The first part of a series of musings on Doctor Who and British identity, at John Connors's Timelines blog, originally commissioned by John for the fanzine Plaything of Sutekh which he co-edited with Richard Farrell. A short introduction can be found at The Event Library, too.
Veteran performer Brian Blessed has told the Radio Times this week that he was offered the lead role in Doctor Who after he finished his run in Z Cars at the end of 1965. If this is not a drastic misremembering of the negotiations in the early 1990s revealed in issue 3 of Richard Bignell's Nothing at the End of the Lane, which would have seen Blessed succeeding Sylvester McCoy in the first instalment of an independently-produced Doctor Who series, then this means Blessed was sounded out twice at different stages of his career, once when he was best-known as bluff but sometimes naive 'ted in a copper's uniform' PC 'Fancy' Smith in Z Cars, and once when his larger-than-life persona known from Vultan in Flash Gordon and Richard IV in The Black Adder was more fully realised. Intriguingly, if the dates are right, the earlier offer might have been made in the early stages of attempts to replace William Hartnell, when John Wiles was still producer of Doctor Who and not Innes Lloyd, when it was intended that Hartnell's last story would be The Celestial Toymaker. Imagine Blessed dealing with 'Mr Wearp' in The Gunfighters, or probably fighting off Doc Holliday in the dentist's chair...
For reasons clear to anyone who studies his Twitter feed and interactions, veteran Doctor Who fan Ian Levine is keen to make it known that this short series of articles published in DWB in 1992 is available to read online. It's been supplemented and superseded by other work, such as Richard Molesworth's DWM articles and the two editions of his book Wiped published by Telos, and by the ongoing work by the BroaDWcast site, but it's still readable and tells Levine's side of the story as well as convey how horrified first-generation Doctor Who fandom was when they learned that episodes which they often remembered from childhood and which they imagined survived at some BBC vault no longer existed, with anecdotes of early fandom and the dawn of home video.
Brief reaction as I have to get up and cross London to the ExCel tomorrow for the 'Celebration'... but it was corny, with some overdone sentiment and dramatised the mythology and communal memory of Doctor Who as much as it did (very selectively) the facts and personalities - but it was still a tremendous achievement within eighty-five minutes, with lots of groans here as dialogue was transplanted or the in-references were made. Shoulder to Shoulder indeed. It annoyed me and tugged at my heartstrings in equal measure. There was some overacting from the principals when in character, particularly during the first recording of An Unearthly Child, but David Bradley was superb.
"...the total of missing episodes now stands at 106. The fact that so much of Doctor Who exists is a testament not only to fans’ determination but to the incompetence of the BBC; not only could they not manage to keep a proper archive, they couldn’t even manage to throw things away."

Jonathan Morris's Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition introduction on how the BBC manage not to have a complete run of Doctor Who (though it's fared better than most BBC drama series and serials of the 1960s) is useful background for those interested in the subject and can be found on his blog; much, much more on the matter can be found in Richard Molesworth's Wiped, now in its second edition (Prestatyn: Telos, 2013).
My review of Big Finish's The Library of Alexandria, over at The Doctor Who News Page's reviews wing.
I was led to this story about the discovery of a cache of scripts belonging to the late Anthony Coburn by the estimable [personal profile] miss_s_b at [community profile] gallifrey_times. While I'm not doubting the find, the interpretation Jason Onion places on elements of the scripts must be treated with caution, particularly his assumption that Coburn's scripts include embryonic versions of the sonic screwdriver - though presumably he might be referring to the Doctor's pen torch, at its most powerful in the pilot episode, in season three and in David Whitaker's novelization Doctor Who [in an Exciting Adventure with/and] the Daleks - and regeneration.

Then again, C.E. Webber's notes for the series format suggested that the Doctor should have a wife who chased him through time, and she eventually turned up forty-five years later without any evidence of there being a causal link between Webber's concept and the character created by Steven Moffat; there is nothing to say that Coburn couldn't have suggested these ideas only for them to fall foul, like Webber's, of the attitude summed up in Sydney Newman's red-pencilled "Nuts!"
There's something about this 1964 Radio Times cutting which reminds me that Susan and Doctor Who were indeed born in "another time, another world".

Cut for image )
Inspired by[personal profile] purplecat's recent post, I've watched a reconstruction of the Doctor Who story with which I was probably least familiar. Some thoughts:

For most of the four episodes this is less an introduction to seventeenth-century English smuggling as history, than to the smuggling swashbucker story as genre. There are possible exceptions - the Squire's role as principal agent for illicit coastal trade has historical parallels (see the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry [online edition only] for Thomas Kennedy, ninth earl of Cassilis), and the position of the gentry as administrators of rural society gave them great scope for abuse of power. However, in contrast to earlier Doctor Who historicals, this isn't explained or given context - this is simply how squires behave.

