Five Hundred Eyes

When was Dr Who good?

This seems to be a question with several possible answers, and with the recent upturn in the programme's ratings and the increase in interest in Dr Who, now may be the time to put some of them on paper.

One of the first things that ever frightened me was when I was five years old. It was the last episode of 'The Tenth Planet' and I thought that the Doctor was dead! Hysteria reigned for several minutes while my mother patiently explained that he wasn't dead; he was coming back but he'd look different. It's important to note that at no time did she try to persuade me that it was only pretend. At that point I think my world would have ended if she'd dared to suggest that the Doctor was anything else but real!

When I was six

When I was six, Patrick Troughton was in full swing, as was the infamous fifth season. It's tragic that so much of this season was destroyed - it remains my absolute favourite. Thirty-four weeks of monsters galore!

The beginning of the season was landmarked by my mother threatening to stop allowing me to watch it. Why? Not because I was frightened, but because thanks to my infinite imagination and powers of persuasion my sister was convinced that there was a Cyberman under her bed (a silver gloved hand just poised to grab her ankle should her foot dangle from beneath the covers during the hours of darkness). Mother was succinct : "Stop frightening your sister or else!" The threat worked. She used the same tactics on my father, who took to impersonating Ice Warriors as a means to gaining silence when his favourite programmes were on!

But for all its monsters, Yeti, Daleks, Cybermen, the one story that frightened me, the one that really had me worried, was 'Fury from the Deep'. I remember giving the gas cooker in our kitchen a very wide berth for several weeks after that one. And to this day I'm not really happy around large collections of sea-weed on the beach!

When I was nine and a bit

When I was nine and a bit, Jon Pertwee had already established himself as the Doctor and his second season got under way. I'm not going to rant on and on about 'Terror of the Autons'; it's enough to say that it was an awesome way to start a season and the rest of the season lived up to expectations.

The UNIT personnel became a very important part of Dr Who and I know there are fans that think the programme could benefit from having them back. But they belonged to Pertwee's era. As did the Master. Who would have thought that the villain of the piece could become as popular as the hero. The Doctor's sparring sessions, both verbal and physical, with the Master were an integral part of the show's appeal and things were never quite the same after the sudden and unexpected death of Roger Delgado.

UNIT's inability to actually inflict much damage on any of the invading aliens didn't seem to matter - they cheerfully shot away at Autons, devils and Omega's blobs of jelly regardless!

When I was thirteen

When I was thirteen a wondrous event occured - we got a colour television. No, Dr Who was not the first thing I saw in colour - that distinction goes to Rupert the Bear! Tom Baker was, however, the first Doctor I saw in colour and it seems fitting, as he was such a colourful character. I've never been able to forget the expression on the Brigadier's face when the Doctor marched out of the TARDIS in full Viking regalia! Priceless.

Doctor Who continued to be part of a cosy Saturday evening ritual. It was the only night of the week that Mother would allow us to eat in front of the telly. The lights were dimmed, the volume turned up, and a cushion grabbed for use in case of any dodgy moments!

I suppose Season Fourteen is the Tom Baker one that was the most memorable. The robots from 'Robots of Death' were so chilling because of their cultured voices and their creepy faces. Even when they went beserk they did it with style and I really hated Taren Kapel for changing their programming. 'The Talons of Weng-Chiang' is another story that's hard to forget. The style was almost like a 'Hammer Horror', and to this day it still makes me shudder.

From then to the end of Tom Baker's tenure my viewing was sporadic. I had a job on Saturday's and I invariably missed at least one episode of each story. At the same time it was discovered that there was life on other channels on Saturdays. Doctor Who was no longer that cosy ritual. An era was gone. Mother told me it was time I grew up.

By the time Tom Baker's last season was being shown, I was living away from home and was subject to the whims of the majority in a communal TV room where Dr Who did not, unfortunately, feature.

I was home on holiday for the last episode of 'Logopolis' and watched it with dismay. I was confused. I didn't know what had been happening, I didn't know any of the companions. There was someone else playing the Master. I felt as if I'd lost a childhood friend and I wasn't sure I wanted to watch Dr Who anymore.

When I was twenty

When I was twenty I bought my own TV. Freedom, at last, to watch what I wanted to. I hadn't planned to watch 'Castrovalva', but you know how it is. You hear that music and you're lost.

