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. The next after this is about Big Finish audios

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/

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