Saturday, 16 November 2013

Who Knows Where The Time Goes...?

A little further down the page, the internet generation can find out what it was like to grow up with Doctor Who in an age without Twitter, DVDs or even other fans, but first, a guest post from Ella, the big-hearted and frankly inspiring @shootthesmiley - a tale of modern fandom...

Part 1 - Being a Whovian

When Doctor Who was reintroduced to TV screens in 2005, I was seven years old. My parents had never been particularly avid fans of the show in its first run, so naturally I was unaware of the new series and it ended up being through a friend, rather than family member, that I was introduced to it. And yes, when I was initially told to watch it I do remember my response being something along the lines of, “I’m not really much of a fan of medical programmes, sorry.” My friend insisted, however, and the following day I became hooked by a show that would stay with me for years.

Much like a lot of people, it seems, I have very little memory of actually watching my first episode of Doctor Who, despite knowing for a fact which episode it was (unsurprisingly, it was Rose – starring the fabulous Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper). I can also remember the discussions I had about it with my friend the following week at school; about how terrified we now were of shop dummies, and how we both aspired to be like Rose when we grew up. This, I like to think, is where the ‘slippery slope’ began, because from that point onwards, I became infatuated with Doctor Who. By the time we had moved up in the school from year 3 to year 4, I was officially considering myself a fan.

Towards the end of my time in year 4, we had said farewell to Eccleston and hello to David Tennant. I feel that my increasing levels of adoration for the show at this point were perfectly represented in how much money my Mum was spending in Newsagents. Every week I would venture into the shop to find a nice, shiny new issue of the Doctor Who magazine – a magazine which I am still a proud collector of – and on the way out, if I was lucky, my Mum would often be swayed into buying me a couple of packs of Doctor Who trading cards. These cards, coupled with the enormous amount of gifts and stationery from the magazines, are why I like to refer to this part of my Whovian life as ‘The Merchandise era’. No one had to ask what I wanted for Christmas or for my birthday anymore, because each year it was the same; anything Doctor Who. I had books, action figures, posters, magazines, puzzles and more, all of which I still own today!

However, despite the amount of love and enthusiasm I had for the show at this point in time, and the vast amount of books and annuals I had to keep me occupied between seasons, I rarely had anyone to talk to about it. The friend who introduced me had become less and less interested in it, as had many of my other friends, so I was limited in how much I could go on about it – and that was where Matt Smith and the wonderful World Wide Web came in….

On New Years Day, 2010, my family and I were staying with friends in Norway (which was also, by pure coincidence, where we were staying when I watched my first episode of Sherlock, another great passion of mine!) Shamefully, I can quite distinctly remember my first words upon seeing Matt standing in the Tardis being, “Well, I don’t think I’ll be watching that again!” I was cruel not to give him a chance, but as someone who had only witnessed one regeneration prior to Tennant’s, the change in personality of the Doctor was odd and distressing. Quite honestly if I’d had my way at the time, David would have played the Doctor for decades more!

Needless to say, however, I was soon hooked again and regretted every doubt I ever had about Matt. Sure, he was incredibly different to Ten, but his childlike mannerisms and slightly odd food choices began to grow on me. Even better, with a new Doctor came a whole new era of ‘fanhood’ for me. I joined twitter during Matt’s second series, and was thrilled to find that I really wasn’t alone, and that there was a whole community of fans just like myself who I could talk to non-stop about the show. I say community, but really these people have become more of a second family to me, and I couldn’t ask for a nicer one than the Whovians. No one is left out, or made to feel less of a fan, and every single new fan is welcomed with open arms into the virtual Whovian family.

Obviously, I am in no position to speak for people who experienced the first run of Doctor Who, but I do think I speak for a number of newer fans when I say that being a fan of the show today really is an experience that never leaves you. We can watch episodes, old and new, at the touch of a button, or discuss characters and monsters with fans living miles and miles away, sometimes even on the other side of the globe!

