As The Doctor Who Companion celebrates its first birthday, we thought it was right to revisit the sterling work our contributors have put in over the previous 12 months. Except there’s so much of it!
Even though this is a three-part feature, we had to narrow it down, which was exceptionally difficult.
Choosing all the “highlights” would make this an even lengthier proposition, so instead this is just a small sample of work from all our authors. Enjoy!
This is a good place to start, right? On 20th March 2016, Andrew Reynolds announced the launch of this very site, promising a new theme each week. I blame Andy for this frankly wonderful idea:
“So tasking our esteemed writers, most of whom have joined us from the various ages of Kasterborous, we’ve dedicated our launch week to exploring ‘beginnings’ – that’s a full weekend of feature articles devoted to making the best of the first times… Each new week brings with it another theme and another chance for us to share our love with you, dear reader, on subjects as diverse as Big Finish, the Classic DVD range and a host of others that we can’t reveal just yet because we’re mean like that… Spoilers!”
It’s no fluke that the DWC launched on the 11th anniversary of Rose airing, and James Baldock set out to explore exactly what made the 2005 episode so great:
“But perhaps the real secret to Rose’s success is its companion-centred focus. It’s not enough that we only meet the Doctor when Rose does; we only see him when she does. At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s no accident that the action unfolds through her eyes, and it’s to Piper’s credit that she carries the burden of responsibility so well. Rose appears in every scene in the story, save the Autons’ attack on the shopping centre and Mickey’s stage dive into the dustbin. (We also need, at some point, to deal with the fact that ‘Christopher Eccleston’ is an anagram of ‘Eccentric Rose plot – shh’. You can’t look me in the eye and tell me that’s not a coincidence.)”
Remember when Doctor Who‘s return was a distant dream? Then something amazing happened: Big Finish began making all-star adventures, starting in 1999. James Lomond got into his TARDIS (it’s a lockable, puce recycling bin) and brought back memories of the audio company’s early years:
“And I remember the exact moment Big Finish got me. It was later the following winter. It was dark outside and raining (perfect). I was in my room in deliberately atmospheric semi-darkness, immersed in a vivid audio soundscape and political intrigue. It was quietly tense. Sylv and Soph were in it up to their necks. Someone got shot. I won’t give any more away but I remember it made me jump. Both the sound and the realisation of what happened genuinely took me by surprise. And as the cliffhanger credits played out with the familiar sting I realised I had been on the edge of my seat.”
Mez Burdett’s knowledge of Big Finish is extensive (and frankly, we’re all jealous, but don’t tell him), and that’s why he’s the go-to guy for a year-by-year guide to the company. Here, he recalls the very best of 2005:
“Political intrigue was rife in the second series of Gallifrey, a set of stories that focused on the Doctor’s home planet before the Time War. Events have moved somewhat forward in 2016, and you can find out more about the build up to the most devastating event in the Doctor’s life with this series. Featuring the Doctor’s former travelling companions K-9 and Romana (as President, before that Rassilon chap), events in these early series would shape Gallifrey and its future for many years to come.”
As editor of the Memorabilia section, Jonathan Appleton has gone above and beyond in detailing the history of Doctor Who merchandise. Such is evident just from his first article for the DWC, looking at Dalekmania in the early 1960s:
“In truth it’s debateable whether the BBC of that era would have been so quick to wake up to the commercial potential of the Daleks if they had had the exclusive rights to them. Whilst the first Dalek episodes were still being transmitted they apparently turned down an approach from one businessman, feeling that as the survivors of Skaro’s long war were to be killed off at the end of the story there was no mileage in licensing them. And the first Doctor Who comic strip, which was surely one of the most obvious avenues for cashing in on the programme at a time when the likes of TV Comic and the Eagle sold in excess of 300,000 copies, didn’t appear until November 1964.”
The Fourth Doctor holds a special place in the heart of Christian Cawley. On the DWC’s launch day, the writer and editor from the PodKast With A K reflected on his very first Doctor Who VHS: The Keeper of Traken, the penultimate regular appearance for Tom Baker:
“Christmas 1993 was a mix of new guitar and a VHS that wasn’t a rock band’s latest live show… 1993 was a massive year for Doctor Who fans. Not in the same way as 2005 or 2013, but massive nonetheless. Here we had a show, off air for four years, suddenly taken seriously (it seemed) once again. We’d had repeats of classic serials on TV, Doctor Who Magazine was emerging from the post-cancellation duldrums with a new, in-depth approach (one that remains to this day) and there was optimism about the future. Even with the cancellation of Lost in the Dark Dimension, it felt as though there was still plenty to love and enjoy about the show.”
