So as it turns out, I never watched the version of “Thirty Years in the TARDIS” that was televised for the 30th anniversary of Doctor Who in 1993, or indeed the expanded-for-VHS version that was released in 1994. When the recent DVD release of this documentary (packaged with Shada and a bunch of good extras) was announced, I assumed it was something I had seen before. All the other Doctor Who podcasters seemed to remember it, and it sounded like the sort of thing I would have watched.
However, when I listened to the excellent Radio Free Skaro interview with Kevin Jon Davies, the producer and director of the documentary, it began to dawn on me that actually, this thing they were all talking about, I’d never actually seen it. Or if I had, I remembered almost none of it.
So finally I sat down to watch the thing with my family – and as I should have predicted, 8 year old Raeli was mostly uninterested in it beyond calling out the names/numbers of the respective Doctors when they appeared on screen, while 3 year old Jem was rapt.
It was lovely to see so many faces, and detailed pieces from so many interviews. It had the benefit of nostalgia that came with Dimensions in Time, but without nearly so much of the embarrassment factor!
One of the most interesting and I suppose unusual elements, for a documentary, was the staged ‘scenes’ which used many of the Doctor and companion actors, sort of (but not always) in character. Some of these were recreations of classic location shots (honestly, how many times have they taken Daleks across that bridge now??) and others illustrated effects shots that the show itself had never achieved, but potentially could in the future – Daleks flying like they do in the comics, a scene featuring more than three Daleks at a time thanks to CGI as well as models, and famously the shot at the end in which a small boy opens the door to the TARDIS and the camera follows him in directly to the console room.
I very much liked the interviews with Elisabeth Sladen and Gerry Anderson that included their children (though I had to stifle a sob when Raeli said gravely that Elisabeth Sladen’s daughter Sadie must be very sad now) and the fact that the documentary looked at the effect of the show on viewers as well as the people making it behind the scenes – though the random celebrity choices were a bit odd and are now extremely dated. A little explanation at the beginning as to who they were and WHY they were talking about Doctor Who would have been useful for the re-release.
Colin Baker’s Doctor received the least attention – sadly the character had not yet been renovated in the eyes of fans, and this probably didn’t help, as they included interview footage with Colin discussing his intentions to make the character less likeable in contrast with Peter Davison, but didn’t examine anyone else’s involvement in that season (except for a little bit of Eric Saward in another section defending his violent scripts) which did rather leave you with the impression that the failings of the Colin Baker season were entirely the actor’s responsibility.
The bit where Colin Baker & Nicola Bryant are followed by Cybermen down the steps near St Paul’s Cathedral is pretty cute, though.
All in all, the documentary felt like a far more appropriate anniversary celebration than Dimensions in Time, and it had a genuine enthusiasm to it. Thanks to Doctor Who Confidential, and a bunch of other material, we’re completely spoiled now for behind the scenes material, and it’s hard to imagine a time when a documentary like this was such a rare, impossible treat.
When we got to the end, the children both looked unsettled, as if they hadn’t expected it to be done yet, and I then had to explain that it was made before the 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th Doctors had even been imagined.
19 years ago, a prediction of Doctor Who not only coming back, but becoming as substantial a success as it is today, would have not sounded particularly convincing. Nevertheless, the documentary More Than 30 Years in the TARDIS is awash with hope, and helpful suggestions, never once giving up on the idea that Doctor Who had a future.
The viewers, however, would have to wait a bit longer before that was anything close to true.
ELSEWHERE ON 1994:
Introducing the Missing Adventures [NZDWFC]
Back to the Land of Fiction/Conundrum by Steve Lyons [The Doctor Who Book Club Podcast]
Shakedown: the return of the Sontarans [Tardis Wikia]