstein, The Brain of Morbius, this was the very first "gothic" Doctor Who
I had seen. I was impressed, very impressed. I can see why such a fuss was made by certain
parties at the time that it was broadcast, as it was, like Spearhead from Space, genuinely
scary. It is just a pity that at the time the children weren't asked if they didn't like
Doctor Who because it was frightening, or whether they enjoyed being frightened. I suspect
it was the latter (but then I can't be sure, as I was only one year old at the time!).
After the entry into Sutekh's prison/tomb, and an unearthly green light shining on to
Marcus Scarman's anguished face, we are treated to an excellent model shot of the TARDIS
spinning through space. Models shot on film are, in my opinion, far better than the
computer graphics sequence which opened the last season. Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor is
in a strange mood, which he is sometimes prone to (the end of Dragonfire, for instance,
when he was saying good-bye to Mel). (Stop cheering, you at the back.) Here we se
him musing on whether he should part with his position as UNIT Scientific Advisor, after
being irritated by the Brigadier recalling him to deal with the Terror of the Zygons. I
haven't seen any Baker/UNIT stories, but I can't imagine the anti-establishment image of
the fourth Doctor going very well with the precise military manner of the Brigadier, and
this may have been the main reason for him starting on his travels again.
The Mummies are truly menacing, but not, to me, as frightening as the Autons, probably
because you would expect to see shop-window dummies, but not Mummies. There was a great
deal of what could be described as psychological terror : the cracking of a twig behind
you in a wood, or a creaking floorboard, etc. The story moved from a gothic stand to a
more sci-fi story, but still keeping to the mythological storyline when the setting moved
to the Pyramid of Mars itself. The series of tests or traps were quite reminiscent of the
Exxilon city in Death to the Daleks - come to that, Death had the same dark atmosphere.
Which brings me to Day of the Daleks. Apart from the Dalek voices, which were
irritatingly wrong, the rest of the story was (to coin a phrase) ace! With the Doctor
still stuck on Earth, time-travel was brought into the story very cleverly with the
guerillas stealing the Daleks' time machines, or rather the theory behind it. In this
story the expression "time is relative" is not uttered, but it is certainly used
for the plot, or else everything would be a complete hotchpotch.
It would have been interesting to have had a scene at the end of the story to sort out
the complexities of the time-travel side of the story, and possibly a scene set in the
future Earth (but I suppose nothing would have changed, because, after all, time is
relative). If the complexities are ignored (and the Dalek voices!) the story is excellent.
I think the point where the message came through from UNIT HQ in Geneva really made me sit
up and take notice. It was at this point that the importance of Styles' mission really hit
home - it was then that the imminence of World War Three was realised. This gave an extra
edge to the story, especially having seen the eventual outcome - the human race enslaved
by the Daleks. If I closed my mind to the outside world of the present day, there was a
chilling air of reality about the whole proceedings (as in Season Seven) which was
My sentiments about Death to the Daleks echo those written in the first issue of this
excellent fanzine. (Keep it up Andrew, you're doing fine!) I especially liked the
scenes where the TARDIS "died" and where Sarah Jane thought herself safe inside
the control room, not realising that there was the sinister cloaked form of an Exxilon
behind her. The wonderful build-up in episode one was almost reminiscent of The Web of
Fear part one.
I wonder if the present production team have watched any of the early stories recently?
If they haven't then it's about time that they did, and if they have then all I can say is
that the BBC Drama department must be in quite a mess! I expect Doctor Who is largely
ignored with all these dramas like Fortunes of War being made. I think that it may be time
that Doctor Who became an official children's drama series, because judging by Moondial,
Aliens in the Family, etc., that department would make a better job of it. We shall just
have to wait and see what Season 25 holds in store.
Issue two contents
Five Hundred Eyes index