Casualties of the Fourth Dimension?
The endless, and probably never-ending debate as to the current
standing of the Hartnell/Troughton serials raised its head again
not so long ago. No matter how much they may claim otherwise,
nostalgia does undoubtedly cloud the opinions of many older fans.
Equally, and albeit partly as a reaction, an increasing number
of younger fans choose to rubbish the monochrome episodes out
of hand; there has certainly been an element of this in recent
criticism. Inevitably, the passing of time has taken its toll
on television productions made decades ago, although I do believe
that, in general, the remaining sixties episodes fare at least
as well as most of their fantasy contemporaries (e.g. Out of
the Unknown, Adam Adamant and the dreaded Lost in Space). Doctor
Who and its bed-fellows suffer greater than contemporary drama
due to their reliance on effects and monster costumes. It is
perhaps worth bearing in mind here that children of the sixties
were the first (eventually) to be able to re-live many of their
childhood memories once VCRs came on to the market.
The episode World's End, to my mind, contains all the necessary
suspense but, sadly, is let down by the Dalek 'saucer' and the
comic Robomen; an episode which would surely benefit from the
Paul Venizis Five Doctors treatment? (Only joking!)
If critics really believe that the "vast majority"
of black and white episodes are "devoid of any suspense
factor", I would recommend open-minded viewings (if that
is possible) of the episodes An Unearthly Child, Wheel of Fortune
and Part One of The Mind Robber.
Equally, it has occurred to me that too much emphasis could
be placed on this 'time void' when reviewing old stories. No-one
appears to have questioned whether they were actually that good
at the time. One accusation levelled regularly at such fond reminiscences
is that the memories of elder fans were implanted at an impressionable
age (i.e. as children). Indeed, to support this theory there
appear to be no current (or very few at best) fans over the age
of 50. Why did the show not appeal to older viewers in the same
The obvious answer to this is that the series was conceived
for children - and if anyone still disputes this, I refer you
to Sydney Newman's comments in The Frame Issue 8. It could also
be argued, however, that adults were simply not over-impressed
with what the saw. Therefore, we have the problem that people
who were avid followers of the Hartnell and Troughton tales remember
them with fondness, whereas other, less impressionable viewers
have no memory of those stories, and not surprisingly. In short,
we have an unbalanced assessment. Until now. Marcus Hearn's Vox
Pops investigations into the BBC's audience research in Doctor
Who Magazine provide an invaluable insight into how Joe Public
assessed the early Doctor Who. Invaluable, yet I do not doubt
there are scores of older fans who rue the reports' publication,
and firmly wish Hearn had not looked into this!
The Web Planet is branded by one of the viewers as "third
rate pantomime", while The Space Museum is considered "a
load of drivel" (DWM226). Even the Daleks in their heyday
failed to impress with Devil's Planet, dismissed as "rubbishy
trash" (DWM229). It would, perhaps, be wrong not to point
out that the participants (or certainly those quoted) all appear
to be older than the show's target audience - but then, is that
not the precise point? Many of the considered classics such as
Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Tomb of the Cybermen and The Daemons
had established their reputations long before wider viewing became
available through video sales or satellite broadcasts. Personally
speaking, I always believed that the latter was helped onto its
pedestal by the cast's repeated citation of it as their favourite
story, when what they meant, surely, was that this was the story
the most enjoyed making. Therefore, it is (I believe) fair to
say that classic status was attached to those aforementioned
stories largely from distant memories and, importantly, the small
band of fans fortunate enough to have seen the episodes.
For most fans in the early eighties, the CMS - Space and Time
releases were considered the bible of Doctor Who, and I firmly
believe that many of the comments contained therein helped to
perpetuate many of the myths. Looking back at some of the early
issues, it seems that some of the reviewers were, at times, incapable
of being critical.
With this in mind, I would question E.C Stradling's comments
in CT223 that "older fans spent 5/5/92 crying into their
beards" upon viewing the newly-recovered The Tomb of the
Cybermen (CT223). Even if I did agree with his comments - I was
not in the least disappointed with Tomb, save perhaps for Ms.