Peter Shaw has a natural wit and wisdom to his writing… but that shouldn’t put you off these two features because, hey, there are videos. Take a look at your DVDs: a brilliant bunch, but admittedly with some very questionable special features; here, Peter finds the glory in these bizarre extras:
“Back in 1964, Carole Ann Ford took a cine (moving film) camera along to the rehearsals of her final story to capture the cast and crew in action. What she didn’t realise was that she’d already used the film in the camera to record her family, and other animals, larking about in the local park. Mummy and daddy Ann Ford playing some strange hybrid of hockey and golf accompanied by the family hound (let’s call him Muffin for consistency).
“The result is a psychedelic mash-up like some kind of bad trip where a wigless First Doctor threatens to punch you, then give you a good smack bottom while, simultaneously, a ’60s era lady rolls about suggestively in a field. A Dalek being attacked by rebelling Robomen melds into Muffin getting some unwarranted attention from a passing pooch.”
As we all know, Doctor Who is this miraculous beast which reinvents itself every few years; Andy Reynolds examines one such instance, the most notable of recent years, in which the Tenth Doctor regenerated – and so did the series:
“Matt Smith’s boisterousness is infectious from the first to the last minute – throwing his whole being into the role as though he had been born to be the Doctor. His harmless, eccentric personality doesn’t really relent until the final confrontation with the Atraxi, where, in a what is either a reassuring hand reminding you that everything and nothing has changed, or a little bit of fan service, we get to see Matt Smith literally step into the linage of Doctors.
“What’s wonderful about Moffat’s first episode in charge is that it is economic with the enormity of the task placed before it – combining as it does a fairy tale-quality to Moffat’s exceptionally strong narratives, acutely observed characters and efficient plotting.”
It was an absolute pleasure to interview Ian Atkins, writer and Short Trips producer. He recalls tempting Sheridan Smith to the range:
“Sheridan was top of my “wanted” list when I sat down with Lisa Bowerman to see who we’d like to get. I love that era of Big Finish adventures. We didn’t know if she’d want to come back – she’s a mega-star OBE, after all, and we’re from her early days – but it was worth asking. And there was nothing about having to “tempt” about it – she was so, so up for it; the only difficulty ever was timing, and finding some availability. Her affection for Big Finish is so strong – she helped move Heaven and Earth to make it happen in the end. I’m still so very grateful to her and her agent. It may sound twee, but it always humbles me to work for Big Finish when I see how much people like working with us.”
Katie Gribble is quite rightly a big fan of The Three Doctors, so she was the perfect person to detail why the four-parter is such a success:
“The interaction between Pertwee and Troughton is, I believe, Doctor Who at its finest. The time they spend together on screen is enough to build a solid working partnership to come together and defeat their shared foe. Later classic multi-Doctor stories only see their respective Doctors meet up in the closing scenes as in The Five Doctors or in the final episode for The Two Doctors. Whilst both are also great stories, they lack the interaction and the camaraderie set down as precedent that makes The Three Doctors so enjoyable. Thankfully, The Day of the Doctor learnt from this and involved much more time with the Doctors working together.“
It’s fair to say that Torchwood garnered a very mixed reaction as a whole, but most of us at the DWC maintain that the low points really weren’t as bad as you might remember. That’s why David Power set out to argue for serials that should be viewed again in a new light:
“Peter J. Hammond’s Small Worlds contains an attempted child abduction and an ending where our protagonist Captain Jack Harkness willingly sacrifices a child (an act we’d later learn he’s familiar with). Small Worlds doesn’t paint Jack as a villain, or berate him for his actions – there was simply no other choice… The episode’s bleak ending is unexpected, yet welcome. The moral grey areas introduced at the start of the season are reinforced here, and to me being allowed to do darker stories like this is what really separates Torchwood from Doctor Who.”
He’ll never pick up a gun, and he abhors violence of any sort. Right? It’s not as simple as that. Is the Doctor a hypocrite? That’s what James Baldock investigated back in May 2016:
“It’s not even as if the Doctor’s destruction of Skaro is particularly anomalous in the grand scheme of things. The Dominators concludes with the Doctor’s decision to dump the nuclear fission seed on board the aliens’ departing ship; it’s posited as the only option, but its execution is shockingly casual when compared to the way the show would eventually be written in years to come. The default option is to offer peaceful alternatives, watch as they are rebuffed and then lament, in the gloomy peace that follows carnage, that there should have been another way – nonetheless it’s tempting, when the Doctor chews out Harriet Jones at the end of The Christmas Invasion for destroying the retreating Sycorax fleet, to simply cough politely and invite him over for a screening of some of his greatest hits. And don’t tell me that this sort of thing started in the ’70s. This has been going on since (literally) the dawn of man, and that scene in An Unearthly Child (oh, you know, the one with the rock).”
