The original series of Doctor Who ended in December 1989. It's coming back next year apparently (you wouldn’t know, there’s been nothing about it online or in the press) but without any new TV episodes Doctor Who has never slept quietly. We’ve had books, comic strips, spoofs, a TV film, reconstructions, audio adventures and Bill Baggs full of other gubbins. Doctor Who has always thrived in other forms since the earliest TV Comic strip to the latest Big Finish CD. I can also confirm that it works equally well when acted out in a bedroom with action figures...
Even though Doctor Who did not return to TV in 1990 it was continued to be produced by me (with occasional help and hindrance from my brother!) for many years after and possibly before that year.
I had a loyal cast, sturdy reusable sets and there were never any strikes although some stories did get aborted…
Dapol’s late 80s/early 90s BBC licensed Doctor Who action figures were unsurprisingly the most important talent pool in my fun and games. I wasn’t going to be restricted just to use the smattering of bona fide Doctor Who toys however! Dearie me no. I gave regular employment to characters from the worlds of Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Turtles and the works of Gerry Anderson. They were all a little different in size but not enough to let that get in the way of a good adventure.
I’m sure lots of people played such games, after all action figures were made to be played with (although I worry that today’s are made to be kept in their packaging and sold for lots a de casha years later) but I took things a little further and went to such efforts as taping the Doctor Who title music from the telly and then playing it at the start and end of each of my "episodes" while holding up lovingly drawn (in felt tip pen) recreations of the title sequences. I even did my own original versions sometimes. I updated the precious diamond logo so it now consisted of a crystalline diamond topped by the McCoy era logo. A copy of the Cybertech album yielded a nice new alternative title music and no I don't mean the rave "Dimensions in Time" one which even I felt didn't suit the mood. I move with the times me.
When I got a little older I even started to time each episode to be 25 minutes. I did the unthinkable and moved to 45 minutes for my last few stories as I felt if the series was being made then this is how it would be! By this point I was even writing out cast credits and holding them up in time to the music! I cast Letitia Dean as the new president of Earth in a sequel to Frontier in Space you know.
Oh yes. My series wasn't just a clone of the TV show but like the DWM comic strip it had its own continuity and even its own Doctors, their adventures told in episodic serials just like on TV…only this time shown to an audience of one. ME!
I forget the exact order of the regenerations my Doctor had but it goes something like this:
Bob the Goon from Batman
Lando Carrisain (the first black Doctor!) -
I forget what incarnations they were. I may have gone up to 12 Doctors. I’m pretty sure there were 10 at some stage. Jeff Tracy was certainly the last. Alas he never got a proper leaving scene, it all fizzled out somewhat.
The Doctor’s costumes were very important to me and some of these figures gained outfits made from blue tac-ing on waistcoats, frilly sleeves and coat tails etc. Batman’s "Bob the Goon" and "The Joker" figures came with dapper hats which were much used by my Doctors although in the days of yore prior to getting these I made hats out of paper and blue tac.
I naturally came up with actors that would have played them if this were on TV. So we have...Adam Faith as the Doctor. Oh dear! Well he had nice hair and looked a little bit like Jeff Tracy….if you squint. A lot. Luke Skywalker was Roger Moore. Lando Carrisian was er…Mick from Brookside. Oh dear!
Although I never played their adventures, I accepted Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee and Tom Baker as part of the "canon" and they would appear in multi Doctor stories as is the rule. I do recall a lavish re-enactment of "Evil of the Daleks" which I claimed was a repeat of the newly re-discovered story! I actually erased the whole of the Tom Baker era too when I got Dapol’s 4th Doctor Figure. I decided he was to good not to use so changed history and made him the current Doctor rather than one of the off screen ones such as Hartnell was. A bit like that Dallas storyline where someone wakes up after dreaming the past few series. I did the same with "Remembrance of the Daleks" which I remade several times and just erased the other versions from history!
The stories I "produced" were a veritable pic n mix. Some made up from my head, others adapted from TV stories I'd seen or merely read about in books.
Companions were pretty much as on TV, although I also gained April O'Neil and Vernon Someoneorother from the then popular Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles... I stole their Shredder and used him as an Ice Lord too. Well he had an Ice Lordish hat! Ace kept coming and going for various reasons too!
The Batcave was a godsend! I got it for Christmas 1990 and it made for perfect control rooms and its moveable staircase came in very handy for countless adventures. It had chairs to die for which popped up everywhere! It also became "Space UNIT HQ" which was a moonbase type thing (influenced by my getting "The Seeds of Death" on video) that the Ice Warriors invaded with their tissue/foam seedpods...
