❉ Let’s be honest… How many of you gave up all hope by the new millennium? And yet, and yet…
1996 came and went and we had a new Doctor and, or so we thought, a new direction for ‘Doctor Who’ as a TV series… But no, nothing. Nothing at all.
The ‘Doctor Who’ TV Movie was a hit in the UK and I have no doubt that a Saturday or weeknight series would have been too. The style fitted that ‘Time-Sliders’/’Farscape’ feel that sat well around 6:30pm on BBC 2, where repeats of Doctor Who found themselves in late 1999. Sadly, the show fell flat on its fat Yankee arse in the States, and they were the ones who were going to foot the bill if a new series had kicked off. ‘Doctor Who’ was back where it had sat seven years earlier… in wilderness.
It had given the franchise a bit of a reboot, which allowed for BBC Worldwide to really kick-start the Doctor Who website with great content, release some new books featuring Doctors from the past and the new Eighth, penned by previous Virgin New Adventure authors and new talents like Paul Magrs and Lawrence Miles. You probably remember the merch at the time from BBC Worldwide and how it kept the fandom afloat.
That Dalek voice though… Vom!
For hardcore fans, however, those shitty new VHS covers really fucked up our VHS collection! JUST LOOK AT THE STATE OF IT…
I think if you were to sum-up being a fan in the 90’s, the first thing that comes to mind is the VHS collection. I was 2 when Doctor Who went off air and not having UK Gold, the only way I consumed Doctor Who was via VHS tapes which, believe it or not, were up to £15 each back then! In fact, you want to talk about tight… Some long stories such as The Daleks and The Dalek Invasion of Earth were only available in halves; you’d have to buy parts 1-4 and then the rest on another separate video, that’s THIRTY QUID for The Dalek Invasion of Earth, no extras, no documentary and no commentary! LIBERTY!
I adored my Doctor Who videos, lining them up in chronological order and taking delight in actually discovering stories existed (these were the days before internet in every home!) by seeing them advertised in the inner sleeves. The original artwork on said sleeves were at times, a thing of beauty…
and at times… just… well…
The late ‘90s was really where my fandom hit new levels. With dial-up internet, I could research and read about various ‘Doctor Who’ stories for literally minutes before “Mum” needed the phone. An incredibly underrated video game, ‘Destiny of The Doctors’, was released, which included a whole A-Z index file of information and videos about the series hidden in the console, along with a creepy setting of a huge TARDIS interior invaded by Daleks, Cybermen, Zygons, Silurians and most terrifyingly – Autons. Autons who could only be killed by playing Tony Blackburn on Radio 1.
The game wouldn’t hold up today but for 1997, it was great fun and included Anthony Ainley’s last appearance as The Master! If you ever get an opportunity to play it, do so! It’s a creepy experience that has to be played to be believed. I don’t want to give too much away, but if you’re expecting to play as The Doctor or a companion, you’re going to be disappointed when you switch to third person camera mode and find the protagonist of the game is essentially a lava lamp…
As we hurtled towards the turn of the new millennium, we were treated to a bit of fan-fiction… NO, I don’t mean Big Finish which launched in 1999 and continues today with some of the best ‘Doctor Who’ stories ever told. The fan-fiction (Yeah, I know it’s not but I needed to mention Big Finish!) I talk of was The Curse of Fatal Death.
This was a fun and amusing Doctor Who parody that was created for Comic Relief and starred Rowan Atkinson as The Doctor along with Jim Broadbent, Joanna Lumley, Hugh Grant and Richard E. Grant. E. Grant went on to play a ninth incarnation of The Doctor in Scream of Shalka. I feel I should mention at this point that I won’t be covering Shalka in this article. I know for some, Flash animations were the highlight of the wilderness years, however for reasons that will become clear in a minute they passed me by! I find this a real shame as I love these stories now, especially Real Time, which includes bit parts for my comedy heroes Stewart Lee and Richard Herring.
Anyway, from great comedy to Curse of Fatal Death, which to be fair was a pretty funny one-off, parodying the ridiculous continuity of Doctor Who, the techno-babble and Time Travel; giving you an idea of what the show would look like if it was a comedy… or… what the show would look like under FIVE YEARS OF THE BASTARD WHO WROTE THIS COMIC RELIEF SPECIAL!
