12 November, 2015

Acting in overruns - setting the record straight about Planet of Fire

Mark Strickson as Turlough in Planet of Fire (1984)
On The Underwater Menace DVD is a documentary called The Television Centre of the Universe - Part Two in which actors Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson and other personnel reminisce about their memories of working on Doctor Who at the former BBC Television Centre studios in London. During the documentary, Strickson, who played the fifth Doctor’s companion Turlough, recalls an incident that occurred on Planet of Fire, his last story, when he had to perform a scene with seconds to spare at the end of the day’s recording.

BBC Television Centre had a regulated shutdown each night at ten o’clock. The studio lights would be turned off at exactly that time regardless of the production’s progress. It was therefore imperative to finish recording before this deadline or else have the lights go out abruptly in the midst of recording a scene. Special arrangement could be made to go beyond ten o’clock if deemed to be absolutely essential, but these so-called ‘overruns’ were required to be documented in writing by the programme’s producer with an explanation as to why each instance had occurred.

The studio recording for Planet of Fire took place in two blocks totalling five days: 26 and 27 October in the large Studio One; and 9, 10 and 11 November 1983 in the much smaller Studio Six. It was a particularly demanding production for the crew, led by the highly-experienced director Fiona Cumming, because of the number of complex effects shots and difficulties with operating the robot prop Kamelion. These factors and other technical issues contributed to overruns on three of the five studio days.

Thursday 27 October, the second of the two days in Studio One, suffered the most significant overrun, lasting 35 minutes past ten o’clock. The scenes scheduled for recording on this date included all that take place on the Hall of Fire set. The overrun was necessary to complete these scenes because it would have been costly and impractical to not only retain and re-erect the large set on the next available studio day, two weeks later, but also re-hire the large group of extras playing the Sarns in these scenes. The Hall of Fire material was scheduled to have been completed early enough in the evening to subsequently record four scenes in the wrecked Trion spaceship and a further eight in the Master’s Laboratory, but due to the delay all of these material had to be rescheduled for a later date. The sets had been erected for these scenes in Studio One were dismantled without having been used.

The abandoned scenes were added to the next block of recording days, and provisions were made to erect the required sets in Studio Six. Fortunately the plan had always been to split the Master’s Laboratory scenes over the two studio blocks so additional room only had to be found to accommodate the Wrecked Ship set, which was erected alongside the TARDIS Console Room.

The Wrecked Ship scenes were now scheduled to be recorded last thing on the evening of Thursday 10 November, the penultimate studio day. On The Television Centre of the Universe documentary Mark Strickson recalls that these were the final scenes he recorded for the series. This was not the case: he was back the very next day, Friday 11 November, to perform scenes on the Ruins set, culminating in his final scene in story order, in which Turlough bids farewell to the Doctor and Peri outside the TARDIS. Once this scene was completed, recording continued with scenes in the Master’s Laboratory and on the Master’s TARDIS Console Room set. Turlough was not involved in any of these scenes so Mark Strickson was released from the production early on his last day.

On the previous evening it was a very different state of affairs as the cast and crew worked against the clock to complete the scenes on the Wrecked Ship set. Ten o’clock passed, and the production was again into overruns. As producer John Nathan-Turner noted, in a memo dated 15 November, the overrun on 10 November ran to 15 minutes ‘in order to complete scenes in a set that had to be struck [i.e. dismantled] over-night’. He was of course referring to the Wrecked Ship set.

Internal BBC memo from Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner, dated 15 November 1983, to explain the overrun on the evening of Thursday 10 November.

Recalling the the pressures they were under on the DVD documentary, Strickson says, ‘[it] was the last scene in the studio and the director Fiona Cumming said, “Look, get it in Mark. I don’t know how you’re going to do it, you’ve got so many seconds, the scene lasts this.” So I had to physically, as I was acting, cut lines because I knew the lights were going to go out.’

This was by no means the first time Strickson had told this particular anecdote about his final story. On the Calling the Shots feature on the Planet of Fire DVD, he says, ‘… we were running very, very late, we had something like thirty seconds left before the lights were turned out and Fiona Cumming … said to me, “Mark, I don’t care how you do it, get the lines in, get the plot down because we all lose light in thirty seconds”, and I just edited and cut it as I went, and almost the moment we finished the whole of television centre went black.’ The incident is also mentioned by Strickson on the Planet of Fire DVD commentary (during the first Wrecked Ship scene in Part Two). Furthermore, when Jon Preddle and I interviewed Mark in 1990, he said, ‘This scene lasts about a minute and a half in the script and there was about forty-six seconds of studio left to get it in. So we started this scene and Fiona says, “I don’t care what you do, but get the plot in.” We just went for it - and I got the plot in.’