I continued to watch Dr Who, but with a certain degree of detatchment; I kept waiting for something to happen that would once again glue me to the TV set. It's not Peter Davison's fault, he is a fine actor, I admire his work. Perhaps he was too well known as other characters before becoming the Doctor.

The news that he was leaving after only three years was a surprise. I think we were all very spoilt by Tom Baker's seven year stint. However, he did manage to glue me to the TV for 'Caves of Androzani', and that made me angry. Why the hell had they waited until this last story before allowing the Doctor to show us his full mettle?

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It's not that my age has stayed static since 1984, but there have been no real landmarks to base my reflections upon since then, so I shall continue without categories!

I liked Colin Baker's Doctor: he was erratic, volatile and abrasive. Yanking the leash and reminding us once more that the Doctor is NOT human and should not always be expected to act like one. The one thing I would have changed, given the opportunity, was his costume!

His all too brief tenure as the Doctor was marred by continually moving the programme about in terms of time and the evening it was shown. The eighteen month break did very little to boost viewing but it did at least show that there were people out there who cared enough to deluge the BBC with letters demanding its return.

'Trial of a Time Lord' was nothing like as bad as some people make out, and the last two episodes brought back a little of the magic and the unreality. It was with sadness that I watched the credits roll after Colin Baker's last episode.

When Sylvester McCoy was named as the seventh Doctor I remember thinking to myself :

"Not the Grunda Hunter!!!"

I can't remember the name of the show, but back in 1984-5 there was a children's quiz show on ITV. Three teams of kids faced questions from two aliens trying to determine how intelligent humans were. One of the aliens was Sylvester. During the course of the show was a round where the kids had to sit on one of those 'Bucking Bronco' contraptions which was disguised as this thing called a 'Grunda'. They had a minute to answer questions asked by Sylvester, who leapt around like a demented grasshopper on a pile of air-filled cushions.

"THIS was the new Doctor?? Aargh!!!"

Much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued as I envisaged the end of the series!

But ... then a wondrous thing occured. Purely by accident I was watching an afternoon show on the BBC. The new Doctor Who was to be interviewed and I thought ... what the hell? I'll watch. And there appeared this very animated, very witty little man and I felt strangely reassured.

'Time and the Rani' has had so much flack thrown at it, it must by now resemble a swiss cheese. It wasn't the best ever first story but neither was it the worst. And it really isn't too bad if you watch it again after a few months! By the end of 'Dragonfire' I was feeling, dare I say it, optimistic.

When the 25th season began and they changed the timeslot again I was sitting patiently with my finger poised on the video remote when one of my house mates informed me we were expecting some visitors from the States. So on that Wednesday evening there were several people crammed into the front room ... the episode progressed ... we all semed to be getting closer to the screen. I was think to myself: this is good, I don't believe it, this is actually good!

At the end of the episode there was a universal shriek of "Run up the stairs!" and a deafening silence as the Dalek followed. "Oh shit!" said one of our colonial friends. "The little bastards have learnt how to climb stairs!"

The one thing that spoilt the Silver Anniversary year for me was that the BBC decided to ignore what was happening. There was very little coverage and no repeats! God forbid that EastEnders should last as long, but I remember the hulabaloo on their third birthday. And Blue Peter at least got a mention on the news or its 30th birthday.

Dr Who has fended off competition from TV and cinema to remain popular; the latest season actually doing remarkably well against Coronation Street. I think it stands up remarkably well against its competitors.

As we head into the nineties I think the biggest threat to Dr Who is us the fans, who continue to heap criticism after citicism on everyone connected with the show, from writers through actors and especially the producer!

At this point it's probably worth reiterating what Gene Roddenberry has said about Star Trek : "Star Trek is not made by a committee, someone has to have the final say." The same applies to Doctor Who. As much as we'd like to, the fans do not make the programme. I don't think all this continual demand for a return to the 'good old days' is a healthy thing to do. I don't wish to go back to terrible CSO effects, really wobbly sets or seeing the strings holding up spaceships. Yes, part of the programme's appeal is based on this, but the audience, the fans of tomorrow, have been reared on Star Wars and a host of other SFX movies and TV serials, and they are not going to be fooled!

I'm not condoning the way that the BBC treats Dr Who, which, let's face it, must make them money or they wouldn't continue to make it! Part of the problem is they don't know how to categorise it. Dr Who can no longer be classified as purely a children's serial: the 7.35pm slot shows this.

So in conclusion, to finally answer the question : when was Dr Who good? My answer is, NOW!

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