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 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!
There were also stories set mainly on location, which always improved the production values, such as “The Enemy of the World”, broadcast immediately before “The Web of Fear”, which had location filming, an exploding helicopter and an extra helping of Patrick Troughton, who played both the Doctor and the villain, Salamander.
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.
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 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.
In Jon Pertwee’s first season, the old console from 1963 was still in use, albeit outside the Tardis. It was still painted green, which showed as bright white in a black and white picture.
Eventually a new console was made, much like the old one, but now gleaming white and metallic.
That design lasted until 1983, apart from a wood panelled secondary console room, used for a short time by the fourth Doctor.
The next significant upgrade was in 1983, for the 20th anniversary story, “The Five Doctors”. This design lasted until the series was cancelled in 1989
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.
The 50th anniversary episode, “The Day of the Doctor”, is planned to be broadcast simultaneously around the world on November 23rd. The production team have kept most of the details secret, quite rightly, but allowed some teasers to escape, most of which can be found in the picture below.
The next episode after this, the Christmas one, promises to be a bit special too. Matt Smith is leaving the role, and will regenerate into Peter Capaldi.
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.
I’ve been making small updates, as and when new information comes out about the anniversary special, or when I’ve found photos suitable for colourising, but there’s just been a huge announcement about the discovery of previously missing episodes from “The Web of Fear” and “The Enemy of the World”, which deserves a paragraph of its own. The former is now missing only episode 3, and the latter is complete. Before the titles were announced, some people managed to guess one of them, based on the fact that Deborah Watling and Frazer Hines would be making the announcement, and the use of the Great Intelligence in the recent Christmas episode.
“The Web of Fear” episodes are particularly interesting, as they mark the first appearance of Colonel, later Brigadier, Lethbridge- Stewart, as played by Nicholas Courtney. His feet were seen in Episode 1, which the BBC already had, but they were played by a different actor’s feet. In Episode 2 we see the character properly for the first time.