I Love... 1964
1964 was an uncertain year. Not necessarily because the programme’s future wasn’t assured (I dare say Messrs Brunt and Pixley could give us essays on when they knew that they were getting more episodes than the initial Unlucky Thirteen) but because it was a weekly serial which bore no episode numbers, no story titles and therefore you never knew from week to week when the story would end.
The year started with the remaining episodes of The Daleks which was structured to end at episode four… only Ian realises he’s left the fluid link back in the Dalek city. From that point on the viewing several would have no idea if this was to be the end of the tale or not. That gave a sense of mystery and suspense to proceedings. DWM once did a series of articles dissecting a typical four part story. Part One set the scene, Part Two established something or other, Part Three let us know that everything had become really rather urgent and Part Four had a happy ending (especially Earthshock). In those simple times, things just weren't that obvious.
I don’t know how much information the Radio Times gave in those days but since that would be the only source of what we would today call “Spoilers” it is fair to say that the BBC could keep Doctor Who as suspenseful as it wanted it to be. Straight after the four… no wait… seven part Dalek epic they went into a tense and frankly baffling two parter. We know with hindsight and ridiculous amounts of behind the scenes knowledge that it was a budgetary thing linked to the aforementioned Unlucky Thirteen commission but at the time people wouldn’t have known that. Maybe they were disappointed that they didn’t land on an alien world, maybe they were excited by the psychological horror which so swiftly followed a Flash Gordon Serial style run-around or maybe they relished the chance to see more of this craft. It hinted to them that the Tardis was a lot more than just a machine. But they didn’t tell us too much. We must be grateful than an era which gave us “space pressure” didn’t attempt to give a technobabble explanation for the Tardis. The odd homely metaphor was enough.
Marco Polo was a story which gave no indication of how long it would last as its journey was measured in months. Keys of Marinus was a story crafted from barely developed ideas and so with a writer like Terry Nation at the helm it could’ve lasted the rest of the year. The Aztecs on the other hand stresses urgency. It is heavy on the details and possesses a pace which must’ve seemed exhilarating at the time. The Sensorites gives us a neat little recap of all that the Tardis crew have gone through and this special moment of shared experience and bonding is spoilt only by Barbara’s casual “I’ve got over that now” dismissal of the experiences she had as an Aztec Goddess. It ends with the Doctor’s grumpy assertion that he’s going to leave Ian and Barbara behind in wherever the Tardis next lands.
The summer break must’ve seemed like an eternity to those people who were already addicts. These days programmes are either limited to runs of a couple of months or they are year round soap operas. For Doctor Who to run continuously for as long as it did and then disappear must’ve been a blow to the children of Britain. That it came when they had just gone back to school after the summer hols made it even worse. But they had one thing to console them – the BBC had realised the popularity that the Daleks’ lone appearance had generated for the psychotic salt shakers and were determined that not only should they return but that everyone knew they were returning. After the terribly inconsequential Planet of Giants (which I still cannot quite believe was cut from four to three episodes as it seems so un-BBC) they got to celebrate the first anniversary of the series with a gloriously sinister London and a scuba diving Skarovian. Not many people can claim to save the world on Boxing Day (most of us are too full of Quorn turkey steaks to move, let alone go all the way to Bedfordshire and start a revolution) but Doctor Who did. He also said goodbye to his Granddaughter. The people watching in 1964 may not have known when the latest story would end or where the Tardis would take them next but they knew that the Doctor and Susan were inseparable. Ian and Barbara would leave at their first smell of the swinging sixties but Susan was as much a fixture in the Tardis as the forni… fault locator. Imagine their surprise then when their festive mince pies fell from their mouths as the Tardis left her behind in the war ravaged capital.
1964 was a year where the stories offered unpredictability but the Tardis team were as solid as a rock. The final action of the year was to break up that immortal quartet and usher in a year where the Tardis became rather more of a merry-go-round, sometimes a terminal one.