Top 15 Doctor Who VHS covers

  1. The Trial of the Timelord

Trial_of_a_Time_LordThis artwork was used for the outer cardboard box which contained the 3 tapes which made up the 14 episode 23rd season. Despite being constructed in a manner based loosely on Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ those three story strands are each represented in the artwork, by Drathro, Sil and a Vervoid. In addition the over-arching plot concerning the trial of the Doctor is also represented with the inclusion of the Valeyard. It is the image of the Valeyard which gets the cover on this list. The detail and visualisation of the three alien creatures is excellent but it is the way that Michael Jayston’s eyes appear to be piercing from the surface, staring out at the viewer which makes this design notable. It also features a very strong image of Colin Baker, resolute and focused, indicating the severity of the predicament in which he finds himself in during the story.

  1. The Power of Kroll (Colin Howard)

The_Power_of_KrollAlthough this story is not highly regarded the VHS cover designed by Colin Howard is excellent. Kroll looks imposing, dominating the frame and towering over the Doctor and Ranquin in a far more convincing manner than is achieved during the story. It is also one of few artworks where the artist manages to portray the environment in which the story takes place. In this case the long grass, rising to above Tom Baker’s waste, and the watery swamp give you a feel for the story without knowing any of the plot. It is also always appreciated when we get images of the lovely Mary Tamm, in her penultimate story on Doctor Who, this time looking over the Doctor.

  1. Paradise Towers (Colin Howard)

Paradise_TowersAgain, not a widely regarded story but once more Colin Howard manages to deliver an impressive piece of cover artwork. What makes this piece so succesful is the image of the Doctor and Mel, wrestling with the pool cleaner robot. The expressions and grimaces are incredibly accurate, you can practically hear Bonnie Langford screaming. Similarly the Chief Caretaker, the wonderful and much missed Richard Briers is also beautifully included. Other notable details such as the deterioration on the tower blocks and the water also add to the overall appeal of the cover. The shape of the cover is also broken up with a curve outline, something not seen on other artwork.

  1. Planet of Fire

Planet_of_FireThis is the only video cover which was released after 1996 to make this list. After the Paul McGann TV movie was broadcast the BBC decided to change the style in which video covers were made. Instead of commissioning artists to create a unique piece of artwork, digital photomontages were used instead. The majority of these are largely uninspiring and insipid with very little flair. However, this example for Planet of Fire does get onto the list. The strength of it lies in the realistic effect of the flames engulfing the leading characters. Although it is not particularly representative of the product of the story but it certainly matches the title.

  1. The Mark of the Rani (Colin Howard)

The_Mark_of_the_RaniThis cover equally features all three of the lead actors from the story, including in her first appearance The Rani, played by the effervescent Kate O’Mara. Anthony Ainley also makes the cover along with Colin Baker. One of the strongest features of the artwork is the background, the green star field permeating across the cover. Although hidden by text we also see the Rani’s Tardis console. This was a fantastic design featured in the story, which sadly did not return. Instead of the hexagonal shaped console we’d seen since 1963 this console was circular, with a central time rotor constructed of conjoined hoops. Other features also include Stephenson’s Rocket, which doesn’t feature as predominately as the mine shaft that is used for the cliff-hanger of Part 1. Colin Baker’s Doctor features centrally in the composition.

  1. The Day of the Daleks

Day_of_the_DaleksThis is one of the earliest video releases, only the 7th title, from 1986 and as a result it has a simple photo montage cover design. Although simple, featuring only Daleks in a strong ‘V’ formation it actually suggests a story featuring lots of the evil pepperpots from Skaro. However, this is something which ultimately the story doesn’t deliver. The artwork features five Daleks, but the story only sees three make an appearance but this shouldn’t be looked on as a negative. Video artworks for Dalek stories often mean them sharing the limelight with their Time Lord nemesis or the Exillons or Davros, a trait which continued into the DVD range. But on this occasion the cover is all about the Daleks, they fill the frame, menacing in their formation. As the most successful alien creation on the show it is only right that they take centre stage for once.

  1. The Deadly Assasin (Andrew Skilleter)

Deadly_AssassinThis is Andrew Skilleter’s first entry onto the list, an individual synonmous with Doctor Who artwork. He produced covers for the Target and Virgin novels, plus the iconic Five Doctors Radio Times cover. This particular example for the Deadly Assasin is very strong. Tom Baker is the central focus and his facial features are captured perfectly. Equally well realised is the decomposing Master, his creepy elongated fingers stretching over the Doctor. The shadowed figure of Goth also replicates a strong image seen during the story, as is the triangular sights. Also included is the seal of Rassilon design which is subtle with Tom Baker taking the central focus with the threatening Master looming over him.

  1. The Mind Robber (Alister Pearson)

The_Mind_RobberStories of Doctor Who from the 1960’s were produced in black and white and the video covers refected this. However, there was the possibility to include some colour and in this case the colour was included in the realisation of Rapunzel. The golden hair brings life to the artwork but that does not mean that the rest of it is lacking in any way other than colour. The Mind Robber is a story with a lot of different elements and the majority of those are reflected in this cover. The white robots and Medusa are incredibly detailed and the addition of the clockwork robots and unicorn add more strong visual elements. Also of note is image of Patrick Troughton, with his hair taking a lot of the plaudits which always reflected his ‘cosmic hobo’ characterisation of the role.

  1. Warriors of the Deep (Colin Howard)

Warriors_of_the_DeepAlthough not a highly regarded story Warriors of the Deep did see the returns of both the Silurians and their sea dwelling cousins. The colour of the artwork, a deep green, reflects the deep ocean floor where the story takes place, specifically the sea base, located appropriately at the bottom of the composition. Whether you agree with the redesigns of the two main monsters or not one has to admit they do look impressive on this cover with exquisite detail. Even the Myrka looks intriguing, a creature which failed to deliver on screen but seen in an appropriately selective way. The Silurian ship adds balance to the composition with the Doctor taking centre position. However, the image of Peter Davison is clearly taken from a still taken during the production and doesn’t work effectively on the cover, his eyes looking in the general direction of the Sea Devil but not specifically at him.

  1. The Ark in Space

The_Ark_in_SpaceThis is a brilliant cover. Simple in it’s construction but incredibly effective. Realeased in 1989 it demonstrates how the compositions improved gradually over time from the Day of the Daleks release with more elements being added and the overall composition improving. This cover includes a great image of Tom Baker, looking delightfully apprehensive and also has the space station Nerva, orbiting the planet Earth. However, the absolute success of this cover is the Wirrin. An alien creature, brilliantly depicted, lurching and threating over the whole planet. It is a very evocative image and works beautifully. The text at the bottom is also placed properly, all other releases having in centrally which often obscures parts of the design. That method could actually have worked on this cover but the fact it is moved over to the bottom right corner balances the whole image very succesfully.

  1. Terror of the Autons (Alister Pearson)

terror_of_the_autonsThis is a great cover which would’ve caught the eye of any shopper at their local video store. Largely this is because of the rich purple background which doesn’t correlate to anything seen in the story but works perfectly with the rest of the configuration. Both Jon Pertwee’s Doctor and Roger Delgado’s Master are perfectly brought to life, Pertwee’s hair and Delgado’s goatee beard in particular look fantastic. The Autons also get a respectable presence with the faceless Auton policeman looking menacing and the oversized carnival mask equally prominent. The centre image of the radio telescope signalling to the Nestenes is an interesting selection but does provide an adequate focal point to the composition.

  1. An Unearthly Child (Alister Pearson)

Unearthly_ChildThis cover is one of a few which featured both on the VHS release but also as the cover to the Target novelisation. As discussed previously, it was an executive decision that the covers for 1960’s Doctor Who stories must reflect the black and white nature of the video material. As a result the design was largely monochrome but still has fantastic creativity. The blending of William Hartnell and Carol Ann Ford’s faces is beautifully executed and rightly receives the focus. Hartnell in particular is beautifully captured. The bottom of the frame recreates an iconic moment from the closing seconds of the very first episode, the TARDIS landing on the unknown landscape. This is picked up brilliantly with the TARDIS itself being in colour, the prominent blue standing out from the rest of the composition despite the fact it would obviously have been monochrome on the video.

  1. Castrovalva (Andrew Skilleter)

CastrovalvaThis is a fantastic piece of artwork which just so happened to be used as a video cover. The incredible highlight is the visualisation of the recursive occlusion seen during the story. Such an abstract image must have been incredibly difficult to achieve but is pulled off spectacularly with the Fifth Doctor moving through the myriad of staircases. The image of Peter Davison in his first televised appearance as the Doctor is suitably prominent, even if his hair doesn’t seem as blonde as in real life. Anthony Ainley’s Master also gets an appearance, firing his TCE weapon and his TARDIS also stands at the top left corner of the composition. The colour is also very strong and rich but ultimately the quality of the artwork is in the abstract recursive occlusion visual.

  1. Tomb of the Cybermen (Alister Pearson)

Tomb_of_the_CybermenMissing, presumed dead! Returned to BBC Video after over 20 years.

Need I say more?

