History as we remember it doesn't always make complete sense. I'm pretty sure that the first issue of Doctor Who Magazine I ever got was number 101. It was the one with the picture of Colin Baker on the front looking very gruff from "Vengeance on Varos", and contained an in-depth article on that story inside (for some reason I thought Forbes Collins, possibly the most major character in Doctor Who history not to have a name, was Anthony Ainley). Looking back, that issue is as grim as grisly "Varos" itself from its dark, black and red cover down to the mostly black-and-white pages, but I loved it. The Doctor and a big muscley man fought Draconians in the "War Game" comic strip and there was a competition to win a copy of "Doctor in Distress" (a sign of the times if ever there was one), accompanied by lots of unrecognisable people and Nicola Bryant singing. Then again, I also clearly remember getting Issue 100, with a grand episode list and the poster that came in two halves that didn't fit together. Maybe I went back the next day and bought the previous issue.
One thing's for sure, it was June 1985 in Longleat. But then, I can't imagine we'd have stayed in Wiltshire overnight unless we hitched a caravan up someplace nearby. Perhaps we did, who knows? It was all so long ago. One thing I do know, is that the whole family went there because of the Doctor Who exhibition. Because of me, in other words. Then again, there was the maze as well (which was still there a couple of years ago when I returned), that's a less happy memory. For some reason while Mum and Dad were paying to get in, I dashed off and purposefully got myself lost. I must have been just too caught up in the feverish excitement of my very first maze! Wouldn't it be great to get really lost, and then have to find the way out? It just hadn't occurred to me that we should all do the maze together, and the rest of the family spent the next hour trying to track me down instead of finding the way out. I can still recall Dad following my wailing sobs as I came to the grim conclusion that I might be stuck in there forever. Perhaps it was an hour. It may have been ten minutes.
And didn't there used to be Lions at Longleat? I don't remember any Lions, but who would when there were Daleks and Cybermen? None wandering about to meet mind, but by striking a 'Doctorish' pose between two static Cybermen, it made for a fairly convincing photo. The effect was only ruined by the fact that you could see that the wire mesh on one of the Cyberman's eyes had been poked out, but it didn't matter. It DID however matter when my sister posed for her photo leaning up against a white Remembrance Dalek (eye lens missing) in an altogether too casual manner, as if this wasn't even a real Dalek at all! I was furious, certain that anyone who thereafter saw the photos would realise that we hadn't REALLY bumped into all these monsters! I posed for my Dalek photo as if pushing it down an alley, like in "The Five Doctors"! Best of all though, were the big TARDIS doors, a genius way of designing the opening to the exhibition that allowed you to stroll straight into roundelled corridors! I'm sure I can still remember the smell that place had, an exciting, magical smell. But it just might be the memory playing tricks on me once more.
When we went back, the year before last, it couldn't help but be a disappointment. The TARDIS doors were still there, but they opened out onto a gift shop, enabling me to lament a sinister and tacky sign of these merchandise-lead times! When we bought question mark ball-point pens and postcards of Richard Hurndall back in '85 (and TARDIS money boxes!) it all seemed so appropriate... so right. And the exhibits themselves now seemed so torn and tatty... a far cry from the gleaming, action-packed versions in my memory from way back when.
Longleat in '85. Or could it have been '86? Sometimes it's better when history doesn't make complete sense.
I see Nicola Bryant, and I can smell mud. I’d like to think that this would make me something of an oddity in the fan world, I really would. But I have a suspicion that there are a number of fans who harbour secret fantasies regarding our not-really-very-American-at-all actress and the squelchy stuff, and a fair few of them involve wrestling other female companions or Blue Peter presenters (I’ll admit that I originally typed Blue Petter there, but that’s as much down to cold as anything else).
The reason why I associate Nicola Bryant with mud is that I can tell you exactly what I was doing a couple of hours before each episode of Season 22 went out. I was playing rugby. Going to one of the North-West’s finest Oxbridge sausage factories, we had four lessons on a Saturday morning and rugby in the afternoon. I was no good at it and didn’t understand what I was trying to do, so hated playing. Season 22 and Peri were my consolations.