His work fronted the Target novelisations that helped generations fall in love with Doctor Who, and Jonathan Appleton bagged an interview with him! Legendary artist, Chris Achilleos said of his Dinosaur Invasion cover:
“I always submitted the work to the art director but then later on I used to go straight to Tandem Books which was Target – I always knew them as Tandem because I used to do lots of other work for them. They were under the same label; they were just in different rooms. I used to take the Doctor Who covers in there and sort of unveil them. It was always ‘Wow, it’s great Chris!’ but on that occasion there was silence, then ‘What’s this “Kklak!”?’ I said ‘What do you mean? It’s part of the design’, I thought kids would love it.”
When we asked Simon Danes to review the Target reissue of Doctor Who and the Crusaders, we had no idea the breadth of his knowledge, not just of the story itself and its fellow novelisations, but also of its foreign editions. Frankly, it blew us away to learn so much:
“Doctor Who and the Crusaders had an afterlife in foreign language editions as Doutor Who e os Cruzados (Portuguese), Doctor Who en de Kruisvaarders (Dutch) and Docteur Who – les Croisés (French). The Dutch edition re-used the Target Achilleos cover; the Portuguese and French versions had new covers – both a bit dull, which is a bit of a shame as the Portuguese covers especially can be very good indeed. (Note: Achilleos used a publicity still from The Three Doctors as his reference for Hartnell, so he’s a bit chubbier than he was in the ’60s.)”
When Andy Reynolds and I met up in real actual life, we spoke about all aspects of Doctor Who, and both expressed our love for that 2005 boxset of Doctor Who Series 1. His passion and sense of fun really shines through in this feature:
“Come Christmas morning, I had a hard time reconciling the shape of the festively wrapped present with anything I had seen in the shops. What was so big yet so light? Why did it have that distinctive DVD rattle?
“Being as it was a gift, the burden wasn’t mine to dwell on. I had been given something very cool that was also very impractical – the very dictionary definition of cool in fact if you proscribe to the theory that anything useful cannot be cool – and I had to make peace with what was standing on the recently shed wrapping paper and my desire to own the series.”
Look, we shouldn’t encourage him. Nonetheless, Davros found his wicked way onto the DWC, giving advice to poor, unsuspecting humans:
“I remember my first love. She was gloriously hideous, and the perfect supplement to my own hatred of other peoples. We used to trundle through the muddy fields of Skaro, dreaming of the wondrous ways in which to execute the Thals en masse… If you really love someone, you must let them go/use them for scientific experimentation. Good luck with your endeavours.”
Big Finish took the spotlight last summer, with three new audio stories of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor and Catherine Tate as Donna Noble. But what were they like? Reviews editor, Mez Burdett cast an eye over the first tale:
“It’s very fitting that Technophobia therefore uses an era that was somewhat in advance of itself to highlight problems that have started occurring. From phones leaking sensitive information, computers being spied on in a matter of seconds through email viruses, electronic cigarettes exploding in your hand or video game consoles being used as a way to steal your credit card information. We truly live in a golden age of gadgets that were only dreamed of in 2005 and yet some feel that price will be paid for our access to them; Technophobia utilises that fear and creates a tremendous adventure for one to indulge in.”
Pearl Mackie is yet to make her proper Doctor Who debut (although there’s less than a month to go), but it was a while ago that she was unveiled as the new companion. Simon Mills investigated how she got the role, starting with getting noticed by casting director, Andy Pryor:
“After that you need to outshine the competition and get yourself picked out from, in this case, the original 70 selected and the 50 of those that got viewed by Andy and his team. Of those 50, 10 were recalled and then the final 5 chosen few were brought before the hiring squad of The Grand Moff (showrunner, head writer, exec producer serving his notice…), Brian Minchin (Exec Producer), Andy Pryor, and some chap called Peter Capaldi who was there to read the Doctor’s lines, or something, in a scene specially written by Steven Moffat. As it turns out, the verdict was unanimous and Pearl was offered the job! Woohoo! With a side helping of Huzzah!”
We like to think the DWC uncovers areas of fandom you might not have heard about before, and that’s what Joe Siegler displayed in his recollections of Shada‘s first public airing:
“You have to remember this was the mid ’80s. There was no YouTube, no Bittorrent; you couldn’t just call up virtually anything you want on your computer, and there it is. This was the first public showing of Shada anywhere. We didn’t have the Paul McGann webcast, we didn’t have the Tom Baker narrated cleaned up version, and we certainly didn’t have the novel that’s out now.
“So it was quite the bombshell that JNT laid on the crowd when he said that he had the tape with him and was going to show it in the main theatre room – but just the first two episodes.”
