‘The Five Faces of Doctor Who’ At 40

❉ A fond look back on the multi-Doctor repeat season which began 40 years ago today, on 2 November 1981.

I forget how we discovered the news that BBC2 were going to repeat five whole Doctor Who stories from all four Doctors. Maybe it was previewed on Blue Peter, or perhaps it was that Sunday supplement which did the rounds at school, or perhaps it was endlessly trailed on the television. The Five Faces of Doctor Who was apparently designed to remind youngsters that there had been other Doctors before Tom Baker, not that it was any kind of secret if you had access to the books, the fledgling monthly or anyone older than you with memories.

Having a story stripped across a week was not unusual either. That was how Doctor Who was repeated during the summer, and it was hit or miss whether you could catch it, and when you did it never felt the same somehow especially if the weather was good. Normally, the repeats were from recent series. This year we revisited Full Circle (which I did not like) and The Keeper of Traken (now that’s better).

Other than books or Doctor Who Monthly, the only way you could experience anything older was a clip. Planet of the Daleks popped up on Nationwide, The War Games on Blue Peter, and once during an interview with swimmer Duncan Goodhew a few moments from The Dalek Invasion of Earth! This resulted in a quasi-religious experience in the sitting room.

It could not have been a difficult decision to begin with the very first Doctor Who of all – The Daleks. Well, that’s what the book said as I was reliably informed by a friend at school. I knew full well (thanks to issue 2 of Doctor Who Weekly) that An Unearthly Child was the first story. And it was in black and white. The idea of watching something black and white (or grey as we called it) programme was not alienating because we only had a colour telly for the past year when Mum went mad on a credit card, and because BBC2 frequently repeated 1930s cliff-hanging serials like King of the Rocket Men and us kids were fine with that.

The few photos I had seen from the story were bizarre to say the least. Strange pictures of Carole Anne Ford reading a magazine, those hairy cave men. My major memory impression from watching the story was just how real it all seemed. The companions were terrified by their situation. They were dirty and  their clothes were torn. They felt despair and terror. Modern Doctor Who rarely did that. Tom Baker’s Doctor treated situations as if he was Superman. Has Doctor Who felt as grimy or threatening as that first series I wonder. And the Doctor did not appear to be terribly nice at all! ‘Your arrogance is nearly as great as your ignorance!’ Magical.

The following week we got The Krotons and initially it left me cold. Stagey, over acted, and fire extinguishers for weapons, really, and I didn’t take to Patrick Troughton at all. I was not impressed at all. Naturally I turned in for the next episode – I had thrown a tantrum the previous week when a family member insisted that I only needed to watch a couple of episodes a week rather than all four. I was never challenged again. But Episode 2 won me over because it was a far more relaxed performance given by the cast and the Doctor’s sense of humour was funny. Even the Krotons made for an impressive reveal despite their rubber skirts.

There were very few complete Troughton stories and only one in four parts, and this was it. Doctor Who Magazine were about to reveal in their winter special the grim reality of archival holdings, and the situation was similar for Jon Pertwee’s time in office. Earlier and arguably more representative Pertwee stories featuring UNIT, the Master or outer space romps were either too long, and in a mixture of colour and black and white formats. Within a couple of years, colour copies of many Pertwee stories from other countries would turn up. ‘Success! Joy! Adulation!’ drooled the Monthly. Big deal thought the rest of us who couldn’t watch them.

No doubt Barry Letts prompted the repeat of Carnival of Monsters which he directed and insisted on editing the end of the programme to remove barely noticeable make up malfunctions. The Three Doctors was another obvious choice. Pertwee was my favourite Doctor at the time, mainly thanks to the books like The Sea Devils, and watching him swash his buckle over eight episodes was fabulous. I found the Pertwee era initially difficult to adjust to even though it was a mere eight years old.

Watched out of context, the effects jar in their simplicity and over-ambition, and the design work shrieked the early seventies. (I was always taken in by the state of the Doctor’s scanner. It looked no different to our old TV set.) The music was quite a shock too, sounding like a stylophone underneath a bucket. Ghastly. But when it worked, such as the Drashigs, or UNIT HQ vanishing inside a black hole, you soon forgot about jelly monsters and whatever those Functionaries were supposed to be. I revelled in seeing the Doctors together and find out what happened after that frequently repeated clip of all three of them arguing. It was also nice seeing photos of the Brigadier, Benton and Jo Grant come to life. It was hard imagining these stories from the books.

The final story, Logopolis was another obvious choice as it featured Peter Davison right at the end, our fifth face of Doctor Who, one we would accept as the Doctor within minutes of his appearance – how could we not? Only eight months old, Logopolis was a very unusual Doctor Who in that much of it was played out inside the TARDIS, with very mundane situations going on outside. The Master, who we never saw in person until he popped up in the polystyrene city, was busily murdering people, chuckling softly to himself. The Doctor was behaving oddly presumably because the Master was on the loose and he now had a young lad for a companion. I wonder if Adric reminded the Doctor of himself at a young age.

It was an absorbing story, so unusual in its structure compared to what we are used to, and director Peter Grimwade gave the serial such an eerie and doom-laden atmosphere because we knew things were not going to end well for the Doctor. The white shadow called the Watcher was never seen in close, a directorial master stroke. Grimwade is without doubt one of Doctor Who’s most imaginative directors, a hard task master, and that he fell out and criticised how his written work was directed by others should be immaterial to his appraisal. The other directors of the run included Waris Hussein, David Maloney and Barry Letts who showed us what they could do with the limitations of the time, each developing upon what their predecessor could achieve with television.

A month later, we had K9 and Company, a wonderful little coda to the Tom Baker era, (give me that over bloody The Box of Delights any year) and shortly after, yet another chance to watch the Doctor’s stylish regeneration into Peter Davison as Castrovalva began in January 1982. That story had its own Five Face moment as Davison gave impressions of his predecessors, name checking Ice Warriors and the Brigadier. The old was vogue. There would be clips from the golden oldies during Earthshock to great fan applause, continuing a trend started in Logopolis as the Doctor’s past friends and foes flashed before his eyes shortly before he ‘died’. As some commentators have observed, the programme began to feed upon its past, rather than look to its future. And a part of me was secretly hoping for another repeat season later in the year. And I wasn’t to be disappointed.

(A second season of repeats, titled Doctor Who and the Monsters, was broadcast on BBC One in 1982, which you can read about HERE.)

❉ ‘The Five Faces of Doctor Who’ was broadcast on BBC Two on Monday to Thursday evenings from 2 November 1981 to 3 December 1981. The individual stories can all be found as BBC DVD releases and streaming on Britbox, with ‘The Three Doctors’, ‘Carnival of Monsters’ and ‘Logopolis’ also available as brand new digital restorations on their respective seasons’ Blu-ray collections.

❉ 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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