❉ 36 years before Twitch’s Dr Who marathon, BBC2’s 1982 monster-mash repeat-fest was a rare treat!
“It had only been nine months since The Five Faces of Doctor Who showed us kids our favourite programme’s past: cavemen, Krotons, wobbly jellies… Doctor Who, basically. Us kids never expected another run like that. Old time television was strictly for the movies, and clips from old Doctor Who stories were rare treats on Blue Peter or Nationwide.”
When I was a kid, my favourite newsagent/small shop was called – and it is still there in Norwich – Kerrisons. Good place to visit, if only to get their BBC olde-worlde-speaking computer to swear loudly if you typed in (phonetically, of course) rude words. It was a good place to browse unchallenged through the latest Radio Times and see what was on telly next week. Imagine the eleven year old me, leafing through the Radio Times, hoping for news of a summer Doctor Who repeat fest, and discovering that there would be one… and the story title was really not one I was expecting.
This was the summer of 1982. I was expecting a repeat from Peter Davison’s first glorious and frankly fresh series. It felt strange watching it in its new weekday time slot, as the weekday repeats back in the day always felt. The stories felt fresher than they had during Tom Baker’s last series. That one quite frankly bored me so much I nearly questioned my faith. This was a series where bicycles were an exciting plot device. When the Master turned up, things became more interesting. With Davison, things became far more exciting – except for Kinda. I hated that one!
But what I saw in the Radio Times, with absolutely no fanfare or photo, was under the banner of Dr Who and the Monsters: The Curse of Peladon. I may have emitted a minor swear, and certainly bought the issue for this little snippet. It had only been nine months since The Five Faces of Doctor Who showed us kids our favourite programme’s past: cavemen, Krotons, wobbly jellies, and exciting bicycles in layby action. Doctor Who, basically. Us kids never expected another run like that. Old time television was strictly for the movies, and clips from old Doctor Who stories were rare treats on Blue Peter or Nationwide.
There were few options for any Pertwee repeat if you wanted something in colour, four episodes in length and in a transmittable format, yet they managed to give us The Curse of Peladon. I loved his Doctor from the last time I watched him, and I loved him again. He was my Doctor of choice – for the moment…
As for the story, it was quite an unusual Pertwee story. The scenes are quite lengthy, and the story telling is not as fast and action-packed for its day. There is nothing set outside of a studio either. We get a good showpiece fight scene for the Doctor to apply his martial art, and a fine selection of green monsters. The Ice Warriors themselves were quite pleasant, and Alpha Centuari was as endearing as my reading of The Monster of Peladon had suggested. My sanest friend, Martin Quakeley, lived across the road from me, and within a few days of its repeat, he had Ssorg’s asthmatic tones down to a tee. He had a Betmax video recorder and one precious tape to record on. I just had an inadequate memory.
Just as an indicator of the type of boys we were, my favourite memory of Martin is him watching 2001: A Space Odyssey on tape, and getting more and frustrated by how not very much was happening. I remember warning him it was no Star Wars, and he discovered that the hard way as I had when it was repeated on BBC2.
It was probably the Radio Times which told me Genesis of the Daleks was up next – and despite the butchery and subsequent legend of its edit, we enjoyed it all the same. The legend, you ask? The original editor assigned to cut down six episodes into two fifty minute editions was himself a prolific series director. Unfortunately he was taken somewhat worse for wear and had to be replaced by producer John Nathan-Turner, and the rest is apparently a very difficult story to follow. A year later I was given the LP version of the story. Short, sweet, but exciting all the same.
But not as excited as I was in 1982. Not because it was a chance to see young Tom Baker again, or Davros, or the Daleks, or Sarah and Harry. I wanted to see that title sequence again. The one before those bleedin’ stars turned up. I especially wanted to see what I still call that opening slit (oo-er) before it opens up and the TARDIS comes towards YOU. For those of you who scoff and scorn at us oldsters, some of us loathed Sid Sutton’s star credits for a short while before they too became calling cards for enchantment.
We did not all have video recorders and could watch these things over and over again. I yearned to see those titles again, the titles from my even younger childhood. Nowadays, you would call it a sense of entitlement. No. It was a longing to see a slice of perfection.
Martin was younger than me by a year or two. Even he remembered it, and wanted to capture it on tape, and I was with him as he missed hitting the record button in time and witnessed his fury with everything but himself. Still, we watched the rest happily enough.
The following story was Earthshock, which was a dead cert for a repeat because it was easy to clear having just been broadcast, and featured the triumphant return of the Cybermen. Now, another school friend had read something in The Sun or a similar tabloid revealing that Adric would die during the series. I remember disbelieving it, yet it ticked inside my brain as the series went on, and then Earthshock happened.
What a fantastic first episode – violent deaths and claustrophobia! And yet it needed my jaundiced brother to point out that the glittering robots at the end of the episode were the Cybermen. He even triumphantly pointed out their credit slide. Their return gave the BBC2 review programme Did You See…? a chance to dig out some old clips. I remember impatiently waiting for the old men on the programme to stop droning on about something and get on with the monster parade.
At the end of the story, Adric was deaded. Silent credits rolled by. I did not cry. Emotion is a weakness. Besides, next week’s Radio Times said Adric was back for Time Flight… Fans will know why that crumb of hope (I was ten) turned out to be an indifferently directed moment.
I was able to record all of Earthshock on audio cassette. No idea how I managed it without someone ruining it for me. For some reason, the recorder switched itself off before Adric’s death. I subsequently found any playback a melancholic experience. This is story about fate – and not being able to avoid it. Approaching death. I still have an odd relationship with the story. Earthshock pulled the rug from under my little fan feet. Companions could die, and I remember wondering if the Doctor himself would make it out of Time-Flight in one piece. The Doctor’s fake execution in Arc of Infinity seemed par for the course for this new and grim Doctor Who. When Nyssa left in 1983, we had suspicions she too would not make it out alive… I love the fact that this did happen, and it took another year before it was a more confident watch again. When my father was ten he wondered if he would see out that night’s bombing.
We never got another out of time repeat season again until BBC2 dug out the classics in 1992 (the pilot episode received its first transmission the year before). We were denied the Daleks in 1983 thanks to a strike, making the next series a duller affair compared to the freshness of 1982. If you wanted to see an old monster, you nudged the producer and whispered into his ear “Sea Devils would be nice to see again. Please don’t redesign them badly.” Some fans were so concerned by the lack of repeats after the Cancellation Crisis of 1985 (please see your history books) they went one step further. When Patrick Troughton died in 1987, episode 2 of The Evil of the Daleks had just been recovered and there were demands that the BBC transmit it as an immediate tribute – or else… They had a point to a degree. Usually any actor associated with a hit comedy had one of their episodes wheeled out in tribute. Drama rarely did.
My friend Martin Quakely was a fan of Adric’s, and he was killed in 1989, misjudging crossing the road. A glittering future denied him. In a way, he still lives in me, until the day I make my own misjudgement. He did not get a repeat on the television, which puts these things into perspective.
❉ Michael Seely’s biography of director Douglas Camfield was published by Miwk Publishing in May 2017. Click here to order.