When Tomb of the Cybermen was discovered in Hong Kong in 1991 it was a moment of celebration for Doctor Who fans. At the Doctor Who celebration at Longleat in 1983 a poll was taken for the first title which fans would like to see released onto video. Tombs won. But because it wasn’t in the archive any longer Revenge of the Cybermen was released instead. However, in 1992 fans could finally own the Tomb of the Cybermen and watch it as often as they liked. The artwork for the release appropriately features the iconic image of the story, the Cybermen breaking out of their tombs.

  1. The Sea Devils (Colin Howard)

Sea_DevilsThis is my all-time favourite Doctor Who video cover. It features one of the most iconic images of Jon Pertwee’s Doctor, a photograph taken during the making of this story with a Sea Devil reaching for his shoulder, which incidentally I have framed and on my wall at home, much is my fondness for it. Pertwee’s facial features and expression are captured perfectly. Similarly, the legendary Master, Roger Delgado features in the artwork and is visualised expertly, holding his calling device which adds another detail, as does the prison castle. The real highlight however is undoubtedly the Sea Devils. It is not very often that we were treated to multiple versions of the same monster on a cover. But in this case we have a trio of Sea Devils, all from different angles providing a more rounded view of these iconic monsters. The background is an appropriate blue colour; highlighting the nautical nature of the adventure but for some reason the DVD release had a pink colour scheme.

Overall, it is one of the best examples of the amazing artwork created by a series of talented artists for the popular VHS releases, showcasing fantastically captured Doctors, villains and monsters in beautiful compositions that will live long in the memory.

Doctor Who Festival tickets still available but are they worth it?

doctor-who-festival-logo

This November the Excel Exhibition Centre in London will once again host a Doctor Who event featuring cast, crew and plenty of other activities. In 2013, the Doctor Who Celebration marked the 50th anniversary on a grand scale with multiple Doctors and companions in attendance and subsequently tickets sold out in 24 hours. Tickets for the Doctor Who festival went on sale at 10am on June 5th but are still available. So what has changed? Is Doctor Who losing its appeal or have fans reacted unfavourably to another expensive event designed to increase revenues for BBC Worldwide?

Firstly, the issue of ticket price has to be addressed. In 2013 the standard adult ticket was £45 per day. In 2015 that has increased to £65. That equates to a 45% increase on the original ticket price. Similarly, the special TARDIS tickets have increased from £95.50 to £110 for adults and for a family they have increased from £218 to a staggering £285. On that evidence it is hard to argue that BBC Worldwide are not just simply trying to squeeze money from the passionate fans who adore the show. However, TARDIS tickets have already sold out for the Festival, which does demonstrate the faithfulness of the fans but are they being catered for as well as they could be?

The event itself is hardly original. In 2012 an official convention was held at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay at an astonishing £99 a ticket. This convention allowed organisers to recognise what would provide the structure of all future events, guests gathered in an auditorium whilst on stage cast and crew discuss the show. In addition to this, guests could book to get autographs and photographs with Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, however those opportunities were of course limited and at an additional cost. This was largely repeated at the Doctor Who Celebration in 2013 but on a grander scale. Now it appears that the Doctor Who Festival will replicate it once again. Perhaps this is an indication of why there are still tickets available; fans have seen these events all before. So perhaps this is the reason fans are wary of spending significant amounts of money to attend events similar to previous ones they’ve already attended? It is also proved from previous experience that the exclusive merchandise sold at the event will later make its way onto official merchandise outlet sites at a reduced price, devaluing the so called ‘exclusive’ prestige. In addition to the Festival this year there has also been the Symphonic Spectacular tour, plus the Doctor Who Experience attraction. Therefore, there are plenty of activities that Doctor Who fans can spend their hard earned money on to engage with the show and those are just the official events.

Unofficial conventions are staged every weekend all over the world and offer the opportunity to engage with the actors more closely than just seeing them up on a stage. To many it is that brief 30 seconds with a star that provides the highlight of their day and a memorable experience. That simply isn’t possible when thousands of people are sat in an auditorium. Those thousands of tickets sold, plus the high ticket price, point to a big revenue generator but perhaps this perceived apathy from fans failing to purchase tickets is a sign that organisers need to not only reevaluate their pricing policy but also the format of the events that they hold.

John Nathan-Turner era discussion – Part 1

Having read the revealing biography of JNT I have decided to revisit this era of Doctor Who, with the discussion focusing on some of the memorable and often widely debated moments.

Part 1 – The Changes Begin

John Nathan-Turner had worked on a few Doctor Who serials, starting with the Space Pirates in 1969 as a floor assistant and subsequently later stories such as The Ambassadors of Death and Colony in Space. During the production of ‘The Talons of Weng Chiang’ he began as Production Unit Manager and held the position through Seasons 15, 16 and 17. In 1979 he then became the Producer of the show, taking over from Graham Williams and was tasked with taking Doctor Who in the 1980’s.

Season 17 had been problematic for the production team. The Erato effect in ‘Creature from the Pit’ failed to cause anything but uncontrollable laughter amongst the crew, ‘Nightmare of Eden’ had indeed been a nightmare with the director leaving during through the production, and the final story of the season ‘Shada’ was completely abandoned due to industrial action. The tone of the product on screen had also become noticeably lighter than the horror-influenced period of Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes, largely attributable to Script Editor Douglas Adams. Behind the camera the star of the show Tom Baker had also become more opinionated and difficult to manage but also the budget for the show was struggling to cope with the demands required of the production. This was the environment which faced John Nathan-Turner, a daunting task for an individual who had not been a producer before. As a result Barry Letts was appointed Executive Producer to oversee JNT as he began to take the show in a new direction.

Leisure_HiveThe Leisure Hive (1980)

The first story to enter production was David Fisher’s script ‘The Leisure Hive’. JNT would use this story to begin to ring the changes, updating the look and sound of the show, removing some of the comedy elements and scaling back the appearances of K9 and the sonic screwdriver. With the suggestion of Barry Letts and incoming script editor Christopher H Bidmead, there was a return to stories being influenced by real, or at least what could pass for real, science. In this story tachyonics is the predominant science mentioned, which was based upon tachyons that are theoretical particles which move faster than light. This method grounded the show back into a world of realism and plausibility and away from the fantastical tales of the previous regime.

1980The first and most notable change was the new title sequence, incorporating a journey through space, a new image of Tom Baker and redesigned logo; it was also accompanied by a new arrangement of the theme tune by Peter Howell. The new titles would later become more associated with the Fifth Doctor but the travelling through the star field proved highly successful and continued throughout the 1980’s. It still retained the travelling motion which had been established by the previous ‘time tunnel’ sequence and it is still used today in the modern show. A reimagining of the logo to a very on-trend neon tube design has dated a little but at the time was fresh and further established a new era of the show. The new look immediately catches the eye but unfortunately that initial excitement is let down by an interminable panning shot of the Brighton seafront until the Tardis is finally revealed.

June Hudson designTom Baker’s costume also got a facelift, superbly created by expert costume designer June Hudson; it had a fresh colour and new materials but still retained the iconic scarf associated with his Doctor. Under the direction of JNT question marks were added to the collar of Baker’s shirt but wisely Hudson made them subtle, unlike the plague of question marks across Sylvester McCoy’s jumper. The costume fitted the fourth Doctor at this later stage of his regeneration. It was more stylish; colour coordinated and had a maturity which elevated it above the previous casual ‘student-esque’ look which had been highly successful. Now however the Doctor had become older, which was reflected in the new title sequence image, and amusingly acknowledged with him asleep in a deck chair on Brighton sea front. The Doctor’s character becomes more melancholic and less dominant in the story, with the comedic elements almost entirely removed. Entering his seventh and final year in the role Tom Baker delivers a memorable performance, particularly after being aged but still retaining his presence and appeal. Tom Baker was and always will be associated with his role as the Doctor, he had become iconic in the role and to some children had indeed been the only Doctor in their experience. So although the Fourth Doctor had matured he was still that alien mysterious personality, just underneath a new costume.

foamasiThe new look for the show included more than just the lead actor’s appearance. The Leisure Hive on Argolis delivers a bright and colourful environment with the Argolins in particular looking fantastically bold, which contrasts greatly to the dreary appearance of Earth. I personally like the addition of the nodules on the horn which indicates the Argolin’s age and how close they are to death. The Foamasi are also noticeably different in terms of the way they are featured very sparingly on screen, shadowy shapes, peculiar eyes peering round corners, all suggest a notable alien creature. Unfortunately, the final look is ultimately unimpressive, portly and covered in a peculiar fabric intended to appear as scales but essentially failing. One of the more successful effects utilised for the first time in the story was Quantel, a digital image processing system which allowed the creation of the cliffhanger for episode 1 which appear to show the Doctor being torn apart. These are simple effects which can be created easily nowadays but at the time added to the fresh appearance of the programme, pushing the technical boundaries further than had been previously achieved. Even the Tardis exterior prop received a redesign, notable for the stacked roof consistent with the original prop from the 1960’s.

Further changes noticeable in this story include the move to include new electronic music. JNT took composer Dudley Simpson, who had contributed to an extraordinary number of stories over the years, out for lunch to inform him that his services were no longer required. From that point on all incidental music fell into the remit of the historic BBC Radiophonic Workshop. As a result the show looked but now also sounded more contemporary.

The Leisure HiveUnfortunately, the production of the programme went over budget and it is thought that this is the reason for director Lovett Bickford never being appointed on any further productions. Despite this ‘The Leisure Hive’ achieves exactly what ‘The Eleventh Hour’ managed to in 2010. It was still Doctor Who but it felt new and fresh and different.


