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