Five Hundred Eyes

The Untouchables

Fandom, like every other aspect of life, has its heroes, its icons, the people for whom 'criticial review' means exactly the opposite. People like Christopher Bidmead and Tom Baker. Everything they do, everything they did, is greeted with fawning admiration and praise. They always get it right. Even when they get it wrong they get it right. They are the Untouchables. Of course, fandom is by definition an insular and uncritical thing, but the rules which govern the critical world beyond also apply here.

Write an article in a fanzine describing your carnal relations with Denys Fisher Daleks and you'll probably receive messages of support and perhaps the name of a good lawyer. But say you really can't stand the Hinchcliffe era and you'll never write for that fanzine again. Untouchability isn't just applicable to people, however, living or dead. Stories, fanzines, and even "era"s can qualify for the ultimate critical accolade.

Usually one is an Untouchable for life, and cases of a general shift in Fandom's received wisdom are rare, the most recent example of course being the Williams era. In the last few years fanzines have been full of articles 're-assessing' the previously much maligned era. When the Williams era was actually transmitted, it was a different story. Here then is the Five Hundred Eyes guide to Doctor Who's most talented people (or so they tell us).

Chris Bidmead : Generally accredited with the programme's Season 18/19 'renaissance', mainly because it is now impossible to give JNT credit for anything. Also the fact that much of his input was totally unsuited to Doctor Who's status and appeal as a broadly-based children's action/adventure/science fiction programme is ignored by critcs who simply adore any example of 'adult' themes for their own sake.

Tom Baker : Totally untouchable as the 'best Doctor ever' and the 'last good Doctor', Baker has achieved untouchability by virtue of the fact that (a) most of today's critics grew up with him and (b) he was incumbent during the Hinchcliffe years. Who now remembers his shameless hamming during much of his non-Hinchcliffe stay? Or the way he rewrote scripts to give his Doctor all the lines? No one, it seems.

The Frame : Unusual for a fanzine to achieve untouchability, and still receives occasionall criticism from the champions of the A5 zine. Nevertheless, enjoys enormous popularity despite the fact that it is really no more than a photograph album.

Robert Holmes : Doctor Who's Shakespeare, or so we are told, has reached the dizzying heights of untouchability by being universally revered in a way which no other single figure in the Doctor Who world has achieved. Remember The Space Pirates? The Krotons? The Mysterious Planet? Also influenced by mass amnesia is the fact that during Holmes' zenith, none of the great classics he with which he was credited were actually written by him : all came from other people's scripts or ideas. (See also 'Stiffs'.)

The Talons of Weng-Chiang : Generally seen as the critics' classic, Talons is arguably the greatest example of received wisdom philosphy. The fact that it is melodramatic, plagiaristic and to some people simply pretty average does not seem to exist. Talons is an all time classic, anyone who disagrees must be mentally deficient.

Kinda : Like Chris Bidmead, has joined the ranks of the Untouchables because of its 'adult' themes and, again like Bidmead, the fact that much of it is simply not Doctor Who is passed over by the adult critics.

Any pre-1985 fanzine : General consensus - the fanzines of the pre-1985 period were much better than their modern counterparts (they weren't). This conclusion is reached mainly because Queen Bat is no longer in production. The zine market of today caters for a far wider range of tastes than the pre-1985 range ever did (viz. the success of Star Begotten and The Frame).

Stiffs : Death is one of the most drastic ways of becoming an Untouchable, but once achieved it remains the very best kind. This is especially true if the stiff in question was an Untouchable before the unfortunate event (Robert Holmes, for example), but it can also apply to previously Touchables. Patrick Troughton and Ian Marter received the best press of their careers after their deaths. Beforehand? Nothing.

The Hinchcliffe era : The ultimate Untouchable, so far above reproach that to even hint at criticism is the kiss of death for a fan writer. That (a) most of the critics grew up during this period, (b) the Hinchcliffe era contained at least one very poor story per season, and (c) this was when the BBC actually encouraged the programme makers to be as innovative as possible are all ignored.

Jon Pertwee : The 'popular Doctor', the 'family programme', the 'UNIT team'. The 'Neigbour-esque moralising', 'appalling stories' and 'camp self-indulgence' are less well remembered.

Historicals : After the recent volte-face in reviewing historicals, a bad review is about as common as a safe airline. The Gunfighters, The Romans and The Smugglers have all apparently been forgotten.

Missing stories : An aura of Untouchability has grown up around these stories because (a) they do not exist and (b) some of the surviving episodes seem to point to their classic status (Evil 2, Web of Fear 1, etc.). Other surviving episodes (Underwater Menace 3, The Romans, The Chase, etc.) do not seem to bear this out.

Kate O'Mara : Popularity as a villainess in inverse proportion to the stories she appears in. Go on, admit it, you like the character but you'd rather lop off one of your limbs than watch Time and the Rani. "Ha ha ha! Nothing in the world can stop me now!!!"

Issue five contents
Five Hundred Eyes index