Mark Strickson (Turlough) and Jonathan Caplan (Roskal) in the final scene recorded on the Wrecked Ship set on 10 November 1983

The common thread running through these accounts is that under pressure Strickson improvised the last scene to some extent in order to get the relevant details across in the briefest time.

So what was altered in the heat of the moment? The camera scripts offer a detailed record of what was to be performed in studio. A comparison between the scenes on the Wrecked Ship as written and on screen reveals a surprising fact. They all play out as scripted. There is one dialogue edit, a cut lasting four seconds, at the start of Part Four’s Scene 22 (Roskal: ‘Is it still working?’ Turlough: ‘I don’t know.’), but these lines were definitely recorded as evidenced by their inclusion on a longer, time-coded edit of this episode.

Pages from the camera script for Planet of Fire Part Four, showing the last two Wrecked Ship scenes
(click on the image to enlarge)

The scenes in the Wrecked Ship were recorded last thing in the evening, just before the studio shut down. In that respect Mark Strickson’s recollection is undoubtedly correct. However the notion that this was his final work on Doctor Who or, more significantly, that he cut lines and edited dialogue on the fly in order to complete one or more of these scenes in the time available is wrong. All four scenes were all performed as written in the camera scripts. What Mark Strickson deserves credit for here is of course that he did a sterling job of managing to deliver the lines accurately under such pressure.

Stephen James Walker offers his recollection in response to my article... ‘I was in the studio when those wrecked ship scenes were being recorded at the end of the day, and they certainly were done very much under time pressure. I remember Mark accidentally dropped the Trion pendant prop at one point, and had to scrabble around on the set to retrieve it, while still acting.’

10 September, 2015

Ever Decreasing Delays

Good news! Prime has announced that Series 9's episodes of Doctor Who will be screened in New Zealand at 7:30pm on the Sunday after the UK Saturday broadcast. That means that we are only a matter of hours behind. A simultaneous broadcast would be 6:30am, so Prime’s screening will be 13 hours later.

Although one-off specials have appeared on Prime soon after the UK in the past, this will be the first time that a full series of Doctor Who has aired here so promptly.

Looking back over the past decade of Doctor Who, New Zealand fans have not always been so fortunate.

Back in 2005 when the revived series launched with Rose in the UK on Saturday 26 March, there was no indication of when New Zealanders would get to see it. The series finally arrived here on Thursday 7 July, 103 days later.

If this long delay seemed intolerable, there was worse still to come. The first Christmas special, introducing David Tennant’s Doctor, was delayed by more than six months. The Christmas Invasion was held back to open the second series, so New Zealand finally got to see it on Thursday 6 July 2006, 193 days later! Series 2 (New Earth to Doomsday) began screening the following week, 89 days after the UK. This was a slight improvement on the treatment of the 2005 series, but only by two weeks.

In 2007 the Christmas special was again held back by Prime and stuck on the beginning of Series 3. Whereas the first two series had both opened in July, Series 3 did not commence until late August, resulting in an even longer gap between UK and NZ transmissions. When The Runaway Bride screened on Sunday 19 August 2007 it set a new series record delay of 237 days.

The first six episodes of Series 3 (Smith and Jones to The Lazarus Experiment) had a delay of 148 days. This gap was reduced by a week to 141 days for the latter half of the series (42 to Last of the Time Lords) simply because the UK took a one-week break mid-series.

2008 was the last to have such long delays for a run of episodes. Once again the Christmas special was held back to open the new series. Voyage of the Damned screened on Sunday 13 July 2008, a delay of 194 days. The first half of Series 4 (Partners in Crime to The Unicorn and the Wasp), had a gap of 99 days, that reduced by a week to 92 days for Silence in the Library to The Stolen Earth, and a further reduction to 85 days for the series finale, Journey’s End, as the last two episodes were screened back-to-back in New Zealand on 28 September 2008, 12 weeks after Series 4 concluded in the UK.

