I’ve spent a couple of afternoons this week slumped in front of the TV after an early morning shift. Starting at 6 in the morning does tend to knacker you out and although many times I start to think I can sort this or that out in the afternoon, the lure of the TV set is sometimes too much. Over Christmas I bid on a box of Doctor Who DVDs on the shopping site E-Bay. I didn’t bid that much, in fact I only remembered about the bid when an e-mail popped up asking me to pay. A large cardboard box duly arrived. I scanned through the box and found various box sets like Frontier in Space, Planet of the Daleks, The Silver Nemesis and various others. I stashed the box away, not far from the DVD player waiting for a quiet moment to commence my viewing pleasure.
Over Christmas I watched the Doctor Who Christmas Special and I have to say I was disappointed. Current Doctor Who Peter Capaldi plays a good part and the effects and production values in the series are excellent but the stories seem a little bit lacking if you ask me. The Christmas special was about a young lad, accidentally given super powers by a chance meeting with the Doctor. When he grows up he uses his powers to become a super hero and we are left with a sort of spoof on the Superman/ Clark Kent/ Lois Lane story. I know it was the Christmas special and it was supposed to be a bit quirky but it just all seemed a bit daft to me.
Now I think of it, last year’s Christmas Doctor Who didn’t do it for me either; it was too full of sci-fi gobbledygook language. You know the sort of thing. Doctor, the Tardis is heading into the sun, what can we do? Well, if we reroute the dark matter converters into the phase drive and reverse the polarity. . You get the sort of thing I’m sure.
Anyway. Let’s fast forward to the other day and there’s me, arriving home all tired and grumpy after an early morning shift. I get a quick wash, sort out a brew, crank up the DVD player and insert Planet of the Daleks, a six part serial from 1973 into the DVD player. Then I settle down on the settee with a ham sandwich in one hand and the remote control firmly in the other and press play. I emerge a few hours later, rumpled, unshaven but happy. Planet of the Daleks was an enjoyable jaunt back to the TV of the 1970’s. Ok, the sets were a little on the cardboard side, the Spirodons, the resident aliens, when they weren’t invisible, were just blokes covered with big fur coats but throw in the Daleks, Doctor Who and his lovely assistant Jo Grant and I was as happy as Larry in TV heaven. The Doctor’s assistant was played by Katy Manning and it was nice to see Jo in her 1970’s gear and hairstyle once again. It was a shame when the very 70’s chic jacket she was wearing was thrown away because some very nasty jungle plants had sprayed it with some fungus.
Back in the 1970’s Jon Pertwee took over the role of Doctor Who from Patrick Troughton. William Hartnell had played the original Doctor as a grumpy and unpredictable old man, Troughton was the celestial comic and hobo and Jon Pertwee made the Doctor into a suave, smooth talking, velvet jacketed action hero with a penchant for Venusian karate. I wasn’t completely convinced at the time by Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who but looking back I feel that his Doctor was one of the very best. All the others, even the modern ones, have kept on board elements of the first two doctors characters but Pertwee’s characterisation is just ever so slightly different. I can’t say I remember the first episode of Doctor Who being shown, I was only seven at the time but I Do remember William Hartnell and the strange thing is that I have grown up from a child to a middle aged man with this TV show always in the background. Jon Pertwee was with me in the seventies, Tom Baker in the eighties and so on and when the Doctor returned after a long absence in 2005 with the part played by Christopher Eccleston, it was like the return of a long lost friend.
An interesting bonus on the DVD was that episode three, for which only a black and white version was available, was restored to full colour using a variety of new techniques. Back in the 1970’s of course, the future home video industry was not even a twinkle in the eye of the BBC bosses and they routinely taped over Doctor Who episodes for reasons of storage space, scarcity of new tapes and a belief that the tapes were of no commercial value. Not only Doctor Who but many other programmes were lost in this way until the BBC revised its policy in 1978 and began to keep a proper archive of recordings.
Ninety-seven episodes from Doctor Who’s first six years are missing. Some tele cine copies have been found in various TV stations around the world as the BBC copied tapes onto film for showing by other broadcasters.
I mention all this because included in the special features of the DVD was an item about Doctor Who videos. When video recording emerged in the 1980’s many people, like myself, started to record programmes like Doctor Who for home viewing. Fans interviewed for the feature spoke about attending fan conventions and hearing that various recordings of old shows were available. Many came from Australia where local broadcasters began showing old episodes of Doctor Who on Australian TV. Word got back to fans in the UK and considerable sums were exchanged for VHS copies of the episodes. One of the problems was that many of the copies were second, third, or even tenth generation copies but clearly there was a great demand from viewers for old episodes and eventually, the BBC began releasing episodes on video and later, DVD. I do love watching these extra segments on DVDs and the Doctor Who ones especially because as I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m not the TV sc-fi nerd I thought I was, or least I am but there are plenty of other fellow sci-fi nerds about too.
Anyway, the Jon Pertwee Doctor Who experience was a very pleasant and enjoyable one and perfect for a cold wintry afternoon. Turn up the fire, get the kettle on and settle down with an old favourite TV show from 1973, the year I left school and started work at the tender age of sixteen. What could be nicer?
Anyway, it just goes to show that successful TV series sc-fi is more, much more than special effects and top class production. Perhaps the producers of Doctor Who in 2017 should take heed.
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