A visual round up of the second decade of my Doctor Who blogging project. The 1970’s was the era of Pertwee and Baker, of mini-skirts and go-go boots, frilly skirts and long, trippable scarves.
I love this story.
Invasion of the Dinosaurs joins The Time Warrior and Planet of the Spiders as the only really GOOD Third Doctor/Sarah Jane adventures, and serves very well to progress their relationship, which is still on shake ground at this point – Sarah was whisked back in time by accident in The Time Warrior and spent a large part of that story thinking the Doctor was the bad guy (fair cop) until he won her over with his suave charm and snippy sense of humour.
The Doctor returns her to London in this story, only for them to be alarmed at a mysteriously empty city. What would be so scary that it is worth evacuating London?
Nobody could be more devoted to the cause of peace than I! As a commissioner of Earth’s Interplanetary Police, I have devoted my life to the cause of law and order, and law and order can only exist in a time of peace.
Are you feeling all right, old chap?
[Doctor Who – Frontier in Space, 1973]
As I mentioned last week, 1973 is “my” year of the Pertwee era, and my go-to episodes to watch most come from this year: Carnival of Monsters, The Three Doctors and the most excellent The Green Death. I really enjoy the more mature Jo of these stories, and the comfortable relationship she has with the Doctor – and while I know in my head that the earthbound UNIT years are a big part of what make the Third Doctor a special snowflake, I do love to see him swanning around foreign planets.
That brings me to Frontier in Space or as I like to think of it, Doctor Who and The Space War. Like Day of the Daleks, this is a story I first experienced as a Target novelisation, and no matter how well it was rendered on screen (and I think they did a pretty good job of it), the book version is the “real” one for me.
I always loved Jon Pertwee’s Doctor, maybe not best of all – I didn’t start to think of him as my favourite Classic Doctor until I was in my late teens – but his era was very special to me. I knew that Tom Baker was regarded as The Best Of All Doctors thanks to my early introduction to a small group of fans but also because most of my Doctor Who Received Wisdom came through my Mum. Who, by the way, loved Tom Baker like he was drizzled in chocolate.
THERE IS A REASON TOM CAN NEVER BE MY DOCTOR, JUST SAYING!
The surreal thing about listening to DVD commentaries of the Pertwee era is not how many of the participants are no longer with us, but how recently they have died. Producer Barry Letts, actors Nicholas Courtney, Caroline John and Elisabeth Sladen all passed away within a handful of years, but thanks to DVD schedules, we have some very recently-released (and even some yet to be released!) DVD commentaries featuring their voices. In the case of Terror of the Autons (released in 2011), Katy Manning is now the only survivor of the commentary, which is unbelievably sad especially considering the close friendships of the people who made the show in this era.
When Katy, Nicholas or Barry talk about Jon Pertwee or Roger Delgado on this commentary it’s with pride and sadness, and it feels like they are enjoying the opportunity to capture those friendships one more time.
Season 7 of Doctor Who is a fan favourite, probably because of its taking itself terribly seriously (unlike the more fun later seasons of the Pertwee era). This season does have some great elements to it, especially the snarky and intelligent companion Dr Liz Shaw, the early and rather more prickly version of the Brigadier, and Jon Pertwee playing the Doctor far more straight than at any other time in his run.
It’s also a season which has provided a great deal of inspiration to the 2005- version of the show, featuring the debut appearance of both the Autons and the Silurians, and a rare example of a parallel universe (a narrative ploy also used for great effect in New Who).
What I hadn’t quite twigged until the DVD release of The Ambassadors of Death, the third of four stories featuring the Third Doctor with his UNIT-and-Liz-Shaw ensemble, is that this season also used the masked figure of astronauts as creepy figures of horror, something which has been something of a feature of several Steven Moffat-written stories, and the River Song arc in particular.
(Hey, who turned out the lights?)
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Doctor Who, especially the classic show, has a reputation for being a bit sexist. Which is hardly surprising, considering that it is a product of its time across so many different decades. We lucked out in the late sixties when a classic battle of the sexes episode (including a scene where Jamie spanks Zoe, Taming of the Shrew style) failed to be made. But with such a paternal structure, whereby the Doctor is male and also the character who knows most about everything most of the time, and the employment of such strategic companion costumes as the mini-skirt and, in the 80’s, the mini-skirt AND boob tube combination (not to mention poor Peri in her leotard and shorts) it certainly doesn’t escape that taint. Even the female characters allowed to be close to the Doctor’s intellectual equal, such as Liz and Romana, are regularly taken down a peg or two because the entire premise of the show is that the Doctor is more capable at what he does (even when being comedically bad at what he does) than anyone else.
There’s a reason that more action figures have been made of Leela in her leathers and Peri in her leotard-with-shorts than any other Doctor Who companions. And let’s not get into the recent revelations that Jon Pertwee insisted on a recast of the role of Sarah Jane Smith, because the actress cast before Elisabeth Sladen was too tall, and he liked to perform against a physically small woman, one he could be seen to physically protect. Ahem.
But there’s one sexist trope that, narratively, Doctor Who almost never used, and looking back over some of the rather dodgy decisions made by the show and its almost all-male writing tradition, it’s quite impressive that they didn’t. They almost never killed the girl.
[Spoilers follow for a bunch of Classic & New Who]
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I am now going to be desperately disappointed if the 50th anniversary doesn’t feature a similar round-table with all living Doctors talking about the role while eating jelly babies. We have eight, that could be quite a bun fight!
Also, Verity Lambert has always been a feminist hero of mine – a 28 year old woman who was the youngest producer, and only female drama producer, at the BBC, and was given this bizarre white elephant of a TV show to run back in 1063, she not only made a success of Doctor Who (she approved the first Dalek script against advice from others, sealing the show’s early triumph of ratings and pop culture madness), but went on to have a long and substantial career elsewhere. She was Head of Drama at ITV when they were producing The Sweeney, Minder, Rumpole of the Bailey and the Naked Civil Servant, she produced John Cleese’s feature Clockwise during a brief film production interlude, and finally set up her own independent production company, Cinema Verity, which was responsible for one of my favourite obscure TV shows, Class Act (starring Joanna Lumley, John Bowe and Nadine Garner). She also moonlighted freelance producing work with the BBC, such as Jonathan Creek, another old favourite of mine.
I was extra delighted to learn recently that she was also a devoted Gooner, when Alan Davies reminisced about being at a particular game with her, on his Arsenal podcast The Tuesday Club. Female Arsenal fans are far more of a minority than female Doctor Who fans have ever been, so I grabbed this piece of information with great joy.
Ahem, got a bit sidetracked there. I’d never seen her interviewed before, at least while so young, and this one is very cool, with the added bonus of several Doctor actors bickering amiably together.
Okay so the big Doctor Who news of the last 24 hours is that Katy Manning will be turning up AS Jo Grant in the next season of Sarah Jane Adventures, WITH the Eleventh Doctor, in an episode written by RTD.
Wow. There’s just so much to unpack there, for a Classic Who fan.
Sarah Jane Smith and Jo Grant meeting for the first time! Sarah Jane and the Eleventh Doctor! A grown up Jo Grant! (unlike Sarah who returned three times before getting her own series, Jo hasn’t been seen on tv since she left in the mid 70’s)
All this plus the fact that Russell T Davies, who has left Doctor Who behind but is still in charge of SJA, is not only writing an episode for the show (I think his first?) but gets to write for the Eleventh Doctor, something no one saw coming. And, you know, gets to write Jo Grant’s post-Doctor existence into canon (cough, not that Doctor Who really has a canon, but you know what I mean).