There was no new series in 2009. The Next Doctor, 2008’s Christmas episode, was scheduled as a one-off special on Prime, however it still suffered a long delay before screening on Monday 13 April 2009, a delay of 109 days.

Thereafter, the situation began to improve as Prime gradually moved its screening dates closer to those in the UK. The lack of a full series in 2009 to have to find room for in the schedules may have helped in this regard. The next special, Planet of the Dead, aired on Monday 1 June 2009, 51 days after the UK.

The gap closed considerably for The Waters of Mars, which aired on Sunday 29 November, just 14 days after the UK. In fact New Zealand appears to have been the very first country outside the UK to screen this story (Australia first screened it a week later, and Canada and the US both aired it the following year).

David Tennant’s last story, the two-part The End of Time, wasn’t quite as prompt to arrive here, screening on 7 and 14 February 2010, 44 days after the UK.

The arrival of Matt Smith’s Doctor saw Prime making further inroads into the delay for a run of episodes. Series 5 (The Eleventh Hour to The Big Bang) screened from Sunday 2 May 2010, 29 days behind the UK.

A Christmas Carol was slightly more delayed, screening on Sunday 30 January 2011, 36 days later.

The 2011 series was split in half for both the UK and NZ. The first half, The Impossible Astronaut to A Good Man Goes to War, screened here from Thursday 19 May 2011, a delay of 26 days. The second half, Let’s Kill Hitler to The Wedding of River Song, screened from Thursday 15 September and had only a 19 day gap.

The next Christmas special, The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe, screened here on Thursday 19 January 2012, 25 days after the UK.

The first half of Series 7, Asylum of the Daleks to The Angels take Manhattan, screened from Thursday 13 September 2012, a gap of just 12 days, which was at the time the shortest delay NZ had experienced with the new series.

Even better than this, the 2012 Christmas special The Snowmen screened less than a day after the UK, on the evening of 26 December. This next day arrangement has been repeated for successive Christmas specials.

The latter half of Series 7, The Bells of Saint John to The Name of the Doctor, was again a 12 day delay, with the run of episodes commencing on Thursday 11 April 2012.

The 50th Anniversary Special, The Day of the Doctor, was simulcast in many countries around the world, but New Zealand was very slightly delayed. Had this country joined the simulcast, the story would have aired at 8:50am but instead it went out just 10 minutes later, screening at 9am, on Sunday 24 November. This time delay was apparently because Prime's schedules dictated that the programme started on the hour.

The 2013 Christmas special, The Time of the Doctor, screened less than a day after the UK, on the evening of 26 December.

Peter Capaldi’s first series, Deep Breath to Death in Heaven, screened from Sunday 31 August 2014, only a week after the UK.

Finally, Last Christmas screened less than a couple of hours after the UK, going out on Prime at 9am on 26 December 2014, and making New Zealand once again the first country outside the UK to screen the story.

Which brings us up to date. Until now, next day screenings (which are effectively the same day given the timezone difference), have been the province of one-off specials, but with Series 9 screening from Sunday 20 September, Prime has committed to giving full series the same treatment. The time when New Zealanders had to wait days, weeks or even months to see new episodes of Doctor Who are hopefully gone forever.

02 July, 2015

Gallifrey Magazine

I was sorting through a box of assorted old items recently when I discovered eight copies of a thirty-year-old Doctor Who fanzine I produced in the mid-1980s when I was a teenager.

Doctor Who - Gallifrey Magazine ran for thirty monthly issues between June 1983 and December 1985. Each issue was A5, between 8 and 12 pages long and produced on a manual typewriter with Letraset, felt-tip pen, and photocopied pictures. My father ran off a handful of copies of each issue for me on a photocopier at his place of work and I distributed these free of charge to friends at school. At most, I perhaps had five or six readers. By the end I was only keeping it going for my own interest.

These recently rediscovered issues are the final eight from 1985, numbered #23 to #30. I produced these issues when I was aged 16 and 17, thirty years ago. They represent the earliest surviving examples of my creative output as a Doctor Who fan. I once owned a complete set of all thirty issues, but sold these to an Australian fanzine collector in 1988 when I was a poor student in need of funds. (I wonder if that collector still has them?) These last eight issues were duplicate copies that somehow survived when so much of what I did as a fan in the 1980s has long since been either purposefully or accidentally discarded.

