After the sport programme had finished, in this so-called golden age of television when Saturday night entertained like no other, there might be an episode of ‘Happy Days’ a sitcom revolving around a group of American teenagers, amongst whom Arthur Fonzarelli aka ‘The Fonz’ or ‘Fonzie’ was the central character, resolving all of the issues that the plots threw up. Henry Winkler, the show’s lead character became a huge star as a consequence. Alternatively, there might be a cartoon programme such as ‘The Pink Panther’ or ‘Tom and Jerry’ (which Dad would hoot with laughter at) before my very favourite programme, Doctor Who, kicked in. I don’t know exactly which was the first episode that I ever saw, but the first serial that I clearly remember was ‘The Curse Of Peladon’. This serial was broadcast between 29th January and 19th February 1972. I may have seen some earlier episodes but this and the following serial ‘The Sea Devils’ were the ones that really sparked my interest in the programme.
At that stage, Doctor Who was into its ninth season. Originally just thirteen episodes had been scheduled when first broadcast in November 1963, but the success of the second serial, seven episodes now collectively known as ‘The Daleks’ (though in those early days, each episode had its own title) prompted a meteoric rise to stardom of the eponymous monsters. Further episodes and in due course, seasons were consequently commissioned.
My first knowledge of the early serials derived from a book called ‘The Making Of Doctor Who’ received as a birthday or Christmas present in late 1973. This book revealed a world that had until then been hidden from me. I had been largely unaware of the extent of the show’s previous history, though Nick from time to time, would comment on how he would hide behind the chair, scared out of his wits by the Daleks and the hissing Ice Warriors as the Patrick Troughton incarnation of the Doctor tried to outwit them.
It turned out that ‘The Curse Of Peladon’ was serial number 61 in the series (production code MMM). I had missed approximately 60 whole serials by the time I started watching, and all I had to refer to for each was a couple of lines in ‘The Making Of Doctor Who’. Indeed, a further twenty five years or so would pass before I finally got around to seeing what remains of many of those early serials (though the National Film Theatre did screen at least one of the Troughton serials ‘The Mind Robber’ in the late 1980s). During the summer holidays, one or two of the previous season’s serials would be re-televised filmstyle i.e. with no episodic breaks. ‘The Sea Devils’ was certainly one of the serials repeated in this fashion. In addition, two colour feature films made in the 1960s (the first six seasons having been broadcast in monochrome) starring Peter Cushing and featuring the Daleks were also shown occasionally.
One fascinating element of the show’s appeal was that the mysterious Doctor was apparently not from planet Earth and for the first six seasons, little was revealed about his origins. A real shock for fans of the show came at the end of the second serial of the fourth season, ‘The Tenth Planet’, when having fought off the threat of the Cybermen’s first appearance on the show, The Doctor collapsed on the floor of his spaceship, the Tardis, and physically changed. That is, he reincarnated into a different body, initially much to the chagrin of the watching public who wanted to know why The Doctor, ‘their’ Doctor, had been replaced by this younger looking buffoon. The real reason for this was that William Hartnell, the actor who originally played The Doctor had not been well for some time and it was decided that rather than (ex)terminate the show, he could be replaced. Patrick Troughton stepped up to the plate to take on the mantle before leaving the show himself at the end of the sixth season. For so many years, I was curious to see or read about Troughton’s final adventure – ten episodes entitled ‘The War Games’ – and how The Doctor’s second regeneration came about. Eventually, perhaps thirty years after the serial was first broadcast, I finally acquired a copy of the story on videotape – my goodness, they really stretched out that one!
Most fans of the show recognise one particular incarnation of The Doctor as ‘their’ Doctor. It turned out that my Doctor was Troughton’s successor, Jon Pertwee. Dashing, dandy, brave, knowledgeable, I admired him immensely and wished I could go travelling to other worlds as he did.
One of the features of the show from its beginnings was that The Doctor had a number of companions who came and went. Originally, The Doctor had travelled with his ‘granddaughter’ Susan and two teachers from the school that she had been attending while she and her ‘grandfather’ were on Earth for a little longer than usual. The teachers had stumbled into the Tardis while looking for Susan only for The Doctor to make the spaceship take off. Being able to travel through time as well saw the crew initially travel back to the Stone Age.
As I later found out through reading many of the novels written several years after many of the original stories were televised, there had been many companions over the years. I had missed out on seeing the adventures of Susan, Ian and Barbara, the original set of ‘companions’ to whom The Doctor could explain scientific or historical matters (part of the initial remit of the show). At the beginning of Season Two, another supposedly-teenaged girl Vicki had replaced Susan, and Ian and Barbara would soon enough be replaced by Steven and Dodo (Dorothy) – there had been a couple of short term companions too, Sara Kingdom and Katerina. Steven and Dodo would give way to Ben and Polly, who were present when The Doctor reincarnated for the first time. They were soon joined by Jamie before they too left and were replaced by Victoria and later, Zoe. Jamie and Zoe were present when The Doctor reincarnated for the second time. The Third Doctor’s original companion was Liz Shaw but was considered by the show’s producers as too high brow, and was replaced after one season by the dippier but well-meaning Jo Grant, played by the lovely Katy Manning.