In the later days I turned to the Virgin "New Adventures" novels for inspiration and had Benny Summerfield, space Bitch Ace, Chris, Roz, Wolsey the Cat and the Doctor's house on Allen Road.
I recall one plot which saw Bernice flung into the time vortex which resulted in her changing into an alternative version of herself. A new actress would have been brought in if this was on TV...Louise Lombard from "The House of Elliot" in fact who had short dark hair just like the illustrations of Benny on the book covers.
I seem to think this re-casting might be because I'd started off just stealing the name Bernice Summerfield and applying it to a generic blonde female companion but then decided I wanted to go down the "New Adventures" route proper. So what better way of cancelling out a character than flinging them into time and bringing them back as the same but different person!
I naturally "created" (or stole from other places) my own villains. The most memorable of these was the Time Controller. Played originally by a helmet-less Robocop and recast (I realised that Doctor Who liked to update things) as the Hood from Thunderbirds. Spot the connection? Clue: a lack of hair! This character was basically a Master Clone who had stolen the Lantrhax Core from the Tomb of Rassilon. This was essentially a gun which had the ability to capture anything or anybody from any point in time. You'd never have guessed I'd just seen "The Five Doctors". Amusingly I realised later "The Time Monster" features a scene where the Master scoops various things out of time to use to attack UNIT which is pretty much all the Time Controller ever did!
The Time Controller was also behind one of my favourite adventures. I figured out that "my" series would probably be a few series ahead of the TV version as I made a lot more stories per year and liked to break them down into series, so around 1991 I decided to have a 30th Anniversary special. This was "The Search for Doctor Who". I knew calling the character Doctor Who was a controversial move and I did it on purpose as it seemed the sort of thing the TV series did!
This was a 12 part epic which saw the current Doctor (Bob the Goon, who regenerated from Roger Moore when he was shot outside the TARDIS…did the writer of the TV Movie read my mind I wonder?) having to search through time for his previous incarnations which the Time Controller had scattered through history. I forget the rest but I remember each Doctor was given a two-episode section set during one of their adventures…henceforth the first Doctor and Susan wandering around an impressive Dalek invaded, dilapidated London…in reality the spare bed with lots of Lego bricks on it.
Another favourite was the spooky 7th Dr and Mel "Ghostlight-ish" "Crack in the Sky". A title just gagging for cheeky puns I’m sure. This saw a lone alien slipping through a tear in the fabric of time and space and taking over a big mansion house owned by a professor. This was played during a very grey and murky day which added bags of atmosphere!
Then there were "The Killer Robots" who featured in a story ripped off (unsurprisingly from) "The Robots of Death". This was oddly one of the only times I did an adventure in my own bedroom rather than the usually empty spare room. In place of the Storm Miner I had a huge intergalactic bin lorry type affair which was represented by my "Toy basket" (a kind of metallic structure used by shops to display stuff and which my dad had acquired during his sales rep days and was subsequently used by me to house my toys and assorted junk)
Things got much more lavish towards the end until it got to the point I was making mini-cardboard cut out Peladon Castles. Most of the time the sets were all very basic. I had my lovely Dapol Console room and a few spare TARDIS walls not to mention assorted chairs, guns etc from other figures. Cassette boxes were used for everything from tables to beds to control panels.
Location work was done on the double bed which made a convincing empty quarry like space or the floor for cities (the tables and furniture and walls made for buildings). One of my favourite "sets" was the big white window ledge which looked out over the garden or if you were "filming" at night was just like the corridors of the Nerva Beacon. I enjoyed doing "Ark in Space" a lot and even started it with the TARDIS appearing in the dark. A wet tissue covered sticklebrick made a surprisingly convincing Wirrn Larvae while a 50p joke shop giant Grasshopper made a perfect Wirrin adult. Wet tissue rolled up and left to dry made smashing maggots for "The Green Death"!
The dark mirror-come make up tabley thing was always used for dark sets as it looked a little like wood panelling. A bit. It had an upper story two which was a smasher if you need a balcony.
I did occasionally go and play out in the garden but it was too much effort to bring everything out and I liked the seclusion of being in the spare room. Besides we lost Princess Leia somewhere in the garden. We eventually got a replacement from a car boot sale but I wonder if the original is still out there rotting under a bush?
I wish I'd taken some pictures of these productions. I have nothing but my memories now. My brother occupies that room these days and it's full of his clutter but the same furniture is present and even the same old carpet! It badly needs a make over but it pleases me to see the old chests of drawers and wot not that made such a fantastic studio.
This may all sound like tedious nonsense to you but I was in my absolute element. It was bliss! I was the producer, director, actor, writer the everything! I had a small but dedicated cast. I had Daleks, Cybermen, Ice Warriors and sometimes a tourch for special effects. Even a Lego Bessie and a flimsy cardboard Whomobile! Maybe I should have been out shoplifting drugs or fingering girls in the park but I was much happier fingering Mini Ace and Mini Mel.
