Reviewed: Doctor Who – The Complete History Issue 4

Here’s something very few people know about me: nearly a decade ago, I was working on a project to catalogue all the behind-the-scenes details of each story, plus subsequent broadcast and merchandising information. The idea was to create a definitive guide to the series, from 1963 to the present. Where did I start? The very beginning, of course.

I only had to wait about 8 years and someone else would do it for me.

My project was for myself: this was before writing became a proper career, so the idea was just for my own use, to learn as much about this silly, wonderful little show as I could. Mine was full of clunky facts and timings and all that nitty-gritty stuff, so much so that I quickly became bogged down in it. It was put on hiatus until I had time to do it justice. One day, I might finish it – yes, one day.

But for now, The Complete History will more than suffice. Issue four covers the first two serials – An Unearthly Child and The Daleks – and thus, too, the creation of Doctor Who. It’s an oft-regaled story that remains fascinating.

As I said, I’d researched a lot of this for my own project… and then there was An Adventure in Space and Time too, an immense joy to watch.

So what would The Complete History be like, retreading ground best explored during Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary year?

Well, to put it plainly, it’s extensive, enlightening, and entertaining.

An Unearthly Child 1 - feat

Issue 4 is a thick volume that any fan of Doctor Who should own because it covers, in one swift step, how Doctor Who was created and how it became a success – in just two serials.

That seems incredible now, and it must’ve seemed incredible back then too. We have the benefit of hindsight: yes, of course the Daleks would be loved – and feared – by millions. It might come as a surprise to many, then, when you see the phrase “We thought the Daleks were hysterically funny” as you flick through the book.

Another thing occurs to you when dotting between pages: the show would be big because it looked like nothing else on television. That’s as true today as it was in the 1960s. Sure, we’ve had Primeval, Merlin, and Atlantis, but a Sixties audience would’ve experienced A For Andromeda, Pathfinders, and Quatermass. Those sci-fi adventures are detailed as part-inspiration, part-trailblazers in a 12-page ‘Origins’ feature that precedes the section devoted entirely to the first ever Who.

I hope it encourages people to search for clips and DVDs of those early pioneering sci-fi shows. They’ll sadly find The Quatermass Experiment is also a victim of the BBC’s policy of scrapping film. Still, the second and third series both exist and there are more Nigel Kneale stories to discover.

It’s also great to see photos of the people who made Doctor Who: if you’ve never seen pictures of Verity Lambert, Rex Tucker, and Mervyn Pinfield before, it’s a wonderful experience. You’ll know them by name, but here they are, as they were in the 1960s. It brings them alive, and brings the text alive too.

Of course, if you have seen them before, you can still appreciate what a varied bunch of fantastic folk forced our favourite show into reality. Plus, you can marvel at the casting for An Adventure in Space and Time – Jessica Raine as Verity Lambert was great, but Sacha Dhawan as Waris Hussein is utterly perfect!

Adventure in Space and Time

A face few will be familiar with is Anthony Coburn, writer of An Unearthly Child and whose profile concludes the entry for that particular story. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be surprised at his life. Coburn has only that sole credit to his name when it comes to Doctor Who, but he was far more prolific than most realise. He wasn’t just a screenwriter: he also held roles including script editor, producer, and journalist (and dabbled as a salesman and delivery driver).

In contrast, the majority of Whovians will know the man whose profile appears at the book’s conclusion: Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks.

If you’ve not read any biographies of the late writer, much of the details will come as a nice surprise, notably that he didn’t really care for Doctor Who when he had first contributed. It really was just another job, one which he initially ignored. Then he had an argument with then-employee, Tony Hancock, resulting in Nation grabbing the chance to work on this questionable new sci-fi show.

Again, he then seemed to abandon the series once another exciting project came up in Sweden, working alongside Eric Sykes.

He, too, was a prolific writer, and that’s certainly to be admired. Terry seemed not only a clever guy, but also a genuinely nice one. The five-page tribute to him is littered with lovely photos; nonetheless, I hope Raymond Cusick is given suitable attention in an upcoming volume.

Daleks 1st First William Hartnell

Now, then, is the time to evaluate just how much I learned from this simple 178-page HC. The answer is, a lot. Just a few notes:

  • Due to the pressures of filming-as-live, some actors of the time – not necessarily on Doctor Who – would say “f***” if they weren’t happy with a take.
  • Susan, at one point, was to be called Findooclare by the Doctor – and she was just posing as his granddaughter: she was, in fact, an alien princess, hiding from a race called the Paladin, who had enslaved her people. The Doctor had saved her when she was just a baby. No, really.
  • Anthony Coburn died of a heart attack in April 1977, aged just 49, shortly after commencing work on the second series of the original Poldark.
  • In rehearsals, the Daleks were differentiated by numbers attached to their domes and reels of coloured tape between the aluminium neck bands.
  • Terry Nation split the royalties for Dalek merchandise 50/50 with the BBC, so just 18 months after The Daleks, he’d earned the equivalent of £4.5million in today’s money.

Talking of colour, many photos included in this issue are, indeed, in colour. That’s a great new perspective on the serial. I don’t think they’ve been coloured after the event; I trust they’re just rarer images. Nonetheless, the pictures and designs throughout are stunning.

There’s also a solid sense of joy in those early days. They had to work against so many restrictions – budget, a tiny studio, personnel new to television – but the cast and crew seemed to hit it off rather well anyway. It makes reading the book a real pleasure.

Oh, but there’s one thing that’s annoyed me. Those first two serials are referred to as 100,000BC and The Mutants. It just seems unnecessary, and pointless. They’re generally accepted as An Unearthly Child and The Daleks (for one, it differentiates between this serial and 1972’s The Mutants), so why not just go with those titles?!

It’s such a small point, but does remain a niggle. At least The Daleks isn’t called The Dead Planet¸ I suppose.

Still, this remains an incredible work. For me, it’s been about 8 years coming, but I reckon it was worth that wait.


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(Originally appeared on Kasterborous Nov’ 2015.)