It is both humbling and embarrassing to look back over these issues with so much distance. I'd like to think that my 17 year-old self would be absolutely thrilled if I knew what I’ve achieved in those intervening decades. So what do I make of his efforts...?

#23 - May 1985 

The cover is made up of shots from the Pertwee era title sequence (sourced from the Radio Times Twentieth Anniversary Special), and announces ‘Jon Pertwee is the Doctor!’. The focus was very much on the stories that were currently screening on television in New Zealand. A month before before this issue was published, TVNZ began screening a massive retrospective, beginning with The Mind Robber and The Krotons followed by every story from Spearhead from Space onwards. In the magazine I refer to these screenings as the ‘Repeat Season’ as I was unaware that this was the first time many of these stories, especially from Pertwee’s era, had been screened in New Zealand.

The issue includes a preview of Spearhead from Space, reviews of the Target novelisations The Highlanders (the latest release) and The Auton Invasion; a profile of writer Robert Holmes, an ‘Archives’ feature that was a short synopsis of The Invasion, and a quiz based entirely on the recently-screened The Mind Robber. The back cover had the tenth part of an ongoing 'Programme Guide' listing a brief synopsis of every story. This issue’s instalment covered The Androids of Tara to Meglos. I was clearly heavily influenced by Doctor Who Magazine; the Robert Holmes feature for example lifted sections from an interview that had only just appeared in issue #100.

#24 - June 1985

Judging by the ‘Second Birthday Special’ strap line, I was obviously proud of the fact that my little magazine had been going for two years, Perhaps I was inspired by Doctor Who Magazine’s recent 100th issue milestone. The trio pictured in the montage photograph, Troughton, Pertwee and Davison, were the three Doctors who had appeared on New Zealand television during the two years that the magazine had been around.

In the ‘From the Editor…’ column I talked about a page increase, from 10 to 12 pages. I asked for writers to contribute articles and/or reviews. No one among my small readership accepted this invitation, which must have been disheartening, and may have contributed to my later decision to cease production. I reported that the readership had increased since the series was back on television, and that the issue had taken ‘over two full days to research and write up’.

The issue’s contents included a book review of Frontios, just one of many recent television stories I had never seen but I absolutely adored the book, calling it a masterpiece and awarding it 10/10. I was much less kind to The Cave Monsters, harshly criticising it for not strictly the television serial and only awarding it 4/10. I previewed Doctor Who and the Silurians and The Ambassadors of Death. The first of these would have been halfway through by the beginning of June, so the preview was a little late. I apologised for this in the issue, explaining that ‘until the story appears in The Listener, I have no idea what the next one to be shown is’. The Ambassadors of Death preview opened with the hope that this would be the next story screened as I couldn’t know for sure. The ‘Archives’ featured The Seeds of Death. The idea with this feature was to cover the unseen Troughton stories from the same season as the two that had been recently screened. Those two stories, The Mind Robber and The Krotons, were both reviewed in this issue. It seems I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about either of them. I judged The Mind Robber as suffering from a reduced budget and an overly padded plot. I thought The Krotons was well written but was let down by both the visuals, and the performance of the Krotons and the Gonds. The back-page Programme Guide reached Black Orchid.

#25 - July 1985

The Pertwee-fest continued with cover-promoted previews of Inferno and Terror of the Autons. I presumed (correctly as it turns out) that these would be the next two stories screened. The cover photo is from The Ambassadors of Death, the then-current television story, although there was nothing about this particular serial in the issue. The magazine's masthead got a revamp, with the lettering of the word ‘Gallifrey’ traced from an article heading in Doctor Who Magazine, and a screengrab of Pertwee’s face from the opening titles (previously used on #23) was introduced in the top right cover, where it would remain for the rest of the magazine’s run. This was to denote the current Doctor’s era on television.

In the ‘From the Editor…’ column I discussed the magazine’s future, observing that I thought it ‘extremely unlikely we will reach issue 100’, but that it would ‘definitely be going until the end of this year. After that, no definite plans have been made’. It would appear from this comment that I was already thinking about winding up the magazine.