At the risk of sounding too clich├ęd, I really do owe so much of my current life to Doctor Who. The friends I have made, and the experiences I have had as a result of watching it are incredible, and the memories I have of it will forever be ones that I treasure. It truly is an honour to be part of such a vast, friendly community of people, and I am certain that the memory of the 50th anniversary will be one that I will never, ever forget.

Part 2 - "Ssh, Granddad, go back to sleep" (title courtesy of Simon Guerrier)

I was a little over four years old.

My first clear memory of Doctor Who is from the 22nd October, 1966; episode 3 of The Tenth Planet. The Cybermen being shot down with their own weapons. It’s no longer a real memory, of course, having been overlaid with impressions from the now-numerous times I’ve re-watched that scene. But it still has a special meaning for me; I held onto that memory for 16 years, until the spring of 1982, when the ‘Did You See?’ programme celebrated the return of the Cybermen in Earthshock by showing that clip (among others). In those days, such chances to see moments of old Doctor Who were very few and far between—and for those, like me, too poor to invest in a video recorder, all too fleeting. All of Doctor Who was like that for me in those days; gone the moment it had come. Memories were almost all you had to sustain your interest.

Of course by 1982 there were some more tangible things to hang on to, but back when I first became fascinated by the programme, there was almost nothing. What did I have? The first Doctor Who Annual (featuring Zarbi, Voord and Sensorites from the TV show), and three novels (Daleks, Zarbi, Crusaders – you can see why one might grow up in the latter sixties thinking Zarbi were terribly important. They still are, to me), all featuring the Hartnell Doctor, of whom I had no actual memory at all. But his character came through fairly clearly in the stories I did have (the first annual of course being written by David Whitaker, not that I knew it at the time. All I knew was that the illustrations were too good to waste sitting sedentarily on the paper so I…cut them out…), so that oddly, although I must have watched almost all of the Troughton era, the second Doctor was in some ways the most elusive for me.
I remember seeing, in Woolworths, what looked like an impossibly exciting annual with Troughton, Jamie and a Cyberman on the cover. But I never owned that book (and I never have, perhaps because the cover looks a good deal less impressive to me nowadays).

Memory is a strange (cheating) beast. I know, for example, that I watched The Ice Warriors because I distinctly recall seeing the trailer for The Enemy of the World that followed the final episode, but I remember nothing about the Ice Warriors itself, or anything else about Enemy, come to that. I think I remember Power of the Daleks, but that may just be because the Dalek production line sequence was much discussed in the playground. No memory of the Macra. No definite memory of The Moonbase. (No memory of Polly! Well, I was young, after all…) I do remember thinking that the Dalek-ised humans in the latter stages of Evil of the Daleks were rather silly, but that memory probably comes from the repeat showing. I certainly did not think the Cybermen in Tomb were silly, as the emergence from the tombs and even more, the Cyberman struggling to hold open the hatch (and looking terrifyingly like it might manage it!) made a very deep impression on me. That really stuck. I recall Web of Fear, but not the Abominable Snowmen, other than being aware that there had been two Yeti stories, which gave rise to a dispute with my best friend about the exact appearance of the Yeti. (If memory serves, I think his idea was much closer, certainly to the Web Yeti—we were both unaware, of course, that they’d actually changed quite substantially between the two stories. There was no merchandise to speak of, either, to help us in these disputes…except for Daleks, of course. Lots of Daleks. We had a tall (about one foot—sorry, 30 centimetres) blue domed one, a medium size silver/grey one, and several smaller ones of various colours with no bottom on their base units. The silvery one may even have had wheels. Of course hardly any eyesticks or guns survived the battering they got.)

