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The regeneration game (1982)

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In a four-part story starting this Monday on One, Tom Baker who has played Dr Who since 1975 makes his final appearance and a new Doctor is regenerated - the fifth since the series began back in 1963. Will Dr Who continue forever? Staff writer Sue McTagget, a longtime Dr Who fan, investigated, and found that there are definite limits in...


IN NOVEMBER 1980 the BBC-1 Nine O'clock News carried two major news items about actors. One was the election of Ronald Reagan as President of the United States, the other was the announcement that Peter Davison (best known as Tristan Farnham in All Creatures Great and Small) was to be the fifth Dr Who. Davison was staggered. "I really had no idea Dr Who was so important. I bet some of my friends thought I'd died when they saw my picture."

Never. The transmutation, regeneration or whatever of Dr Who is an event of extreme importance to millions of viewers all over the world. Presidents come and go but they all tend to choose their enemies from a pretty predictable and well-tried pool. For people all around the world only one man can be really trusted to protect the human race from the most deadly (unknown) peril it has ever faced and that is the good Doctor.

What's more, the fourth Dr Who was beginning to suffer unspeakable aberrations, for a Time Lord. Traditionally a bachelor who despite having two hearts is above any emotional involvement, the fourth Dr Who fell in love with his assistant. Tom Baker has announced he will marry his Romana (Lalla Ward). True, it is a straightforward earthly alliance but they do admit they found romance battling deadly perils in the series. So ended another era.

Since the Dr Who series began in 1963 Dr Who has waged battle in dozens of galaxies, facing enemies as legion and as fantastic as producers' imaginations and the BBC design department could make them: Daleks, Cybermen, Zygons, Kraals, Krynoids and yet more Daleks. Terry Nation who created the Daleks (which were inspired by the pepperpot, over breakfast and realised over actors on tricycles) had them all killed off by the end of the first series. But they have proved the most popular deadly peril the human race has ever faced and so they are brought back now and again to satisfy viewer demand.

Fortunately for the writers and producers, within, a few limits in the space-time continuum, they can do whatever they like. In 17 years the series has embraced science fiction, science fantasy, free-booting adventure, humour, social comment, gothic horror - and four very different Dr Whos.

The late William Hartnell played him as an elderly professorial type assisted by his 15-year-old granddaughter, a shy wide-eyed frightened teenager. Regenerated by Patrick Troughton he became a bumbling clown in checked trou and a funny hat. He was accompanied by a demure damsel who was also in constant need of protection. The actress was required to scream all the time.

Jon Pertwee, who took over in 1970, was the first Dr Who to be seen in colour. Pertwee played him foppish and elegant, facing and vanquishing enemies in velvet dinner jackets and frilly shirts. He also came with some knowledge of wines and, in the face of flagging ratings, a few social messages. The third Dr Who was confronted by awful things born of chemical pollution. And the female assistants started getting smarter. (There has even been talk of putting a woman in the lead role.)

In 1975 Dr Who went scruffy. Tom Baker with his long scarf ("because the wardrobe woman bought too much wool") and his inexhaustible supply of jelly babies took Dr Who into the realms of Gothic horror - resurrected mummies and the intrigues of Renaissance Italy. Baker was told to tone down his "jokey" style because it was established that the world-wide audience was not made up only of children, that everyone took it very seriously and that Sir Huw Wheldon, former managing director of BBC Television was among its millions of adult admirers. Dr Who clubs had been formed in universities around' the world and in fact there had become a sort of Dr Who "university" in the Panoptikon 78. A very learned body. "Ask us when the Doctor first said 'There's a flucose path forming on the periscarp' and we'll tell you." Viewing ratings had soared to around 15 million.

Tom Baker was perhaps closest to the original writers' conception - a "cosmic hobo, a time traveller from nowhere". Since then, however, Dr Who's background has been filled out in some detail. He is a Time Lord, one of a race of rather stuffy moralistic super-beings from the extra galactic planet Gallifrey who are committed to the well-being of the Universe. Like every Time Lord he has his own TARDIS (time and relative dimension in space) time travel machine, the outward appearance of which can be changed to suit its surroundings (Dr Who always emerges from a police telephone box because his machine got stuck).

Not surprisingly the Tardis features in the last days of the Tom Baker Dr Who to be seen now in New Zealand. With his new assistant Tegan (Australian actress Janet Fielding) he travels to Logopolis, City of Logic, where he hopes to carry out repairs to the Tardis, to repair the fault in its chameleon circuit which makes it unable to change appearance. It is a journey with dire consequences - not just for Dr Who but also for his loyal tin terrier K9.

But fans can be assured. Peter Davison waits in the wings with a promise of even more suspense. His Doctor, he says, will be one of good intentions but flawed by "a sort of reckless innocence". At 900 years old he will be younger than ever and with Davison will have a tendency to blush.

Dr Who has yet to confront his most deadly peril. That comes, by current reckoning in the year 2011. For in 1976 the then producer Philip Hinchcliffe made a crucial decision. He decided that contrary to general belief Time Lords were capable of only 12 regenerations, that after that they would summarily shuffle off this mortal coil like any other humanoid inhabitants of the time-space continuum. In other words he has made big trouble for the producer in 2011. Could be Dr Who will do battle with the BBC, and that Peter Hinchcliffe will be recycled like the Daleks to face the reality of his dastardly decision. Whatever happens Dr Who will not fail the human race. Of that we can be sure.

DR WHO: Mondays on ONE. 5.30pm.

Captions: Tom Baker (right) as the Doctor and Anthony Ainley as The Master in Dr Who.

Caption: Lalla Ward with Matthew Waterhouse (Adric) in a previous series of Dr Who: she and the Doctor (Tom Baker) found romance battling deadly perils.

Caption: Peter Davison, the fifth Dr Who: "I really had no idea Dr Who was so important."

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to whovian@cuttingsarchive.org

  • APA 6th ed.: McTagget, Sue (1982-09-18). The regeneration game. New Zealand Listener .
  • MLA 7th ed.: McTagget, Sue. "The regeneration game." New Zealand Listener [add city] 1982-09-18. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: McTagget, Sue. "The regeneration game." New Zealand Listener, edition, sec., 1982-09-18
  • Turabian: McTagget, Sue. "The regeneration game." New Zealand Listener, 1982-09-18, section, edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=The regeneration game | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/The_regeneration_game | work=New Zealand Listener | pages= | date=1982-09-18 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=15 December 2017 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=The regeneration game | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/The_regeneration_game | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=15 December 2017}}</ref>