Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

Big day for Time Lords

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He departed this planet in his Tardis 14 years ago. But, finds Ian Brown, fans this weekend will ensure Dr Who is not forgotten


UPSTAIRS in Edinburgh's Claremont Bar, the talk isn't so much of Time Lords and temporal vortexes as whose round it is next. Scotland's last active Dr Who fan group is holding its regular Monday evening meeting and there are more down-to-earth matters to discuss.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the world's longest continuously running sci-fi series. Even though it was cancelled 14 years ago, the BBC is cashing in by releasing DVDs of each of the seven Doctors (most of the surviving episodes are already out on video) along with more memorabilia later this year. The Edinburgh group, meanwhile, is organising its own anniversary event on June 14th.

Dr Who, it seems, just won't die.

Last month, a poll commissioned by Dixons named it the programme Britons most wanted to see back on their TV screens. Just weeks before, BBC1 controller Lorraine Heggessey hinted at the possibility of just that. Dr Who is a classic BBC format, beloved by millions, myself included," she says. "If there was a refreshing, affordable treatment for a new series available, and we could navigate ourselves around some potentially troublesome rights issues, I would consider reviving the series."

In the Claremont, long a haunt of tartan Trekkies and other cultists, the Edinburgh fan group isn't toasting Ms Heggessey yet. "We'll wait and see," smiles the group's organiser, 33-year-old Martin Rogerson, of Meadowbank Avenue. Rumours of Dr Who's return - whether it's as a new series, a feature film, an animated cartoon - have abounded for years, and the Edinburgh Dr Who fan club has heard them all ...

The Edinburgh group - their full title is Strange Matter: The Edinburgh Dr Who Group - began back in 1978 when the generously be-scarfed Torn Baker had the keys to the Tardis and the series was at its peak. It may be long gone from Saturday evening viewing, but the group is clearly thriving.

"We usually get between 12 and 20 people," says Martin, a teacher at Boroughmuir High School "We've even had a couple of 12 and 13-year-olds. They've seen the Paul McGann TV movie or they've watched old episodes on UK Gold. That's how a lot of students first see it, too. It's perfect hangover television, and then they discover they actually like it

The group's main emphasis is on socialising. "We have a drink and exchange whatever the latest news is about Dr Who. Just occasionally someone will have got hold of a behind-the-scenes clip - no questions asked - and we'll watch that."

Martin's first Doctor was Tom Baker. "I'd like to say I'd always been a fan," he admits, "but the truth was I could take it or leave it at first. It was just something that was always on every Saturday night. It wasn't until I was 14 that I became hooked. Peter Davison was Dr Who then. I used to wear out the video tape watching and re-watching the episodes rd. recorded."

Meanwhile fellow member Gordon Rutter, a 38-year-old from north Edinburgh who teaches at Drummond Community High School, nods. "I started watching it when I was a child because all my family were into science fiction. I was just propped up in front of it."

It's not just the lads who became hooked on Dr Who. IT specialist Diane Douglas, at 23, of Newington, is the youngest member of the group. "I watched it because my dad was quite into it," she recalls. "My earliest memory is Colin Baker as the Doctor."

Douglas McNaughton, an academic marketing manager with Edinburgh University Press, watched it from 1972 onwards, "when it was still a family programme." As the 33-year-old who lives in Leith Walk explains: "It wasn't until the Eighties that it was seen as a 'culty' show that you had to have a bit of an understanding of. You could show episodes of Star Trek in any order. Unlike Dr Who, there was never any development."

National institution though he became, the original Doctor played by William Hartnell as a crotchety grandfather - got off to a shaky start. The first episode on November 23, 1963 was delayed because of the assassination of President Kennedy. Only when the Daleks made their debut in the second adventure was a nation's imagination gripped. The Daleks the only villains to swivel with sheer pent-up malice - noisily pushed Dr Who to the top of the ratings, made creator Terry Nation rich, and even contributed a new word to the dictionary (alongside Tardis).

Two feature films, with Peter Cushing, quickly cashed-in on cinema screens.