We’re in 1985- the year of the "cancellation" and the year mild-mannered Who fans learned to hate. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that before then, most fans neither knew nor cared who was in charge at the BBC - it was taken for granted that the show was a valued and much-loved part of the BBC family and that it would always be there. We had a new Doctor, the previous season had generally been a strong one with the exception of ‘The Twin Dilemma’, which JNT later tried to excuse as deliberately bland and unimaginative to showcase the new Doctor. The new season couldn’t be more exciting- a host of classic monsters and villains to look forward to, and more guest stars than you could shake a copy of The Stage at. Much was also made of the location filming for ‘Mark of the Rani’ and ‘The Two Doctors’. All in all, Season 22 seemed to have the potential to be one of the strongest yet. OK, it didn’t quite happen that way for a variety of reasons- what we ended up with was a season more backward-looking than forward, albeit one which introduced us to Sil and the Rani, two of the more revisitable villains of the show’s later years. There’s an air of complacency and a sense that the JNT/Saward partnership had run its course, however in its favour, the only real clunker of the season was sandwiched the major continuityfest of ‘The Two Doctors’ and ‘Revelation’, potentially Colin Baker’s strongest story. But it was the last season in twenty years not to be produced defensively on the back foot. Every season since adapted to enforced changes from above and at times seemed to apologise for being on air- let’s not forget that it was pressure from above which forced the recasting of the Doctor, and each of the seventh Doctor’s seasons seems at times to beg the approval of the audience and BBC management. But like its star, Season 22 is big, brash and it doesn’t care who knows it; on a minor note, it also has the last film work done for Who for a decade.
I think my most significant Who-related memory from 1985 is of getting the hardback Two Doctors bought for me at the Blackpool exhibition. Let’s just take that experience apart for a moment. There was an exhibition in Blackpool- and it looks as if there will be again, although bizarrely the last time I was in the centre of Blackpool, the same space was being used for an exhibition on mysteries and the paranormal- aliens, mummies etc. Growing up in the North-West, Longleat was somewhere vaguely down south and inaccessible; the one time I went, for the 20th anniversary celebration, the trip replaced our annual family holiday. Blackpool had the distinct advantage of being a place people went anyway, in our case normally once in the summer and once at Illuminations time, so one or two trips were usually on the cards-my last, in the autumn of 1985, on an illuminations coach trip, was a reward for my tolerance while my grandma scoured the innumerable Tommy Ball’s cheap shoe shops which filled the town at the time. The exhibition had a shop- in the autumn, it was in the middle of a closing down sale, but in the summer it was generously stocked with Target books, Fine Art Castings and the few official items of merchandise available at the time. We’re talking theme music on a vinyl single, the Sound Effects on LP and cassette, and so on. So there were hardback novelisations, and in 1985 the king of them was ‘The Two Doctors’. By somebody’s method of counting it was the 100th adaptation and Robert Holmes had finally been persuaded to adapt his own story; the cumulative result of this was that W H Allen produced an extra-special edition with foreword by JNT and dark blue endpapers to make it look like a proper book.
Believe it or not, 1985 was also the year that BBC Video (as was) started to get their act together. We had two releases that year. ‘Pyramids of Mars’ and ‘The Seeds of Death’ have since been re-released, cleared up, commented on and generally tittivated, but I’ll never part with the original compilations- £25 each and released before the Video Nasty regulations required the certificate to be printed on the cover. We’re nearly twice as far away from the video release of ‘Pyramids’ as the video release was from the original transmission, and yet for the average fan in 1985, the past seemed so much further away. ‘Seeds’ was a real surprise- so few people had seen it before it came out, and since the Target book only came out a couple of years later, nobody knew much at all of the plot apart from the brief summary in the Programme Guide. That’s the weird thing about 1985- as the first cracks started to appear in the production of the programme, the merchandising was just starting to get into gear. Within two years, we’d have unedited video releases and the apologetic Season 24. But in 1985, it was fun being a fan in a way that it hasn’t really ever been since.
And I got through this whole article without ever mentioning M Grade.
(I like referring to him like that- makes him sound like really crappy flour. The kind that’s half wheat husks and half mouse droppings.)