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Masters Of The Whoniverse

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Dr Who, Once Played By Liverpool Actors Tom Baker And Paul McGann, Is

THE day after President John F Kennedy was assassinated was a happier historicallandmark, thanks to an irascible,long-haired old man who wore an Edwardian frock-coat and lived in a police box in a junkyardin London.

He was called Dr Who,and when veteran actor William Hartnell introduced him to the nation on November 23,1963, he set in motion what would turn out to be the longest-runnings ci-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.

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, rather than Davros's Daleks or his evil adversary The Master.

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 teatime berth to a twice-weekly slot on weekday evenings.

The move weakened Dr Who's grip on its traditional audience and Davidson's Edwardian cricket fan Doctor didn't appeal to everyone -at least not to me.

When Colin Baker took over in 1984, Dr Who was temporarily restored to Saturdays, but machinations to finish him off were afoot 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 becameBBC1 Controller in 1984.

"To be fair to him he didn't like Dr Who," recalls Colin. "I remember when he was still Director of Programmes at London Weekend TV and he said in an interview that evidence of the BBC's decline could be seen in the fact that it was still doing programmes like Come Dancing and Dr Who.

"At least he was consistent. He came to the BBC and attempted to get rid of it once, backtracked because of the furore, then nibbled away at it until it collapsed."

GRADE'S first attempt to kill off The Doctor resulted in a year's lost production, with no episodes made 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.

He says: "I never actually took it as a personal criticism. If you a rein charge of a television station and you're criticising the product, the most high-profile thing you can be seen to be doing is to sack the leading actor."

Colin had the last laugh however, since he has repeatedly revived the role in new audio adventures of Dr Who produced by independent company Big Finish, and he starred as The Doctor again in a recent animated BBCi version of the series that was available from the Internet. His for downloading adventure has since been superseded by another animated tale starring Richard E. Grant as The Doctor, with a new episode posted every Thursday on the BBCi website.

Colin was already an established TV actor when he got the part. But 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 goings-on and I had no idea why Colin had left. Then I slowly discovered there had been this rather bad time, and they put us up against Coronation Street -because they were trying to get rid of it.

"The guys that ran the Beeb at the time didn't actually start Dr Who. They had been running it for all those years and maybe they were bored. They wanted to get rid of it, and I think things they brought in in its place. "Eldorado was one of the 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."

But did it feel sad to be the reigning Doctor when the series seemingly pet ered out in 1989?

"Yes, but we didn't really know what was happening. We were told that they were taking it off for a while. We didn't know it was finishing forever -which it hasn't done, really. It was only after a while that you'd start to wonder if they'd ever bring it back.

"But it was sad for the fans that you'd meet at conventions. That's why I'm absolutely delighted that they're bringing it back."

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 Liverpool actor 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.

An even less proper incarnation came during Comic Relief night in 1999, when Rowan Atkinson took over the role and was regenerated as Joanna Lumley. Alan Davies has been among the names tipped as a possible future Doctor and at one stage Liverpool's own Ken Dodd was named as a contender.

But Colin Baker picks up on the sex change idea: "I think the next Doctor should be a woman -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..."

GRAPHIC: TIME TRAVELLERS: Jon Pertwee, Patrick Troughton, Peter Davison and Richard Hurndall in a scene from the Five Doctors; and,left, one of the Doctor's arch-enemies --a Cyberman;

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  • APA 6th ed.: Keal, Graham (2003-11-24). Masters Of The Whoniverse. Daily Post p. 18.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Keal, Graham. "Masters Of The Whoniverse." Daily Post [add city] 2003-11-24, 18. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Keal, Graham. "Masters Of The Whoniverse." Daily Post, edition, sec., 2003-11-24
  • Turabian: Keal, Graham. "Masters Of The Whoniverse." Daily Post, 2003-11-24, section, 18 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Masters Of The Whoniverse | url= | work=Daily Post | pages=18 | date=2003-11-24 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=22 July 2024 }}</ref>
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