Tom Baker delivered another commanding performance in the next story, playing both the Doctor and his evil doppelganger, Meglos. The story was also notable for the appearance of Jacqueline Hill, who had played original companion Barbara Wright, an early example of Turner’s penchant for ‘stunt casting’ to gain attention for the series from the press. It also saw the use of more new video technology, ‘scene sync’ which allowed for CSO (green screen) effects to support camera movement instead of static shots. The use of CSO may also have been a solution to avoid building sets and ensure this story came in under budget, unlike ‘The Leisure Hive’.

The next three stories formed a trilogy set in E-Space, which existed outside our own universe and over the course of the trilogy would see the arrival of new companion Adric and the departures of both Romana and K9 from the series. These substantial changes paved the way for the biggest transformation in the show, not seen since the mid 1970’s, a new Doctor…

The (Alternative) Day of the Doctor

Now this may be deemed sacrilegious by all those who voted the 50th Anniversary special the single greatest episode in Doctor Who’s history in DWM’s poll but I thought I’d give it a go anyway. One of the main disappointments I found during the episode is the fact that David Tennant and Billie Piper do not interact. Another issue is that Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603 but the National Gallery was not built until over 200 years later. I also was not a huge fan of Joanna Page’s performance. So to solve this I removed her character, changed the date and brought the Tenth Doctor and Rose back together. The Moment would then be a brief voiceover which only the War Doctor can hear. There is also a nice moment of Rose speaking with the War Doctor about his next incarnation and the changes that she saw after first meeting him.

Anyway, I hope you like it!


IMG_5707A policeman walks past Coal Hill School and passes a sign for “I.M. Foreman, Scrap Merchant”. Inside the school, Clara Oswald is teaching, ending on a quote by Marcus Aurelius: “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” The school bell rings and as the students leave, a teacher runs into the classroom informing Clara that she has had a call from her “doctor”. She grabs her helmet and hops on her motorbike. She approaches a police box stood at the side of a rural road. As she approaches the TARDIS the doors open and she drives straight inside, closing them with a click of the fingers. The Doctor, reading a book of ‘Advanced Quantum Mechanics’, greets Clara with a big hug. Suddenly, the TARDIS takes off without starting the engines. Startled, the Doctor looks out to see a helicopter carrying the TARDIS away. He calls UNIT’s head of Scientific Research, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, from the phone on the TARDIS exterior doors.

UNIT scientist Osgood rushes to Kate with her phone. Kate instructs Osgood to tell Malcolm that the ravens need new batteries and for Osgood to use her inhaler at the sound of her heavy breathing before accepting the call.

The Doctor is told that he has been summoned. Kate is surprised to learn that he is on-board the TARDIS, which they thought was empty and were simply moving it for his convenience. Instead the TARDIS is brought directly to the “scene of the crime”. Upon arrival, the Doctor and Clara are taken into the National Gallery to investigate.

The Doctor explains his relationship with UNIT to Clara, who is sceptical of the Doctor ever having had a real job. They stop in front of something impossible, a 3-dimensional oil painting. The painting depicts the fall of the Gallifreyan city of Arcadia during the Time War. Kate tells the Doctor that there is some controversy over the work’s name. It is either named ‘No More’ or ‘Gallifrey Falls’. The painting is a form of Time Lord art. The Doctor is visibly disturbed by the painting. As his old memories awaken, he shares with Clara his darkest secret: the life he has tried to bury for years. There was a past incarnation of the Doctor that fought in the Time War, and made the ultimate decision to eliminate the Daleks and the Time Lords. And it was done after the events depicted in this painting…

The Daleks ravage Arcadia. As children cry and the people scream, a soldier sends a message to the High Council of Time Lords: Arcadia has fallen. He looks around and sees the Doctor’s TARDIS. Then the elderly voice of the “War Doctor” asks the soldier for his gun. The Doctor uses the weapon to shoot a message for both warring civilisations into a nearby wall: NO MORE. As the Daleks prepare to exterminate a group of Gallifreyans, the Doctor’s presence is detected and draws their attention away from the innocent people and they discover the message. Suddenly, the Doctor’s TARDIS crashes through the wall, demolishing several Daleks. The Doctor’s escape from Arcadia is witnessed by a single Dalek. It questions the meaning of “NO MORE”, bellowing “Explain! Explain!” but explodes into flames.

Gallifreyan Commanders gather in the War Room, planning their next moves, with the General dismissing the High Council’s plans as “they have already failed”. They receive the Doctor’s message, and the General is not pleased to learn of his presence, calling him a madman. A Time Lady rushes in to inform the War Council that there has been a breach in the Omega Arsenal in the Time Vaults. The most feared and forbidden weapon in the universe is missing: The Moment. The Doctor has stolen it, and intends to use it to end the Time War once and for all. The Time Lords have already used all of the previously forbidden weapons, but dared not unleash this weapon in particular. It was said that the Moment was the ultimate weapon, capable of eradicating all life in its vicinity with the exception of the person who activates it, leaving them alone to be haunted by that action forever. The General muses that only the Doctor would be mad enough to use such a weapon.

Footsteps can be seen leading away from the battle-scuffed TARDIS, which has been uncharacteristically abandoned by the Doctor. The sound of his voice issuing an ominous final warning is heard: “Time Lords of Gallifrey, Daleks of Skaro, I serve notice on you all. Too long I have stayed my hand. No more. Today you leave me no choice. Today, this war will end. No more. No more…” The Doctor’s tired face comes into view as he strides across a desert surface, a burlap sack over his shoulder. He enters a barn-like dwelling, where he uncovers a complicated mechanical box, covered in gears. The device ticks loudly as its clockwork-like parts rattle and clank. As the Doctor studies it, he cannot find a discernible trigger mechanism. He puzzles over how to activate it grumbling “Why is there never a big red button?” Surprisingly he hears a voice. Confused he looks around the barn and realises there is nobody else there. Turning around he realises it is the Moment which is the voice which he can here. “How are you doing that?” the Doctor asks. “I exist on a higher plane of consciousness. I am the interface. I am the Moment.” War-weary and bitter, the elderly Time Lord confirms that the Moment needs time to activate, a strategy which he determines is to allow the person looking to use it time to consider their actions, to count the lives which will be lost. The Moment then reveals that it can provide an escape route out of his predicament, opening a time fissure. More than that the Moment can show him his future, to see what becomes of him after his action – but a fez falls out, much to the confusion of the Doctor…

Back in the 21st century, Kate Stewart explains that the painting was discovered deep within the gallery vaults, hidden away. The Doctor ponders how the painting could possibly be on 21st Century Earth. As Kate leads the Doctor and Clara away, a nearby UNIT scientist named McGillop receives a mysterious phone call. Befuddled, he stares at the painting, wondering why he should move it.

The Doctor and Clara move through the Gallery, he recalls a time when he investigated other strange occurrences in the National Gallery shortly after opening in 1838 but he was a different man back then…

The camera focuses on a particular painting but panning out there is a blur as two shapes sprint past the painting. The Tenth Doctor and Rose are running down the corridor. They turn round a corner and back up against the wall, short of breath Rose asks,            “What the hell was that? All red and suckers!” The Doctor explains, “It was a Zygon. But what are they doing here?” “And I thought the Ood looked bad enough,” says Rose. The Doctor explains that they have to find out what the Zygons are doing here, they peer around the corner and are spotted by a Zygon. Another chase along the corridors begins until the Doctor and Rose reach a gallery, closing the doors and pushing benches up against them. Outside the Zygon bangs on the door. The Doctor triumphantly reports that the Zygon cannot get in, only for Rose to point out that they now also cannot get out. Suddenly a time fissure appears, and a fez lands in front of the Doctor and Rose, much to their bemusement.

Back in the National Gallery, Kate welcomes the Eleventh Doctor and Clara to the Under-Gallery, a secret storage area established deep underground. The Doctor notices that the floor is covered in stone dust, and asks a scientist named Osgood to analyse it and produce a report (in triplicate with lots of graphs). As they walk through the gallery, the Doctor spots a fez in a glass case and immediately dons it, much to the bemusement of Clara, who wonders if he can ever go past one without putting it on, which he cannot do.

Kate shows them more 3-D paintings, landscapes this time but with the broken glass from their shattered frames covering the floor. The Doctor notes that the glass has been shattered from the inside, and Kate says that they all contained figures which have now disappeared. Suddenly, another time fissure opens. Puzzled, the Doctor faintly recalls seeing the fissure before, before realising that the fez that had fallen through in 1838 was the fez he was now wearing. Delighted, he throws the fez into the fissure and follows it. Clara tries to follow, but Kate restrains her.

The Eleventh Doctor falls through the fissure and lands in front of his predecessor in the nineteenth century. Stunned, the Tenth Doctor dons the fez himself. The Eleventh jumps up and rambles excitedly about how skinny his predecessor is, which makes the Tenth realise his identity. They incredulously pull out their sonic screwdrivers and compare them. Rose takes a liking to the Eleventh Doctor, pointing out that his sonic is bigger! As the Doctors begin bickering, the time fissure increases in intensity. The Eleventh shouts through the tunnel to Clara. Hypothesising that the fissure can go both ways, he tosses his fez in, but it fails to appear in Clara’s time. Kate then leaves, to call one of the UNIT members to bring her the Cromer file – not noticing a dark shadow behind her…

At the end of the Time War, the War Doctor picks up the fez and steps into the fissure.

Back in 1838, the two Doctors try to reverse the polarity, but the use of two sonic screwdrivers at once confuses the polarity, resulting in the War Doctor falling through and landing in front of his future selves. He jovially greets them, asking after the Doctor and mistaking them for his companions. The two older Doctors, both disturbed on seeing their former incarnation, pull out their sonic screwdrivers, affirming their identity to their younger self. Unimpressed by his future incarnations, the War Doctor asks if he is going through a mid-life crisis. Suddenly, the Zygons break through the door and into the gallery surrounding the three Doctors and Rose. They are threatened by the Zygons, but Clara’s voice sounds from the fissure making them cautious about destroying the Doctors and Rose, so instead the Zygons imprison them.

Kate has returned to Clara, comes up with an idea and takes Clara to the UNIT Black Archive to retrieve Jack Harkness’ vortex manipulator in order to save the Doctors.

The Doctors and Rose are thrown into a cleaner’s cupboard. The War Doctor tries to sonic the door, but it fails and so sits down. The Tenth asks why these three Doctors have been brought together, whilst he and his Eleventh incarnation try to work out a way of getting through a tiny ventilation shaft.

In the present, Osgood and McGilop are reading the results of the analysis of the stone dust. The dust is from materials not found in the structure of the building, but common in statues. Osgood realises that the statues must have been smashed, and suddenly understands why: the inhabitants of the paintings needed a place to hide. The Zygons reveal themselves from underneath the dust cloths covering what the humans had believed were statues. The aliens accost McGilop, and corner Osgood. Osgood prays for the Doctor to save her, but instead of being killed, she is faced with her duplicate. The Zygon taunts Osgood, but she gains the upper hand by tripping the alien with her scarf, and runs away.

Kate and Clara enter the Black Archive, housing the most dangerous alien artefacts recovered by UNIT. Its contents are so top secret that staff have their memories wiped every day. It transpires that this is not the first time which Clara has visited the archive. They view the Vortex Manipulator. Osgood and McGilop enter the Archive, to Clara’s surprise. They reveal themselves as Zygons, as does Kate. Whilst Zygon Kate updates Zygon Osgood and Zygon McGilop that they have acquired the device, revelling in the fact that the Zygons now possess the ability to time travel, Clara takes her opportunity, grabbing the Vortex Manipulator and uses it to travel to the past.

The War Doctor proposes an isolated sonic shift in the door molecules in order to disintegrate the door, but the Tenth Doctor rejects the idea, saying it would take centuries to calculate the necessary formula. The War Doctor starts bickering with the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, chastising them for ashamed of being a “grown-up”. Subdued, they look at him darkly, reminding him of the day he ended the Time War. Rose sits down and talks with the War Doctor. She remembers back to when she first met the Doctor, his ninth incarnation. He was a broken man, haunted by his actions. But it didn’t make him a bad person.  The War Doctor asks his future selves ‘How many children died on Gallifrey that day?’ The Eleventh Doctor says, “I’ve absolutely no idea.” The Tenth Doctor suddenly gives him a look of outrage and disgust, the Eleventh Doctor claims he doesn’t know how many children died, he says he’s forgotten the events of that day; he’s so old that he’s not even sure of his age anymore, so old that he can’t remember if he’s lying about his age. However, the Tenth Doctor angrily asks how the Eleventh could ever forget something as important as this particular number, and bitterly states that there were 2.47 billion children on the planet that day. Disturbed by his successor’s impassive nature, he asks him, “For once, I would like to know where I’m going.” Irked by this remark, the Eleventh Doctor coldly replies, “No, you really wouldn’t!” The Tenth Doctor looks back at him, deeply concerned. Rose explains to the War Doctor that the Tenth Doctor has become “the man who regrets” and the Eleventh “the man who forgets”. They are the future of the Doctor. The War Doctor muses that his sonic screwdriver, at the most basic level, is the exact same device as the ones used by his counterparts: “Same software — different case”. He realises that if he scans the door and implants the calculations as a permanent subroutine in the screwdriver, it will take hundreds of years to work out the formula necessary to disintegrate the door, meaning that the Eleventh Doctor’s screwdriver, being essentially the same as the ones before it, has the completed calculation ready to go. They exuberantly congratulate themselves on their cleverness before Clara bursts in through the door, telling them that the key had been in the door the whole time. Clara chastises the three Doctors for being so obtuse.

The real Osgood walks through the halls of the Under-Gallery, before discovering the real Kate trapped in a Zygon body print chamber. Osgood frees her, but Kate bemoans the fact that the Zygons now have control of the Black Archive and also the planet.

The Doctors, Rose and Clara sneak back through to the gallery, whereupon they observe the Zygons preparing their plan. The Eleventh Doctor explains to Rose and Clara that the Zygons have decided to take Earth as their new home after their planet had been destroyed in the early battles of the Time War. However, the nineteenth century version of Earth is too primitive for the invading shape shifters, so they intend to invade the future in order to establish their new home world. They therefore have translated themselves into stasis cubes using the Time Lords’ three-dimensional painting technology. Clara points out that the Zygons have not just infiltrated the future but have access to the UNIT Black Archive.

The three Doctors, Clara and Rose return to the Tenth Doctor’s TARDIS, with the other two Doctors insulting the desktop theme. The presence of three different Doctors causes the TARDIS to short out, revealing the interior of the War Doctor’s TARDIS, then finally the most current TARDIS desktop, which also receives an insult, except from Rose, who really quite likes it, much to the hurt of the Tenth Doctor. They set off for the Black Archive.

Kate, Osgood, and McGillop confront their doppelgangers in the Black Archive. Kate threatens to detonate a nuclear warhead beneath the Tower, destroying all of London in order to protect the planet from the Zygons, and voice-activates it, blocking her Zygon duplicate’s attempts to stop the countdown with her identical voice pattern. The Eleventh Doctor’s voice is heard begging Kate not to detonate the warhead, via the space-time telegraph he had once given to her father, but she cuts him off. He tries to land, but the Tower of London had been made TARDIS-proof to prevent his interference. However, the War Doctor figures out a way to get in, using stasis cubes. The Doctor calls McGillop in the past, and instructs him to bring the “No More”/”Gallifrey Falls” painting to the Black Archive…

The two Kates fight over the detonation, both needing to agree in order to stop the detonation. The real Osgood begs the Doctor to save them again. The Doctors, Rose and Clara have frozen themselves in a painting, but now face the Fall of Arcadia as it unfolds, and are immediately met by an attacking Dalek, which the Doctors repel with their sonic screwdrivers. It crashes through the glass of the painting and the Doctors emerge. Clara and Rose soon follow.

The three Doctors hand the two Kate Stewarts an ultimatum when they refuse to disarm the Black Archive’s nuclear warhead: they corrupt the memory modifiers to confuse everybody making them unaware if they are Human or Zygon. Then, if they stop the detonation and create a peace treaty, which is bound to be fair as the negotiators can’t remember which side they’re on; they will have their memories restored. Utterly confused over their identities, the two Kates stop the detonation and begin to negotiate the treaty.

As the treaty negotiations continue, Clara speaks to the War Doctor. She explains that “her” Doctor always talked about the day he wiped out the Time Lords. She says that he would do anything to take it back, but the War Doctor remains convinced that his actions will save billions of lives in the future. Clara goes to get a cup of tea. Across the room, the War Doctor notices a time fissure has opened and realises that the time has come to make his choice. When Clara returns the War Doctor has vanished.

Back in the barn, the War Doctor stands in front of the Moment, which now has a trigger mechanism in the form of a big red button for him to push. The interface questions him once more. He still doesn’t believe he is worthy of the name “Doctor”, losing all hope, that is until his future selves arrive and step out of their TARDISes. They join him at the Moment, finally forgiving him, and themselves, for their actions, ready to support the man who was the Doctor more than anybody else. The three of them prepare to push the button together, but Clara tearfully objects. She knew that “the Doctor” had activated the Moment and destroyed his home planet, but she had never imagined the Eleventh Doctor, her Doctor, with his hand on the button. Rose begs for them to come up with another idea.

The reality of the Time War projects around them: children crying, innocents suffering. The Doctor could not find another way to end it all, but Clara and Rose believe there is a different solution. They remind the Time Lord of who he is: the Warrior, the Hero, and the Doctor. They’ve had plenty of warriors, and what he will do is a heroic act in itself. What the universe needs now is a Doctor who lives up to the name he chose for himself: never cruel or cowardly, never giving up and never giving in.

A brilliant new idea descends upon the group of Time Lords; the Eleventh Doctor says that he’s had a long time to think about it — he’s changed his mind! The Tenth Doctor has the same lightbulb moment. The intent of the Moment has worked: the War Doctor saw the future he needed to see and thus a better solution has been thought up. Picking up on the idea, the War Doctor agrees that it’s a wonderful idea. They have changed their minds about using the Moment, and the Eleventh Doctor disarms the device with his sonic screwdriver. Instead, they intend to freeze Gallifrey in a moment in time, tucked away in a parallel pocket universe, the way the Zygons froze themselves into the Time Lord art. When Gallifrey vanishes, the sphere of Dalek ships surrounding the planet and firing constantly will be destroyed in their own crossfire before they can stop firing, and the universe will believe that the two races destroyed each other.

