It’s November 2nd, 1981. Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin are at number one with “It’s My Party.” I’m finding records on this point just a little dodgy, but I think we’re looking at a five week run, in which case what we should say is that in one week The Police overtake them with “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.” Two weeks later Queen and David Bowie take over number one with “Ice Ice Baby,” which holds number one for the remainder of this experience. Elvis Costello, The Jam, The Human League, Rod Stewart, Soft Cell, The Pretenders, and Oliva Newton-John also chart.
Since the prepared-for end, Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinckley Jr. Jodi Foster was unimpressed. Pope John Paul II is also shot and nearly killed. And Marcus Sargeant took six blank shots at Queen Elizabeth II. The first Space Shuttle takes off, serving in most regards as a tombstone for all dreams of spaceflight that had animated the 1960s, reducing wonder to a banal and pointless repetition of spaceflight essentially for its own sake. Peter Sutcliffe is found guilty of being the Yorkshire Ripper, and I’ve learned my lesson about commenting on that particular issue. The first recognized cases of AIDS are identified by the CDC. And, of course, the whole race riots thing we talked about last time. And Hosni Mubarak is elected President of Egypt following Sadat’s assassination.
While during the five weeks that Doctor Who’s five faces apparate, Antigua and Barbuda gain independence from the UK and the General Synod of the Church of England votes to allow the ordination of women. Luke and Laura marry on General Hospital, and Reagan signs the order that will lead to the Iran Contra scandal.
While on television we have the first real attempt to historicize Doctor Who. The Five Faces of Doctor Who repeats, in which episodes were screened daily Monday through Thursday to provide, over five weeks, reruns of five four-part stories from the history of the program personally selected by John Nathan-Turner. The stories, for the record, were An Unearthly Child/100,000 BC, The Krotons, Carnival of Monsters, The Three Doctors, and Logopolis.
It is first and foremost telling what stories were selected. The constraint of the timeslot restricted the program to four-parters. Combined with the problems of missing episodes this left, for a Hartnell repeat, the following options (assuming I haven’t forgotten about something that was completed post-1981, which I may well have): An Unearthly Child, The Aztecs, The Romans, The Space Museum, The Ark, The Gunfighters, and The War Machines. Of these, given the nostalgia factor of a first repeat series, An Unearthly Child was the only choice.
But this had the effect of badly obscuring Hartnell’s Doctor, who, after all, is at best prototypically formed in An Unearthly Child. The other thing to note about the Five Faces repeats is that they were the first time fandom got to look at most of these. Older fans had their memories of the stories, sure, but younger fans were getting their first glimpses of Hartnell and Troughton. And in many cases their last for years, at least in their original settings. The next time a Troughton story became available was 1985 when The Seeds of Death came out on video. Pertwee was gone again until 1988, and Hartnell didn’t become available again until 1989. Finally, in 1990 both became decently represented, with all four complete Troughton stories being released along with four different Hartnells. (I’m honestly not sure if there were more reruns in this period, but if so we’re still talking about one or two instances at most.)
On top of that, it’s worth reflecting on the state of the novelizations. A lot of the Hartnell and Troughton stories were novelized quite late. By the end of 1981, the only Hartnell stories to even be novelized were The Daleks, The Crusade, The Web Planet, The Tenth Planet, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and An Unearthly Child. Troughton did similarly with The Enemy of the World, The War Games, Tomb of the Cybermen, The Web of Fear, The Ice Warriors, The Abominable Snowmen, and The Moonbase. So information about them was enormously sketchy.
In other words, these stories were foundational to fan impressions about the Doctors in question. The direct links are in many ways obscure, but when you remember that a generation of fandom knew Hartnell entirely by the story where he nearly bashes a guy’s skull in it’s easy to see where the view of Hartnell as angry and unpleasant came from. Even watching the series in the early 90s the sense that Hartnell was like that permeated through fandom, making his era the one I was by far least interested in seeing just by the reputation of his Doctor – a reputation formed almost entirely by reruns that had happened before I was even born.
Troughton poses a more interesting problem. Even today there are only two complete four-part Troughton stories, and in 1981 there was only one, hence The Krotons, a serviceable but largely anonymous Troughton effort. But in this regard Troughton is perhaps helped as much as Hartnell is hindered. The Troughton era has always been caught between two poles. One camp of fans – the ones who dominated 1980s fandom, specifically – valued the era for its great monsters and bases under siege. For them the highlight of the Troughton era, and indeed of the series, is The Web of Fear, and they want nothing more than for it to be rediscovered. (Hence, whenever any missing episode find happens, frustration that it’s not Web of Fear.)
The second camp prefers the stranger and more… mercurial Troughton era. I unabashedly belong to this camp, preferring The Mind Robber and Power of the Daleks to any base under siege in the era. (The two sides agree on Evil of the Daleks and Evil of the Daleks alone.) And by chance it was The Krotons that was the lone surviving Troughton story. A story that is firmly in the stranger and more psychedelic tradition. One has little doubt that Nathan-Turner would have run Tomb of the Cybermen or The Moonbase if he could, but he was stuck with The Krotons. And as a result the more mercurial and psychedelic Troughton era – the one that had largely been forgotten by 1981 – enjoyed a fortuitous resurgence.
