Previously published by Whotopia magazine in 2008.
MYTHS, GLORIOUS MYTHS
A light-hearted look at some of the great misnomers of Classic Who fandom
Michael S. Collins
Doctor Who fandom is diverse. Yes I know, of all the entrances in all the fanzines, that may well hold the record for the most obvious opening ever written. But it's true, you know. I know two seven year olds – actually, I'm related to them – who were inducted into the way of Who via playground chats and David Tennant. And I know my mother, who can vaguely remember An Unearthly Child from its first broadcast. And then, of course, there was my late lamented grandfather, Bob, who had seen with his own eyes every missing episode, and who would use to playfully wind the rest of us up by going “Fury from the Deep lost? Shame, that was a fantastic piece of television.” And the diversity of fandom, from the very young to the very young at heart is what makes the whole thing so great.
But: is that a cloud amongst the silver lining I see? For, whilst diversity is our greatest asset, it has also led to our most amusing problem. That being, Perceived Fandom. Now, some of the younger amongst us – of which, technically, you could name me – may find this difficult to believe, but there was once a time when Doctor Who was not available 24/7. I know, it's shocking to me too. There was no DVD players, half the episodes had not even made it to VHS yet, fanzines were numbered in less than three hundred and Sky repeats had not yet seen the light of day. In such sobering times a debate about who Eileen Way played in An Unearthly Child, if that's what it was called anyway, could not be dispelled by logging on to the nearest Outpost Gallifrey and double checking. So we needed the elder statesmen of fandom to keep us in line. After all, with them having actually watched the show at the time, surely they couldn't be wrong about it?
Well, here comes the aforementioned list of amusing myths propagated by the Elder Fandom through the 1970s and 1980s, helped along by the recently departed anthologist's anthologist Peter Haining, and which were so engrained that people still believe them today. I mention them here, not to spite or poke fun, nor because The Television Companion mention them made them easy access. No, they are here – the very best of myth – simply to raise a smile, perhaps a chuckle or a tear, and in one or two occasions, merely to set the record straight.
So, first and foremost, here are the amusing but easily corrected myths.
- The first episode of Doctor Who was transmitted ten minutes late, since everything was a bit hectic what with the assassination of JFK the previous day and the coverage of said shooting.
Unfortunately, even before the Television Companion denounced this one (thanks guys!), Howe, Stammers and Walker had proved it to be false in The First Doctor Handbook. Those in the dark may rest assured that the death of Kennedy did not result in a ten minute delay. Instead, Who was on the airs at 5.16pm, only 80 seconds later than planned. Of course, if that happened today, your Tivo would cut off the cliffhanger...no pleasing anyone, is there?
- The prop used for the TARDIS was recycled from Dixon of Dock Green.
- We lost The Tenth Planet(4) when Blue Peter misplaced it. As nice as it is to blame someone else, it was actually Master Plan(4) Blue Peter lost. Nobody really knows what happened to that last episode of the Tenth Planet, so lets be thankful that, due to Blue Peter, we actually have footage of the first regeneration!
- Joseph Furst's portrayal of Zaroff in The Underwater Menace was madly over-the-top and included a completely ludicrous fake accent. Over-the-top, perhaps, but that was Mr Furst's actual accent. People who dismiss Joseph on account of The Underwater Menace should check out his turn as Iago in Othello. A proper actor.
- Terminus would have had Ice Warriors in it. As suggested by the final evidence on television, no, it wouldn't have.
- Robert Holmes was a reluctant script editor. I suggest if you believe this you check out the Robert Holmes documentary on The Two Doctors DVD (which I would have plugged had Colin Baker gotten an Old School makeover). Holmes was never reluctant, he practically bit the BBC's hand off in excitement. He put himself forward at the same time the production team were considering him. Far from reluctant, it's hard to find someone more excited about taking on their job in the show.
- Terry Nation naming the Daleks from a set of encyclopaedias. I'm quite sad this is a myth or legend opposed to fact. It's one of my favourite stories from childhood, that Nation had trouble thinking of a name for his mental meanies until he stumbled across the encyclopaedia detailing everything from DAL to LEK. Sadly, it is a romanticised remembrance from the creator, but it was a very interesting idea for a youngster at the time. Alan Coren played upon similar ideas in “Once I put it down, I could not pick it up again”.