Watling's attempts at fainting - I would doubt this was the case,
as I suspect many older fans are still blind to flaws in the
I return now to the CMS releases, which (in fairness) were written
more than a decade ago: "To call The Web Planet a classic
would... be stating the obvious" - Paul Mount. He further
praises the production as "such a convincing success",
though does single out the Optera as "a minor failure".
Something of an understatement, I feel! On The Tenth Planet,
Tim Robbins wrote: "The Cybermen are utterly impressive.",
and concludes that "the standards achieved were very high,
and it would be a long time before another Doctor Who story beats
them." However, The Chase is not praised so highly, containing
"moments of great weakness" according to Paul Mount.
I for one had my expectations raised upon digesting such reviews,
and felt badly let down when eventually confronted with makeshift
Cybermen with sing-song voices and clumsy Zarbi and Menoptra.
Yet after the initial disappointment, I now find it quite
possible to enjoy these episodes, warts and all, now that my
expectations are somewhat lower. However, I suspect my enjoyment
would be less were I watching these episodes in company. I believe
genuinely that some of the early stories are best left for fan
interest on the VHS market, and best not repeated on national
television. The bottom line is that, with exceptions, a lot of
the monochrome stuff is simply not good enough for a 1990s audience
uninterested in excuses of low budgets or time constraints. E.C
Stradling also describes The Tomb of the Cybermen as an "entirely
average piece of television". I hate to say this, but he
may well have a point. I would have no hesitation in citing this
story as classic Doctor Who, but I doubt if Joe Public would
consider it anything special. Long before this story's recovery,
we fans had been fed a constant diet of stills of the Tomb Cybermen
(not to mention their existing performances in The Moonbase),
so our minds were largely conditioned as to what to expect upon
the first viewing. Yet who could forget the near-hysterical reaction
of the audience at the Frazer Hines This is Your Life when a
clip of the silver giants from Tomb was shown? And didn't Frazer
Yet one might like to consider that there is no shortage of people
who consider all Doctor Who rubbish, and would have no hesitation
in branding his favourites, Talons of Weng Chiang and Caves of
Androzani) as "average television"!
I agree when Stradling accuses Fury of the Deep of being "over-rated";
certainly, it did not make a particular impression upon me at
the time, and would place both Galaxy 4 and The Macra Terror
in the same pigeon-hole.
It is an interesting paradox when discussing the fall from
grace of some of the Sci-Fi tales to consider how the once less
thought of (certainly at the time of broadcast) historicals have
risen in popularity. However, the journeys into Earth's past
do not fare well with the sample quoted in Vox Pops; The Myth
Makers was "a complete let-down" apparently (DWM226).
Perhaps this latter day appreciation of the once-considered dreary
costume dramas is linked to the aging of fans themselves.
No-one in their right mind can deny that Earthshock or Caves
have far better production values than their monochrome predecessors.
Indeed, they may well be better drama than, say, The Daleks or
The Invasion, yet this is not to say that everyone ought to enjoy
the colour serials more; give me The Invasion any day! It is
simply a matter of taste, though I concede that, had I been born
twenty years later in life, I would have undoubtedly have a different
Whether Doctor Who will be remembered as good or bad television,
there is no doubt that scores of people enjoy watching bad TV;
check the rating of Australian soaps for confirmation of this.
I feel that the first season holds up fairly well, with a very
strong cast and Hartnell's interpretation dismissed unfairly.
Two stories which had a particular effect on me as a child were
Power and Evil of the Daleks, and whilst I may have a few misgivings
about the former (and allowing for the fact that I saw Evil twice),
nevertheless I am confident that the latter would still look
good today, with a plot streets ahead of its contemporaries.
(When all is said and done, not that much actually happened in
Tomb.) E.C Stradling would possibly accuse me of affirming this
from a safe distance. I agree with some of his points, but would
argue against the case here. Sadly, we'll probably never know
who will be correct.
But be warned, Pertwee fans. The holes are already beginning
to appear in many of your favourites...
Uncle Taz Library
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