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20th anniversary of a magical old stranger

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IT must have seemed I quite like old times to Patrick Troughton, for as soon as the news was out that he was to re-create his "Doctor Who" character for "The Five Doctors," B.B.C. 1's celebration tonight of the 20th anniversary of one of television's all-time block-busters, the fan letters began to arrive.

"Suddenly I was back in the swim of it all," says Patrick, who was the good doctor for three years and was last seen in the role all of 13 years ago.

"People wrote to say how glad they were I'd be back, and asked if I could tell them what the story was going to be but, of course, I couldn't."

The first Doctor Who of all (Patrick was the second) was the late William Hartnell and his part in this 90-minute-long "special" is played brilliantly by Richard Hurndall.

Back, too, is Jon Pertwee, the third doctor, and Peter Davison, the present doctor.

But, sadly, Tom Baker, who was Doctor Who for some seven years, is not in the reunion proper—he was on tour and unavailable to take part in "The Five Doctors."

Naturally, he's written into the story but we have to be content with glimpsing him in a couple of clips from previously unscreened "Doctor Who" footage.

So what is the secret of the success of this magical old stager which the B.B.C. has sold to 54 countries and commands a worldwide audience of 100 million?

Easter eggs

A magical old stager which has sprouted "Doctor Who" conventions and exhibitions, and "Doctor Who" products-60 of them—ranging from wallpaper and ceramic tiles to Easter eggs and T-shirts.

Patrick Troughton has no doubts about one factor in its success—family viewing.

But there's another reason he gives for "Doctor Who" not merely surviving but thriving over the last 20 years.

"Man's greatest conceit," he says, "is imagining not just that we are alone in the universe, but that we are the most important form of life there is.

Time travel

"We are but one example of an unbelievable amount of life, some more primitive and some more advanced.

"We can already travel in space, so there's no reason why it shouldn't be possible to travel in time as well.

"In a sense we already do—we can see what's happening twelve hours ahead of us on the other side of the world at the time it's happening through television and satellites, so it's not inconceivable that more advanced beings could have found ways of travelling backwards and forwards in time.

"To my mind, it's all true, and one reason for the programme's continuing popularity is that it's fascinating to imagine what shape, size, colour and form other civilisations would take.

"Our whole philosophy of life is built around this incredible conceit, this incredible delusion that we are the only ones in the universe, whereas we are like a grain of sand on a vast beach.

"I've always believed it and so has the Astronomer Royal, so I'm not alone!"

Drama school

A Londoner who grew up with boats and knows the Norfolk Broads as well as anyone, Patrick will be more than a little at home in his role of the old eel fisherman in "Swallows and Amazons," an eight-part serial to be shown on B.B.C. 2 in the New Year.

His road to an acting career started with drama school in 1938.

After a short time in repertory he joined the Royal Navy, served for six years and then resumed his acting career—with the Bristol Old Vic.

"I got into television in 1948, 'live' television from Alexandra Palace," he says. "I've been in television almost solidly ever since, apart from the odd film and play.

"I just love television. For me, it's the real National Theatre—it's in everyone's sitting-room. And the standard is so very high.

"An American, you know, came over here and said that the very worst of British television is light years ahead of anywhere else in the world. And I think that's true!"

After "The Five Doctors" have gone their separate ways the new Doctor Who will be preparing to step in—the first programmes in the New Year will still star Peter Davison and then Colin Baker, Paul Merroney in "The Brothers," of course, takes over.

And Colin's reaction? "I'm absolutely delighted!" he says.


DOCTOR WHO (B.B.C. 1, 7.20). The Five Doctors. A special adventure which celebrates the 20th anniversary of the world's longest-running science fiction series. The Doctor and his earlier selves are lifted out of time and placed in the death zone on Gallifrey, the planet of the Time Lords.

Caption: The five doctors in a picture that is not all it appears. The port of the original doctor is played by Richard Hurndall (left) in place of the late William Hartnell, and next to him is a wax model of Tom Baker. The other three are real, though Patrick Troughton, and in front, Peter Davison and Jon Pertwee.

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  • APA 6th ed.: (1983-11-25). 20th anniversary of a magical old stranger. The Courier & Advertiser .
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