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Doctor Who vs. Star Wars: Wait, You Abandoned Doctor Who For… What?!

Fair warning, the following piece will show that I do NOT hold the Star Wars franchise in particularly high regard in general, and I do explain why not. That being said, sorry if I offend the die hards out there in advance.

Over here in the states in the ’70s and ’80s, we didn’t have a lot of great sci-fi on TV. Oh, there was a bunch of stuff we had to watch if we wanted something, but by and large, it was cr*p. Wonder Woman started out great in World War II, then shifted to present day adventures, and things went down hill. 

Marvel tried to make a Spider-Man TV series and Captain America TV movies. Tried. Failed. The Incredible Hulk show wasn’t bad. We also had Buck Rogers, which was mindless pablum — we did get to see Erin Grey in spandex, but no decent writing. In fact, whatever quality stories there might have been were smothered in cheesy ’70s… everything.

As for movies, well, 1977 gave us Star Wars. I was 15 years old, and probably the prime age to be dazzled, blown away, and formally inducted into the cult of Lucas. Into the theater I went.

Well, the music was excellent. John Williams. ‘Nuff said.

The special effects were very impressive, and Darth Vader’s presence, mostly thanks to James Earl Jones’ voice of doom, was inspired.

Oh, and there was the scroll at the beginning, suggested by George Lucas’ friend Brian DePalma, so people would know what’s going on, which was a very smart move. The story itself was… okay at best. Good vs Evil western tale, some nods to Kurosawa. But it certainly was NOT Kurosawa.

I… came out of the theater wondering what the big deal was. Again, great, excellent, THE BEST music, giving the movie an identity, and carrying you along with it. Of all the soundtracks in the history of cinema that have really carried a film — well, Williams buoyed many a films, but they actually already had a great story and script, such as Jaws. Here, it just did a lot more heavy lifting.

And what Williams didn’t carry, the special effects did. This was perhaps the first, biggest example of the cinematic audience being distracted by something shiny.

It definitely left an imprint on millions of young minds that were obviously starved for a flash-bang-wallop-doodle of a spectacle. I wanted a good story and maybe a good script to make it legit in my mind. 

Seriously, think about it — if New Hope did not have Williams, or the effects, there very likely would have been no sequels, and it would probably have appeared on Mystery Science Theater 3,000 at some point down the road. There. I’ve said it.

Picture this: Just imagine New Hope with middling SFX and a generic score. Probably impossible now since the original is so ingrained, but give it a try.

It’s also definitely worth noting that at this point in 1977, I had never even heard of Doctor Who and wouldn’t for three more years. But on that magical day in spring, 1980, I watched the first episode of The Brain of Morbius, fell in love, and never looked back. Star Wars? Meh. Great spectacle, no substance, sorry. Doctor Who was Tom Baker, Philip Hinchcliffe, Robert Holmes. A sirloin steak vs a Happy meal.

Now, later that same year, I should point out that I did love Empire Strikes Back. Because it had an actual director, who knew what he was doing. Irving Kerschner rewrote Lucas’ script, got much better performances out of the actors, and made a movie far more worthy of Williams and the SFX. It’s also why Empire is the only Star Wars film to garner universal respect. 

Heck, it even began the Cult of Boba Fett just because he happened to have cool armor and was in a good movie. Oh, he did nothing — accomplished nothing whatsoever, except getting eaten in the following film. Yet, in the minds of the fans, he was AMAZING. Turns out, he was a failed clone, whose “dad” was much cooler, but I digress.

Years later in the 1980s, I was very, very, very disturbed to hear about how in the UK, Doctor Who was losing viewers to reruns of Buck Rogers (WHAT?!?), Knight Rider (WHAT? Seriously?), and worse yet, The A-Team (ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME????). Sure, it was the ’80s, we did silly things as kids, and Doctor Who did have its stinker episodes but there was never any excuse for switching over to the hot garbage that was The A-Team. No. No.

I was likewise disheartened to hear that UK viewers abandoned Doctor Who for the first Star Wars movie back in ’77, as Doctor Who wasn’t considered cool anymore, whereas New Hope was considered, by some, a watershed experience of cinema.

Seriously, people? You were coming off The Talons of Weng-Chiang, yet preferred Luke fixing droids, and Guinness stumbling over rocks? This saddens me. I know, it was 45 years ago.

Sure, I know that the hardcore Star Wars fans will defend their franchise to the bitter end for a variety of reasons, and cannot or will not even venture to peek behind the curtain I’ve loosened. I understand, because when your life is seemingly changed on a primal level by something you experienced as a kid, you’re not easily shifting alliances or loyalties. Totally understand. Youth. We all have our childhoods heroes who make a huge impression.

Thankfully, this is a Doctor Who website, where I’m thinking most folks here appreciate the substance of the show’s writing and acting during its history, and why it might just be more important than seeing the Death Star get blown up. Repeatedly.

Rick Lundeen

Doctor Who vs. Star Wars: Wait, You Abandoned Doctor Who For… What?!

by Rick Lundeen time to read: 4 min
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