Season six was a little clearer, and I’m fairly certain by this time I missed no stories, even if I have no memories of The Krotons or The Space Pirates (some might say understandably). Zoe and Jamie were firmly fixed in my mind, at any rate, so that when Wendy Padbury moved on to The Freewheelers I knew who she was, and similarly with Frazer Hines’ arrival in Emmerdale Farm (as it was then). I watched the former but not the latter (not even when Blake’s 7’s Sally Knyvette ended up there later…though I do now regret missing out on Jenna Coleman’s appearances). What impressions remain from the stories are entirely predictable: White Robots, Quarks, Ice Warriors and, most of all, the coolest-looking Cybermen yet, walking through London (though I don’t think I called anything ‘cool’ in those days, nor for some time to come). I remembered the War Games and its significance, though I don’t remember feeling any particular sorrow at the departure of the main cast. Possibly I was more interested in monsters those days.

(After the sixth season of Doctor Who, it was replaced on Saturday nights by a new American series, the only clear recollection of which I have is a sequence where they all clung to their chairs while the bridge rocked. I got quite fond of it in time, as did the rest of the world.)

Pertwee was where it all really kicked off for me. From here, I know I made a conscious effort never to miss an episode, and at age 7, I was perfectly poised to enjoy an era full of soldiers fighting monsters. Slightly less predictably I seem to recall having a crush on Liz Shaw. It was during this era that information about the programme and its past started to become more accessible; there was The Making of Doctor Who in 1972, which listed every adventure (and had a photograph of a Yeti for us to argue over further). Bear in mind that this was the first time there was any official listing of the stories for public consumption—the first time I’d even heard of the Toymaker and The Drahvins or been aware that the Daleks apparently tried to take over Mr Spock’s home planet. As for what would be on Doctor Who next year, there was never any hope of knowing that. We didn’t even know how long stories were going to be—I remember being quite pleased with myself for having noted that Day of the Daleks and Curse of Peladon were both four parts long, and waited confidently for The Sea Devils to end with part four. Of course it didn’t.

By this time I was clipping out the Radio Times billings for the programme, a practice I’d started with the first instance of that glorious Pertwee era tradition, the Christmas Omnibus repeat. The Daemons had been a treat the first time around, like being allowed to watch a horror film at Saturday teatime—how unimaginably wonderful to see it again! And the billing and accompanying illustration (by Frank Bellamy) was something I kept, along with most of the Pertwee era clippings and bits of the beginning of Baker, for 20 years, until I gave them to another member of the local Doctor Who group.

Something happened in 1972 that I think illustrates the one of the biggest differences between watching the programme then and watching it now. During the winter of 1972 there were strikes, resulting in power cuts. One those cuts happened at 6pm on 19th February—ten minutes into the final episode of Curse of Peladon. And in those days, that was it. No video/DVD release, no iPlayer, no Youtube, no bit torrent—the only way I could get to find out what happened at the end of the story was by reading the Target novelisation, which appeared two and a half years later.

Ah, Target. The Target books were then pretty much the only source of memory-jogging detailed information about the adventures of the Doctor. There is no way to overstate their importance at the time they appeared. I had extremely fond memories of what we used to call ‘dummies’ crashing out of shop windows, but to actually be able to read the entire story of ‘The Auton Invasion’ and put those scenes back in context…after seven years of watching Doctor Who and having to let each story fade into a dim memory, suddenly they were appearing in printed form at what seemed incredible speed. I remember reading the Daemons under a very dark sky, rain spitting, on a boat on the Thames—clearly I was not terribly interested in sight-seeing that day, not when I could get back to Devil’s End. And then, towards the end of 1974, something unbelievably exciting—a Patrick Troughton novel, with Yeti! And then the Cybermen (unseen bar brief glimpses for the entire Pertwee era, mutter grumble…)! Suddenly the previously inaccessible past of Doctor Who was opening up. And when Tom Baker started, and the Robot novel came out a mere two months after its transmission, you could compare your still-fresh recollections with the way the story was written!

