Remembrance… 25 Years As A Fan Of Doctor Who
A PERSONAL RECOLLECTION OF HOW I BECAME A DOCTOR WHO FAN, WRITTEN AS AN EXCLUSIVE PIECE FOR THIS BLOG.
Twenty five years ago this weekend, when most of the nation was tucked on the sofa with a cuppa and the latest instalment of Corrie, the landmark twenty-fifth season of a perennial science fiction adventure series began airing to little fanfare over on ‘the other side’. Doctor Who was back with a bang, even if a decreasing number of people watched it.
In Remembrance Of The Daleks, The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and his new companion Ace (Sophie Aldred) arrive in London in 1963, a few days after he left the area in the very first episode 25 years earlier. The Doctor had left something special behind, and his arch enemies, The Daleks, were after it, and him. Allying himself with investigating military officer Group Captain Gilmore (Simon Williams), his scientific advisor Dr Rachel Jensen (Pamela Salem) and her assistant Alison (Karen Gledhill), The Doctor pro-actively sets about pitting two warring Dalek factions against once another, so that the right lot get their hands on his well hidden treasure, the mythical Hand of Omega.
It’s rightly described as one of the show’s highlights across 50 years, 33 seasons and 800 episodes. McCoy and Aldred’s chemistry is apparent from the off, and Ben Aaronovitch’s script crackles with witty lines and clever references to the show’s past. It even goes meta at one point, with a cheeky reference to a brand new science fiction series airing on a television in the background, and better still, has a glorious one-scene role from future Fresh Prince Of Bell Air star Joseph “Geoffrey the bulter” Marcell.
More importantly for me on a personal level, is that this story became my earliest memory of Doctor Who. There’s a possibility that, with fan parents, it may not be my first exposure to the series, but these four episodes made such an enormous impact on those cold October evenings, that the show cemented itself a place in my heart, of which I sadly possess only one.
My parents had cleverly figured from my fascination with the trailers that I would enjoy this show enough to want it on tape afterwards, even at a time when blank videos were still pretty expensive. After all, they had enjoyed the show themselves in their youth, so it was a logical assumption that I might also, and as the globe appeared on screen and my dad pressed play and record on the machine (there was no remote control back then!), my world was changed forever.
At the age of three years and eleven months, I was entranced by this funny little man with a question-mark umbrella, and his awesome friend with a baseball bat to bash the bad guys and a rucksack full of explosives. To me, The Doctor and Ace were the best buddies anyone could ever hope to have, and as their adventures continued in the coming weeks, I longed to join them.
When I reached primary school in the autumn of 1989, the duo returned for their final voyages, and their adventures would be acted out in the playground, as generations had done previously. We’d be running away from Daleks and Cybermen, going to alien planets (ok, the trees at the top end of the playground), and dreaming of one day going away in the TARDIS for real. I was also going to marry Ace, which in retrospect I realise is something the character would have hated. Then again, I was also going to marry Kylie Minogue, Tiffany and the cartoon version of April O’Neil, but we’ll keep that childish lack of understanding around bigamy laws to one side, and stick with Doctor Who, eh?
And then, suddenly, it was all over. Doctor Who was dumped by the BBC, quietly, and without any of the public furore that had greeted their earlier attempt at killing it off. Years later, those responsible for the decision admitted they carefully planned the organisation, deliberately putting the show on against the nation’s top rated soap, to give it as little chance as possible to survive.
And yet, survive is exactly what it did. At first, this came through video sales, and the handful we could afford as a child offered me a tantalising glimpse of the Doctor’s other faces and former friends. Stories like The Ark In Space and The Robots Of Death were quintessential Who, still hugely regarded to this day – but at the time, for me, they were just as good as the rest of what I had seen.
Then came the BBC repeats, starting with The Time Meddler, The Mind Robber and The Sea Devils, and before too long, I had seen at least something of every Doctor, taping every episode to watch over and over again. The 30th anniversary brought a brand new story on telly, which is rightly something fans try to forget about in retrospect, but at the time was so exciting for this nine year old. I still have the 3D glasses required to this day.
Books came out, the magazine thrived, and then suddenly, the Doctor was back – with a brand new face for one night only thanks to an American co-production. Then came comic strips in the Radio Times, and more novels to get into. By the turn of the century, Doctor Who was long gone from our screens. It was, however still out there, somewhere, even if my interest temporarily waned with nothing on screen to grab my attention as a teenager with limited cash, and lots of rock bands to get into.
Then, ten years ago, I spotted a special dvd box-set in WH Smith, bringing together three stories featuring the Daleks, including the one that had so wonderfully caught my imagination back in 1988. Taking it home, I devoured all three tales – The Dalek Invasion Of Earth was glorious, and beautifully restored. Resurrection Of The Daleks was a bit disappointing, but it had its moments. And oh, Remembrance Of The Daleks, how I still loved you. Just as good as it had been on clunky vhs all these years, first taped off the telly, then in a Dalek tin edition, but now remastered and looking better than ever.
It was at that point, that I decided to get back into the show in a big way. Buying up every dvd currently available, by the end of 2004, I was on track to buy every successive title as it was released, and have stuck with it ever since. Books came along that I devoured once again, just as I had clung to “Ace”, “The Monsters” and that ex-library copy of Peter Haning’s 20th anniversary book “A Celebration” in my childhood. The magazine got revamped and became better and better with each issue. But most importantly of all, around the same time I picked up that dvd and fell in love with Remembrance once more, the BBC announced there would be a brand new series of Doctor Who.
And before we knew it, we had three more Doctors to fall in love with and another on the way, in the form of the magnificent Peter Capaldi. The show is now bigger than ever, and it’s heartwarming to see kids run around the Doctor Who Experience, knowing the names of all the Doctors and reading the books and magazines with the same vigour I did at that age. These children are also collecting the dvds and the passage of time and the increasingly clunky looking special effects never get in the way of what has always made the show so magnificent: the stories.
Twenty-five years after Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred popped up on a London street, investigating a strange black van outside Coal Hill School, fans around the world are itching to see a glimpse of the 50th anniversary special on television, and dying to hear the audio play from Big Finish that unites Doctors Four, Five, Six, Seven and Eight in one adventure. Come November 23rd, we’ll all be raising a glass to those who have given their all since 1963, to The Greatest Show In The Galaxy.
Thank you to all of the Doctors, the companions, writers, producers, script-editors, directors, guest stars and anyone else who made their mark on the show. Love to those who are here to enjoy the celebrations with us, and remembrance for those we have lost along the way – from producers Verity Lambert, Barry Letts and John Nathan Turner to stars William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Jacqueline Hill, Adrienne Hill, Michael Craze, Caroline John, Nicholas Courtney, Elisabeth Sladen and Mary Tamm, plus everyone else taken from us in between.
And extra special thanks to Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, script-editor Andrew Cartmell, writer Ben Aaronovitch, director Andrew Morgan and everyone else involved with the production of THAT story, and THAT season, 25 years ago, for making me the fan I am, and to some extent, the person I am, today.
As you can see, I still have my vhs tape of Remembrance Of The Daleks and The Happiness Patrol, recorded off air in November 1988 and with titles scribbled on by my young hand. And one day, my children and I hope, grandchildren, will be given that tape. Chances are they will have absolutely no way of playing it, but it will be passed down as a personal treasure of mine to keep hold of because, whilst it has long since been consigned to the past, that tape marks the moment with which I truly began to dream.