The issue features a Target Books news column, using information from Doctor Who Magazine. I reviewed the new novelisation of Planet of Fire, praising it as ‘fantastic’ and awarding it 10/10. ‘This Month’ was a new regular feature, listing key events that happened in the current month through the series’ history. I think the source of most of my information for this was the Peter Haining book The Key to Time. ‘Saga of the Silurians’ was an attempt to explain the continuity links between Doctor Who and the Silurians and Warriors of the Deep. ‘Archives’ covered The Space Pirates, and the television reviews section looked at the first two Pertwee serials. I described Spearhead from Space as a ‘classic’ and described the Autons as ‘effective and far more believable killing machines’ (compared to the clockwork soldiers and the Krotons of the two previous Troughton stories). I thought Doctor Who and the Silurians wasn’t quite as good, but liked that it was effective in eliciting sympathy for the Old Silurian. An ‘Advance TV Preview’ listing noted the episodes due to screen on each Friday evening for the remainder of 1985. This must have been an educated guess as I had no access to advance television schedules, but turns out in hindsight to have been exactly right. The back-page Programme Guide reached Warriors of the Deep.

#26 - August 1985

The Terror of the Autons photo on the cover came from the book The Adventures of K9 and Other Mechanical Creatures – you can even spot the page join on the left.

The issue features previews of The Mind of Evil and The Claws of Axos. By now I was confident enough of the upcoming television schedule to provide advance airdates for these stories. ‘Collecting Target Books’ was a guide to starting your own collection, and I noted that it had taken me over five years to complete my own set of the first 93 books. One thing that comes through in all of these issues is that I regarded the Target novelisations as almost equal in status to the television episodes. I addressed this in the ‘From the Editor…’ column, explaining that while the series was ‘this magazine’s first priority', the 'mammoth number of books available' came 'a close second.' I rated the latest novelisation, The Caves of Androzani 8/10, noting that it was ‘a little overshadowed by the extraordinarily good Frontios and Planet of Fire. I also reviewed the novelisations of Terror of the Autons and The Claws of Axos, rating them 9/10 and 8/10 respectively.

‘The Doctor’s Celery’ was an article inspired by the information provided on the subject in The Caves of Androzani novelisation. The first in a new series of articles covered the behind-the-scenes details on the production of Jon Pertwee’s first season. ‘Archives’ covered the final Troughton story, The War Games, and the back-page Programme Guide reached its thirteenth and final instalment, concluding with Revelation of the Daleks, which was at the time the most-recently produced story. What I find particularly striking about this list of twelve stories (that begins with The Awakening), is that at the time I wrote it I had not seen any of them. Now I look at it and not only are they all familiar to me, but I've also worked on the DVDs of six of these titles.

#27 - September 1985

A photograph from The Claws of Axos appears on the cover. Inside, are previews of Colony in Space and The Daemons, and ‘A Special Advance TV Preview of Upcoming Stories’ with details of the next fifteen stories (Day of the Daleks to Planet of the Spiders), including airdates for each calculated on the expectation that the series would continue to screen at the rate of two episodes every Friday. In hindsight I can see that I was correct but only up to the end of January 1985 when the schedule changed. Ah well. This advance preview was purportedly ‘due to popular demand’. I think one of my classmates at school who read the magazine must have asked for such a listing. I noted at the end of this preview that I wasn’t sure what would happen once all the Pertwee stories had screened, but hoped that the series would continue with old stories before catching up and carrying on with previously unscreened stories, which was indeed what happened.

‘The Six Doctors’ was a new serialised feature looking at the characters of each of the Doctors. I'm embarrassed to admit that this wasn’t my own work but an edited rehash of a feature by Richard Marson from Doctor Who Magazine. Oh dear. At least I credited Marson at the end of each instalment. Marco Polo was the latest book received, and I wasn’t impressed, judging by my review. I thought the story was ‘boring’ and that the novelisation bore ‘little resemblance’ to the television version. I’ve no idea what I based this judgement on. The Doomsday Weapon was also criticised for straying too far from its source, but I praised the novelisation of The Daemons.

Turning to the television stories, I was clearly impressed with The Ambassadors of Death, describing it in my review as ‘nothing short of a masterpiece’. Inferno and Terror of the Autons also received effusively positive reviews. What's curious about my review of the latter story is that I wrote the following about Roger Delgado’s Master: ‘his evil pitted against the Doctor’s good is the strongest memory I had of the Pertwee years of the series’. Although I have memories of watching the Pertwee era first time around, none of the Delgado Master stories screened in New Zealand prior to 1985 so I cannot possibly have seen them as a child. What was I thinking? Had I concocted a set of false recollections based on reading the books? I have no recollection of this.