If anyone saw mine and me other half's version of "The Dark Dimension" (if not it’s still online!)then they'll have seen a lot of these figures and props in action. In fact one of the things I liked most about our production was that it was just a glorified version of the games I used to play. You can spot those bat cave chairs, now sprayed silver, that’s the same console I used to use (and yes I did colour in some of the buttons way back when!) and look out for the hats! I never put half as much effort in and simply never had the money or inclination to make sets or paint anything but the basic concept is the same. I'd certainly like to do another project like this and plans are afoot!
I loathe and detest that over used quote from "Terror of the Autons" (I think) about being grown up and childish but it seems appropriate. Doctor Who isn't Shakespeare and it isn't high art. Colin Baker said it was Cowboys and Indians in space and I think I know what he means. It's just such a fun and entertaining idea for a programme and it gave me so many hours of pleasure. I'm glad it's coming back to TV and I'm glad I can still get out the old toys and knock up a story or two!
1990 was quite a year. It was of course the year when there was no new Doctor Who on TV for the first time since... well, for anybody under the age of 26, for the first time EVER. Not of course that we knew that in January, as memories of Christmas and the end of "Survival" still lingered. By the following December it was fairly obvious that there was no new Who coming that year, and it began I think to sink in that there might not be any for quite some time. The excited talk of farming out to independent production companies that had optimistically filled up a Gallifrey Guardian or two had come to nothing, or at least nothing concrete, and it seemed as if Doctor Who might, this time, be dead.
So given that, you might expect 1990 to be a year I remember with dismay. But just as BBC TV lost the plot and gave up on the show completely, so BBC Enterprises suddenly seemed to move into top gear. And so one Friday in February I came home for lunch from my part-time job at the local Post Office (that's PO, or maybe Boff, to any Fawlty Towers fans) to find a box from John Fitton Books & Magazines. It contained, and I am getting a little tingle up the spine even now as I remember this-- it contained three video tapes, comprising all four episodes of "An Unearthly Child" and even more thrilling all ten (count 'em - ten!) episodes of "The War Games". I watched that very first episode from 1963 during my lunch break, and was captivated all over again, just as I had been in November 1981. Then I bunged in the second tape of "The War Games" to see whether it was episodic or not.
Ah yes - episodic... Up until this point fans had berated the BBC for releasing (with the curious exception of "The Daleks" the year before, which I got for my 18th birthday) the stories sans credits and reprises - or, as the back-cover blurb liked to put it, compiled into "a feature-length space adventure." But now, this year, almost unheralded, that was suddenly a thing of the past. OK, it didn't take long for us fans to start moaning that the 'Next Episode' captions from the final episodes on the Hartnell tapes weren't there, and there was apparently two seconds of a fade to black missing from part 1 of "The Daleks"... But in 1990 I not only didn't know that, I wouldn't have cared. Suddenly stories that I never, ever, EVER, thought I would get to see, were being released by the BBC in boxes decorated with beautiful artwork, and in 'unedited' episodic format.
So going back to that lunchtime, just as I had to go back to work, the legend, EPISODE SIX appeared and I knew then that this was the real deal. At teatime that night, my brother did the honest thing and cut to the chase - ie, he fast forwarded to watch EPISODE TEN first, the 'Trial of Doctor Who' of fan legend. The next day, Saturday, we watched the whole thing.
And the wonder of it was, this wasn't just the exciting release of two stories. Just as we were getting blasé about having seen two stories from before we were born (well technically speaking my brother was alive when "The War Games" aired, but at the age of six months he didn't remember much about it) there was more to come - another black & white pairing in April (then delayed to May) of "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" and "The Mind Robber", then another in September of "The Web Planet" and "The Dominators" and in-between the BBC even went back and corrected a couple of their earlier mistakes, by giving us genuinely unedited versions of "The Brain of Morbius" and "The Five Doctors". Suddenly the hazy glow of wonder that surrounded these stories, in the main generated by the opinion-as-fact reporting of DWM was replaced by reality - stories made three decades earlier were no longer the province of those lucky enough to have been there at the time, but were readily available to everybody.
There were a great many stories released in the years that followed, and many of them I enjoy a lot more than any of the eight stories that came out in 1990. But somehow that first set of 'proper' releases are the ones which give me a thrill just to think about. The on-going story of Doctor Who on TV had stalled, and for a time we thought it was finished forever, but suddenly the entire history (well, excepting 114 or so missing episodes) was becoming available to us, and for quite some time that helped to fill the void.