However much I enjoyed extracting the urine out of one of my favourite serials, I’ve included it here solely so I can giggle at my own gag about books (no, I’m not above that):
“The Doctor describing robophobia as ‘rather like being surrounded by walking, talking dead men,’ for instance, apparently came from Boucher’s visit to McDonalds. Chris also recalled flinging copies of The Steadfast Tin Soldier, The Pea Blossom, and The Little Mermaid at a charity-shop worker, and being influenced by her response, ‘Please do not throw Hans at me.’ He has yet to reveal the inspiration for the Doctor’s ‘dead stowaway’ jibe… ‘In my day, I had to deal with a number of scripts that were, frankly, canine excrement,’ Baker told Colonic Irrigation Monthly, the magazine about often-misused punctuation.“
As a fan of The Rings of Akhaten, it was a joy to find James Baldock also enjoys the underrated serial. Fandom have been going on about a musical episode of Doctor Who, ala Buffy, and when it finally comes along, they do nothing but moan. Well, not everyone:
“Music in Doctor Who serves two functions: to heighten an emotional response or to falsely create one where the script is unable to (and thus serving the same dramatic purpose as rain). The funny thing is that if you watch the scenes without their scores, the silences that result are often far more poignant than the schlock we see on Saturday nights, but a trawl through internet comments suggests that this is a minority viewpoint. In either event this is one episode where the music actually works – it is grandiose, majestic and designed to manipulate you, and if it doesn’t work, you’re probably not the intended audience. Get into a conversation with me about Nu Who and at some point or another I’m going to tell you I wish Murray Gold would turn it down: this is one of the few occasions I’m glad he didn’t.”
With a new batch of Target reissues finally hitting book shelves nationwide, Scott Varnham was tasked with reviewing the novelisation of one of the most important serials in Who history. Naturally, he rose to that challenge:
“Dicks is reliable and wonderfully adaptable. The really interesting thing is the way the writing style of the book changes as the plot progresses. It starts out as a Boy’s Own-style novel, all hot trench-on-trench action. Then as the scope of Davros’ misdeeds becomes apparent to all around him, the tone changes to what could almost be considered a political thriller. There are cabals, political machinations, and betrayals. It’s reaching a bit far to say that the young reader could move straight from this to Robert Ludlum, but it’ll give them a nice grounding for it. And Dicks’ preference for simplicity makes for one hell of a light read. You could almost polish this off in less time than it would take to actually watch the serial.”
Missed opportunities forever hold resonance as a source of great melancholy, and so Thomas Spychalski recalled how trouble in Sierra Leone likely destroyed several missing episodes of Doctor Who:
“Unfortunately, the country went through a civil war between 1991 and 2002, due to corruption in both the country’s government and the lucrative diamond trade. This civil war reportedly destroyed the television archives held there and thus lost is any probable chance of ever recovering whatever Hartnell prints the country may have once held. The facility was unable to be fully explored due to this conflict by episode hunters during this period, and it is rumoured to have met its doom in 1999.”
Doctor Who fans got a special treat on Christmas Day 2016 – no, I don’t mean The Return of Doctor Mysterio! I meant Richard Forbes’ wonderful festive fiction with the Twelfth Doctor and Clara Oswald:
“The Zygons, boffins of their species, are preoccupied almost entirely with the TARDIS; moving back and forth busily, their hands grazing their workbench’s orifices and spines which together act as the laboratory’s interface. Anchored from the ceiling, the TARDIS is perched between a pair of Tesla balls in an electromagnetic field. With each touch of the panel, the radiation increases.”
Richie also provided all the featured images for Festive Fiction Fortnight, and aren’t they all just wonderful?!
Giving us the scientific facts behind the show plus short stories, this is a mighty tome; nonetheless, Andy Reynolds breezed through and concluded it was an essential read:
“So you have to wonder at the kind of uphill struggle both writer Simon Guerrier and astronomer Dr Marek Kukula faced when they sought to put the science back into science fiction with The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who.
“Learning from the mistakes of the hit and miss anniversary special with Dr Brian Cox, the book never makes assumptions about the readers knowledge or even the extent of their interest in the subject matter; there’s never a condescending word or an over reliance upon technical, textbook examples. As an introduction to the wider world around us; you’ll be hard pressed to find a better guide.”
Researching this article was huge fun, because so little is known. William Hartnell made a mad suggestion, but it remains a fascinating idea:
“While The Son of Doctor Who didn’t go any further, William’s willingness to play two roles might’ve influenced the production crew in 1966’s The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve, in which Hartnell played both the Doctor and the evil Abbot of Amboise. Still, the pair do not meet, sidestepping any potentially-problematic sequences that would mean serious post-production work – in fact, the Doctor disappears midway through the first episode, War of God and doesn’t crop up again until its final episode, Bell of Doom. The serial was co-written by John Lucarotti and Donald Tosh, and it was the latter, in his capacity as Script Editor, that reworked the story to negotiate around tricky editing.”
That’s it for today, but come back tomorrow for Part Two!