Auntie Beeb didn't argue with that kind of success. The producers' initial brief had leaned towards the educational, with stories set in historical times. Wisely, they soon jettisoned that for more squeezy bottle-style creatures. Cybermen, Ice Warriors, Yeti, Zarbi - for all they looked like they were cobbled together on Blue Peter, they sent at least two generations of Brit-kids scurrying behind the sofa.

For 26 years the Doctor fought them throughout time and space, and all from a battered Metropolitan Police box that was bigger inside than out. Luckily, despite an entire world to trash, most of these Earth- coveting aliens plumped for the vicinity around Shepherds Bush.

One potential early hurdle was ingeniously overcome. When Hartnell retired after three years, the writers simply had him "regenerate" on-screen into Patrick Troughton (1966-69), an eccentric uncle-type.

No wonder the format lasted so long, for each new Doctor brought an engaging new personality: Jon Pertwee (1970-74) a lace-cuffed dandy; Tom Baker (1974-81) a cross between Moses and Harpo Marx; Peter Davidson (1982-84) a cricket-loving head prefect; Colin Baker (1984-86) a middle-aged William Hartnell. Sylvester McCoy (1987-89) was simply Scottish - a trait apparently outré enough for the producers.

By the Eighties, the programme was sliding down the ratings. A new generation weaned on Star Wars wasn't so easily scared - or so forgiving - of the bargain-basement effects, wobbly sets or robo-mutt K-9. In December 1989, the Beeb finally called time on the Doctor.

Upstairs at the Claremont, the Edinburgh fan group is adamant Dr Who should return. Gordon pooh-poohs claims that the weekly half-hour serial format would stretch the attention-spans of today's audiences. "It works very well with Emmerdale and other soap operas," he sniffs. And the special effects? "No-one ever watched Dr Who for the effects," laughs Martin.

What made the programme so unique then? Gordon ponders for a second. "I think it was the central idea of travelling through both space and time," he says. "Other sci-fi shows did one or the other, but not both. And, of course, there was also that element of escapism about the Doctor. I think given the choice we'd all love to just run away in the Tardis, even if you did occasionally have to dodge a Dalek."

With a reputation as one of the most active groups in the LTK, the Edinburgh fans are gearing up for their 15h Dr Who event on Saturday at the Apex Hotel in Haymarket Terrace. Such is the interest both locally and beyond — visitors are coming from as far away as Inverness and London — that tickets for the event are long since already sold out.

But will BBC bosses confirm a return to the small screen for an updated Dr Who?

Says Lorraine Heggessey: "I don't want to raise false hopes with die-hard fans. Suffice to say that Dr Who has its fans among my commissioning team, most of whom spent the 70s behind the sofa!"

Strange Matter: The Edinburgh Dr Who Group (www.edinburghwho.co.uk) meets on Monday evenings at the Claremont Bar, East Claremont Street


Captions:

ECCENTRIC: Patrick Troughton played the second Doctor

EVIL: The chilling Cybermen were among the Doctor's enemies

DR WHERE? William Hartnell, left, playing the Doctor in a lost episode

EXTERMINATE: Jon Pertwee has a terrifying experience with the programme's ruthless Daleks

SCARF ACE: Tom Baker as the Doctor with Louise Jameson as Leela

THE ONLY WAY TO TRAVEL: Left, Martin Rogerson, Diane Douglas and Dave Owen of the club get together at a Royal Mile 'Tardis'

LEADING MAN: Martin Rogerson is the Edinburgh group's organiser

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.: Brown, Ian (2003-06-10). Big day for Time Lords. Edinburgh Evening News p. 8.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Brown, Ian. "Big day for Time Lords." Edinburgh Evening News [add city] 2003-06-10, 8. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Brown, Ian. "Big day for Time Lords." Edinburgh Evening News, edition, sec., 2003-06-10
  • Turabian: Brown, Ian. "Big day for Time Lords." Edinburgh Evening News, 2003-06-10, section, 8 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Big day for Time Lords | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Big_day_for_Time_Lords | work=Edinburgh Evening News | pages=8 | date=2003-06-10 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=15 December 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Big day for Time Lords | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Big_day_for_Time_Lords | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=15 December 2019}}</ref>