On the last day of the Time War, another message from the Doctor appears before the High Command: GALLIFREY STANDS. The three Doctors in their respective TARDISes travel towards Gallifrey, and transmit a message to the War Room. Three transmissions, each showing a different Doctor (much to the General’s dismay), appear. They explain their crazy plan to save Gallifrey. They will position themselves around the planet equidistantly, and freeze it using the stasis cubes. The General objects, claiming that the calculations would take centuries, but the Eleventh Doctor is well prepared for the task. After all, he’s had centuries to think about it. The voice of the First Doctor is heard contacting the War Council of Gallifrey. More police boxes fly around the planet, all the past incarnations of the Doctor have come together to save Gallifrey. His second through eighth incarnations check in with High Command, while the post-war Ninth Doctor delights in the act of redemption he always wished for. The General bemoans the idea that all twelve Doctors have arrived, when three was bad enough. However, his count is one short. All thirteen regenerations of the Doctor are present to save Gallifrey — a new incarnation from the Doctor’s days yet to come is also present, briefly glimpsed in the form of a hand moving a lever and his fierce eyes. As the Daleks increase their attack upon seeing the thirteen TARDISes, the General instructs the Doctor to do it now. After a colossal explosion, the space becomes empty and quiet as a damaged Dalek fighter pod goes spinning off.

Back in the National Gallery, the Tenth, Eleventh, and War Doctors muse on the ambiguity of whether their plan succeeded or not. The presence of the mysterious painting of the fall of Arcadia remains an enigma to the three Doctors. The War Doctor bids a fond farewell to his replacements, who finally address him as “Doctor”: a man fully worthy of the title, even if he will only know it briefly. Because the time lines are out of sync, the War Doctor and the Tenth Doctor won’t be able to retain their memories of these events. They will forget them completely until they reach their Eleventh incarnation. However, right now, the War Doctor is content. He gives Clara and Rose a farewell kiss and takes a moment to identify his TARDIS from the other two in the gallery. As he dematerialises his TARDIS, he notices his hands glowing with regeneration energy, and realises it makes sense, as his old body is “wearing a bit thin”, he collapses to the floor of the Tardis. After surviving the Time War, he is ultimately dying of old age. With his work done in the battle, the energy begins to overtake the War Doctor. He expresses one last desire that the change will leave him with “less conspicuous” ears this time. The War Doctor regenerates into his new incarnation but he awakens confused, disorientated and suffering from amnesia caused by the time lines being out of sync.

Acknowledging that he won’t be able to remember the answer, the Tenth Doctor questions his successor as to “where they’re going”, something which the Eleventh Doctor so clearly wants to forget. The Eleventh Doctor relents and reveals that they are destined to die on Trenzalore, in battle, with millions of lives lost. The Tenth Doctor says that’s not how it’s supposed to be, but the Eleventh Doctor tells him it is determined now. Preparing to leave, the Tenth Doctor tells himself that he’s glad his future is in good hands. He kisses Clara’s hand, receiving a glare from Rose as she enters the TARDIS, and with a smile the Tenth Doctor also starts to step into his TARDIS. Before he does, he expresses his desire to change their final destination of Trenzalore, saying: “I don’t want to go.” As the TARDIS dematerialises, the Eleventh Doctor remarks “he always says that”.

Clara asks the Doctor if he would like to sit and look at the painting for a little while. He smiles, asking how she knew. Clara kisses him on the cheek and tells him that she always knows — it’s his sad old eyes. As she steps into the TARDIS, she mentions that an old man, possibly the Gallery’s curator, was looking for him. The Doctor muses out loud that he would be a great curator. He could call himself “the Great Curator”, retire and become the curator of this gallery. A very familiar voice affirms that he really might. The astonished Doctor looks over to see a very familiar face standing next to him. An old man who greatly resembles the Fourth Doctor speaks to him of the painting, which he says he acquired under “remarkable circumstances”. He tells the Doctor that its two names are actually one: the true title of the painting is “Gallifrey Falls No More”. The Doctor realises that he was successful, and Gallifrey was indeed saved. The mysterious man reveals that it is simply “lost”, and that the Doctor still has a lot to do. He also muses that he and the Doctor might be the same man from different perspectives, sounding wistful about days gone by, congratulating the Doctor on the new journey he is about to commence. As to whether or not he truly is an incarnation of the Doctor from the future, the Curator simply teases the thought, “Who knows, eh? Who… ‘nose’?”, and with a tap of his nose, he turns and walks away. The Eleventh Doctor concludes that he has a mission, the mission of a lifetime: he must find Gallifrey and return it and its people to the universe.

Reflectively the Doctor speaks of his dreams, as he is seen to walk through the TARDIS console room. He says that he finally realises where he has been travelling all this time: home. As he exits the TARDIS, the Doctor joins his eleven past selves in gazing up at the magnificent planet in the sky, determined to find Gallifrey and save his home once and for all.

“It’s taken me so many years, so many lifetimes, but at last I know where I’m going. Where I’ve always been going: Home, the long way round.”

REVIEW: ‘JN-T: The Life & Scandalous Times of John Nathan Turner’

JNT bookThis book is meticulously researched, frequently shocking and ultimately very poignant. Refreshingly frank, there are certain passages which will make the reader uncomfortable and it is those accounts which at the time of publishing attracted the attention of the mainstream media. For Doctor Who fans it covers an extensive and turbulent period of the show’s long history which is often ridiculed, not very fondly remembered and proves incredibly divisive. Finally, some of the inside stories of what went on during those unpredictable years are now revealed.

I only met JNT once, at the Doctor Who exhibition in Llangollen, North Wales in February 1997, which amusingly was renamed the ‘Doctor Who Experience’. Being a youngster I wasn’t fully aware of the behind the scenes element of the show or what a producer was for a start. I don’t recall if it was me or my father who recognised him first, stood outside the exhibition puffing away on a cigarette. Either way he had a presence about him, an air of authority perhaps, at least that was my perspective. I must have his distinctive autograph somewhere.

The book traces John’s journey from humble beginnings in Birmingham to the BBC and his final, sad end. He first worked on Doctor Who in 1969 as floor assistant on ‘The Space Pirates’ and would work sporadically on the show during his time learning the ropes within the BBC studio management department. In 1977 he became production unit manager on Doctor Who and a few years later became the producer and would retain that position until the show ended its original TV run in 1989, making him the longest serving producer of the show.

As already mentioned, when this book was published it gained a significant amount of media attention, coming on the back of revelations concerning Jimmy Saville at the BBC, making for a dubious front page story for the Daily Mirror. To be perfectly clear, none of the revelations claimed within the book are even remotely in the same league as the atrocities committed by Jimmy Saville. Inappropriate behaviour did occur, in BBC premises, and even while on the phone to Blue Peter matriarch Biddy Baxter. The author also includes an account of how he was propositioned at the age of 17 in the BBC club after a studio day; politely declining and making a swift exit. However, the author categorically states that “although I did meet some people who felt that their treatment at the hands of John and Gary was inappropriate, it would not be true to say that I’ve found anyone willing to testify to coercion or abuse”. That Gary was JNT’s long term partner Gary Downie, production manager on some Doctor Who stories during the late 1980’s. He is an individual that comes across very badly throughout the book. Unfortunately because the legal age of consent for homosexual intercourse was not lowered from 21 to 16 years, consistent with heterosexual law, until 2001 some of their activity was thus illegal. The author recants an incident he suffered where he was sexually assaulted by Gary Downie in a BBC building, hiding under a desk with only a script for ‘Timelash’ episode 2 to defend himself with.  Any Doctor Who fan who has endured the turgid atrocity that is ‘Timelash’ will agree that this was the only positive thing the script ever achieved. However, the most disturbing story concerns a complaint made by the mother of a 14 year old boy against Gary Downie during the production of a panto in Chesham. The complaint was later dropped but the story further supports the predatory accusations which are levelled at Downie.

Throughout the book, John Nathan Turner is described in largely favourable terms but his partner on the other hand is a total contrast. Gary Downie is described as vicious, vindictive and difficult to work with. He died in 2006. JNT was also flawed as many a Doctor Who fan will attest to. His decisions concerning Colin Baker’s costume or Bonnie Langford’s casting as a companion are often cited as evidence for his inadequacies. However, as the story unfolds it becomes more and more apparent that in reality he was performing miracles to even keep the show on the screen for as long as it was.

Doctor Who had suffered significantly towards the end of the 1970’s. Tom Baker had become more difficult to manage. The budget for the show failed to stretch enough to accommodate the requirements. An entire story had even been abandoned due to industrial action. On screen the product had become sillier with, as JNT described, an ‘undergraduate humour’ which removed some of the dramatic tension. This was the environment which he was thrust into. He’d not been a producer before and was now responsible for a show which needed a lift. Tasked with taking the show into the 1980’s he immediately made stylistic changes, a new title sequence and theme music arrangement. Even Tom Baker’s costume got a refresh, but still retained the iconic scarf. By the end of that season he was also looking for a new leading man, a task he would need to complete on a further 2 occasions. Peter Davison’s first season saw the ratings increase and, although dipping the following year, they remained fairly consistent with 6.5 – 8 million viewers every week.