The Squire's name is only given once, indistinctly. Most of the characters are defined by their job descriptions, appearances or (in the cases of Jamaica and Spaniard) their origins. The Aztecs, where almost all the local characters have names and question their positions in life, is a long way away. John Ringham, as revenue officer Josiah Blake, has a lot less to chew on (in every sense) than he did as Tloxtl in the earlier story. There is little ambiguity to the pirates, who from the state of their physical appearance could probably assemble an entire Frankenstein monster from the body parts they have lost. David Blake Kelly's Kewper begins with an Irish accent, but then abandons it half-way through the story. This is just as well, as an Irish innkeeper in the Cornwall of the 1690s would be under suspicion for matters other than smuggling.

The Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve is just eight months earlier, but its considerations have been jettisoned too. There are times in the last few Hartnell stories where one senses that a careful line of consistent development in Hartnell's Doctor's character has been dropped. The Doctor's expression of dissatisfaction at not being alone again, in response to Ben and Polly having let themselves into the TARDIS, contrasts with his regret and loneliness following his abandonment (brief) by Steven towards the end of The Massacre. Likewise the Doctor's sense of moral obligation has been simplified; he insists on seeing the adventure through to its conclusion and effectively leading Pike to the treasure and to Blake. There are no Anne Chaplets to be left to die here, though perhaps the Doctor's obligation extends to making sure the domino effect of greed and murder (whose grisly excesses were taken into the care of the Australian censor, which is why we can still see them today) runs its course.

There's an element missing from the earlier historicals which is worryingly present here - in episode three Ben and Polly laugh at the 'funny' names of the dead in the churchyard. The brief of the historicals included understanding the peoples of the past on their own terms - this isn't happening here. The scene serves a plot point in that it alerts the regulars to the meaning of Joe Longfoot's message, but one winces at the lack of perspective the two new travellers display. Then again, they lack the intellectualised curiosity of Ian and Barbara or the future origins of Susan, Vicki and Steven, or Dodo's uninhibited childlikeness.

The Smugglers was transmitted a little less than three years after Doctor Who started, but Ben and Polly take to their roles as space-time travellers much more quickly than did Ian and Barbara. The audience was by now familiar with Doctor Who, and had expectations which would have made the antagonism of the first few stories difficult to accept. Ben's tendency to address almost everyone as 'mate' is a little grating, and given how glamorous Anneke Wills is, it is stretching credibility for every seventeenth-century character to address her as 'lad'. Audiences who remembered The Crusade from the year before might have expected Polly's gender to be recognised and made into a plot point, but it was not.

The Smugglers functions best as a somewhat simplistic introduction to Ben and Polly as ongoing characters - both seem as liable to be tied up as each other, but Ben shows more initiative and takes on most of the physical action in the tradition of Ian and Steven. Polly is a new model character, described as a 'damsel in distress' in her character notes, and though she is good at getting out of scrapes with a well-placed bite, she also screams and falls over to order. This is not a positive start, though it is not the last word on Polly's character.

ETA: It occurs to me that The Smugglers forms part of a sequence of stories in which pessimism about human nature comes to the fore. This is part of the Innes Lloyd-Gerry Davis revisions to the format. Whereas earlier stories offered the possibility that humanity could reform itself through enlightened individuals, from now on there will be a greater reliance on the authorities - the army in The War Machines, Blake here - to restore order, or for the Doctor to supply all the answers rather than act as a catalyst. This might be a difference of degree, but it is noticeable.

Despite living fifteen miles from the place for eleven years, I'd never got round to exploring Banbury at all; it had been somewhere one drove through on the way to the M40. An hour late on a Saturday afternoon doesn't do the place justice, though I appreciated the crumbling majesty of St Mary's, and it's a pity it has to have so many security signs around it.

The great discovery was Books and Ink in White Lion Walk, combining new books - some hardbacks benefiting from extra plastic dustjackets from the shop to add value - with a well-curated secondhand section. There was a sizeable science fiction section and several 1960s Pelicans on such topics as the monetary system and the failure of British industry to reform. Wary of adding too much to my 'to read' pile, I instead made off with the 1967 Dragon paperback of Doctor Who and the Crusaders by David Whitaker.

Of the three Doctor Who novelisations published in the 1960s by Frederick Muller, Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks was first paperbacked in 1966 by Armada, then the children's imprint of May Fair Books; Doctor Who and the Zarbi had to wait until Target came along in 1973; Doctor Who and the Crusaders was paperbacked in 1967, Dragon being at the time the children's imprint of Atlantic Book Publishing of 11 New Fetter Lane, an address I more recently associate with academic publisher Routledge before they were uprooted to Milton Park in Oxfordshire. (Both Armada and Dragon imprints were still around in the late 1970s and early 1980s when I was in their target audience, but Armada had become part of Collins while Dragon ended up with Granada.)

I'd seen this book before but never I think held it. Like the Armada edition of with the Daleks, the text was reset rather than reproduced from the Muller hardback as was Universal-Tandem/Target's practice in 1973. Henry Fox's illustrations from the hardback were also replaced, though the new artist, whose work owed a lot to Fox's, was not credited. The front cover illustration wasn't particularly enticing, and while I've seen it reproduced before I'd not realised that there was a back cover illustration as well, presumably showing Barbara being carried off to the mercies of El Akir. The great loser in this edition is Vicki, whose existence is forgotten by the blurb writer.

