Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Ten Doctors and Other Distractions

The Tenth Doctor and the First Doctor

As you may have guessed, I've been watching way too much Doctor Who lately. I've seen all of the 2005-2007 episodes at least once in the last couple of weeks, some of them five times or more. I've pretty much reached saturation point on most of them now. Does that mean I'll stop watching? That would be nice, but no. I'm branching out, into classic episodes. I've seen the first Sarah Jane story with the Third Doctor, The Time Warrior; and parts of the last Sarah Jane story before 2006, including the bit in which the Fourth Doctor drops her off. Of course I then had to watch the story after that, The Deadly Assassin. Tonight I've seen the first episode ("An Unearthly Child") of the first story ever, and now I'm watching a reconstruction of the First Doctor's swan song, the fourth episode of The Tenth Planet. That serial introduced two extremely important innovations: the Cybermen and the Doctor's ability to regenerate, taking on a new physical appearance (with a new actor to play him). This process wasn't actually called regeneration until much later, but even as a "renewal" it was a brilliant idea, the single thing that made it possible to keep the show going for decades.

I mentioned that the story I'm watching at the moment is a reconstruction. They have the audio of Part Four, and a large number of still photos, and little bits and pieces of 8mm and 16mm footage from fans and other BBC shows. The rest is long gone. In 1976, with space in the BBC archives at a premium, someone at the Beeb scrapped quite a few older episodes of Doctor Who. At the time there was no home video industry, and very little by way of reruns in Britain. It was therefore thought that old science fiction shows were of little or no value. So they kept footage of Elizabeth II's coronation and other significant news events, but scrapped science historian-journalist James Burke's coverage of the NASA moon shots (after all, that was America's accomplishment!), and got rid of a bunch of old Doctor Who. The guy making the decisions seems to have particularly targeted some of the more violent stories.

As a result, some of the most important serials between 1963 and 1970 are either completely missing on film or video, or exist only in part, on inferior media. Others, fortunately, have been recovered in odd places around the world, copies that for one reason or another ended up in tv studios or garages and were never returned to the BBC. Still others, like The Tenth Planet Part 4, have been reconstructed from "telecines" and audio recordings. A lot of this work has been done in the years since Doctor Who last aired on our local PBS station, so I've never seen some of these stories, only read the novelizations back in the early 1990s, during the same era in which I wrote the trading cards. It should be fun to watch some of these formerly missing stories.

The Tenth Planet (Who) and A Severed Wasp (L'Engle)

Really, though, some of the early adventures are kind of boring, almost unwatchable, quite aside from the technical limitations. The acting, writing and effects are all much better now, by almost anyone's yardstick. So I'm unlikely to watch my way through the whole series any time soon - and a darn good thing, too! More Doctor Who episodes have now aired than all the Star Trek series combined.

Besides, I have other distractions. I'm coming down toward the end of a L'Engle novel that I haven't read all that many times, and don't actually remember the ending. I also made my way through half of the Robins on last night's linking list, read a friend's partial chapter in her novel, edited out one word of Revolutions, and washed no dishes no speak of.

Oh, yeah. Good times.


No comments: