Five Hundred Eyes

It was great when it all began

I am now a disillusioned Doctor Who fan.

I was quite happy with Season 23 at the time, but after watching Revenge of the Cybermen it turned a little stale. Then came Season 24.

After being enthralled by the opening regeneration sequence and then the starburst into the excellent computer graphics titles, I was brought down to earth with a bump. Time and the Rani just seemed a waste of time and the excellent characters of the Rani, Ikona, Urak and, of course, the Doctor.

I say I was brought down to earth with a bump rather than a thud, as I just had the hazy memories of Logopolis onwards, and the even hazier memories of Seasons 17 and 18. Having been born the day after the first episode of Planet of the Spiders was shown, I missed out on all episodes pre-74. Although I only clearly remember watching from the beginning of Season 17, I have been irritated by my parents disturbing my viewing of the BBC video of Pyramids of Mars by telling me that I had seen it before!

My memories of the Five Faces season being very scant, I at first agreed with JNT's idea that, quote, "quite often the memory cheats - it may be twenty years later, or fifteen years later. I think the appreciation of it in retrospect is perhaps a little cloudy - the viewers are ageing", and that these older viewers were just wallowing in nostalgia and fogetting any bad stories and wobbly sets, etc. But I have since been re-educated and have revised my views on the matter. After watching (or rather re-watching) Carnival of Monsters memories came flooding back, and Season 24 became stale, mouldy and maggot-ridden (excuse the metaphors if you're eating!). Granted, Carnival of Monsters wasn't exactly a classic, but after Season 24 it deserved a BAFTA award!

If Carnival deserved one BAFTA then Silurians deserved ten. As a child of the four parter, and remembering large lumps of padding in recent seasons, my initial reaction to Silurians was "Oh no! It's going to dra-a-aggg. Anything worth watching will be crammed into the last five minutes." I couldn't have been more wrong. There were hardly any slow moments, with a wonderfully tense atmosphere between the cave system and the atomic energy centre. The pace wasn't just kept up by people running around shooting each other, which, as far as I have seen, many other seventies' programmes suffered from. The drama was in the dialogue and the long tense silences.

I think that the story gained something from being in black and white, as it stopped scrutiny of the Silurian costumes and the dinosaur, which may not have been as effective in colour. Talking of Silurian costumes, what happened to them in Warriors of the Deep? As far as I can see, being cryogenically suspended must have affected their evolution a "nd lost them the use of their third eye.

But forgetting that (and Warriors of the Deep is worth forgetting) the question is now begged, why can't the BBC make anything as good as Doctor Who was then now? Unfortunately they can, but it certainly isn't Doctor Who. I did wonder why another fanzine made such comparisons between Doctor Who and Star Cops. I now understand why. Granted, the effects were far more advanced in Star Cops than in Doctor Who in the 70s, but the drama content of WHO was just as good, if not better. (In my view, I'd say it was better, but that could just be post-seeing-old-stories-for-the-first-time euphoria.)

I'm tired of being wrong, but again I was when I thought that there couldn't be anything better than Silurians. If ever there was a Doctor Who film produced in the 70s then Spearhead from Space was it. It was the perfect choice for release on behalf on BBC Video as, in my view, people of all ages will enjoy it, whether they are Doctor Who fans or not. Having always felt uneasy in the presence of shop-window dummies and waxworks after only reading the Nestene books, seeing this video gave me greater reasons to feel uneasy.

Another question - what has happened to the frightening Doctor Who stories? Spearhead was genuinely scary, not only because of the Autons, but because of the sense of reality that seemed to pervade the whole situation. However far-fetched the storyline seemed to be - aliens invading Earth in the form of plastic dummies - the stark reality of Autons indiscriminately shooting down hapless shoppers took away the whole strangeness of it all.

Spearhead from Space was an excellent opening for Jon Pertwee's first season. As far as I am concerned the two stories I have seen from Season 7 are most definitely the best Doctor Who stories I have ever seen. I think that they definitely gained something from being set on Earth in a seemingly normal situation which starts to take a strange turn.

At the moment I am writing as if Doctor Who started in the 1970s, but before then there were the sixties with the Hartnell and Troughton eras in glorious monochrome. Only having the almost non-existent memories of An Unearthly Child and The Krotons meant that the black and white stories were a complete blank to me, as it is only recently that many of the stories from that era have been novelised, and only then as adaptations of the original scripts.

