by Si Hunt
A mere week after Doctor Who's 23rd season ended with Colin Baker and his carrot juice, I first became acquainted with Tom Baker and his Jelly Babies.
Christmas day 1986 was notable for two reasons. One, it remains to this day the only December 25th my parents, brother and I have not spent at home and two, it was on this day that my Uncle and Aunty, no doubt inspired by my parents then recent purchasing of a video player, bestowed upon my brother and I the gift of a video tape. One each.
He got a "Mr. T and the Mystery of the Mind Thieves". I got a "Doctor Who - Revenge of the Cybermen". Whoo!
I wonder if it had been the other way round if things would have been different? Maybe I’d like football and beer nowadays whilst Brother Mark would enjoy Harlequin Miniatures and Debbie Watling.
"Revenge of the Cybermen" is not well liked by "Fandom". Balls to them. I loved it then and I love it now! I once managed to spill bleach on it when for some reason I took it into the bathroom. But like Warner it's "as tough as old boots" and it wasn't hurt apart from a bit of staining and crinkling in the lower sleeve regions.
So inspired was I by this humble "Screen Legend" video, that the following autumn I began taping the latest episodes of Who fresh from Monday evenings on BBC1.
I seem to think we actually taped Trial 14 during it's original transmission. This must have been one of the very first things we ever taped as we only got the VCR around then. I'm sure I recall stumbling across the episode on the end of a tape a few years a later. It was lost many moons ago but it’s comforting to know we still have the free 30 minute tape that came with the VCR. This reveals that the first thing any one in my household recorded was Michaela Strachan and the Care Bares from a TV:AM followed by and a Les Dennis and Dustin Gee. How obscure!
I'm not entirely sure why we didn't tape the first two stories of Season 24 but we certainly taped the latter two. Perhaps we didn't have enough tapes or perhaps it just didn't occur to us. Nevertheless by the end of 1987 I now had two bona fide BBC videos in "Revenge" and "Pyramids" along with a home taped "Delta" and "Dragonfire". Inspired by the way the BBC videos cut the title sequences I made sure I did the same although our VCR had a slight delay when you pressed record which somehow meant I ended up with bits of the recaps!
The next year Doctor Who returned to our screens on October 5th. Why did no one think to tell me! I missed the first frigging episode! I did it again too. In 1994! I missed Part one of the Green death because it didn't occur to me to phone Nick Courtney at the end of "Planet of the Daleks". It didn't occur to Aunty Beeb to advertise the wretched episode either let alone screen it at a reasonable time.
We didn't get the Radio Times way back in 1988 (or 1994 come to think of it!) and in the 80s I was far too young for DWM or any of that fan boy jazz. One day at school James Mitchell excitedly asked if I'd seen the new Doctor Who. It had the Daleks in it. It was "the best one they've ever made!" declared the impish youth. Obviously there was no way such a keen fan of Who as I would have missed this (I had Target books, ancient Doctor Who weeklies and everything) so I naturally assumed I'd merely missed another showing of Peter Cushing's multicoloured Daleks movies which were on every two weeks in those days.
"Was the Doctor an old man?" enquired I.
"Oh yes" it was confirmed.
Phew crisis over. Until that nights Neighbours. Just before the daily visit to Ramsay Street I saw a trailer for episode two of the new Dalek story. Arse.
I ran upstairs and burst into bathroom to tell my brother who was bathing in water and blissful ignorance.
I was something of a completionist even back then so having missed part one I decided it was pointless only having three quarters of the story so didn't bother taping the rest. A decision I would live to regret in years to come! A year or so later I discovered my younger cousin had most of "Remembrance" Part Three on video.
I always demanded we watch it during visits!
A few months after "Remembrance" was shown we went to stay at our Nan’s house. Being somewhat behind the times she didn't have a VCR so taping "Greatest Show in the Galaxy" duty was left to Father. I gave him strict instructions to cut the credits thus making a title sequence free compilation. He forgot to do this and once again this rendered the whole story unworthy of saving on tape. It was gone! It wouldn't be until the video release 12 years later that I got to see it again!
The following years tapings were better. We got all of "Survival", "Fenric" and "Ghostlight" with no credits just as God intended. Perfection. But God chose September 1989 to bestow a terrible vengeance on us.
A few nights before "Battlefield" Part One was due for broadcast, our big colour telly gave up the ghost. It would not be repaired until after the first episode. We did what all people do in such time of crisis and used the ancient and awful black and white set from the middle ages but alas it couldn't be connected to the VCR (or so we assumed, we didn’t actually check!). The colour telly was fixed in time for the rest of the story and I duly taped it. Although we only had 75percent of the story I decided to keep it all anyway this time. A mere four years later the BBC repeated the story and I could complete this previously missing story. Such joy. It was lovely and sunny both days Part One was shown.
