Stocking Fillers: Doctor Who Christmas in the 1980s

❉ Michael Seely fondly recalls the TARDIS treats 1980s Doctor Who fans woke up to on Christmas Day…

Once upon a time, Father Christmas had a tendency for ignoring my Christmas wishes. These were not exactly in every child’s list of demands before hostages were taken, as so many must have toys tend to exact these days. So, it was a relief to reach that age where I could obtain a level of money to make up for the deficiencies in said Santa Claus and buy my own crap instead. Being a Doctor Who fan could be an expensive hobby during the merchandising boom of the 1980s, I was limited in what I could spend that money on, even with a part time job. As the 1980s rolled on, I used to wince at the prices of those wonderful SEVANS Dalek model kits, Who Dares prints, the jigsaws, limited edition busts of Doctors, companions or monsters. But there were things that needn’t break my police box-shaped money bank, especially if you dropped a hint in certain ears…

The Peter Haining Books

It always struck me when flicking through one of Peter Haining’s books which he produced for WH Allen, the Doctor Who novelisers, that he did not so much write the book but got other people to do it for him. I was fascinated to read Jeremy Bentham’s account in Doctor Who Chronicles 1983 that he was indeed paid for work sub-contracted out to him for the first of these coffee table books: Doctor Who – A Celebration. Getting in other writers continued to be the case for other of his books which became an annual tradition for a number of years.

My favourite was his second, Key to Time, a literal Doctor Who diary derived from newspaper clippings, and Bentham’s own range of Space and Time fanzines which documented the making of each individual story (influencing an intense dislike for ‘The Gunfighters’ which us eighties fans usually reserve for Season 24). The Key to Time was illustrated mainly by fans’ own illustrations, including early appearances by Colin Howard and Alistair Pearson. Following precise directions where in the book shop it could be found, this was my 1984 Xmas present from mum, much easier to locate in her wardrobe and unwrap in advance thanks to short school days in the week before the holidays while she was still at work earning my keep. Thanks Mum.

Arguably, the Haining books became less special with each edition; a mixture of read it before, other people’s essays and journalistic round ups. His last bow, which I only recently bought, was Twenty-Five Glorious Years was in 1988 focusing heavily on the current series, the fore-mentioned twenty-fourth. I passed on that, but thirty-four years on, it has an unbeatable nostalgia value.

The Doctor Who Quiz Books

Affordable novelisations of Doctor Who stories were no longer focussing on recent episodes by the mid-eighties. If you followed the monthly magazine, you usually anticipated what delight was to come, a chance to discover a long-lost classic. But there were times of the year when you got something different instead. August could be one of those months. Travel Without the TARDIS? What were they thinking? Where’s Slip Back? In December you were usually given something different, and in 1981 we got the first Doctor Who Quiz book compiled by future range editor and noveliser Nigel Robinson. There were three in all, and in those pre-pirate video days, trying to work out what happened in those un-novelised stories was a forensic job. If the Monthly published the storyline as part of their archive feature, it depended on the mood (or space) of the writer in just how much detail they went into. But the Quiz book inadvertently filled in some gaps. Character names gleaned from the two Programme Guides were suddenly explained. Who were Tuthmos and Khephren? Oh I see, Egyptians.

One year we got the Doctor Who Crossword Book, which wasn’t quite so revelatory, but fun to fill in, and looked nice on the shelf. The covers were usually quite good too and seldom reproduced nowadays. In 1984, just after an eye-watering run of vintage stories finally brought to life, we suddenly got the bizarre Brain Teasers and Mind Benders, written by – as  the magazine said – a fifteen-year-old Adrian Heath. I thought he’s not much older than me. I’m surprised the man hasn’t been tracked down and forced to issue five anecdotes rapid and forced to relate what a pleasure it is to be associated with the range. Future Decembers gave us novelisations – I presume they sold better.

The Doctor Who Annual

The annual stocking filler disappointment (available from September) as some wag once described it actually improved during the 1980s. The illustrations looked like something resembling the programme. It helped that they dropped the dreadful comic strip. There were two and a half Peter Davison annuals, his first shared with Tom Baker, written and drawn before they even knew how he was going to be presented. So, head shots only with an All Creatures Great and Small haircut and Adric for company. The two Colin Baker annuals  weren’t bad either, and there were behind the scenes features. It was a shame the annual finished in 1985. As something for the kiddies rather than the fan discovering their critical faculties, they were adequate. There were also a couple of bumper compilations featuring stories from all the past Doctors.

The Doctor Who Magazine Winter Specials

Ah, the one I could easily afford. Early Summer Specials could be strange to say the least. They were either a compendium of past comic strip glories or a collection of smearily reproduced articles. But the Winter Specials were special. The most ground-breaking  was Jeremy Bentham interviewing all the Doctor Who producers. Another year was a Jon Pertwee-themed issue with lots of tantalising details in how idiosyncratic his early stories could be, which was eye-opening considering how uniform Doctor Who could appear in the eighties with the costumes and the TARDIS. They followed this up with an equally absorbing Tom Baker edition in 1986. In 1987, they produced an Autumn special, our first glimpse of the unbelievable Sylvester McCoy logo. Oh, good grief. But aren’t those Ray Cusick photos lovely. There were no more winter specials, and special editions became a rare event, compared with the marvels we are presented with nowadays.

The Doctor Who LPs

Finally, and if they were not published for Christmas, this was usually the time of year you got them after severe lobbying, a good old fashioned and easily scratched vinyl record to be played upon your gramophone. As well as the current theme in stereo, you could still pick up a selection of LPs first released in the seventies. Doctor Who Sound Effects (Metebelis III will be played at my funeral), and a cut down ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ (oh, the proper Delia Derbyshire theme is at the beginning), which made up for the lack of Doctor Who over the festive season. Cut down stories were almost a Christmas tradition at one point, but no more. The Radiophonic Workshop presented two LPs of Doctor Who: The Music, a chance to indulge in some serious synthesiser squelches and squeals.

Listening to Gallifreyan Staser Blast or Peter Howell’s music from The Five Doctors may not be exactly festive, but it beats Midnight Mass and the Queen’s speech. So happy Christmas to all you We are Cult readers at home. It’s not Christmas until Davros shouts ‘Exterminate!’

❉ A longstanding contributor to We Are Cult, writer Michael Seely’s biography of Douglas Camfield, ‘Directed by Douglas Camfield’, is available from Fantom Publishing and he has also contributed a chapter to a new edition of Barry Letts’ autobiography ‘Who and I’ also available from Fantom Publishing

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