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.