#28 - October 1985

Not my most successful cover design, this features a photograph of Azal from The Daemons backed by black bands coloured in felt-tip pen. Inside was a preview of Day of the Daleks, and a summary of the rest of Season Nine (‘Story 3 features the return of the Master. Don’t ask how he escapes, because I want to keep that secret…’).

The latest book release was the reissue of The Doctor Who Monster Book. My review compared it to the original edition, but as I didn’t own a copy I must have lifted that information from Doctor Who Magazine’s assessment of the book. The novelisations of Day of the Daleks and The Curse of Peladon received brief but uniformly positive reviews.

‘The Six Doctors’ continued with a look at the Second Doctor. Three of the photographs used in this two-page spread were recycled for a similar-looking couple of pages for Troughton’s obituary in the first issue of Time Space Visualiser a couple of years later. The second part of a ‘Guide to the Pertwee Stories’ covered the production of Season Eight. The first of the television stories reviewed this issue was The Mind of Evil. I described this as ‘a high-tension action-packed drama’ but lamented the loss of the colour episodes. My family had recently acquired our first colour television, so after many years of having no choice but to watch Doctor Who in black and white, it was particularly irksome that many of the early Pertwee episodes were not in colour. The review of The Claws of Axos praises the location filming and the sets, but criticises some of the characters as ‘unconvincing’, singling out including Bill Filer and Mr Chinn. I can pinpoint exactly when this review was written, because it opens with the line, ‘Less than an hour ago, the final credits rolled for the last episode of this story’, which means that I must have written it on the evening of Friday 20 September.

#29 - November 1985

In a departure from the usual photo covers, this issue has a rather nice drawing of Jon Pertwee. I drew this by copying an illustration from The Key to Time book (the original by Vitaly Sabsay appears on page 89). The cover announced ‘Doctor Who is Twenty Two!’, and the issue celebrated the twenty-second anniversary of the series. Inside I wrote in the introduction: ‘Twenty two years is a long time. If you were just old enough to watch it when it started, you could have children of your own watching it today.’ Twenty-two years may indeed have seemed like a long time to a 17-year-old, but imagine how I feel reading them now. I typed those words thirty years ago.

An article titled ‘In the beginning...’ described how the series started, and a re-vamped ‘Archives’ feature set out to document the stories in order from An Unearthly Child onwards. The wording of the first synopsis appears to have been lifted directly from Jean-Marc Lofficier’s Programme Guide. The Curse of Peladon and The Sea Devils, which screened during November 1985, were previewed, and ‘The Six Doctors’ series continued with a look at the third Doctor, still shamelessly borrowing from Marson’s article. This wasn’t the only copying going on here. The review of the latest novelisation, The Awakening ends with the footnote ‘Taken from Doctor Who Magazine Review’. I’ve compared this with Gary Russell’s review (which appears in DWM #97) and although ‘my’ review is a lot shorter, much of the wording is copied more or less verbatim. I’ve no idea why I did this. Did the book fail to arrive in time, or was I incapable of forming my own opinion about its merits...?

A new column called ‘Update’ set out to summarize what had gone on in the series since New Zealand television left off with Mawdryn Undead in November 1983. As I hadn’t seen these stories, the information provided about Terminus, Enlightenment and The King’s Demons would have undoubtedly have come from Doctor Who Magazine. This was accompanied by another new feature, ‘Photo of the Month’, featuring a photo of Peter Davison that had originally appeared in a 1983 issue of The Listener. Judging by my review, I wasn’t overly thrilled with Colony in Space, calling it ‘a less than totally successful story.’ I was clearly more impressed with The Daemons, writing that it ‘never suffered a dull moment’.

#30 - December 1985

The cover features a photo from Day of the Daleks overlaid with another from The Sea Devils, reflecting the coverage of the Ninth Season that was on screen at the time.

Significantly, there is no hint anywhere in this issue that it would be the last. My ‘Editor’s Note’ confidently claims that issue 31 is coming in January 1986. The issue was shorter than usual, just eight pages rather than the usual twelve. This was explained away with a vague reference to ‘publishing deadlines and other commitments’. In December 1985 I was finishing my Sixth Form year at school, so I expect that my studies were occupying much of my time and attention.

