Dr Who in Black & White

This is third in a series looking back on Dr Who, the first deals with my earliest memories, and the second with books. Coming soon is a look at Big Finish.

When I think back to the most memorable Christmases of my childhood it’s funny to think that a couple of them were about watching black and white TV from well before I was born, but it’s really true, I can remember them very clearly.

To take a step back, in the previous posts in this series I mentioned that growing up watching new Dr Who in the 80’s and repeats from the 70’s I was really fascinated by the mysterious 1960’s era which we never got to see. There were exciting glimpses in the few multi-doctor stories of both the earlier doctors and a few of their companions, and then I read about them in books about the series, and started reading novelisations as well, but I really desperately wanted to see them. Weirdly I don’t have strong memories of the 1986 screenings of The Mind Robber and the Krotons, but I’m quite sure that I did see some of them because a few years later when I got them on VHS I recognised some of it, in particular the episode in the Mind Robber when Jamie’s face gets changed and he’s played by a different actor. I do very much remember my next chance to watch Troughton though.

Looking at VHS release dates I think it must have been Xmas 1987 when The Seeds of Death had just been released on VHS. I can only assume I saw it in the ABC Shop and put it high up on my list because it was under the tree on Xmas morning. I remember being up early and starting my Xmas day watching the whole thing (there were no episode breaks, it was edited together). I just loved being able to watch black and white Dr Who. It was certainly the same show I knew, the story was from the last black and white year, so only a year before episodes I was faimiliar with, and while there was a bit of a change in style along with the change to colour there were the Ice Warriors I knew from the Peladon stories in the Pertwee era, and Jamie who had appeared fairly recently in The Two Doctors, and Zoe who I’d seen with Jamie in the Five Doctors – a brief appearance but a story I’d watched many times thanks to taping it off TV. I still think Seeds of Death is a great story, the Ice Warriors are classic Dr Who monster, there are memorable guest characters and I love that right when the first trip to the Moon was happening they had a story set in a future where rocket travel to the moon was an old-fashioned curiosity.

I don’t think I really got any more VHS releases after than, though I may have taped some episodes off TV, but I was only interested in buying black and white ones and for two years they didn’t release any more, but then at Xmas 1989 the top of my list was the double VHS release of The Daleks. Once again I have memories of being up early, finding it under the tree and beginning my Xmas day watching it. By now they were no longer editing together omnibus versions and I reckon I made some effort to space out the episodes a bit to watch as intended but would have watched all 7 by the end of the day. I absolutely loved it. For a start this was really the first I’d seen of William Hartnell, the original Doctor. It was also just so strange, a really different era of television. It was recognisably Dr Who – the amazing theme music and not too unfamiliar opening credits (though with no face), the Tardis, the daleks – but also the whole feel of it was quite different, it was more of an ensemble cast with the four main characters, with the fascinating dynamic of them not quite trusting each other yet. This was not only the first time daleks appeared but was the first time that an alien planet appeared in the show (it was only the second ever story). I liked the leisurely pace – spending the first episode gradually taking in the strangeness of the alien planet, the way they develop the guest characters and their relationship with the Tardis crew over the 7 episode length, and the daleks – it is not a surprise that they were a bit hit. In fact in some ways they work better here than ever again, later on you have to just pretend not to notice the ridiculousness of them moving over rough terrain, jungles etc which doesn’t really make sense, but here they are in their own city – a perfect environment for them, and are unable to leave it. They are perfectly evolved to live there, everything is designed for them.

I imagine the conventional wisdom was that it was no good broadcasting these stories because they were black and white, too slow and old-fashioned, yet there was me as a teenager in the late 80’s and my favourite thing that Xmas was watching TV from 1963.

After that they released more black and white on VHS – I remember having An Unearthly Child (and how amazing was it seeing the first ever episode of Dr Who – the first time people heard that music or saw the inside of the Tardis), The Aztecs, The Dalek Invasion Of Earth, The Web Planet, The Chase, The Tomb Of The Cybermen (rushed to video after being rediscovered in Hong Kong after being long lost), The Dominators, The Mind Robber, The Invasion, The Krotons, The War Games. I also really liked the Early Years compilations which included orphaned B&W episodes from incomplete stories. At some point I lost track and stopped buying them, but then in 2003 the ABC finally did what I’d been hoping for all through the 80’s and early 90’s – they showed all of Dr Who from the start, or at least all of the existing ones (barring a few that hit some sort of licensing problem involving Daleks). So this meant I saw many more B&W episodes for he first time, everything existing at the time.

