Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

A Doctor Who Refuses To Be Exterminated

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IT'S 40 years this week since an irascible, longhaired old man who wore an Edwardian frock-coat and lived in a police box in a junk yard in London, set off on a journey to stardom.

He was called Dr Who, and when veteran actor William Hartnell introduced him to TV viewers on November 23,1963,he set in motion what would turn out to be the longest running sci-fi series in the world, a series due to be reborn when the next Doctor regenerates on BBC1 with a new set of adventures in 2005.

The absence of a special Dr Who weekend of programmes dedicated to the time travelling doctor marks a bizarre scheduling decision which is entirely in keeping with the BBC's love/hate relationship with the adventurous Time Lord.

Generations of kids have cowered behind the sofa at the sight of the Daleks or the Cybermen, but BBC executives have sometimes been the Doctor's greatest enemy.

Hartnell's martinet Doctor gave way to Patrick Troughton's effervescent, mischievous characterisation in 1966, thanks to someone having the bright idea of regeneration which gave the Doctor a seemingly endless capacity to renew himself.

Jon Pertwee proved a hit as Troughton's successor, and at its height during Tom Baker's seven-year, 178-episode tenure the show had more than 10 million fans and looked impregnable in its traditional Saturday teatime slot.

But when Peter Davidson became the fifth Doctor in 1982, the series found itself up against glamorous, ratings-grabbing American opposition in the shape of the A-Team and was shifted from its hallowed Saturday berth to a twice-weekly slot on weekday evenings.

When Colin Baker took over in 1984,Dr Who was temporarily restored to Saturdays, but machinations to finish him off were afoot among BBC executives, as Colin recalls: "I've always been fond of the programme and for me it wasn't just a job. I was aware that I was holding a baton and I tried to pass it on in good condition, but we were aware that the upper echelons of the BBC weren't necessarily going Yippee! You're making Dr Who!' and that makes you feel a bit unloved."

The Doctor's biggest bogey man was Michael Grade, who became BBC1 Controller in 1984.

Grade's first attempt to kill off The Doctor resulted in a year's lost production, with no episodes made at all in 1985. When it did return in 1986,it was moved from Saturday again and producer John Nathan Turner was under orders: "More humour, less violence" says Colin.

The resulting adventure, Trial Of A Time Lord, was good fun, but Colin's days in the role were numbered. Previous Doctors had left when they were good and ready. Colin was sacked.

His little-known Scottish successor was theatre and children's TV actor Sylvester McCoy and for him, becoming the seventh Doctor in 1987 was a huge break. "It was great for me but I had no idea about the goingson and I had no idea why Colin had left," he says. "Then I slowly discovered that there had been this rather bad time, and they put us up against Coronation Street because they were trying to get rid of it."

Even so, Sylvester enjoyed his 45 episodes immensely." And I think it's absolutely brilliant that we're still celebrating it and still excited about it after 40 years."

Sylvester can lay claim to being the longest serving Doctor. Tom Baker made far more episodes but Sylvester was brought back in 1996 for the opening moments of the TV film in which Paul McGann became the next regeneration, so Sylvester spanned the longest period.

Some fans still even regard him as the serving doctor, since Paul McGann's one off film was set in America and wasn't a "proper" Dr Who serial.

Alan Davies has been among the names tipped as a possible future Doctor, but Colin Baker picks up on the sex-change idea. "I think the next Doctor should be a woman. It ought to be Dawn French. She'd be fabulous, but I don't know if they'd have the bottle to do it this time."

Whether it's Dawn v the Daleks or someone else, a new Doctor would need to send kids scurrying back behind the settee to be fully effective. "I don't know if it's a prompted memory," says Colin," but people still say, I used to hide behind the sofa'. If Dr Who came back, think of all those backs of sofas that have been lonely for so long that are suddenly going to have children behind them again..."

The timelord's Welsh connections go further than the Llangollen exhibition. Pennant Roberts, a Welsh speaker who has spent most of his working life in Cardiff producing and directing, was the show's director from 1976 to 1984.

During that time he directed four series with the quintessential doctor, Tom Baker. "The qualities that Tom brought to the series were ideal for Doctor Who, "he says." He would get to the essence of the story and very often would improve on the script with what he brought to the performance."

Pennant remembers that each six-week Dr Who story was a mammoth 13-month task, from script writing and pre-production to filming the shows.

"Each doctor would be involved for about 11 months, but in the early days the actual recording had to be done between maybe 7.30 and 10 o'clock in the evening, so the pressures of time were the most difficult thing," recalls Pennant. "That was why you often had the wobbly sets.

People talked about us having cardboard sets, but that was because they usually were cardboard."

He says "a bit of wobble" was very often part of the appeal of the show, but more important to its enduring popularity over the years has been the element of surprise.

"Each story would start in one place but you never knew where it was going to end up. The doctor might be travelling back in time, to another planet or being thrust 50 years into the future. You never knew where the Tardis was going to take him next."

GRAPHIC: Past Dr Who stars Jon Pertwee and Patrick Troughton in the famous Tardis, above, and, opposite page, the dreaded Daleks

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  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=A Doctor Who Refuses To Be Exterminated | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/A_Doctor_Who_Refuses_To_Be_Exterminated | work=Daily Post | pages=18 | date=2003-11-24 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=3 December 2022 }}</ref>
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