After my initial reaction to Silurians being as seven-parter, you can imagine what I thought The War Games would be like, being only two episodes short of the record set by The Dalek Masterplan. But The War Games didn't drag at all. Though it could have been made as a seven parter, I think that if it had been some of the story would have been lost - not so much plot as atmosphere (for instance, the Doctor and his companions being caught on either side of the lines in the First World War sector, and being accused of spying in both). Like Silurians, I didn't really consciously notice that The War Games was in black and white. (Obviously I realised, but I got so engrossed in the plot that it wasn't absolutely obvious after watching for a while.)

Not having seen a whole Hartnell story as yet (apart from An Unearthly Child) I am not in any way qualified to comment on them, but I will say something about the one episode of The War Machines (episode two) that I have seen. Before actually seeing any Doctor Who from the sixties and seventies I had a preconceived idea that any television made before 1980 would be pretty trashy (as far as the repeats of ITV sit-coms go, I was right), but I was wrong (again!). After seeing these stories I am fed up with today's television, which itself seems trashy in comparison.

But back to the matter in hand - The War Machines (or what little I have seen of it) was an excellent story, and like the 70s stories it seemed very real. The idea of a super-computer in the Post Office Tower was a marvellous one. Also seeing it now, in, I suppose, what you'd call the start of the age of computers, it gave the story just that bit of an extra edge. Personally I think the War Machines are more frightening that the Daleks (but again, that's just my view of things - remember I had to wait from 1979 to 1984 to see another Dalek story, so I may be biased).

There was a sinister air to this story, appearing to centre around an old warehouse where the War Machines were put together and tested, which I thought worked particularly well. Also very well done was the scene in the warehouse where the tramp had been discovered and tried to get away. Hitherto I had imagined that sixties programmes only consisted of groups of people standing in a set talking (you know. costume drama stuff), so the chasing and eventual killing of the tramp dispelled my original preconceptions straight away.

Having only seein the William Hartnell Doctor (or "Doctor Who" as WOTAN referred to him) in An Unearthly Child, the Doctor seemed to have mellowed quite a bit; this being the last story of season 3, it was to be expected, as the character had had time to develop. It was nice to see the Doctor and his companions in a safe position for a change, rather than in a cell or tied up or being chased by a slavering beast. Instead, the Doctor and Dodo spent a lot of their time in a comfortable drawing-room.

The endings of the stories seemed a lot better as well. Instead of just cutting off, and then having the title music and credits rolling over a blank screen (or an end title sequence in the case of the Pertwee stories onwards), the music and end credits rolled over the final scene (in this case, Ben being attacked by a War Machine). It was very effective. I have nothing against the current title sequence as it goes very well with the programme in its present form (that was meant as a compliment!) but I much prefer the old sequence, as I think they convey the feeling of mystery and time-travel, which should be what the programme is about.

Another odd episode I have seen is The Web of Fear episode one, which must rate as one of the best Troughton stories. The London Underground gives a wonderful setting for the Yeti to appear - all dark and shadowy. You don't get to see all that much of the Yeti, apart from one in the museum, and another two in the Underground. The first link that is realised between the web in space and London is when the Doctor and company discover a web-covered body. If only they could have stories of this calibre now, with a wonderfully sinister build-up. Especially the scene in the museum with the wonderful incidental music : the most chilling bit was as the Yeti opened its eyes and lumbered towards the proprieter of the darkened museum.

Again, it had a wonderful ending, with an explosion being suppressed by the web, but still seeing the Doctor being knocked away by the force of the explosion, and then having the credits roll over the pulsing web. After a few second the web-covered explosives faded away, but as the credits ended the whole screen was taken up by a close-up of the web - wonderful stuff!

The Baker years, in my view, did not have the same quality as the early years, and began to become a little stale and cliched, but still far, far better than Season 24. The adventures seemed to leave Earth and tried to become as alien as possible. Tom Baker seemed to become too much of a super-hero. But these years were still very good, and won excellent audience ratings. As far as I am concerned they are still very well watching, and the view above may have been gained from the glut of Terrance Dicks books that seemed to all come out at the same time; and I must admit that having now seen all the BBC Video Baker stories (apart from Robots of Death which I am watching at the moment), the Terrance Dicks factor has not loomed its ugly head again.

Revenge of the Cybermen being the first old story that I saw, I thought it the best thing since (to use an old cliche) sliced bread, but it did, and still does, seem very good. It was good to see some proper Cybermen that couldn't just be killed by a few bullets. Instead these Cybermen strode through the bullets as if they were non-existent. It seems that they were more intelligent then, as instead of having hand-held guns that could be used against them if captured, they had clever built-in head guns. The storyline was very good, filling us in on part of the Cybermen's history; the Cyber-wars etc. In the end it leaves you feeling rather sorry for the Cybermen; after all, all they are trying to do is survive, and the one thing that may stop their survival is Voga, the planet of gold. (Now that's the way to get rid of Cybermen!)

