The last season of Doctor Who has come in for a fair amount of criticism from fans. I have to put my hands up because I didn’t think much of it either. It’s a bit of an oddity, though, when you think about it. “Fans” presumably are meant to be people who like things – but lots of Doctor Who fans don’t seem to like Doctor Who very much. Or they don’t like the current Doctor Who but they did like Capaldi. Or Tennant. Or Hartnell. Or whatever. This phenomenon – that Doctor Who fans don’t seem to like (bits of) Doctor Who much – can bemuse and surprise outsiders and media commentators. For an example, we may cite the on screen bafflement of Pattie Coldwell in the 1980s when Pip and Jane Baker’s contributions to the programme was slated (as lame, badly written, clichéd, and having too many silly monsters) by… er… hang on, can’t remember the chap’s name. It’ll come to me.
But! Here’s the thing! It’s always been like this!
If you dig around in the archive of fan opinion, you can always find fans slagging off whatever the programme was then offering. But don’t worry: there is no need for you to buy stacks of crumbling, dusty old ’70s fanzines on eBay to check this out, for I carry the relevant archive constantly in my head! Allow me to consult it for you.
(This is not an entirely serious presentation. It may even
possibly amuse you. Here is some background to my prodigious mental files of fan opinions.)
I joined the Doctor Who Appreciation Society in 1977, when I was 11 years old. I thought Doctor Who was really good and I could even remember when it was in black-and-white. I had just finished making a scratch-built model of K9, of which I was hugely proud, and with my brother Frank had completed a cardboard and papier-mache full size Dalek. This was built in an unheated extension to our house and the papier mache wouldn’t dry and we kept having to re-do it as it went mouldy in the cold. No photographs exist of this mighty project, which is just as well as it had a distinct list to the left and the dome (papier-mache again) had a big dent in it. Season 14 had just finished on TV: the one which gave us such classics as The Deadly Assassin, The Robots of Death, and The Talons of Weng-Chiang. It was at this time, when my first fanzine came through the letterbox, that I became aware of fan opinion about Doctor Who.
And did fellow-fans like the recent season? Oho! No no no. They did not.
Here, then, is a round-up of some fan opinion from the past: from Tom Baker’s time to the end of Classic Who. Some of the views became received wisdom, at the time, for fandom; some didn’t. Some of the quotations are genuine; some of the wording is made up by me but still expresses the views of contemporary fans. Most but not all are in chronological order. They come from the time and are offered in the hope that they will give you, O reader, a bit of a chuckle. Here we go.
The Deadly Assassin is an appalling and disgraceful story. It deservedly came bottom of the DWAS season poll and was “highly criticised” because the Time Lords had characters and were “bumbling old fools” rather than demi-gods. Peter Pratt was playing the Master and he was RUBBISH. The production team should not mess with the series’ continuity. The programme has taken a deep breath and has delved into areas which many fans have VERY STRONG OPINIONS ABOUT. They should keep their hands off them. After all, as we know, the fans are the best judges of what should be screened.
“Philip Hinchcliffe is a rubbish producer. He hasn’t got a clue. He has lost the ‘magic’ of Doctor Who. He’s nothing like as good as Barry Letts. Tom Baker’s characterisation of the Doctor is too inhuman. He’s too alien. He’s even slightly callous. Tom Baker is a terrible Doctor. He’s nothing like as good as Jon Pertwee.”
(Compare received wisdom in the 1990s: Jon Pertwee was a rotten Doctor. He was patrician and had a lisp and was a Tory. We hates it for ever.)
“Genesis of the Daleks was a rotten story. Yarvelling invented the Daleks, not Davros. It says so in the ’60s Dalek comics, so it must be true. The Daleks can travel outside in Genesis and they have the slats on their shoulders which were first used in the marvellous Hartnell story, The Chase [starring Bradley Walsh]. The Daleks’ ancestors were the Dals, not the Kaleds. What a load of rubbish.”
“The Brain of Morbius was a disgrace because it showed there were Doctors before William Hartnell. This ruined the whole story.”
“Graham Williams was the worst, most careless producer ever. He did a terrible job! All his scripts had flaws.”
“The Sun Makers was just awful. It was a send-up of Doctor Who. That rubbish script editor Robert Holmes – he’s got to go – and company (pardon the pun hohoho) seemed to be having a joke at the programme’s expense.”
“Tom Baker is a rotten Doctor. He’s got to go.”
“Tom Baker has just renewed his contract. Aaargh!”
“The coming of K9 (the BBC’s latest ‘answer to the Daleks’) is a disaster which has worked ill for the originality of the scripts. We don’t need a silly robot dog and we don’t care about the characters of Tom Baker, Leela, or their daft pooch. We used to care about the characters in the days of 405 lines and black-and-white and we don’t like the boring and silly current TARDIS crew. The programme has gone to the dogs! (Tee hee. That’s a pun!)”
“Image of the Fendahl was rubbish. It was a silly re-tread of The Daemons and it wasn’t as good because it didn’t have Jon Pertwee in it. What’s that? It wasn’t anything like The Daemons? Don’t talk rubbish. It was ENTIRELY IDENTICAL IN EVERY RESPECT. That’s right! It might as well have been a shot-for-shot remake.”
“The Invasion of Time was miles better than the highly criticised story, The Deadly Assassin. The Time Lords were much better realised: they talked about their projects rather than bumbling on like old fools. This is the way to do it!”
“Peter Davison has just been cast as the Doctor. What a rubbish choice! I shall never watch the programme again.”
“I cringed when Peter Davison sat up at the end of Logopolis.”
“John Nathan-Turner is the saviour of the programme. Just look at Tom Baker’s last season and Peter Davison’s first. Marvellous!”
“Hang on, what’s this thing called Time-Flight?”
“Isn’t Anthony Ainley brilliant as the Master?”
“Anthony Ainley is terrible as the Master. He’s so OTT and melodramatic. He’s nothing like as good as Peter Pratt.”
“Peter Davison is a massive improvement on the stale and tired Tom Baker.”
“Peter Davison is too young and too wet. He’s the wet vet. Hoho!”
“John Nathan-Turner is terrible.”
“Some bloke called Colin Baker has been cast as the Doctor. I shall never watch the programme again. Did you know he’s been cast purely because JNT’s trying to appeal to the American market? He’s going to play it exactly like Tom Baker and they’re going to give him the same costume, including the long scarf. He’s been cast because he has the same surname as Tom and they’re hoping the Americans won’t notice.” [I’m not making this up. Some people really did think this.]
“Doctor Who lost its way in the 1980s. John Nathan-Turner must go.”
(Received wisdom, still held by many today: the ’80s was the worst decade for the programme and anything post-Davison is unwatchable.)
“Did you say Bonnie Langford?”
“They’ve just cast that bloke who plays the clown in Vision On as the Doctor. What a terrible choice! I shall never watch the programme again!”
“Sylvester McCoy is marvellous. Ghost Light was the best Doctor Who since the glory days of Jon Pertwee.”
“They’ve cancelled it? Best thing for it. I really hate Doctor Who.”
Oh well. Anyone remember any other bits of received wisdom from over the years? Do post them. I haven’t found anyone yet who said Doctor Who was spoiled because it became silly after they found that stupid police box in that junkyard: it stopped being a nice little programme about everyday life in a 1960s comprehensive school and became a daft science fiction programme instead.
Bet someone said that, though.