So 1987 then. The year the taping began. It carried on in 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 93, 94, 96, 99,...2003. Our copy of the "Story of Doctor Who" went wrong and came out with the sound of what was on the tape previously still present. Picture Colin and Sylv miming to the voices of Chandler Bing and Monica Geller if you will. Nevermind it’ll be out on DVD one day or we’ll just borrow someone else’s copy. However, I have a feeling that even in this "it'll be in the shops next month!" age we'll be sat there when Christopher Eccleston steps out of the TARDIS. One eye on him and his fancy clothes and one eye on the VCR, praying we don't get a power cut.
Choosing a year to write about my love of Doctor Who has proved problematic. Not because I don't love Who, I do. Not literally, of course. I've never got sticky over it- well, there was that episode when Peri....No, not in that sense.
The problem is that while I've watched Doctor Who throughout the eighties, I generally don't have any firm memories which stand out. I have plenty of images of various stories, but finding one particular year has been difficult. Do I choose '81 (or was it '82, see, I can't remember) when my first recollection of Who occurs as I watch Tom visiting Logopolis, or Revelation of the Daleks, when I clearly remember the commemorative statue falling onto the Doctor? I can't choose either as it would be a very short piece of writing.
So, after some thought, I've gone for my favourite black & white era. 1987. Yes, 1987. This is all down to the BBC's decision to put Gallifrey's finest up against ITV's little programme, Coronation Street. There would be absolutely no question of my mum giving up her thirty minutes of soap heaven on the comfy settee, so I was banished to the kitchen with the hard chair and the B&W portable. Even with the lack of colour, I remember being dumbstruck by the TARDIS tumbling down onto the planet's surface, tingling with excitement as The Doctor's face changed, and then.. the opening titles. They were quite spectacular for the time (and not bad now, really). It is a shame that the story which followed the titles wasn't the classic I (or we) would probably have hoped for. I know I was thinking it was a little bit "hammy" in places, but I didn't care too much. Sylvester's Doctor was interesting and refreshing, and the bubble traps were very cool.
Doctor Who was back and I had the best...second best seat in the house for the next two years.
There were no novels, no videos and no Big Finish. There wasn't even DWM, at least to those of us who thought it had folded because WHSmiths stopped stocking it. But 1987 was a very special year, because Doctor Who was back.
I'll be honest and point out that, whatever its merits now, "Trial" was very tough going at the time. You try watching it over three months! I managed to tape "Time and the Rani" on Betamax, which was then transferred onto audio tape, and I still have that Beta Max tape (and the VHS conversion of it) to this day. It's too long ago now to recall what I felt then when the TARDIS spiraled down onto Lakertya along that big Gay rainbow. But I still get a shiver down my spine when I see it today, from the first moments when the ship is buffeted round computer generated space to when that growly, hairy stranger rolls the Doctor over to reveal his glowing face! And then... POW! That's how opening titles SHOULD crash in isn't it? They got it SO wrong with the plodding old TV Movie orchestra!
It was officially the BEST opening of a story ever, and it launched a hundred self-made Doctor Who stories on cassette tape. I played all the parts, except when I could get my sister to be Peri, only it always seemed to fall apart after the borrowed "Time and the Rani" intro had finished and I had to carry the action alone. If only the "30 Years at the Radiophonic Workshop" CD had come a few years earlier! But it wasn't just the opening that was thrilling about "Time" and its successor "Paradise Towers" - it was that they were new, fresh and, most importantly, OURS. At last, my generation had a Doctor Who of our own, and no longer had to swot up for the reheated scraps of other peoples!
And I knew, as he jumped off that desk with his lovely hair, that Sylvester McCoy indisputably WAS the Doctor! That November I wound back the video recording of "Dragonfire" over and over again to show my friends how gruesome Kane's melting face was! Who-ever it was that said kids needed scaring was right, but it was a precise science. I couldn't look when Sharez Jek unveiled himself three years before, but now perhaps I was at just the right age to enjoy it, without being quite old enough to mock it.
And you know, even Keff's music remains irrevocably off its time. Yes, it sounds shit today, but it classified the gleaming, exciting, bouncing worlds of Svartos and Lakertya as much as Dudley Simpson's work defined the seventies. There are also some quite beautiful pieces in there, such as those used as the end of "Delta" or the gentle theme commemorating Pex at the end of "Paradise Towers".
In 1987, Doctor Who got clever again - witty, unashamed and looking wholeheartedly towards the future. It didn't matter that there were only fourteen episodes a year, we had a Doctor that liked to explore again and a companion he wanted to be with. "I'll grow on you Mel, I'll grow on you!" he promises at the end of that first story. And it's a promise he undoubtedly kept to all of us.