Doctor Who’s Wilderness Years: Part One

❉ Struggling with no Doctor Who for twelve months with only a spin off and a Christmas Special to tie you over? Try being a fan in the 90s!

I like to keep an eye on ‘Doctor Who’ fandom but of course it’s changed remarkably over the past five years. Heck, there’s even an official fan show now, and an army of bloggers (or ‘Whovians’ if you’re deliberately attempting to make me vomit blood from my nose) who list their “Top 10 Eleven moments” (yes,that’s ELEVEN, not The Eleventh Doctor) or their “Top 5 TARDIS desktop themes” (yes, that’s desktop theme, not console room) and anybody who says otherwise deserves to be EXTERMINATED. And although people have different opinions on their favourite/least favourite this and that, or their gripes and grumbles on the direction that the show’s going, many share the view that no ‘Doctor Who’ in 2016 is a tragedy.

Now, I love the show, and the fact it’s been pretty regular for over a decade with a sudden twelve month break when ratings are dropping and coming under attack from critics is really rather foreboding; however, I want to take you to a time fondly (?) remembered as “the wilderness years”. Because if you think Who fans have it hard now, just you listen to what we kids had to put up with in the 1990s!

Who fans today are known in some circles as ‘Whovians’, however the name for them during the wilderness years was “What even are you and why are you watching that?!”

This is my story of being a ‘Doctor Who’ fan in the wilderness years…

The wilderness years, which are considered to be 1990 – 2004 (the years ‘Doctor Who’ wasn’t regularly on television), were a strange time for fans who were waiting for the show to make a return, but  even stranger for those of us who born just a little too late in the ‘80s to enjoy the show during its run.

“Come on Ace, we’ve got work to do… Next stop, Albert Square!”

These days, ‘Doctor Who’ is considered ‘cool’ and ‘mainstream’ and to say you’re a fan is no different to saying you’re a fan of Harry Potter, ‘Game of Thrones’ or She-Hulk Femdom Porn.

In the mid ‘90s, ‘Doctor Who’ – which was regarded by many as “out of date” years before its exile from television – was not missed by children. For those of you born the right side of 1990, you’ll remember that ‘90s television was all about attitude, awesomeness and fighting with the likes of ‘Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles’, ‘Power Rangers’ and ‘Biker Mice from Mars’ being re-enacted in the playgrounds. As brilliant as the final series of Sylvester McCoy’s tenure as the Doctor was (and that’s The Doctor, not “Seven”) along with the brilliant Sophie Aldred as Ace, there was no way kids were going to wander around the playground with an umbrella lecturing female classmates on how they should face their fears. If you haven’t got the gist yet, I’m saying ‘Doctor Who’, in its late ‘80s form, wasn’t welcome in 1990… and yet I was a fan, a die-hard fan.

I discovered the Doctor the same way many of us did, through my parents. One February night on BBC2, approaching the thirtieth anniversary year of the show, good old Auntie Beeb felt it was time to repeat some classic episodes. As a special treat, I was allowed to stay up late after ‘Thunderbirds’ (BBC Two was all repeats for its first fifty years, apparently!) and sat on my Dad’s lap, just three years old, I was introduced to ‘Doctor Who’ with the serial… The Mind Robber. That’s right, my introduction to thirty years of ‘Doctor Who’, was The HEADFUCK Mind Robber. The Mind Robber! I didn’t sleep for days and just as my mind recovered from its robbing, I was once again allowed to stay up and watch the repeats shown regularly on Tuesday nights in the early 90’s. I must state now that, as a mature adult I now enjoy The Mind Robber for entirely different reasons… Oh, Zoe you in that catsuit is everything Kim Kardashian wishes she has.

Amazingly, I found the TV continuity from that very night on BBC 2:

Listen to that nob-head get his Masters’ mixed-up! What a tool!

So as I worked my way through the BBC 2 repeats, from The Sea Devils to The Daemons, through to Genesis of the Daleks and Revelation of the Daleks; those few weeks changed my life and the way I watched and consumed television, movies and literature.

