I’m getting a little tired of shouting at a government of fools who won’t listen so, just by way of a change, and notwithstanding my ongoing criticism of the BBC of late, I thought I’d make a more light-hearted post!
On November 23rd 1963, just after 5:15pm, a strange new sound came from the little black & white television in front of which I was sat. The picture was just as strange, and both heralded the beginning of what has become a culturally iconic television series.
Apart from those opening credits, my strongest memory of watching that story, as a 6 year old boy, was of a scene in which the Tardis crew were sitting around a fire cooking meat. So atmospheric was the programme that I was sure I could smell the meat cooking!
I remember the first appearance of the Daleks, of course, and the second one where a lone Dalek rose from the murky water of the River Thames.
Then there was the first regeneration, from William Hartnell into Patrick Troughton. If the Daleks guaranteed the programme’s longevity, that regeneration extended it. Troughton’s tenure was impeded by rising costs and a reduction in production quality with, for example, extensive use of photographic blowups for the Tardis interior walls, yet the quality of writing and acting kept viewers hooked.
The next regeneration, into Jon Pertwee, saw the show move from black & white into colour. The added expense of this was reflected by another drop in picture quality, although it was mitigated by Pertwee’s first story being shot on film rather than video, due to a strike.
The quality of the show was always a bit variable, but even at times of financial strife it could still often deliver the goods, as when London Underground officials complained angrily about the BBC’s use of their tunnels in the second Doctor story, “The Web of Fear”, even though that story was made in studio sets!
In fact, almost every clip that is used to show the poor quality of Doctor Who over the years has been the result of innovation. Barry Letts, the producer for almost all of Pertwee’s run, was a pioneer of Colour Separation Overlay, aka Chromakey and a forerunner of the “green screen” process still used today. At the time, there was often a great deal of “fringing” which, to be fair, is much more noticeable now than when first broadcast, as audience expectations have become more sophisticated. (I’ve often noticed,however, that children are as captivated by old episodes as by new ones.)
The Tardis and the Doctor’s costume.
The Tardis exterior has remained almost the same for 50 years, of course, but the interior has changed quite a bit, though the basic shape of the central console is unchanged.
Then, in 2005, Doctor Who returned to our screens with a new Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, and another new console room…
…which remained until Matt Smith took over from David Tennant.
Then, on Christmas Day 2012, another new console room was unveiled, one that harked back to the original, with its clean lines, but keeping the much bigger space that the TV Movie and the new series brought.
At the same time, the Doctor’s costume reverted to the vaguely Victorian/Edwardian frock coat which, as it’s already dated at the time of transmission, becomes timeless upon repeated viewings.
I don’t have a favourite Doctor. I’m with the Brig on this – “Splendid chap, all of them!” Even that most derided of actors to take the role, Sylvester McCoy (who takes too much of the blame for his first series’ poor quality on himself, in my opinion), when given the chance to shine, did so.
Since 2005, though money is still tight and the technology is still improving, it has been easier, it seems, to maintain a consistency that the original series couldn’t. No more embarrassing special effects ruining an otherwise flawless production, but still with the heart of the show intact.
Long may it continue.