But, I need to backtrack a little. Something else happened just before the Target range got underway—and that was Doctor Who’s Tenth Anniversary. Apart from the return of Troughton and Hartnell and all the accompanying Radio Times hoohah, this brought unimaginable new wealth of information in the shape of the Radio Times Anniversary Special. Endless photographs – one for every story, if memory serves – interviews with old companions, with special effects people…

This was still early days for organised Doctor Who archiving, and the special is notorious for taking the first episode title to be the title of an entire serial—so a generation grew up referring to The Nightmare Begins instead of The Daleks’ Masterplan, or The Roof of the World instead of Marco Polo. But what we did have, finally, were episode counts for each story, so we could marvel at the epic length of some of the sixties adventures, and note the oddity of seasons 7 and 8 before the programme settled into its long-running format of 26 episodes divided into four- and six-parters.

But in some ways most startling of all was the unbelievable peek into the future; a list and short outline of the stories that made up the next season of Doctor Who! The Time Warrior, Invasion of the Dinosaurs (so changing of the name of the first episode didn’t work too well on those of us who’d read the special), Death to the Daleks, The Monster of Peladon, Planet of the Spiders…never in the history of the programme had there been such tantalisation! Hard to grasp now, but this was literally the first time we (and I assume I speak for the majority) had EVER had any idea what was coming next.

There was also, around this time, the first Holiday Special, featuring a few photos that were not printed elsewhere (including a lovely one of Roger Delgado that I used for my submission to the Key To Time book, years later). There were small stand-up figures in Weetabix cereal boxes. All told, the Pertwee era was the golden age, both for my interest in the show and for the sudden proliferation of information and product. It was also the only time I regularly bought the annuals (I never had a Tom Baker annual, though that probably had more to do with my discovery of Marvel Comics mid-1975 than anything else. Only so much pocket money, you see).

I continued to watch through the 70s, with admittedly diminishing interest, but I never defected to Buck Rogers like so many others, and the only thing that interrupted my viewing was getting a job that forced me to work Saturday evenings; I missed parts of season 17 and most of 18. At about this time video recorders were coming into use, but being poor, I didn’t even rent one until about 1987; the first episode I ever recorded was Time and the Rani, episode one. I didn’t keep it long. I had audiotaped the first Davison season when it was on, and parts of the Five Faces repeat season, but by the time the McCoy era rolled around my interest lay in other areas, so the videotapes filled up with…tennis.

By that time there were ways to watch older stories. In 1983, the first commercial videotape, Revenge of the Cybermen, had appeared. Those who complained recently that buying Web of Fear and Enemy of the World cost about £3 each more in the UK than the US might like to remind themselves that the first Doctor Who release cost a few pence shy of £40. For one story. In 1983. The next jump down was to £25, and it was only with the advent of the £10 line that I was able to even contemplate buying a single story.

Of course if you were lucky enough to know the right people (as I was from about 1987/8) you could get Doctor Who stories another way – VHS copies of Australian/US broadcasts, or even leaked from the BBC archives. But these were often fourth or fifth generation; the insistence of some people on having to have colour meant that in the first copy of the Daemons I saw it was difficult to distinguish between the Doctor and Mike Yates. For a time in the early 90s the coolest thing imaginable was to have a copy of The Ice Warriors without BBC time-coding on it. In practice this tended to mean that you could quite happily spend more time enthusing about the sound and picture quality of a copy than actually watching it…

This is already too long, but I hope it’s given any newer fans who’ve lasted the course an idea of what it was like to experience Doctor Who in the pre-digital age. One last thought; I did finally get to see the end of The Curse of Peladon, via the Doctor Who and the Monsters repeat season in 1982. It only took ten years.

Think about that, next time you feel sad about having to catch up on an episode on iPlayer, later the same evening…


  1. I love the perspectives from two different generations of fan. My first real Doctor was Jon Pertwee and apart from a couple of gaps in my growth as a Whovian, i've enjoyed the story so far. Long may it continue. Allons-y!!