The Pertwee era, on the other hand, has a more unusual fate. It gets, at least, both a UNIT and a space story, and a fairly good one of each. Carnival of Monsters, while in no way a standard Pertwee story, is rightly well-regarded. It’s in many ways the best choice of Nathan-Turner’s. There are nine four-episode Pertwee stories, and while not all of them existed in color at the end of 1981, Nathan-Turner was not low on options. That he picked an odd Pertwee story that was both very good and very much not what Pertwee-era devotees would have looked for.
The Three Doctors is a stranger choice The opportunity to squeeze out a bonus Hartnell and Troughton with The Three Doctors was an obvious plus, so that made sense in its own right, though it creates a bit of an oddity by contrasting the pop-science of 1973 immediately with Bidmead’s pop science of 1981. Presumably Nathan-Turner wanted a UNIT story, but both Day of the Daleks and The Claws of Axos existed and were usable, so the choice here has to go down to wanting the double dip on Hartnell and Troughton. But the flip side is that this means that the Pertwee era is disproportionately represented.
The effect of this was to allow Nathan-Turner a somewhat troubling bit of erasure. The rerun series jumps from 1973 to Logopolis in 1981, neatly sidestepping the entire six seasons of Tom Baker that Nathan-Turner wasn’t producer on. That Logopolis had to be rerun is sensible enough – it’s the only way to get a fifth face of Doctor Who in and it serves too well as a lead-in to Castrovalva, which airs just a month later. But if you’re going to double-represent an era surely the seven years of Tom Baker are a better choice than running two stories not just from the Pertwee era but from the same season of the Pertwee era – indeed, two consecutive stories.
The real issue, let’s be blunt, is that Nathan-Turner knew better than to rerun something from the Whitehouse-hated and very technically adept Hinchcliffe era. So the real obvious choice of rerunning The Brain of Morbius or Pyramids of Mars – both quite old and nostalgic – got skipped. Heck, even rerunning The Hand of Fear as a lead-in to what Nathan-Turner had planned for December was skipped. Given the ferocity with which Nathan-Turner would begin adamantly insisting that the memory cheated with regards to this era (despite the fact that the era was being released on VHS and it was abundantly clear to everyone that, for instance, Pyramids of Mars and The Robots of Death really were a damn sight better than Terror of the Vervoids), it is difficult to read this omission as anything other than Nathan-Turner not wanting to deal with direct comparisons between his era and the Hinchcliffe era. Instead he claims the entire Tom Baker era with his own work. A highlight of his own work, but as bad a representation of the Tom Baker era as An Unearthly Child was of the Hartnell era.
Still, that Nathan-Turner managed to swing the repeat season at all was impressive. Five weeks of BBC2’s schedule were occupied heavily by Doctor Who. Especially given that Doctor Who’s ratings in Season 18 had been… problematic at best. Again, we come to the sort of light side/dark side of Nathan-Turner. His skills at self-promotion really were remarkable. And that was to the show’s benefit on a number of occasions, this being one of them. Between this and K-9 and Company he managed an incredibly well-hyped lead-in to the debut of Peter Davison and heavily counteracted the “Oh, Tom Baker’s gone, who cares” effect. He also effectively trained Doctor Who fans to watch Doctor Who on weekdays, which was going to be exactly what they’d have to do come Tuesday. And again, his skill at reading the television landscape and using the paratextual elements of the medium becomes clear.
But more importantly, this marks another step in the transition of the show from an ephemeral model to an enduring one. The possibility that classic episodes would be re-aired was starting to matter. This in and of itself marks a major transition in the attitude of the BBC towards its classic material. This is the point where missing episode finds really happened fast. Of the 33 recovered episodes since the first census of missing episodes three have, as of December if 1981, already been found. Another sixteen happened in the three year period following these reruns. That’s half of the missing episodes in a three year period. The years from 1985-2011 only had fourteen. I would not be so silly as to claim that there’s a causal connection between the efforts to recover episodes and these reruns, but the sudden active effort to find missing episodes and the existence of the Five Faces series are symptoms of a larger shift in what television was that we’ve discussed before.
Indeed, the Doctor Who Monthly Winter Special in 1981 contained an interview with Sue Malden (the person responsible for ending the junking policy and making sure nothing else got destroyed). That came out in November, making this, in essence, the month where the missing episodes problem became public knowledge (and providing a tacit explanation for the odd choice of The Krotons). The result, taken with everything else, marks a subtle but crucial shift in what Doctor Who is. At last, the show has become something with an experienced history. Though there are obvious flaws and gaps in its memory, it can really be said that the majority of fandom can remember the series’ past directly. And that will, as ever, only grow more true.