The cover art is behind this cut )

As with Armada before, there was no impetus to create a series of Doctor Who paperbacks from Dragon. No new books from Muller were forthcoming, and one wonders whether Terry Nation's plans for the Dalek television series, which stopped Dalek stories from being sold abroad, also prohibited Dalek exploitation in book form when associated with Doctor Who; as David Whitaker had written two of the three Muller books, one wonders whether he might have proposed more, with The Power of the Daleks being the obvious next step. One for Nothing at the End of the Lane, perhaps.

ETA: Armada's origins corrected. See this Hardy Boys website for the story of May Fair Books and Atlantic Publishing. In a sense, the Doctor Who paperbacks didn't change publisher at all...

ETA2: ...and Diana Cornwell's Wikipedia article on her father Gordon Landsborough is worth reading.
The buzz around the release of The Sensorites on DVD has surrounded its special features, and this is largely justified. Looking for Peter brings the Who Do You Think You Are? approach of personal history documentary making to the DVD range, but with the difference that the personality concerned, writer Peter R. Newman, died in either 1969 or 1975. Presenter Toby Hadoke, aided by Nothing at the End of the Lane's Richard Bignell and with a contribution from former DWM co-editor/Reynolds and Hearn publisher Marcus Hearn, establishes that 1975 is the required date, looks at Newman's controversial 1959 screenplay Yesterday's Enemy, and discusses his life before and after Doctor Who with his sister Vera and niece Helen, with portraits and family photographs and in a "final twist", a voice recording which shows Peter Newman to have been a gifted orator as well. The overall impression is of a man who was unable to wear his considerable abilities sufficiently lightly to make a success of them for long.

Clive Doig was a name burned on my childhood memories of television-watching, as producer at the close of Vision On and of Take Hart and Eureka among others. In the 1960s he was a vision mixer at the BBC, working on the majority of Doctor Who episodes in William Hartnell's proprietorship of the TARDIS, and in two extras first explains what a vision mixer does and how important that role was in the days of multi-camera television drama, and then identifies the 'Secret Voice' which can be heard on the soundtrack of the sixth episode of the story. Doig is lively and endowed with great powers of recall, and it's good that the Doctor Who world has discovered him.

The Sensorites has long been unjustly maligned - a species who can only tell the difference between each other by wearing sashes are a prompt to the imagination, not lazy writing - and being able to enjoy it in the crisp immediacy of VidFIREd DVD always removed much of the distance between the present day and the environment in which these early Doctor Who stories were produced and watched. The glimpses in the 'Coming Soon' section of The Tomb of the Cybermen re-release (as part of Revisitations 3) suggest that some of the lost force of that story's imagery will be recovered too. More when I've been able to watch the story again.
I've again been distracting myself by uploading some old Tides of Time articles to my Tides blog. The latest crop all relate to the first Doctor. There are three stories, including one relating to the Doctor's meeting with the Venerable Bede (as referred to on-screen in The Talons of Weng-Chiang); three reviews (on The Aztecs, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and The Tenth Planet) and a look back at Sydney Newman's contribution to Doctor Who.

For more details read my Citizen of the Universe post at the Tides site.
Colin Brockhurst's mock-up Radio Times cover, imagining Planet of the Dead as a Hartnell story, has been mistaken for a real cover by the staff of The Guardian online:

ETA: The staff took the page down rather quickly; but I've added a link to a screengrab over at [ profile] parrot_knight.
sir_guinglain: (Hartnell words)
( Oct. 19th, 2007 01:04 am)
One week since the crowded video room... and a little over half of them came back to watch The Time Meddler. There were a lot of people genuinely interested in seeing what 1965 Doctor Who was like, and a good few fans of experience as well as fans of new enthusiasm amongst them.

The Time Meddler sticks in the mind for its joy in experiment; it has a little of the summer variety show about it, and were it not for their involvement in the (implied) rape of Edith it would be difficult to imagine that the audience were meant to take the Vikings seriously; the Viking leader's headgear looks like a Monty Python prop. It courts the audience's awareness of Doctor Who's artificiality: we learn the TARDIS has a horizontal hold, a control familiar to lots of 1960s televiewers; Vicki chides newcomer Steven for not recognising the narrative conventions of adventure fiction when he doubts that there will be a secret passage leading out of the monastery; and the Doctor, in response to the Monk's enquiry about television, confirms (with a glance at the camera, and thus the viewer) that he is 'familiar with the medium'. Douglas Camfield likes camera angles which one member of the audience said were like CCTV, perhaps taking advantage of the viewer's foreknowledge about history, or perhaps just because this angle emphasises that the viewer isn't a silent participant in a conversation, but is looking on from a tree branch or some gantry on the TARDIS ceiling.


sir_guinglain: (Default)


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