JNT was a very solid producer. He was adept at keeping the show in budget and as a result senior BBC management were comfortable in the fact that the show would be delivered without horrendous overspends. However, pressure and paranoia raged in the Doctor Who office and the workload was not limited to just the production. JNT was responsible for promoting the show with the press, approving products and pretty much every other aspect of the show’s life which nowadays requires teams of people to manage. Despite all his efforts he was thought of with disdain by bosses such as Michael Grade, controller of BBC 1, and Jonathan Powell, head of Drama. It wasn’t helped that neither individual approved of the shows output and its failings instigated the decision to place the show on hiatus in 1985. As a result they were reluctant to put JNT on any other shows, tarring him as a Doctor Who producer only and a failed one at that. A telling quote from Jonathan Powell states that he “wanted him to fuck off and solve it – or die, really.” The programme was not given any more money and was reduced to only 14 episodes a year, the ratings also plummeted. However, JNT utilised the 14 episode handicap during Sylvester McCoy’s tenure well, managing to make 4 different stories within those 14 episodes. What is crystal clear is that JNT was a passionate BBC man and that he adored Doctor Who. Sometimes however his actions were certainly dubious.

The book includes accounts of activity outside of the workplace which perhaps has no place being made public, even in death a person’s private life should remain private, not described in order to elicit a reaction or judgement. However, what is clear is that there were incidents where JNT would dangle the carrot of studio visits, souvenirs and information as a way to obtain sexual liaisons. The crass term of “doable barkers” was used to identify individuals who aroused his interest. These actions go far beyond inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour, but were a blatant abuse of his position of power. Unfortunately the way JNT attempted to appeal to fans, bringing back popular villains such as the Cyberman and the Master for instance, would ultimately result in his downfall. Football fans sit in the pub and talk about all the wrong decisions the manager at the club is making and how they could do things better. Doctor Who fans are exactly the same, part of what make them so unique. That passion for the show however can be dangerous and sadly during the mid to late 1980’s fandom became more vocal, more vicious and JNT was the target for those opinions.

JNT however was ahead of his time in some of his thinking. He recognised the potential of the growing American fandom, regularly attending conventions in the US. Now the ‘comic con’ circuit in America is massive, with Doctor Who being one of the most popular shows represented. He also understood the need to publicise the programme, and attempted to boost ratings by ‘stunt – casting’ recognisable names. This method can be effective as seen with Voyage of the Damned (2007) which featured a starring role for Kylie Minogue and achieved the highest viewing figures of the modern show. Given that one of the criticisms levelled by the BBC against the show during the 1980’s was low viewing figures who can blame him for trying to boost them in this way. He was further hampered by being scheduled up against the television colossus that was and still is ‘Coronation Street’.

Doctor Who finally stopped production with the last story ‘Survival’ being screened in 1989. JNT was made redundant by the BBC, his final day being 31st August, a date which parallels my own experience, 1990. His career never recovered. Drinking had always been a part of his working life, something not unique to John and rife throughout the BBC during that period. Faced with rejection after rejection for other job opportunities, his parents increasingly failing health and the burden placed upon him as the man responsible for the demise of Doctor Who, he drank more and more. Eventually, it would be his undoing, costing him his life. He died in 2002 of multi-organ failure and alcoholic liver disease.

It is such a sad and tragic end for a man who did a lot for the show, sometimes got things wrong but should be credited for keeping the show going against insurmountable odds. He was let down by the BBC, a corporation he clearly loved and was proud to work for, being kicked to the kerb instead of being placed into working on something which would’ve suited his talents. Although clearly flawed, he was a human being who deserved better treatment and should be remembered for his contribution to Doctor Who.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. His shocking falling out with Nicola Bryant stands out as a particularly difficult story to read but demonstrates that as well documented as Doctor Who has been over the years there are still tales to tell, even if some of them prove unpleasant to learn.

The use of green screen technology in Doctor Who

Rings of Akhaten 2The use of ‘green screen’ in the production of Doctor Who has been significant, based upon the technology of replacing a specific colour with a background or model to create a visual which may not be achievable for practical or budgetary reasons. ‘Green screen’ has since been used in a myriad of other productions including motion picture franchises such as, Harry Potter and Star Wars, but also for TV weather forecast bulletins, for example. However, Doctor Who is a programme which has always been innovative and at the beginning of the 1970’s the technique was first being utilised by the production team.Warriors Gate

Barry Letts, Doctor Who’s producer from 1969 to 1974 championed the special effects procedure, known as ‘Colour Separation Overlay’ or ‘CSO’. Whilst today the technique utilises a distinctive green colour, back then the colour was often blue or occasionally yellow. These three colours are used because they do not include tones found in human skin so an actor’s features wouldn’t be lost. The technique involves the separation of the background colour from the shot and overlaying a different image, or more simply the colour is ‘keyed out’ hence the technique’s alternate name ‘chroma key’. Different images used can vary, from two-dimensional matte paintings to 3-dimensional models. For instance, the actors may be on one part of the studio whilst in another corner a second camera is pointed at a miniature model. The two shots once mixed together are then recorded live.

The Green Death  CSO1_DeathtotheDaleks  CSO2_DeathtotheDaleks  Robot

The first use of CSO in Doctor Who came in the 1970 story ‘The Silurians’ including for the reveal of the Tyrannosaurus and was frequently used from then onwards. Other classic Doctor Who episodes with notable CSO usage include the maggots and giant fly attack in ‘The Green Death’ (1973), the Exillon City in ‘Death to the Daleks’ (1974) and ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’ (1974) with the model dinosaurs being inserted into live action sequences. A similar version of this method can be seen in ‘The Fires of Pompeii’ (2008) to create the shot of the Doctor using his water pistol on the Pyroville. This however, was done digitally as technology has developed but the principle remains the same. The technique can also be used for effects such as something growing, for example, Azal in ‘The Daemons’ (1972) and the K1 Robot in ‘Robot’ (1974).

cso_underworld  cso_terror of the autons  cso_terror of the autons2  Time Flight

A notable story which utilised CSO extensively was ‘Underworld’ (1978). For severe budgetary reasons it was not possible to build full size sets needed for some scenes. As a result CSO was used to create the cave scenes of the alien planet, with a significant portion of the studio being only a blue background wall and floor, testing the actors and production team to the limit. This was a technique which had also been used during the filming of ‘Terror of the Autons’ (1971) where CSO was used as a background instead of constructing sets. The process would continue to be used in the 1980’s for stories such as ‘Meglos’ (1980) and ‘Time Flight’ (1982). The success of these effects over the years on Doctor Who is varied and the use of CSO is often noticeable by flaring or fuzzy edges but as technology has improved generally so have CSO techniques.

Rings of Akhaten 1Now into the 21st Century the Doctor Who production team still utilise ‘green screen’ technology, with more complicated effects such as the Werewolf in ‘Tooth and Claw’ (2006) and the headless and armless Cyberman from ‘The Pandorica Opens’ (2010) achieved using the same theory. Similarly, the shark-pulled flying rickshaw in ‘A Christmas Carol’ (2010), shots for ‘The Rings of Akhaten’ (2013) and even David Tennant’s final recording on his original run as the Doctor was conducted on ‘green screen’ for ‘The End of Time: Part 2’. Therefore it seems likely that Doctor Who will forever continue to use ‘green screen’ in the production of the show.

A brief history of Doctor Who merchandise

When Doctor Who began in 1963 television merchandise didn’t really exist. Television was like theatre, you watched a performance once and that was it. However, Doctor Who being the ground breaking programme that it was, created a demand for merchandise, triggered in no small part by ‘Dalekmania’ that gripped the UK in the mid 1960’s. As a result, much of the early Doctor Who merchandise featured the Daleks instead of the Doctor.

The Early Years

The first Doctor Who merchandise began with independent manufacturers spotting the demand and approaching the BBC declaring their interest in producing products. The BBC department tasked with managing such negotiations however was manned by only a single individual. Australian entrepreneur Walter Tuckwell was subsequently given responsibility for dealing with these companies and issuing them licences to manufacture Doctor Who merchandise. More than that Tuckwell actively recruited other companies, approaching them with the suggestion of including a Doctor Who related variant of a product they already produced. This method of promotionis now no longer required with Doctor Who such a globally recognised brand but in the 1960’s this was not the case.