Each mid-serial episode would end on a cliffhanger. The promise of finding out what had happened to The Doctor and Jo would thrill one for the whole week until the beginning of the following episode. To a young lad, the stories were exciting – it didn’t matter much that sometimes the production values were not great, I simply did not notice at the time, though looking back at some of those episodes now shows how dated the series could sometimes appear to be. The only episodes I would ever miss were those that were broadcast while we were on holiday for two weeks over the summer.
Sadly though, each era must come to an end and at the end of the 1973 season, in a six-part adventure called ‘The Green Death’, Jo Grant left the show. This was perhaps my first experience of loss, of someone who I cared about not being there any more. I thought Jo was pretty, brave and the sadness of the final scenes as she tells The Doctor that she is staying with the man that she has fallen in love with, followed by The Doctor slipping away alone into the evening, left me wondering whether the show would ever be the same again.
Katy Manning’s departure, along with the death of Roger Delgado who played The Doctor’s screen enemy, ‘The Master’, and the desire of script editor Barry Letts to move on, prompted Jon Pertwee to leave the show himself at the end of the following season. Six months passed between ‘The Green Death’ and the first story of Season 11, ‘The Time Warrior’, which introduced Sarah Jane Smith who would shortly become The Doctor’s new assistant. Over time, among Doctor Who fans, she would become the favourite assistant of all time (though I still regard Jo Grant as ‘my’ favourite).
I can still remember walking along the top of Norbury Court Road past Elgar Avenue in the sunshine, imagining that I was The Doctor and had some kind of telepathic link to both Jo Grant and Sarah Jane Smith. I would daydream that I had taken part in the televised adventures with those lovely girls for company. Well I was only ten or eleven years old….
Jon Pertwee’s departure from the show saw the introduction of Tom Baker as The Doctor. With his manic looks and lunatic mumblings, he shattered the heroic dandyism that had epitomised Pertwee. It took me a while to accept Baker in the lead role, a feeling that had been felt by many when Patrick Troughton had taken over from William Hartnell. However, after a few serials, he had settled into the role and simply became accepted as the new Doctor. In many viewers’ opinions, he would continue over the next seven seasons to become the best-loved of the original series’ incarnations. Sarah Jane left the show after three seasons, to be replaced in the Tardis by the savage Leela, played by a very young looking Louise Jameson. She in turn, would last for two seasons to be supplanted by a member of The Doctor’s own race, a Time Lady called Romana. Originally played by Mary Tamm, Romana regenerated herself after just one season, the new incarnation being played by Lalla Ward (who in real life became Tom Baker’s wife). There are simply too many individual memories to list them all here, though perhaps a top ten favourite-Dr-Who-moments chart (as seen by my eyes) is called for.
Shortly after The Doctor regenerated for the fourth time in 1981, I started working at Sainsburys. The following series of the show, now starring Peter Davison, was broadcast on Monday and Tuesday evenings each week, which severely damaged its viewing figures. Clashing as it did with other popular programmes (most notably, Coronation Street, perhaps the most popular soap opera in the history of British television), and without the luxury (at the time) of being able to record the show on video, it was difficult to guarantee that one would be able to see all of the episodes. It was around this time then, that I would have stopped watching the programme though I always retained a soft spot for it. Due to ever-dwindling viewing figures brought on by format changes and an arrogant-seeming and unpopular (at the time) lead actor in Colin Baker (who was followed by the more popular but-not-enough-to-save-the-show Sylvester McCoy), and increasingly out-of-date production values, the show was eventually cancelled in 1989 after twenty six seasons.
For many years, fans lobbied for it to return, and though spirits were temporarily lifted by the 1996 TV movie, it seemed as though the show would never return. The magazine DWM (formerly Doctor Who Weekly (for 45 issues) and then Doctor Who Monthly) continued to keep the candle flickering in the wilderness, revisiting and rehashing twenty-six seasons of rose-spectacled televisual glory, until one day in 2004, to all of our surprises……
Russell T Davies, responsible for many popular TV dramas, many with a notably homosexual element, somehow pulled the irons out of the fire and almost single-handedly revamped the show, bringing it up-to-date into the 21st century. Big-name popular actor Christopher Eccleston’s performance as the ninth incarnation of The Doctor accompanied by ex-pop singer Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler and a series of tight, exciting scripts totally restored the show well beyond its former heights. How we marvelled at our beloved show’s return, with the bonus that justice had been completely done to the idea of the show and a whole legion of new young fans were introduced to it. Eccleston though, for all his saviour-like qualities, deserted the show after just one season in the lead role and was replaced by current incumbent David Tennant. Billie Piper left after two seasons though has returned for a couple of episodes at the end of season four. Her replacement Freema Agyeman was a little dull as Martha Jones and season four’s Catherine Tate as Donna Noble was just unrealistic and irritating though unbelievably, if you believe what DWM (the monthly magazine) says, they haven’t heard a bad thing about her. Thankfully, she is now toast, her brain wiped by the Doctor. Tennant has already announced that he is to hang up his sonic screwdriver and move on – his replacement, the uninspiringly named Matt Smith at twenty-six, just seems tooooo young. And the whole production team is changing as well which is a little worrying.