- The shape of the Dalek was based on a pepper pot. Actually, Raymond Cusick based it on a man sitting in a chair. Didn't stop the ol' jokes for 40 years, mind.
- The Master, in The Sea Devils, doesn't realise that the Clangers are a television show and not a real race of alien beings. Watch Roger Delgado's performance. The Master is clearly frustrated at Trenchards lack of humour, and even rolls his eyes at one point. Though, to be fair, he might be a multiple murderer with insane schemes, but if he likes The Clangers, then The Master can't be all that bad. I'm sure he has a fondness for Paddington Bear and Thomas the Tank Engine too.
- Daleks can't climb stairs. I need say no more, I think Russell T. Davies has ended those jokes for evermore, regardless of attempts by Aaronvitch and Nation beforehand.
- The Aztec characters in The Aztecs wore more clothes than they would have in reality. Far be it for me to correct a fandom myth, my dad and ill-conceived history lessons in one fell swoop, but that's not what the Codex Mendoza would have us believe....
And now for my top three...
William Hartnell was a right homophobic racist, and just look at his refusal to share scenes with Max Adrian in The Myth Makers, for example. This seems to be one of the great sticks to beat the original Doctor Who with, this accusation of racism or homophobia. Surely, in our enlighted PC times, we should view his era as untouchable as a result! Actually, that would be really silly. You see, whatever views Mr Hartnell may or may not have had, there is little compelling evidence to overtly support them either way. Even should he have had such views it is difficult to view them as anything other than a product of his time – we all have grandparents who can come up with similar ideas. Product of the time, dears. Be thankful we live in more tolerant times. But an actor should not be judged by personal conviction: I'm a massive fan of Jimmy Stewart, but I would never agree with his politics.
The bottom line when it comes to Hartnell is this. No matter what his personal views were, this was an actor who took on a role where you would fight for every injustice, every social cause and every group or race regardless of ethnicity nor sexuality, and Hartnell gave the role his all. And if reports of him being not that far removed from his portrayal of The First Doctor, then surely that puts to bed any idea of the crotchety old racist at last. Oh, and Hartnell didn't appear next to Max Adrian in The Myth Makers, because they didn't have any scripted scenes together. Really, no need to make a mountain out of a script hole.
The Gunfighters had the lowest ratings of any Doctor Who story. The Savages had worse. So did the Smugglers. As did, in fact, the amusing War Machines. The Gunfighters had this myth propagated, because people thought it fitted. After all, wasn't The Gunfighters the worst Doctor Who story ever made ever? Ian Levine said that it “would forever be an embarrassment to true Doctor Who fans”. Hell, I loved it, so I can't be a true Doctor Who fan, but thats OK, because they're always moaning anyway. The Gunfighters is an absolute delight, a wonderful slice of period comedy that the post-modern brigade would have loved, and which sorely needs a massive slice of reappraisal. How can a witty, well acted, nicely directed piece of television be the worst Doctor Who ever has been? Have these people not seen Underworld? The Gunfighters has had enough sticks to be beaten with by sheep in the last four decades. Let's not add false facts to that silly agenda.
In one of the most controversial moments in Vengeance on Varos, the Doctor MURDERS too poor little innocent acid bath attendants, then makes a James Bondian quip about it. Oh dear, can you hear that howling? That's Colin Baker, having spent the last twenty odd years trying to rectify this myth with little help. See, here is what actually happens in Varos. The Doctor gets up. One of the attendants falls into the acid bath in shock, and starts screaming. The other one goes to get the Doctor and after a brief struggle his burning pal drags him into the acid bath to die together. And the Doctor looks absolutely horrified at what he has just seen. His remark is most definitely a coping technique here. So Colin, if you're reading (and if you are, feel free to get in touch!), at least one little camper on side with you on this one.
Nothing like a nice rant, is there? I don't know about you, but I feel much better now.
You may have realised by now that The Old School Top Ten is no more. It is bereft of life, and whilst it may regenerate in time for now it is deceased. After all, how do you expect a top ten of Colin Baker when he only made eight televised stories? Include Big Finish, now there's a thought and a column for another time. Anyhow, by next issue I shall be involved in another highly exciting article idea. Bob has me to secrecy, I can't divulge spoilers as to what it is. All I can say is, that the workload involved could be intense, and, if I am unlucky, you might even be able to say it could exterminate me....