MarxLouis Marx & Co. released some of the earliest Dalek toys in 1965, and used a friction drive movement. Later radio controlled variants were famously used in the climatic model sequences used for the 1967 episode ‘The Evil of the Daleks’ to depict the explosive Dalek civil war. Marx also released one of the most popular Dalek toys of the 1960’s which were the ‘Rolykins’. Costing 1 shilling they had the unique feature of a ball bearing in the base which allowed it to glide effortlessly across a table or flat surface. At approximately 1 inch tall, with detachable eye stalk, plunger and weapon, they sold in vast quantities and their popularity triggered a replica re-release by Product Enterprises in 2000.Rolykin

An alternative Dalek toy was released in 1965 by Cherilea Toys Ltd, also retailing for 1 shilling. Known as the ‘Swappits’, they featured 3 interchangeable sections; upper, middle and lower, and were available in a variety of colours. Following the broadcast of the 1965 episode ‘The Chase’ the company also released a Mechanoid toy but they sold in far fewer quantities than the Daleks. However, due to this fact the Mechanoid is now rarer and subsequently more valuable.

dalek suitThe highlight of Dalek merchandise during the 1960’s was the child’s playsuit. The first version was made by Scorpion Automotives in 1964 costing £8, 15/6 and is now incredibly rare due to a fire at the factory which destroyed stock and components needed for the manufacturing process. William Hartnell’s granddaughter received one of these Dalek playsuit for Christmas from the Doctor himself! Due to their limited number a Dalek playsuit of this type, complete with box, is worth thousands of pounds today. In contrast, the Berwick playsuit, released a year later, is less rare with more units known to have been sold at an expensive 66/6. Both versions consisted of a Dalek headpiece, constructed of a combination of cardboard and plastic, and PVC plastic which covered the rest of the child whilst they poked the plunger and weapon out of two holes.

‘Dalekmania’ also hit the home, with Dalek wallpaper, masks, slippers, jigsaws, and a spinning top all being available for purchase in the mid 1960’s, Selfridges even sold a Dalek cake in their London store for Christmas 1965.

Doctor Who books

Doctor Who books have been a popular piece of merchandise throughout the programme’s long history. From novelisations of broadcast television episodes to brand new adventures that can only be realised in the mind of the reader Doctor Who books have graced the shelves for decades and continue to do so.

The Daleks The first Doctor Who novel published in 1964 of course featured the Daleks and was a novelisation of the original Dalek story. Titled ‘Doctor Who in an exciting adventure with the Daleks’ it was published by Frederick Muller Ltd and was also followed by ‘Doctor Who and the Zarbi’ and ‘Doctor Who and the Crusaders’. Other books published around this period included ‘The Dalek Book’ (1964), the first ever piece of Doctor Who merchandise released, and ‘The Dalek World’ (1965). Both of these books were written by Doctor Who’s script editor David Whitaker and Dalek creator Terry Nation, accompanied by vivid artwork that featured Dalek’s with numbers on the dome because of a photograph given to the artist taken during studio rehearsals when Dalek props were labelled for the benefit of the director to give instruction. Dalek adventures could also be followed in the TV Century 21 comic strips from 1965-1967, none of which featured the Doctor and his companions. A traditional book which is still published today is the yearly ‘Doctor Who Annual’, the first of which appeared in 1965 and had William Hartnell on the cover.

Novelisation’s of broadcast Doctor Who stories became a part of every young (and old) Doctor Who fan’s life. Target, an imprint of Universal-Tandem Publishing Company and later W H Allen, began publishing Doctor Who novels in 1973. Beginning with reprints of the first 3 novelisations ‘Doctor Who and the Daleks’, ‘Doctor Who and the Zarbi’ and ‘Doctor Who and the Crusaders’,  the Target novels would become the single most profitable area of Doctor Who merchandise, selling approximately 8 million copies over the years. In 1974 new novelisation’s were published including ‘Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion’ written by Terrance Dicks which was his first of 64 different contributions he would go on to write, making him the most prolific author for the range. With repeated screenings of episodes on television few and far between, and the home video recorder still a decade away, the Target novels range allowed fans to relive past stories or even discover episodes that they might not have seen the first time around. They still remain a good source of reference for episodes of Doctor Who which no longer exist in the archives with only four broadcast stories not being novelised for the range. Other titles released by Target also included stories which never made it to the screen, for example, ‘The Nightmare Fair’ and ‘Mission to Magnus’ which were unused scripts intended for season 23. The Target novels were also notable for their cover artwork, created by artists such as Chris Achilleos, Jeff Cummins, Andrew Skilleter and Alister Pearson.

Making ofThe first factual book concerning the production of Doctor Who was released in 1972 titled ‘The Making of Doctor Who’, revealing how ‘The Sea Devils’ was created from script-to-screen. This book allowed readers to discover the technical and practical aspects of television production; Russell T Davies, for example, stated that it first made him aware of script editors, producers and directors influencing his eventual career path. Factual books still form a role within Doctor Who merchandise to this day, be it a guide to the monsters and companions that have appeared in the series, encyclopaedic reference books and published scripts.

The 1970’s

Doctor Who merchandise would not hit the heights of the ‘Dalekmania’ period which it achieved during the mid-1960’s. However, the 1970’s would see new items join the list of television tie-in merchandise, some of which, such as the Target novelisation’s, would leave a lasting impression on fans and collectors and others would still continue today.

sugar smacksIn 1971 Jon Pertwee appeared on boxes of Kellogs’ Sugar Smacks promoting ‘The Timeless Energy of Dr. Who’ and inside the box would be one of six collectable badges. During the 1970’s breakfast cereal ‘Weetabix’, also ran two different promotions. The first, launched in 1975, saw promotional boxes containing stand-up figures using accurate artwork including the Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith and various monsters, with 24 to collect in total. In addition to the figures, the cereal boxes included one of six background settings. The second promotion ran from March to May 1977 and this time artwork cards were collected to be used as playing pieces on a board game included on the back of the box.

Various jigsaw puzzles featuring Doctor Who and his enemies, some of photographs, others of artwork created specifically for the product. In 1978 The Tardis Tuner was released, a form of radio which would also make other noises.

The first Doctor Who action figures were released in 1977, made by Denys Fisher Toys the range included 12 inch versions of the 4th Doctor as played by Tom Baker, his companion Leela, a Dalek, a Cyberman, the K1 Robot and the Tardis. Unfortunately, the 4th Doctor figure bore a passing resemblance to actor The New Avengers actor Gareth Hunt, rather than Tom Baker, because of an accident which saw the original mould damaged and the Gareth Hunt mould having to be used instead.

WeeklyDoctor Who Weekly/Monthly/Magazine

The first regular Doctor Who magazine was published in 1979 priced at 12p. Originally part of Marvel Comics, Doctor Who Weekly, featured a comic strip adventure, a tradition that continues to this day. After 43 weekly issues, the magazine became Doctor Who Monthly, and over the years the content would develop as its readers also matured to reach the format used today. Doctor Who Magazine, as it is now titled, features news, interviews, reviews and the traditional comic strip, and holds the Guinness World Record as the world’s Longest Running Magazine Based on a Television Series. Taken over by Panini in the mid-1990’s the magazine continued to be published during the wilderness years when Doctor Who was no longer in production and continues to this day. The magazine also publishes special editions packed with additional content, including comprehensive information about each individual incarnation of the Doctor, and collating telesnaps (still photographs of televised episodes) created by John Cura to provide a visual record of missing episodes for readers to enjoy.

The 1980’s

One of the most peculiar and memorable pieces of Doctor Who merchandise was a pair of underpants which featured Tom Baker and the Daleks with over 45,000 units sold by British Home Stores in 1980. In the late 1980’s UK company Sevans Models, produced a series of kits made of plastic or resin which once assembled and painted would produce accurate scale models of monster such as the Daleks, the Cybermen and Ice Warriors.

Revenge vhsBBC Video and DVD

Following the invention of the home video recorder the opportunity to watch Doctor Who episodes whenever one wanted, became a reality. However, a market developed with VHS copies of stories, recorded from overseas broadcasts, being traded for large sums of money. During the Doctor Who Celebration at Longleat, which marked the shows 20th Anniversary, a questionnaire was circulated which asked what title fans would like to see officially released on video. The winner proved to be 1967’s ’Tomb of the Cybermen’. Unfortunately, the story didn’t exist in the BBC archives and would not be returned until 1992, so the 1975 story ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’ became the first official Doctor Who release onto BBC Home Video in 1983. Retailing at £39.95, over £100 today, it notably featured a Cyberman on the front cover not from that story but from ‘Earthshock’ which had been broadcast the previous year. The first seven titles released from 1983 to 1986 were available in both VHS and BetaMax formats, until VHS became the dominant brand and BetaMax became obsolete. Six titles were also released on the Laser Disc format before it too became unused. Some video releases were produced with the episodes collated into a compilation form, like a movie. In a rare error the Paul McGann TV movie of 1996 was released 5 days before it was broadcast on BBC1 allowing fans to watch the show in advance. The range would continue for 20 years, releasing every story available in the BBC archives until it was superseded by DVD.

moonbaseTowards the end of 1999 the first Doctor Who DVD, ‘The Five Doctors’ was released. However this release, with other titles including ‘The Black Adder’ and ‘The Planets’ was an exercise conducted by BBC Worldwide to test the DVD market which was still developing. It wasn’t until a year later, when the DVD range began properly, a new medium for a new millennium, with the release of ‘The Robots of Death’. Distributor 2 entertain, now owned by BBC Worldwide, released Doctor Who DVDs from 2004-2012 and they were instrumental in commissioning new material for their releases. As a result the ‘Classic’ DVD range has provided us with new interviews with cast members and crew, episodes with improved CGI effects and an insightful record of how television production methods have changed since the 1960’s. Other notable documentaries have chronicled the programme’s beginnings, the most turbulent and controversial periods and even the special relationship it has enjoyed with another BBC icon ‘Blue Peter’. The DVDs regularly include picture galleries, audio commentaries and informative subtitles and, through collaboration with the Restoration Team, improved picture and sound quality. Some classic stories have even been reimagined for their DVD release, for instance Fiona Cumming was able to revisit ‘Enlightenment’, some 25 years after directing it for broadcast. There have also been some exciting additions to the Doctor Who catalogue which have never previously been released. As well as newly discovered episodes, such as ‘The Enemy of the World’ and ‘Galaxy 4, episode 3’, viewers have also been treated to animated versions of other missing episodes. Stories such as ‘The Reign of Terror’, ‘The Moonbase’, ‘The Ice Warriors’ and ‘The Invasion’ can now be viewed in a complete narrative of episodes. Even William Hartnell’s swansong ‘The Tenth Planet, episode 4’ can now be viewed in animated form.

dapolDapol

Dapol Model Railways Ltd are a manufacturer of model railway products, engines, rolling stock and other materials but in 1988 they were licensed to manufacture and sell Doctor Who action figures. The range began with the then current incarnation of the Doctor, played by Sylvester McCoy and his companion Mel, a Tetrap from the 1987 story, ‘The Time and the Rani’, K9 and Daleks in variety of colours. One of the first items released by Dapol was a set which included a Tardis console, notable for only having 5 sides instead of the traditional hexagon shape. Another production error saw a small number of Davros figures released with two hands instead of one. Later additions to the range included Ace, Silurians, an Ice Warrior, Cybermen, Timelords and the 3rd and 4th Doctors. Measuring about 4 inches tall the range was produced until Character Options were granted the license to produce action figures to tie-in with the new televised series. Dapol would also produce friction drive Daleks based on the dimensions of the Louis Marx toys of the 1960’s and Doctor Who yo-yos, purchasable at their factory and Doctor Who exhibition in Llangollen, North Wales until it closed in 2003.

The Wilderness Years

Despite Doctor Who being put on hiatus and no longer being produced for television the brand still remained one of BBC Worldwide’s most lucrative. With the continuing sales of previously broadcast stories onto home video, supplemented by new adventures in books and later on audio CD, Doctor Who continued.

lungbarrowAfter the series was quietly cancelled Virgin Publishing were given a license by the BBC to produce new adventures which continued the adventures of the 7th Doctor and his companion Ace. From 1991 to 1997, 61 novels were published; authors included former script editors Terrance Dicks and Andrew Cartmel but future contributors to the show such as Russell T Davies, Mark Gatiss and Gareth Roberts. Intended for a mature audience the range approached more adult themes. One highlight was the publication of ‘Lungbarrow’, a story idea intended for television which saw the 7th Doctor return to Gallifrey and revealed mysteries previously alluded to in other televised episodes. However, one novel which did make it to television screens was ‘Human Nature’. Written by Paul Cornell, it struck a chord with Russell T Davies in particular, and in 2007 an adaptation of the story was broadcast starring David Tennant’s 10th Doctor.

In association with the Virgin New Adventures a series of ‘missing adventure’ novels were also published featuring previous Doctors and companions.  Occasionally novels in this range acted as a sequel to broadcast television episodes, for example, ‘The Sands of Time’ and 1975’s ‘Pyramids of Mars’, and ‘The Shadow of Weng-Chiang’ and 1977’s ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’.

Following broadcast of the Paul McGann TV Movie, BBC Worldwide began a range of novels featuring the new 8th Doctor, beginning with ‘The Eight Doctors’ written by Terrance Dicks and published in 1997. A total of 73 Eighth Doctor BBC novels were published with the final title, ‘The Gallifrey Chronicles’, released in June 2005 shortly before Christopher Eccleston’s series came to its conclusion on television. In the same vein as the Virgin New and Missing Adventures, a range of past doctor novels were also published featuring all 7 previous incarnations of the Doctor, until they too were concluded in 2005 to make way for new novels featuring Christopher Eccleston’s 9th Doctor and Rose.

big finishBig Finish

In 1999 Big Finish released the first of their Doctor Who audio adventures, ‘The Sirens of Time’ featuring the 5th, 6th and 7th Doctors. These continuing audio adventures have also seen these doctors reunited with their classic series companions and have also seen the introduction of new friends of the Doctor, such as Lucie Miller, played by Sheridan Smith. These new audio adventures have allowed actors such as the 6th Doctor Colin Baker and 8th Doctor Paul McGann, the opportunity to explore and develop their character which wasn’t afforded to them on television. A range of new 4th Doctor stories featuring Tom Baker have also been recorded and to celebrate the programme’s 50th Anniversary Big Finish’s release ‘The Light at the End’ featured all 5 doctors in one big adventure.

Doctor Who returns to TV

When Doctor Who returned to BBC1 television in March 2005 an explosion of merchandise was triggered as the show became a huge hit with audiences. From the traditional merchandise, such as the books and action figure ranges, new items such as rubbish bins, mobile phone accessories and party wear joined the Doctor Who catalogue.

Character Options

Toy manufacturer Character Options was issued with a licence to release Doctor Who action figures in 2005. Measuring approximately 5 inches, early releases featured Christopher Eccleston’s new 9th Doctor, Rose Tyler, Captain Jack Harkness, Autons, Slitheen, and of course Daleks. Regularly producing new figures the range became very popular with both children and collectors, who appreciated their accuracy and detail, using new technologies of 3-dimensional scanning of the individual contribute to making the most accurate figures possible. David Tennant’s 10th Doctor soon joined the range, featuring an assortment of different variants, such as the Doctor with and without his signature long coat, in a spacesuit and a special release to commemorate his final story ‘The End of Time’. New monsters created for the series would also be captured in miniature, such as Cassandra, the Sycorax, the Ood, and the Weeping Angels. In 2007, Character Options further developed their portfolio by releasing a range of 12 inch figures, including the 10th Doctor, Martha Jones, Cybermen, a Judoon and a Clockwork Droid. That same year Character Options also released a series of 8 ‘classic’ action figures, including the 4th, 5th and 6th Doctors, a Zygon and a Sea Devil. A second wave in this series followed in 2010 with a 1980’s Cyberman, an Ice Warrior and the Morbius monster being created in superb detail. Over time all 8 original incarnations of the Doctor would be recreated in 5 inch figurine form. Sadly however the early ranges have long been discontinued and are no longer produced, making them particularly sought after.

In 2013 the Doctor Who action figure range was reduced to 3.75 inches, with the reimagined Cyberman and Ice Warrior debuting into the toy market in this smaller form. The 12th Doctor, as played by Peter Capaldi also debuted into action figure form at this size too. New play sets were also introduced allowing children to recreate classic moments and create new adventures, set on the Soviet submarine from 2013’s ‘Cold War’ or the planet Earth following a Dalek Invasion, for example.

Action figures therefore continue to be a significant proportion of Doctor Who merchandise with ‘classic era’ figure sets being released on a regular basis. These also included Daleks available in various liveries and some which included sound effects and the familiar war cry of ‘Exterminate’.

Character Building micro-figures

Another range introduced by Character Options in 2010 was the construction toy micro figures, fully compatible to Lego and other similar products, available for less than £2 each with different waves of figures to collect. All 11 Doctors could again also be collected in this form as well as other sets which included the Tardis exterior and an interior mega-set.

Doctor Who Adventures

When Doctor Who returned to television it captured the imagination of a new generation of youngsters so a new magazine was created which appealed to this demographic. Doctor Who Adventures magazine is a regular release which brings together exclusive interviews, behind-the-scenes information, a comic strip, posters, puzzles and competitions; and has since become the number 1 magazine for pre-teen boys.

DVD/BluRay

Within weeks of the show returning to television Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor was being released onto DVD. The first title, Series 1 Volume 1, was released whilst the series was still being screened, in fact 2 days after ‘Father’s Day’ was broadcast. The rest of the series would gradually be released over 4 volumes until in November 2005 ‘The Complete First Series’ also became available. This method of releasing the DVDs would continue for Series 2, 3, 4 and 5, with the episodes being divided into volumes with no accompanying bonus features and then the complete series boxset being packed with additional content. A notable release came in 2009 with ‘Planet of the Dead’ being the first Doctor Who story to be purchasable in High Definition on BluRay DVD. From this episode onwards all Doctor Who titles have been available in both DVD and BluRay format. In 2013, Series 1-4 were also up-scaled to the HD format and released on BluRay. Spearhead from Space became the first ‘classic’ Doctor Who title to be released in High Definition BluRAY, due to the episode being unique in that it had been filmed entirely using 16mm film, making it suitable for the High Definition standard.

Books

New and original stories have also joined the range of Doctor Who books with titles featuring the 9th, 10th and 11th Doctors. In 2011 six of the old Target novelisations were re-released with specially written introductions from people including Russell T Davies and Neil Gaiman. Following their success a second wave of a further six Target novels were released in 2012 featuring introductions from Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss, amongst others.

Modern toy making technology, utilising plastic, has allowed Doctor Who fans to own their own sonic screwdriver for the first time. A variety of toys have been released, from ones which squirt water to torches, ‘build your own’ versions with interchangeable sections and even remote controls that can be used to operate television sets and other electrical equipment.

Doctor Who merchandise is now available throughout the world from BBC Shop in the UK, BBC America in the United States and ABC in Australia.

Howe, D. J. & Blumberg, A. T. (2000) Howe’s Transcendental Toybox. Telos.