In 2013 the discovery of all of Enemy of the World and most of Web Of Fear in Nigeria sparked my interest again. I started a watch through of the whole series but in a fairly random order so as to mix up all the different eras. This ended up taking 8 years or so as I stopped and started quite a bit, by the end a number of missing stories were released as animations, and also for the first time I watched recons of episodes that were otherwise unavailable. (Much of this viewing was thanks to the superb Galactic Video – yes we still have a Video Store in Adelaide in 2021 and it’s awesome). Early this year, with a viewing of the animation of the excellent Fury From The Deep I finally managed to see all of the original series of Dr Who in some form, some 40 something years after starting. Of course like all fans I still hold out hope of more missing episodes turning up some time. If interested in the missing episodes I highly recommend the missing episodes podcast https://missingepisodes.podbean.com/

Dr Who books

This is the second in a series reflecting on my background with Dr Who, the first on my earliest memories is here The next in the series looks at my experiences of finally getting to see the black and white era.

I can remember the exact circumstances of the change from Dr Who being a show I liked watching on TV to being a show I was a fan of. This was the 80’s, you generally just waited for shows to turn up in the schedule (as it regularly did) and watched whatever episodes they had for you – sometimes new, sometimes repeats, sometimes out of order. Your average viewer would know nothing of seasons or behind the scenes details. The catalyst for change was that I won some sort of award at school, my best guess would be for something like spelling – or perhaps something to do with things called merit certificates we used to get for various achievements and good behaviours – but the prize was a voucher for a bookstore. Probably for $10 but that’s a bit of a wild guess, and I’m pretty sure the shop was in Church St Parramatta, I can’t recall what shop that would have been though. In there I spotted a book about Dr Who. It was The Tardis Inside-Out by John Nathan-Turner, who was the producer at the time, I guess I didn’t study the end credits of the show too closely though so this was the first I knew of him. The first exciting thing was that he went through all of the Doctors – ever since seeing both The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors I was fascinated by the fact that there were two earlier doctors that the ABC never showed, presumably because they were in black & white (the sad discovery that there was more to it than that was still a couple of years away for me). Any information on these mysterious doctors was most welcome. I can’t remember that much else except that it was lots of anecdotes from his time working on the show, there was some optimism about the upcoming Colin Baker Era and for each Doctor he gave his favourite story – I think they were An Unearthly Child, The Space Pirates, The Daemons, The Talons Of Weng Chiang, … I’m not sure for the fifth, now I’m think surely it was Caves of Androzani but also think that may just be because it’s everyone’s favourite, and Vengeance on Varos for the sixth. Fans will find The Space Pirates to be an unusual choice, but it was for personal reasons, being the first story he’d worked on as an assistant floor manager. Apparently the book came out in 1985, it was probably 1986 by the time I got it.
It’s a bit of a weird starting point for fandom, not really a lot of info about the show, and a lot of JNT anecdotes (possibly unreliable) but it’s importance was in making me realise that there could be such a thing as a book about a TV show – Dr Who wasn’t just something that I had to wait to turn up at 6:30pm on the ABC, I could seek it out in other ways, and I could maybe find out more about those mysterious early years.

I did find out much more with the publication of Peter Haining’s 25 Glorious Years to celebrate the show’s 25th anniversary in 1988. This had more information on all of the doctors and the companions, and lots more. It was an absolute treasure trove, including loads of photos from throughout the 25 years. There were two really big things from it that stick in mind.

One was absolutely devastating – the section on missing episodes. Until then I’d assumed that the ABC simply did not want to show something in black and white (which I expect was true – though they did show two Troughton stories in 1986), and I hoped that eventually I’d get to see them, but it turned out that over 100 episodes from the 1960’s were no longer in archives, and quite likely destroyed. The situation has improved slightly but will be tied in with the next post in this series, so I’ll leave it for now.

The other big thing in the book was the episode guide at the end. I spent so much time studying it that I can still list off all of the episodes today over 30 years later – not just the list of episodes I can still picture the pages clearly in my mind. I would try to work out how each episode matched to my memories based on titles and details of guest stars, and wonder at the 1960’s titles and what they might have been like.

