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Just what the Doctor ordered (The Scotsman)

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Do you remember the Daleks, Cybermen, and K9? If so, there's a treat in store, reveals IAN BROWN

Whether it's Daleks gliding over Westminster Bridge, or the Cybermen creaking out of their frozen tombs, no one born before 1980 will remember at least one Saturday teatime watching Dr Who.

This weekend, they might feel the urge to hide behind the sofa again. That recalcitrant Time Lord returning to television for the first time in three years with a three-and-a-half hour Dr Who theme Night on BBC2, introduced by Tom Baker.

Producer Mike Wadding concedes: "Dr Who has such a huge following in the UK and the rest of the world, one theme night isn't going enough to cram in everything about the Doctor and his adventures — but we've lined up some treats."

A 40-minute profile of the Doctor in his eight guises — from William Hartnell to Paul McGann will be followed by a 30-minute documentary on his five most thrilling adversaries.

To lighten the tension, three comedy sketches have been penned by Mark Gatiss, one of the creators of The League of Gentlemen and a longtime fan who used to write for Dr Who Magazine. And two short films will look at the scientific reality behind time travel and alien lifeforms. The evening ends with the final episode of the Doctor's classic first encounter with the Daleks, broadcast in 1964, followed by the 1996 TV movie starring Paul McGann.

Although the last episode was broadcast 10 years ago, Dr Who still holds the record as the world's longest-running sci-fi show, surviving 26 years from November 1963. Time finally ran out on December 6, 1989. But he still has enough fans to fill a Tardis. Only this summer, a Radio Times poll of readers' most memorable television drama moments voted the debut of the Daleks tops. The Dr Who Appreciation Society, formed in 1976, has 1800 members in 30 branches across the UK. Skim the web in America and you'll find the Paul McGann Estrogen Brigade in Atlanta, the United Whovians of Tucson, while Seattle boasts the Society of the Rusting Tardis.

So, what is the Doctor's enduring appeal? A nostalgia for those squeezy-bottle sets? Those supporting actors dressed up in PVC costumes who look like they're from Home Counties rep? The cringe-makingly unspecial effects?

Not the science fiction content, surely? Well, possibly yes. In an age of sterile hi-tech thrills, maybe Dr Who remains the most imaginative of all. If the idea of a time machine bigger inside than out was inspired, disguising it as a Metropolitan police-box was a stroke of genius.

Joanna Worthey, a 29-year-old fan from Cumbernauld, thinks it's the Doctor himself who is special. "Despite severe provocation, he never uses violence to achieve his aims. He demonstrates a great respect for life, and never uses weapons, in direct contrast to many of today's action heroes."

David Slater, 23, from Kilwinning, is adamant the show must go on. "The sheer versatility of the format should beg the question: should there ever not be a new series? Answer: no!"

He is in two minds about the theme night. "Great, in principle," he thinks, "but judging by previous BBC theme nights, likely to be packed with low budget, low quality schedule-fillers, instead of repeats of classic episodes or decent documentaries."

So what makes Dr Who special for him? It's a show with all-age appeal and infinite variety," he enthuses, "from sci-fi thriller to sitcom via high drama, action-adventure, and horror."

The fans, of course, will say the theme night is partly an attempt by the Beeb not just to mollify them about a new series, but to atone for its shamefully discarded heritage. Of the 470 Dr Who episodes recorded, 109 are currently missing, mainly from the 1960s. Most were simply recorded over in the following decade, or junked to save space.

But fans remain hopeful. In the 1980s they shamed the BBC into not only searching its archives but mounting a worldwide appeal to every foreign television station which had bought the series and might have some of the tapes. The great coup to date was finding all four episodes of the 1967 adventure Tomb of the Cybermen intact in a Hong Kong studio. Only last January, a lost 1965 episode, The Crusaders, was found in New Zealand and has been re-released on video. Tapes for one early Daleks adventure have been found in a church basement in Clapham; those for another turned up in a car boot sale in Buckinghamshire.

What's the chance of the Beeb making, or franchising out, a new series? Rumours currently abound there is to be a cinema version. Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy, and Will Smith have all been suggested for the Doctor at various times. The BBC is remaining tight-lipped, but says it is in negotiations with a film company. There is no comment, however, about a new TV series.

Doubtless, galactic hordes of Daleks, Cybermen, and Ice Warriors will be looking on with interest. The more down-to-earth execs at the Beeb will be keeping an eye on tonight's ratings.

Dr Who Theme Night starts on BBC2 on Saturday at 8.55pm.

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  • APA 6th ed.: 17, 1 (1999-11-11). Just what the Doctor ordered (The Scotsman). The Herald p. Ian Brown.
  • MLA 7th ed.: 17, 1. "Just what the Doctor ordered (The Scotsman)." The Herald [add city] 1999-11-11, Ian Brown. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: 17, 1. "Just what the Doctor ordered (The Scotsman)." The Herald, edition, sec., 1999-11-11
  • Turabian: 17, 1. "Just what the Doctor ordered (The Scotsman)." The Herald, 1999-11-11, section, Ian Brown edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Just what the Doctor ordered (The Scotsman) | url= | work=The Herald | pages=Ian Brown | date=1999-11-11 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 June 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Just what the Doctor ordered (The Scotsman) | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 June 2024}}</ref>