The second story on BBC Video I saw (or rather saw two-thirds of) was The Brain of Morbius. Either they've got some pretty squeamish people at the BBC, or some pretty lazy ones who could only be bothered to find the 1976 repeat version. There are some pretty ridiculous cuts, but apart from the more obvious edits the story ambles along, albeit along a rather strange path. Judgement on The Brain of Morbius would have to be reserved, but it was, again, better than Season 24.

It was after watching Pyramids of Mars that the disillusionment really set in. I thought at first that Revenge of the Cybermen could have been just a one-off excellent story. But Pyramids was just as good, if not better. Apart from the obvious remake of Frankenstein, The Brain of Morbius, this was the very first "gothic" Doctor Who I had seen. I was impressed, very impressed. I can see why such a fuss was made by certain parties at the time that it was broadcast, as it was, like Spearhead from Space, genuinely scary. It is just a pity that at the time the children weren't asked if they didn't like Doctor Who because it was frightening, or whether they enjoyed being frightened. I suspect it was the latter (but then I can't be sure, as I was only one year old at the time!).

After the entry into Sutekh's prison/tomb, and an unearthly green light shining on to Marcus Scarman's anguished face, we are treated to an excellent model shot of the TARDIS spinning through space. Models shot on film are, in my opinion, far better than the computer graphics sequence which opened the last season. Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor is in a strange mood, which he is sometimes prone to (the end of Dragonfire, for instance, when he was saying good-bye to Mel). (Stop cheering, you at the back.) Here we se him musing on whether he should part with his position as UNIT Scientific Advisor, after being irritated by the Brigadier recalling him to deal with the Terror of the Zygons. I haven't seen any Baker/UNIT stories, but I can't imagine the anti-establishment image of the fourth Doctor going very well with the precise military manner of the Brigadier, and this may have been the main reason for him starting on his travels again.

The Mummies are truly menacing, but not, to me, as frightening as the Autons, probably because you would expect to see shop-window dummies, but not Mummies. There was a great deal of what could be described as psychological terror : the cracking of a twig behind you in a wood, or a creaking floorboard, etc. The story moved from a gothic stand to a more sci-fi story, but still keeping to the mythological storyline when the setting moved to the Pyramid of Mars itself. The series of tests or traps were quite reminiscent of the Exxilon city in Death to the Daleks - come to that, Death had the same dark atmosphere.

Which brings me to Day of the Daleks. Apart from the Dalek voices, which were irritatingly wrong, the rest of the story was (to coin a phrase) ace! With the Doctor still stuck on Earth, time-travel was brought into the story very cleverly with the guerillas stealing the Daleks' time machines, or rather the theory behind it. In this story the expression "time is relative" is not uttered, but it is certainly used for the plot, or else everything would be a complete hotchpotch.

It would have been interesting to have had a scene at the end of the story to sort out the complexities of the time-travel side of the story, and possibly a scene set in the future Earth (but I suppose nothing would have changed, because, after all, time is relative). If the complexities are ignored (and the Dalek voices!) the story is excellent. I think the point where the message came through from UNIT HQ in Geneva really made me sit up and take notice. It was at this point that the importance of Styles' mission really hit home - it was then that the imminence of World War Three was realised. This gave an extra edge to the story, especially having seen the eventual outcome - the human race enslaved by the Daleks. If I closed my mind to the outside world of the present day, there was a chilling air of reality about the whole proceedings (as in Season Seven) which was wonderful.

My sentiments about Death to the Daleks echo those written in the first issue of this excellent fanzine. (Keep it up Andrew, you're doing fine!) I especially liked the scenes where the TARDIS "died" and where Sarah Jane thought herself safe inside the control room, not realising that there was the sinister cloaked form of an Exxilon behind her. The wonderful build-up in episode one was almost reminiscent of The Web of Fear part one.

I wonder if the present production team have watched any of the early stories recently? If they haven't then it's about time that they did, and if they have then all I can say is that the BBC Drama department must be in quite a mess! I expect Doctor Who is largely ignored with all these dramas like Fortunes of War being made. I think that it may be time that Doctor Who became an official children's drama series, because judging by Moondial, Aliens in the Family, etc., that department would make a better job of it. We shall just have to wait and see what Season 25 holds in store.

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