The following year was the thirtieth anniversary; therefore we were treated to more repeats and ‘Thirty Years in the TARDIS’ (which I watched when broadcast and for the first time in twenty-five years last week!) With the death of Peter Cushing, we were also treated to repeats of the ‘Dr.Who and the Daleks’ movies, which I became obsessed with along with my uncle’s Christmas gift of Dapol ‘Doctor Who’ TARDIS Set and a plethora of Daleks (in all their many, many, non-canonical, colours!).

‘kin state of ‘em! I reckon this is where those 2010 designs came from.

At the grand-old age of four, now familiar of my existentialism, I questioned the woman I called simply “Mum” and asked why ‘Doctor Who’ wasn’t  on telly anymore, to which she replied: “It just isn’t”.

This realisation puzzled me, ‘Power Rangers’ was new and ever-lasting, ‘Doctor Who’ was already over and although I could collect videos; it was like looking at a star in the sky that had already burned out… Yeah – I overthought as a child. But seriously, why wasn’t this show on?! It drove me nuts that my friends had never heard of it, or why I couldn’t persuade those same pals to play Nyssa and Tegan in the playground.

I continued to enjoy my BBC Video ‘Doctor Who’ collection, the first one I received being Resurrection of the Daleks, still a favourite of mine today. Seriously though: How good is Resurrection?! In the middle of such a campy series with rubber monsters, you have a story with a bigger death count than all Saw movies put together (genuine fact, that!) a bad-ass Turlough, Daleks that in mutant form kill you by raping your neck, women being held hostage and murdered in cold blood, ‘EastEnders’s Dirty Den as Davros’s new Nyder, a Dalek getting lobbed out a window, and a companion leaving because she’s literally sick of seeing people killed as she runs away over SEVEN dead bodies – Ooooh, it’s wonderful! Even as a 4 year old I expected Turlough to turn to the Doctor and say “You really fucked this one up, son!” at the end of the episode.

Seriously though: How good is “Resurrection”?

At last, in 1993 we had a proper new story from Doctor Who, well… We had ‘Dimensions in Time’, the Children in Need special 3D special set in Albert Square off ‘EastEnders’. Now, to be fair as a 5 year old at the time, ‘Dimensions in Time’ was brilliant. I got to see all the Doctors (kind of), meet all the companions (sort of) it was a fun story (kind of), and it was in 3D (not remotely).

Joking aside, I loved ‘Dimensions in Time’ and it still holds dear to my heart. Which is why, and I know you’ll be angry at me for this, I consider it canon… No… No wait, come back! Hear me out!

I consider it canon because, first of all, the producer and writer of the serial John Nathan-Tuner (The Stephen Moffat of the era, along with matching afro) stated that it is indeed canon. Then again, he also said Doctor Who was like ‘The Morecambe and Wise Show’.  Secondly, I’ve worked out how it could fit in the canonical timeline…


You see, it’s very clever. Between the episodes ‘Trial of A Time Lord’ and ‘Time and the Rani’, there’s a big gap (a gap picked up by Big Finish on many occasions) and during that time, the Rani teamed up with the Valeyard, you see, and the Valeyard, right, he had stolen the key to the Matrix, yeah? So like, she asked the Valeyard, “What is your favourite TV show, Val?”

Knowing that he’s everything evil and bad that the Doctor represses – the Valeyard’s favourite TV show will actually be The Doctor’s least favourite! So he says, “Well, Rani”, – who’s looking cracking for 60, seriously, I definitely would – “My favourite show is EastEnders!”

So she kicks him in his Gallifreyan twin suns, steals the key and creates a Matrix world based around Albert Square, trapping the third to seventh Doctors in there. Leela is trapped and remains there to mother two sons called Gianni and Beppe Di Marco along with that hot daughter I fancied in my teens. So there you have it, that’s ‘Dimensions in Time’. Canon. Sorted.

‘Dimensions in Time’. Canon. Sorted.

Next time, I take a look at the Doctor Who in the late ‘90s. Will the Doctor return in an American TV Movie resembling an episode of ‘Due South’ or ‘ER’? Will Stephen Moffat create a comedy parody of Doctor Who for Comic Relief with more loyalty to the show and character of the Doctor than Series Nine? Will I meet Jon Pertwee in person just a few days before his death and thus, create my most cherished childhood memory? Tune in next time to find out!


❉ Join us next week for more fresh revelations from Sam Michael on Doctor Who’s wilderness years…

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