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What and when plague Dr Who's return

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The ABC plans to turn back time and reintroduce the cult hit series Doctor Who to Australia's television screens. However, it's not proving to be an easy task, as Kim Sweetman reports

IT sounded like a nice idea -- mark the 40th anniversary of the first screening of Doctor Who by replaying some of the old episodes.

But for the ABC programmers who now have to make the decision about which episodes to run and and when to run them, there is the potential for huge controversy.

Because this is one of the longest-running and most popular shows ever produced, viewers want a part in deciding what makes it to the screen.

The last time the ABC replayed the series, in 1994, it was immediately swamped by the response from viewers. Fans wanted to know when their favorite episodes would screen and -- in those days before the Internet -- how they could get their hands on tapes of the shows.

Head of scheduling Helen Matthews, who witnessed the frenzy the replay caused, said the national broadcaster was preparing for another onslaught.

"We know what we're in for," she said. "Last time was incredible."

This time the ABC expects to attract the 30, 40 and 50-year-olds who grew up when Doctor Who at 6pm was a standard feature of Australian television and their children who have probably never seen anything quite like it.

Ms Matthews is confident the show will attract a new generation of fans "who will be just as captivated by it as kids always were".

But there is plenty of debate on Internet chat boards about how children raised on a visual diet of cutting edge animatronics and computer engineered special effects will react to the cut-price monsters produced by the BBC costume department.

The Wirrin, for example, were supposed to be a terrifying life form from the deep space vacuum of the Andromeda Gamma Epsilon System who killed by absorbing humans into their collective hive-mind. They have gone down in Doctor Who legend as green bubble-wrap tied on to coat hangers.

The two most popular monsters ever created by the series were the Daleks and the Cybermen, according to BBC polls. The Daleks appeared early in the Doctor's history, featuring in the second adventure filmed in 1963 and starring William Hartnell. Titled The Daleks, it is credited with establishing the fan base that sustained 26 years of production.

The Daleks went on to appear in 13 separate adventures.

Ms Matthews said estimates that the ABC holds 700 episodes in its archives were "on the high side" but acknowledged there were "several hundred".

The BBC produced 65 separate Doctor Who adventures over 26 seasons from 1963 to 1989. Standard adventures were broken into four, and sometimes five, episodes.

But until the mid-1970s some adventures could contain up to eight episodes.

This means there are about three years worth of episodes in existence which could theoretically be screened.

But Ms Matthews says the ABC is yet to finalise which episodes will be screened or in which order they will play. That decision was about two weeks away, she said.

If, as previously reported, the ABC begins with the very first episode (An Unearthly Child, 1963) on September 15 and proceeds in chronological order the Daleks would appear in black and white the following Monday, September 22. The Cybermen would come later, about June next year.

The ABC has not confirmed this is what will happen. Arguably, it would be tempting to skip ahead to the episodes starring Jon Pertwee (1970-74) and Tom Baker (1974-81) as the third and fourth Doctors. Those episodes exist in colour and feature the two most popular of the eight regenerations of the Doctor.

And just how long the series will remain on air is also yet to be revealed. Ms Matthews would say only that the plan was to continue it for " many months".

"We have yet to have technicians check some of the older tapes," she said.

The ABC has played a remarkable role in preserving the show. In the 1970s the BBC went through its archives and destroyed thousands of old shows that were considered worthless.

Doctor Who suffered badly in the purge and fans have been combing the third planet for remnants of the lost episodes ever since (that's Earth -- Doctor Who fans know Earth used to a have a twin planet called Mondas which was known as the 10th planet and was the home of the Cybermen).

Australia and New Zealand have proved rich hunting grounds where scenes and episodes cut by local censors have been found in good condition.

The show arrived in Australia in November 1963, meaning almost every adventure was sent to the ABC over the years.

And while production of the TV series stopped in 1989 with season 26 starring Sylvester McCoy as the seventh doctor, other kinds of production continue.

A telemovie produced in 1996 with Paul McGann as the eighth doctor never generated a new series as planned but is included in the BBC's official guide to the show as a legitimate inclusion.

There are three separate series of books still being written which take Doctor Who far into the future and there is a webcast called Shada which is also current.

And yet the fans still want more. According to the BBC the single most common question logged on its viewer response lines is: "When are you replaying Doctor Who?". The second most common question is: "When will you make a new series of Doctor Who?"



Actors who played Doctor Who:

First: William Hartnell 1963-1966

Second: Patrick Troughton 1966-1969

Third: Jon Pertwee 1970-1974

Fourth: Tom Baker 1974-1981

Fifth: Peter Davison 1982-1984

Sixth: Colin Baker 1984-86

Seventh: Sylvester McCoy 1987 to 1996

(but production stopped 1989)

Eighth: Paul McGann 1996 (one-off telemovie)


THAT blue police box thing was the Tardis, the doctor's time machine and spaceship. Tardis stands for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space and the machine was invented by the doctor's race, known as the Time Lords, from the planet Gallifrey.

The doctor actually pinched it when he ran away from Gallifrey (he once hinted this was because of boredom).

The Tardis was bigger inside than out and was supposed to be able to change shape to blend into any environment but this particular Tardis had a glitch in its chameleon circuit which left it stuck looking like a blue London police box.

Every couple of years the doctor would fix the chameleon circuit and the Tardis would briefly change into something else, but never for very long.


The Daleks: Salt shaker-shaped robots with a telescopic arm which used to go around shrieking "exterminate" while trying to destroy and/or enslave whatever planet they were on. The Daleks were actually the outer shell of a life support system for squishy little slimy creatures called Kaleds, who lived inside them and drove them around.

Davros: Wrinkled brown head with a blue glass eye in the middle of his forehead, attached to a life support system. In earlier episodes, he had a body and an electric wheelchair. He was the bloke who actually invented the Daleks to help the little squishy Kaleds survive.

The Cybermen: Silver coloured humanoids who were supposed to be seven feet tall and have the strength of 10 men. They spent their time hunting around the universe for a planet to live on because they'd destroyed their own, called Mondas. They were partcularly keen on Earth because it was the twin planet of Mondas, but fortunately they could be killed by throwing gold dust into their breatheing systems.

The Zygons: Orange baby-faced humanoids with suction cups all over their bodies who lived in a spaceship at the bottom of Loch Ness and could shape-shift to change their appearance. They controlled a monster called the Skarasen which was going to destroy Earth. It was played by a hand puppet.

Giant Maggots: Discovered underground in a Welsh mine and mutated from ordinary maggots by an evil chemical company. They were - of course - going to take over the planet. Some of them were played by condoms, others by magnified real maggots.

The Sea-Devils and the Silurians: Cousins to each other, the two races had human bodies with turtle-like heads. The Silurians had a fin-like arrangement on the top of their skull and were the orginal rulers of Earth who had been in hibernation for millions of years. The Sea-Devils were a warrior class who may have once been controlled by the Silurians and had spend millions of years hibernating under the ocean. They all wanted to take over the planet.

The Movellans: Elle MacPherson-shaped creatures who wore skin-tight white jumpsuits and white dreadlocked wigs and were at war with the Daleks. They wanted to take over the Daleks' home planet.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Sweetman, Kim (2003-08-09). What and when plague Dr Who's return. The Courier Mail p. 14.
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