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Blog: Watching old Doctors Who

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This week I have somehow found myself watching some OLD Doctors Who. I am not sure how it happened.

All right, I am pretty sure I DO know and, as ever, it is largely down to Mr RT Davies, who UNLEASHED the whole lot of it on the iPlayer a while ago and then LURED in those of us with weak resolve by also adding EDITED versions. This was a dirty rotten trick because it turns out that cutting out about 60% of old Doctors Who makes it a LOT easier to watch here in Modern Tymes. Some OAFS might say that there is some old Doctors Who that would benefit from cutting about 100% but I DISCARD them.

INDEED to my surprise I Quite Enjoyed some of them - Patrick Troughton, it turns out, is dead good - so was already WEAKENED to the prospect of watching more. However, it was only when a Work Colleague revealed that he had been watching some of the Peter Davison era that I thought "Why not give it a go eh?"

Now, I must admit that this was not my first DELVE into the archive. Several years ago I watched a great big WODGE of Sylvester McCoy on the archaic DVD format - this was almost entirely because I had been given Mr Andrew Cartmel as my MENTOR on my MA course and, in preparation for meeting him, I thought it would be good to GEN UP. As it turns out he did NOT spend an awful lot of time mentioning aspects of his MASTERPLAN nor casually name-dropping cast members (although he did a tiny bit and it was AMAZING), preferring instead to be an all-round TOP MENTOR and also to give me GRATE ideas, also GRADES (HOORAH for him!). However, watching the McCoy era on DVD did make me realise how BRILLIANT it was ... so long as you squinted a bit.

What I mean by "squinting" is that you have to narrow your MENTAL EYES a bit and try and see the show as it was MEANT to turn out, not how it DID. If you concentrate you can see that the script writers (and aforementioned script editor) had some AMAZING ideas, and that (most of) the actors and (most of) the designers were trying REALLY REALLY HARD to make something good. Unfortunately they were THWARTED by a budget of 2p per episode, the insistence of the BBC to light everything as if it was GOING FOR GOLD, and the need to FILM it at the same SPEED as Going For Gold, so it looks somewhat ROPEY throughout.

With this all behind me I came to the iPlayer one evening and thought "Oh go on, let's have a look" and after some WANDERING through the aforesaid Archive I fell upon Season 15 i.e. one of the GOOD ONES with Tom Baker in. I have very very vague memories of The Tom Baker era, and indeed one of my earliest memories is of Jon Pertwee turning INTO him in That One With The Spiders, and I'd recently thoroughly enjoyed re-reading the comic strip version of The Star Beast, but I'd never been drawn to re-watch any of his stories.

Actually, I had re-watched ONE story, and that was "The City Of Death" after a GIG in Middlesbrough many years ago. I was staying at the house of Mr Bob Fischer that evening and when I asked him what was a GOOD old Doctor Who he chose to extract that one from his LIBRARY. I must report, dear friends, that drink had been taken and I was not prepared for quite how INCREDIBLY SLOW the whole thing was. When The Doctor says "Hey Romana, let's go to the other gallery on the other side of Paris" I was expecting them to CUT to the other gallery, and not to have to watch them WALK THE WHOLE FLIPPING WAY across town. It took AGES!

It was with all of this in mind that I settled myself down to have a go at watching "Horror At Fang Rock", starring T Baker as The Doctor and L Jameson as Leela and CRUMBS it actually was PRETTY GOOD. I mean, yes, the main baddy was a WET BRUSSEL SPROUT but otherwise it was quite tense and interesting and also GOOD FUN. SOme of the acting was a bit rum, but COR Tom Baker is bloody brilliant in it (even though I did keep expecting him to say "RAY BLOODY PURCHASE") and having only a very very hazy idea of the story meant that it was full of surprises.

BUOYED UP by this I then decided to watch the next one which was "The Invisible Enemy". Some of the acting in this was even rummer and the special effects even rummer still, but it remained good fun and also VERY VERY SILLY INDEED. When the Doctor BIGENERATED at Christmas many Grumpy Old Doctor Who Fans were heard to complain that this was somehow "silly" and "didn't make sense" and "not like proper Doctor Who." In "The Invisible Enemy" there is an episode where The Doctor gets infected with an alien bacteria so they make a temporary CLONE of him and Leela (which takes about 20 seconds and not only has their memories BUT ALSO CLONES OF THEIR CLOTHES). The Cloned Doctor pops out to get a gizmo from the Tardis that then SHRINKS THEM TO MICROSCOPIC SIZE. They then get INJECTED INTO HIS OWN HEAD where they are chased through his ACTUAL BRANE by Mr Ronson from Grange Hill, including a bit where they stop and watched The Doctor's DREAMS of DORIC COLUMNS. At the end of all THAT the clones get destroyed (leaving behind a knife and a bit of curly hair) and the alien bacteria gets extracted and DE-REDUCED so it is THE SIZE OF A LARGE CHILD and looks like A SPACE PRAWN which is then WHEELED around and put in a booth with some EGGS or SOMETHING to "BREED" and then The Doctor blows it up and steals a DOG.

It is utterly utterly UTTERLY ridiculous but also FUN. I've now started on "The Image Of Fendahl" where clearly the director said to everyone "Do the stupidest accent you can think of, so long as nobody else is doing anything like it" but a couple said "We are 1970s accents and can only do Drunk Couple At A Golf Club Accent, can we stick with that?" and he reluctantly agreed. MY WORD but you hear that a lot in these old shows - I remember watching "The Children Of The Stone" and EVERYBODY talked in the same hateful BUMPTIOUS manner, as if they were about to give the award for Most Improved Putting and had decided to make a few off the cuff remarks first. It's GHASTLY!

However, despite all of that, old Doctors Who are extremely MOREISH. Each episode is only about 23 minutes long and about 10% of that is the titles and the last 60 seconds of the previous episode, so they do not take long. I fear I may be in this for the long haul, and it is a very long, and VERY SILLY, haul indeed!

posted 6/2/2024 by MJ Hibbett

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