At the time this was all a bit of fun but knowing what we do now and the vomit we’ve been force-fed in the past couple of years, this “parody” is oh-so foretelling! The regeneration of a woman, the naff romances, the jumping around of time (Seriously, that bit when they ‘bribe the architect’ multiple times through time travel is straight out of a Matt Smith scene) and especially the ignoring of plot-holes! Rowan Atkinson’s incarnation of The Doctor is more loyal to the character than Capaldi’s in Hell Bent *spits* and the female companion in Fatal Death (played by Julia Sawalha of ‘Press Gang’, ‘Ab Fab’ and dating Richard Herring fame) has more depth to her character in the four minutes we see her than Clara had in three years onscreen!
Even the scene where The Master (A brilliant portrayal by Jonathan Pryce) and The Doctor communicate by botty-oinks seems like something that Gareth Roberts had to hold a knife to his own throat to blackmail Moffatt in to leaving it out of his ‘The Doctor and the Smithy off of Gavin and Stacey’ episode. Anyway where was I? Oh yeah, Curse of Fatal Death, funny… 6/10.
SERIOUSLY HOW DID WE NOT SEE THIS WAS COMING FROM THIS PARODY?!
So the turn of the millennium came and went without a new series. In November of 1999, however, we were treated to ‘Doctor Who Night’, a BBC2 evening full of genuinely brilliant documentaries about the show, which sadly sort-of confirmed that Doctor Who wasn’t coming back. If you manage to find a copy of this documentary online, the likes of ex-producers, directors and even Verity Lambert herself submitting to the idea that that “Doctor Who has had its day” and that it could no longer compete with twenty-first century television. And yet, and yet… David Maloney. What a guy.
For some reason, I put down the return of Doctor Who down to this man. As stated, the ‘Doctor Who Night’ documentary is created almost as a ‘look back at a show that is no more’ nostalgia fest, ending on a reflective tone, as if ‘Doctor Who Night’ was the BBC’s final goodbye. Then suddenly, “I don’t see why Doctor Who can’t come back?!” chirps Maloney as he’s interviewed for the documentary. Seriously, if you can find this clip, do so – it gives me goosebumps. There’s so much confusion and anger in his voice that the BBC would ever even consider not bringing the show back and I like to think that this moment was seen by those who went on to resurrect the show. David Maloney, I salute you sir.
The early 00’s were possible the lowest point of the wilderness years. VHS was replaced by the blandest DVD covers you’ve ever seen.
No repeats were being show on TV, and even ‘Blue Peter’, who every other year wheeled out the odd Dalek and tried to convince kids it was still “cool”, had given up flogging a dead horse and sadly… I’d given up too.
I was around 13 years old and I’d asked for ‘Doctor Who’ videos for Christmas, obviously. These included a boxset of William Hartnell stories which included The Time Meddler, The Gunfighters and The Sensorites. I hadn’t really been watching ‘Doctor Who’ over the last few months and it took me a good few weeks to sit down and watch these VHS tapes. I enjoyed The Time Meddler, stumbled through The Gunfighters and then… urgh… The Senorites. I got to episode three and gave up. I had this horrible moment of realisation… “The reason people don’t watch this is because this is shit.”
Now I know now that The Sensorites is considered one of the most boring ‘Doctor Who’ stories in existence but knowing nothing about its history, I simply came to the conclusion that I had no more interest in the show and it was time to grown up. It was a rather sombre moment. I ejected The Sensorites just as first bar of title music played for episode four and put it back in its case. I took down all my ‘Doctor Who’ vids from the shelf (leaving a HUGE gap) boxed them up and put them in the garage. Goodbye, old friend. I genuinely felt a moment of sadness as I said goodbye to ‘The Doctor’ like a companion who’d decided “If you stop enjoying it, give it up…” I boxed them up with the intention to give them away to charity. The show was never coming back and I feel I’d out-grown everything of the series that had been and gone. As I taped-up the box of VHSes I noticed on top of the pile was the very first VHS I was given, Resurrection of the Daleks. I took one last look at the cover I’d loved as a child and sealed the box… Little did I know they were only put away ‘on hiatus’…
❉ Join us next time for the concluding episode, sorry PART, of Sam Michael‘s Doctor Who Wilderness Years!