I went on to collect a few other books about Dr Who, but it must have been around this time that I found out about the novelisations. I can’t remember for sure if it was before or after reading 25 Glorious Years but I remember going into Dymocks at Westfield’s Parramatta and finding a whole selection of Dr Who novelisations. I didn’t have to wait for episodes to turn up on TV in repeats! I bought two of them, The Dominators and Mawdryn Undead. The former, which I now know to be widely derided as boring, at least in televised form, by fans, because it was the Second Doctor with Jamie and Zoe – companions who’d been glimpsed so briefly in The Five Doctors, the latter because the blurb on the back would have revealed that it was the 5th doctor story where he meets the Brigadier again, which I remembered fondly. These two started a collection that went to well over 100. For a while I was probably saving up pocket money for the new releases in bookstores (a more local small bookstore at Wentworthville usually had a small number in stock, and at some point I started visiting Galaxy Bookstore in the city), but I really hit the jackpot one day at the second hand book and record store by Blacktown station. In a little alcove at the back they had a huge Dr Who book collection. I think that day Mum chipped in so I could buy about 6 of them, but I often went back for more, and then started scouring every second hand bookshop I could find, I remember visiting another in Blacktown, one in Seven Hills, at least one in Parramatta, some in the city and even venturing further afield to Chatswood and Hornsby (a long train ride was always a bit of a bonus). In the end I collected almost all of them, there were a few that were elusive (fairly sure I never got The War Machines, The Underwater Menace, Fury From The Deep, Androids Of Tara and Mindwarp, of those released at the time). They got a bit of extra use too, I can remember lending them out to at least two different school friends who went through the collection in story order. Being able to gradually fill in the details behind the episode guide that I’d memorised was very satisfying, and encountering all of the companions from the 60’s was exciting – I knew Susan, Jamie and Zoe from the Five Doctors, and then Ian and Barbara through VHS releases (more next time) but one of the first Hartnell novelisations I got was The Gunfighters and there was Steven and Dodo as companions, and distinctly remember the first book to mention Ben and Polly (probably The Tenth Planet) and thinking “Wait, who are they? There are even more companions!”.

Around the end of the TV run I was reading Dr Who magazine as well, which was available at a local newsagency. I definitely remember reading some behind the scenes stuff about Season 26 before it aired, but also was keen for anything about the older days. I don’t think I read it for long, after the show stopped being on TV I lost interest. By this time though, I’d also moved on to another way of watching it – VHS. That will be in the next post in the series.

Early Memories of Dr Who

This is the first part of a series on Dr Who. I have recently started listening to Big Finish Dr Who audio plays and intended to write a post about them but decided to explore a bit of background of my history with Dr Who first.

My earliest memories of Dr Who must be some of my earliest memories of anything. My brother is 4 years older than me and must have already been watching it when I was very young. I do know that when the 20th anniversary special The Five Doctors screened in December 1983 I was already a big fan and it was a major event for me. (In fact there was a big electrical storm on that night in Sydney which interrupted it for many, and so they scheduled a repeat the following month, though I’m fairly sure we didn’t get the blackout at our place).

Most likely I was already watching by 1979 or 1980 at least, I certainly remember Peter Davison becoming the new doctor, which in Australia happened in April 1982, but definitely always viewed him as the new guy replacing the “real” doctor, Tom Baker, so I must have already watched for some time. I’m reasonably sure that I watched it at times at my Grandmother’s house, which would have been 1980 at the latest. By the way, I know the broadcast dates in Sydney from the incredible Broadwcast website – https://broadwcast.org/index.php/Main_Page. I’m not one of those people who can cite their first episode though, I was mostly likely too young and also the regular schedule of repeats in Australia means that memories of particular episodes get mixed up with repeat viewings over the years. Interestingly there was no Dr Who at all in Australia in 1981, which was the year I started school, so I guess I had a lot going on to distract me anyway – I have no memory of this long drought of my favourite show – though I do wonder what they put on in it’s place, that would perhaps jog my memory. Maybe it wasn’t yet my favourite show at that point, but it certainly was by 1983.

So I would have first started watching with Tom Baker as the doctor, but with frequent repeats of earlier Tom Baker seasons as well as Jon Pertwee seasons. I can vaguely remember episodes with Pertwee being a bit confusing but I think my brother told me “that’s the old doctor” or something to effect and I would have just accepted it.

I find it interesting that by the time I finished high school my chief academic interests were science – particularly physics – and history, the early remit of Dr Who was to teach children about science and history, and while it’s never specified what The Doctor is a doctor of, surely someone with a dimensionally transcendental time machine knows a thing or two about physics. I do wonder at the extent to which a childhood of watching Dr Who promoted these interests.

It’s interesting to think back on some of the things that made an impression when I was young – I remember being excited about the episode where the Doctor and Leela (or actually clones of them) get shrunk down and go inside the doctor’s head (from The Invisible Enemy) which was terribly exciting and strange, and now I think is very silly (even before they meet the giant prawn). I also thought Time-Flight was great, mostly because the Concord (or in fact planes and airports in general) was so exciting, and the absolutely rubbish plot didn’t bother me at that age. I also loved seeing the Doctor play cricket in Black Orchid, and having watched it again last year I can say that I still do!