Despite the reduced page count I managed to include most of the regular features in the issue, including synopses for The Edge of Destruction and Marco Polo in ‘Archives’, and previews of The Sea Devils and The Mutants. ‘The Six Doctors’ covered the Fourth Doctor, and ‘Photo of the Month’ featured a photo of Tom Baker from a 1982 issue of The Listener. A new feature called ‘Databank’ documented fictional information about the Ice Warriors. ‘Update’ continued with coverage of The Five Doctors. As noted in the article, this was the one new story that I had seen, as it was played at a science fiction exhibition in Auckland that I’d attended the previous year. This item ended with a promise that coverage of the next season ‘starts next issue’.

And that was where it all ended.

Clearly I had plans to keep going with the magazine, but I do not recall if I even made a start on assembling issue 31. Why, after two and a half years of uninterrupted production, did Gallifrey abruptly come to an end?

I remained a devoted fan of the series after this point. I still watching the series every week on television and collected the books and Doctor Who Magazine. I think the so-called ‘cancellation crisis’ that led to the series’ suspension for eighteen months during 1985-86 perhaps knocked my confidence in the series. I remember believing for a while during 1985 that it wasn't coming back. I also found it hard to maintain interest in the new series, not having seen any of Colin Baker’s episodes. I only ‘knew’ his Doctor through reading the comic strips and the books.

Outside of Doctor Who, there was now a lot more going on in my life. 1986 was my final year of school. I was socialising a great deal more with friends and going out on evenings and weekends. None of these friends shared my interest in the series.

Although I had given up editing a Doctor Who fanzine, the thought of one day reviving it much have kept niggling away at the back of my mind. I recall thinking if I could just meet some fellow fans who shared my passion for the series, that maybe we could produce something together, perhaps even start up a club. At the end of 1986 I left school and in 1987 I started studying at the University of Auckland. I initially hoped to meet fans through the science fiction club on campus, but I was discouraged by the dismissive attitude I encountered at the one meeting I attended (perhaps I just caught them on a bad day?). One day in May 1987 I decided to put up a notice on the campus clubs notice board asking for any Doctor Who fans to get in contact. I received one response, a letter from a fellow first-year student called Paul Sinkovich. We met up and I discovered to my delight that Paul had off-air VHS copies of all of the new series episodes I’d never seen, and a large stack of UK fanzines. I showed him my copies of Gallifrey, and we decided to collaborate on a fanzine. I initially wanted to resurrect Gallifrey and continue on with issue 31, but Paul wisely persuaded me to create a new fanzine, which we called Time Space Visualiser. The first of 76 issues and numerous spin-off specials, published over more than twenty years, appeared in June 1987.

Once again, I was editing a Doctor Who fanzine.

24 March, 2015

Spearhead from Space: 40 Years Ago

40 years ago this month I watched Doctor Who for the first time. My earliest exposure to the series occurred between 6:01 and 6:30pm on Friday 14 March 1975. The episode was the first part of Spearhead from Space, Jon Pertwee's debut story. I was aged six-and-three-quarters. 

Spearhead from Space marked Doctor Who's return to New Zealand screens after a protracted absence lasting three and a half years. The programme had last screened in September 1971 when the Patrick Troughton story The Wheel in Space was transmitted. (New Zealand missed out on seeing all of Season Six). By the time Spearhead from Space screened in March 1975, New Zealand was more than five years behind; at the time UK viewers were watching the Tom Baker story Genesis of the Daleks.

I was of course oblivious to all of this. As far as I was concerned, Doctor Who was just another new thing to watch on television (four months later, in July 1975, I discovered Thunderbirds and was immediately hooked, but that's another story...).

I have Mum to thank for noticing that Doctor Who was on that evening, and calling me over to watch it with her on our black and white television (we didn't get a colour set until many years later, but at this stage it wouldn't have any difference as Spearhead from Space was broadcast here in monochrome). Mum recognised Jon Pertwee's first story as one she'd seen five years earlier and she thought I might enjoy it.

As parents often are, Mum was concerned about which television programmes were suitable for her young children to watch, but she knew and approved of Doctor Who. Mum had been a teenager in London in the 1960s when the William Hartnell stories were broadcast on the BBC. She had watched the series with her older brother. I was born in London in June 1968, mid-way through a seven-week repeat screening of The Evil of the Daleks. Mum had continued to watch Doctor Who after I was born. I may have even caught sight of some episodes when I was younger and simply not remembered them. Our family emigrated to New Zealand in June 1973, the week of my fifth birthday, between the end of Frontier in Space and the beginning of The Green Death.