Time will tell, and I hope it all turns out well, but with eleven of his twelve incarnations used, surely he’s going to be thinking about how he can prolong his life beyond incarnation twelve. That could be an interesting story arc – I wonder if the programme’s makers will adopt that approach,
Saturday Evening TV
After Doctor Who, Saturday night entertainment would continue with Jim’ll Fix It, in which radio DJ and TV presenter Jimmy Saville would make children’s wishes come true. Later on in the evening, there might be a variety show full of singing and dancing, or perhaps Morecambe And Wise (a long-standing comedy duo who produced top-class TV), The Two Ronnies (a sketch show starring Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett – considered a bit too risqué when we were young children) or Mike Yarwood (an impersonator). In later years, we would be allowed to stay up and watch highlights of the day’s football on Match Of The Day.
All in all, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) clearly felt it was a cut above in terms of quality of both its programmes funded by the annual licence fee which every household was required to pay, and its audience. In comparison, Independent Television (ITV) was somewhat frowned upon as being of a lower class to the BBC through having to rely on advertising for its income. There was an element of snobbery in some houses certainly when I was growing up, that one shouldn’t debase one’s sensibilities by watching the lower class of television on the independent channel, and to a certain extent, you could say that they were right. ITV in my opinion, did tend to show less salubrious shows, while the BBC for many years maintained its reputation as a quality broadcaster. Certainly from my own experiences, most of what I watched as a kid was on the BBC, with just a few exceptions (Rainbow, Pipkins, The Big Match).
Sunday Evening TV
The BBC was renowned in those days for its Sunday evening drama serials, often based on well known books. Those that appealed to us children included the 1972 teatime serial of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s ‘Anne Of Green Gables’ starring Kim Braden as red-headed Anne Shirley and Christopher Blake as Gilbert Blythe. Anne is an orphan who is sent to live with elderly siblings Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert who were expecting to take in an orphan boy. I particularly remember that Anne manages to dye her hair green in one episode, Gilbert nicknames her “Carrots” and Matthew who is the kinder of the ageing siblings dies of a heart attack over money worries. Sadly in real life, Christopher Blake died of cancer in 2004 aged 55.
Another book to be serialised was ‘John Halifax, Gentleman’ broadcast in 1974. This was a story about a poor orphan who, befriended by Phineas Fletcher, the invalid son of a Quaker tanner, raises himself up from humble beginnings amidst the backdrop of the Industrial Revolution. I recall that Halifax’s wife died right at the end of the televised story, and because he loves her so much, Halifax disappears into her room. After some moments, his friends waiting outside become concerned and follow him into the room, only to find Halifax lying dead on the bed, beside his wife.
‘The Onedin Line’ was a series that ran from 1971 through to 1980, telling the tale of James Onedin (the name ‘Onedin’ derived from Ondine – a mythological sea devil) played by Peter Gilmore, a penniless sea captain who marries Anne Webster as a precursor to getting hold of her father’s ship, the ‘Charlotte Rhodes’. James comes to love Anne but is devastated when she dies in childbirth at the end of the second series. Mum watched up until this point but no further as she felt the programme had lost something by killing off Anne Stallybrass’s character. I am also reminded that James’ older brother Robert died at the dinner table choking on a bone. This series was an important stepping stone in the careers of Jane Seymour and Jill Gascoigne.
A special mention should be made about some of the adverts that appeared between programmes on the independent television channels. Many of these could be as memorable as some of the programmes that we watched, and might provoke playground renditions as a testament to their popularity and effectiveness at marketing their product.
Some of those that stand out include are two Pepsi Cola adverts, the first of these containing the quickly spoken “Lipsmackinthirstquenchinacetastinmotivatingoodbuzzincooltalkinhighwalkinfastlivinever givencoolfizzinPEPSI !!” The second featuring a geek asking cool dude Eddie “How come you’re such a big hit with the girls?”, to which Eddie responds with a song in a 12-bar rock’n’roll style, that explains how he’ll take a Pepsi from the counter, stroll over to their booth and ‘treat those kittens’ to a cool Pepsi Cola, indeed a lipsmackin’ Pepsi Cola.
The R Whites’ ‘secret lemonade drinker’ ad was a great favourite, voiced as everyone must know by now, Elvis Costello’s father. Both ice-cream Lolly Gobble Choc Bomb and jammy, dreamy creamy biscuit Happy Faces had memorable tunes. And the Smash robots are fondly recalled too. Perhaps the best though in my opinion, and well remembered by many pubescent boys of the time was ‘Limara’, a body shampoo advert featuring a pretty cartoon girl washing her hair in a forest. Notably, the singer of this advert, Stevie Vann (formerly married to Def Leppard producer Mutt Lange) also provided the remarkable voice on the ‘Bodyform’ tampon ad.