Five Hundred Eyes


It occurs to me that Doctor Who is suffering from overkill. There's many a complaint today, especially from the older fans, that "the magic has gone". Was it ever there? Yes, of course, but it wasn't in the programme, but in ourselves. I look back at those old Pertwee stories and I think, well, very nice for the kiddies, I suppose, but really ...! And yet just a few years ago I loved those episodes. Why the change?

Okay, point one: the aforementioned overkill. There is, to put it bluntly, just too much Doctor Who around. By that I don't mean that they've made too many episodes or that they should've stopped in the mid-seventies or anything like that. No. What I'm suggesting (and I very much doubt I'm the only one thinking like this) is that coverage of Doctor Who, in fanzines and in general, reached saturation point long ago. There's the standard complaint of knowing too much about a season in advance of its transmission, and it's a valid one, but this shouldn't affect our perceptions of past 'classics'.

Allow me to back-track slightly. When, asks the old chestnut, was Dr Who good? (And Jackie Roe will be giving her answer next issue.) Well, personally I think I enjoyed Dr Who the most, got the most out of it, back in the early eighties. At this stage, of course, fandom was still in its infancy. The DWAS was only five years old, and most fans had never heard of it. Our sole contact with Dr Who, apart from the statutory 25 minutes a week that was a feature of most families' viewing (God, it seems so unreal now, doesn't it, but Season 19 got over ten million viewers!), was Marvel's Dr Who Weekly, soon to become Dr Who Monthly and the cornerstone of most young fans' appreciation. Look, stop me if this starts to turn into a nostalgic meander of the "when I was a lad" variety, but I think we're fairly unanimous about the "Bentham was the best thing that ever happened to that magazine" school of thought. They couldn't get away with it nowadays, of course - your average fan is far more sophisticated (that word really needs inverted commas, doesn't it?) and would complain bitterly if given the kind of 'elementary' facts that were a feature of the early DWMs. (This doesn't take into account the tremendous decline in the quality of the writing since Bentham departed, but ignore that for now. One: it's bitchy, and Two: totally irrelevant to what I happen to be talking about.) The point is, in those days everything was fresh, everything was new. We hadn't been over-exposed, and, impossible though it may seem, didn't know intimate plot details (or dialogue, for goodness sake) of stories made before we were born. (A note to my more 'mature' readers: there are actually fans out there who were born post-Hartnell. Unbelievable, but true.)

Now I'm as guilty of all this over-saturation as anyone. Look at this squalid pile of paper itself - a sorry testament to the depths that Dr Who fans will sink to scrape every last drop of meaning, of significance, of detail out of the shallow barrel that comprises the Dr Who canon. Sometimes, I must admit, it's all worth it. Now you may think that Ian Levy is a pretentious poseur with a neat line in obscure quotes and archaic vocabulary, but I have to confess that, quite apart from finding his writing immensely entertaining (yes, I'm grovelling, but for God's sake Ian, I need some more articles!), he actually makes damn good points. So I suppose there is some merit in examining these stories closely, even if it is liable to bring us too close to the source - the old 'wood for the trees' problem. CMS-In Vision is a little more dubious. Oh, an excellent magazine for sure: lord knows, I buy enough of them. But maybe the detail is just a tad too much, obscuring the content of the storyt under the microscope with "production notes". There's obviously a market for such publications, and I'm part of it, but that doesn't stop it being part of the 'problem', if indeed you acknowledge that there is one.

But is there? Well I hope so, or otherwise I've just wasted the last page. I probably have anyway, but ... Remember back there I said Point One? Well, point two (and you thought I'd forgotten) is actually quite closely related, but separate. Just as there's too much Doctor Who in popular consciousness, too much examination of detail and not enough plain enjoyment, so there's also too much Doctor Who in terms of availability. For some years now the "inner core" of fandom, the 500 or so fans that tend to be active, either in zine circles or in Local Groups, have had access to old videos, generally copies of Australian and New Zealand repeats of Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, backed up by tapes of 'slightly more dubious origin', ie. you don't ask too closely about their origin, especially if you want BBC Archive janitors to keep their job. And amongst these fans there has also been the feeling that maybe it's all a little too much. A few years back we would have killed to have been given the chance to see, say, 'The Daemons'; now it's as common as dirt, and pretty laughable too. (Before I start getting hate-mail from rabid Pertwee-ites, I still find it quite entertaining and watchable, but let's face it - some of the dialogue, plot and "characterisation" is sub-B-Movie.) And now, with BBC Video finally getting their act together, everybody else will be able to share in the treasure trove of old classics that are currently languishing in the archives. At the moment it's okay - with a few honourable exceptions they're releasing only the very best ('Talons', 'Dead Planet', 'Ark in Space') and you won't complain. Even when they release a turkey, it's still fun. It's not access to either good or bad stories that I'm talking about, but access to all stories. When I was first introduced to the 'pirate video network' (and at £8 a time including tape it was soon "Thank you and goodnight ****** Local Group") the excitement of being able to see even a blurry copy of 'Inferno' was immense. Now I have it a first-generation copy from Australia and it's ... well, it's just there. I have no real desire to watch again for many years, but somehow the fact that I have it, ready to watch at any time, has cheapened it for me. (Readers of the long-defunct 'Frontier Worlds' may recall John Bok warning of just such a phenomenon as the video boom was starting to take off.) It's all very easy, you say: just wipe your tapes. Ah, but I can't, dear reader, I can't. I'm an addict and cold turkey's too hot to handle. ... If I'm feeling down I just slot in a really corny late-Tom Baker and slip my mind into neutral and let it flow. I still get something out of Doctor Who, but that's the trade-off I've had to make: I can now watch (and enjoy, make no mistake about that) almost any story at any time, but somehow it's all less special. The magic has gone, and I'll never get it back. Arthur C. Clarke said (I think) that any science suitably beyond our comprehension becomes magic. It works the other way too - look too closely, try to understand how the magic works, and suddenly it isn't magic any longer.

Magic is in the mind of the beholder. It's pointless trying to warn you, young fan, against the dangers; it's pointless telling you that after a while you'll get fed up with the whole thing and seek new diversions. It's pointless because for you, as it once was for me, Doctor Who is an obsession, and you'll continue to try and get more and more until you burn out, OD on Who. So enjoy it now, because it's good while it lasts

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