However the big thing people talk about is what scared them. I didn’t hide behind the sofa (it was backed against the wall so that wasn’t an option!) but did watch from a very young age and there was definitely some scary stuff – even after the heavy handed ABC censors had been through it (e.g. quite possibly Caves of Androzani may have made this list, but they cut so much that it was more confusing than scary) and I can still distinctly remember certain moments that did make a big impact, so here are my top 10 scary moments (in story order) from growing up watching Dr Who

  • I don’t recall being particularly scared of daleks except for some reason I found them emerging from the tunnels under the bridge in Day of the Daleks to be really creepy. Maybe it was because it was such an everyday sort of setting – there could be daleks lurking under any bridge, or perhaps because they had the Ogrons with them.
  • The drashigs in Carnival of Monsters. Do they look a bit like sock puppets now? Sure, but then with some fairly terrifying sounds and Katy Manning doing a good job of selling the fear to the audience they definitely did the trick.
  • Giant maggots in The Green Death. Genius idea for a monster (with the basic idea repeated in the next entry below), particularly the bit where the doctor has to go past loads of them in a boat through a tunnel gave me nightmares.
  • Giant spiders in Planet of the Spiders, particularly when they are on people’s backs. Less so on their planet where things start getting a bit silly.
  • The anti-matter creature in Planet of Evil. It was a weird one, you don’t get to see it properly only a vague outline in a video effect, but I think it particular the fact that it was barely visible and emerged from a mysterious black pit made it more threatening (especially when the doctor falls in!)
  • Sutekh’s servant in Pyramids of Mars. This is still pretty scary actually, go and watch it now https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGNGEFZnJ2c I think this episode made for a pretty scary visit to the egyptology part of the museum at some later point.
  • Mr Sin in Talons of Weng Chiang. A murderous ventriloquists dummy is a pretty obvious candidate for this list.
  • Scaroth in City of Death. That costume is actually one of the weakest parts in what is one of the greatest Dr Who stories, just because he rips of his human mask to reveal his true alien visage which is quite clearly much bigger than his human head! But I that didn’t bother me when I was a kid.
  • The Doctor falling from the tower in Logopolis. I’ve seen some fans criticise this regeneration, but most of the others involve the doctor being poisoned or sick or something like that – they basically say “I’m dying” and that’s how we know, but falling from the tower is something that you don’t need explained to you – clearly the Doctor is not surviving that, and as probably about a 6 year old at the time, I think it was a pretty traumatic thing to see.
  • the dream world that Tegan experiences in Kinda. Whilst the giant snake at the end of the story is quite laughable (and probably even was at the time), the small snake coming alive and slithering onto Tegan’s arm absolutely freaked me out, as did possessed Tegan, but most scary of all was the guy who Tegan meets there. I found it hilarious when I rewatched in the 2000’s and realised that this guy who terrified me so much as a child was actually Reg Hollis from The Bill!

Part 2 of this series is here

Wolfpanther vs Froschfilter

This Sunday at the Metro I’m joined by guest DJ Froschfilter. We previously collaborated on two online collaborations in lockdown last year – here https://www.mixcloud.com/wolfpanther/ping-pong-4-wolfpanther-vs-dj-froschfilter/ and here https://www.mixcloud.com/wolfpanther/ping-pong-10-wolfpanther-vs-dj-froschfilter/. He’s also been a previous Metro guest as well as a guest at Metronomic Underground.

Also his alter ego Tim Koch has been playing a few live gigs lately and has just released an excellent new EP on the CPU label – https://shop.cpurecords.net/album/tourbillon following up the great Scordatura album – check out the videos here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xP8D2CMgQCs&list=PLHYXTeJnE5Pshw6BWiYDdtnrhldPFDoRh

Also Cyclic Defrost interviewed him recently https://www.cyclicdefrost.com/2021/02/tim-koch-taking-a-formula-and-using-it-in-reverse/

Wolfpanther vs Minerva

This Sunday at the Metro my guest DJ is Minerva, first time guest with me at the Metro but I was previously her DJ guest in Utrecht so it’s great to finally get to return the favour.

As usual we both bring some favourite records and take turns playing one for one to see where it takes us.

Wolfpanther vs DJ Mid-Life Crisis

Back at the Metro this Sunday to play records with first time guest DJ Mid-Life Crisis, though he is certainly no stranger to the Metro. He has DJ’d there before as well as playing with numerous bands, most often with the Avant Gardeners. Starts at 4pm in the Theatre Bar as usual.