My memory of watching Spearhead from Space for the first time is understandably patchy. I believe I probably missed watching the beginning of the first episode. I have this memory of Mum describing to me how the Doctor had arrived on Earth and fallen out of the TARDIS. For many years (up until I saw the story again, or perhaps when I read the Target novelisation), I had this remarkably vivid mental image of the police box appearing in an ornate garden and the Doctor pitching face-forward from the doorway on to a paved pathway between two flowerbeds.

The earliest memory of the series that I can be sure of comes from near the end of the first episode. The Doctor is in a wheelchair, with a bandage stuck over his mouth. He is being loaded into the back of an ambulance outside a hospital when he springs to life and takes off, rolling down a path in his wheelchair at speed. As absurd as it sounds, this sequence gave me nightmares, and is probably why it has stuck in my memory.

That's the only scene I remember clearly from the first episode, but I recall various other bits from later in the story, most notably the boiler-suited blank-faced Autons stalking through the woods (cue more nightmares), Sam Seeley's cottage, and the Doctor and Liz working side-by-side at a laboratory bench, which I think might be from the fourth episode.

I have seen Spearhead from Space many times over the years but each time I do it I find myself transported back to my childhood. It will always have a special place in my affections as the point at which I began watching Doctor Who, 40 years ago.

01 February, 2015

Fan Memories: Audiotape Recordings

It seems a ridiculously antiquated thing to do now, but there was a time when I recorded episodes of Doctor Who as they were broadcast on television. Not on DVD-R or even VHS, but on C60 audio cassettes.

In the 1980s when I was a teenager, our family didn't have a video recorder. We didn't have a colour television until 1985. These were expensive luxuries - or at least my parents considered them so.

I can pin-point the day I started making audio recordings of Doctor Who: 25 April 1983, the day that Part Three of Four to Doomsday screened in New Zealand. 

It started with wanting to make a recording of the theme music. Having worked out how to set up the stereo and microphone in front of the television in the living room to do this, it occurred to me that I may as well record the entire episode.

Lacking a microphone stand to point the microphone horizontally at the television speaker, I constructed a rudimentary cradle using my younger brother's Duplo blocks. 

I begged my family to remain quiet for the duration of the recording, so as to avoid capturing unwanted background noise. I was so anxious about getting the recording right that I often forgot to properly focus on watching the episodes.

As I only had a handful number of reuseable C60 audio cassettes and could only fit two episodes to a tape (one on each side), I was selective about which stories I recorded. If I had the novelisation, I didn't bother making a recording, so for example I skipped Time-Flight. When I acquired a new novelisation, I'd reuse the tapes for that story.

I made good use of the recording of Black Orchid. I listened to the audio of that story so many times. Rewatching the story years later, I realised that I could recite the dialogue from memory. I transcribed the audio and turned this into a novelisation, typed up and bound as a Target-sized book for my own personal collection. It sat on my bookshelves slotted between The Visitation and EarthshockSadly I no longer have this: when the 'proper' adaption arrived in 1987, I promptly binned my inferior version, ashamed of an achievement I'd been immensely proud of just a few years earlier. 

The very last story I recorded on audiotape was The Ambassadors of Death, in July 1985. Around the time of the broadcast of that story my family finally replaced our old black and white television with a brand new colour set. I eagerly looked forward to watching Doctor Who on our new television, but The Ambassadors of Death was broadcast in black and white - oh the irony! The first episode I saw in glorious colour was therefore Episode 1 of Inferno

I was still a few years away from acquiring my first video recorder, but it was at that point that I stopped making audio recordings. I'm not entirely sure why I stopped, but I suspect it had a lot to do with owning most stories beyond this point as novelisations. My priorities had changed too, Doctor Who wasn't quite the all-consuming interest it had been and I'd become more interested in recording songs off the radio than television programmes. 

When I later got involved in Doctor Who fandom, I was fascinated to learn that I hadn't been alone in making off-air audio recordings. This was, I discovered, a common fan activity that dated right back to the beginning of the series. Indeed it is entirely due to these fan recordings, that audio copies survive of every missing episode. 

  • For more on the subject of fans recording Doctor Who episodes on audio, I recommend 'Love Off-Air' a feature on Disc One of the DVD Doctor Who: The Invasion.