Friday, 21 June 2013

50 Years in the TARDIS: Doctor Who's Anniversary Specials, part 3

Despite some success in revitalising interest in the programme, particularly through anniversary-centred episodes such as Remembrance of the Daleks (which, as noted last time, revised the past while looking to the future), Doctor Who was cancelled in 1989, after its 26th season. The plans laid out for a darker, more proactive Doctor were eventually pursued through a series of original novels, and most fans look to Doctor Who: The Movie (featuring 8th Doctor Paul McGann) as the next iteration of the series.

Dimensions in Time (1993)
Yet there is the tricky issue of the 30th anniversary special Dimensions in Time. Around thirteen minutes long, the first part was shown (like The Five Doctors) during the 1993 Children in Need telethon, while the second part was featured in the following night’s Noel’s House Party. Likely the most disparaged Doctor Who episode of all time (even beating stories such as The Twin Dilemma, Timelash, or Time and the Rani), this is admittedly a mess of a programme, which deposits multiple incarnations of the Doctor, various companions and monsters, into the Albert Square set from Eastenders (characters from that soap opera also appear), and a limited number of other London locations. What narrative there is revolves around a plot by the Rani (hardly a top tier villain) to trap the Doctor in a time loop.

The programme was also filmed and broadcast in Nuoptix, an experimental process that 3D expert Charles W. Smith described as offering a ‘depth-effect... an optical novelty capable of giving an illusion of depth on certain scenes’. (Smith 1994, 19) As such, it wasn’t the stereoscopic 3D that we are familiar with these days (and which is being used to film the 50th anniversary special), but still required audiences to wear VTL (visual time-lag) glasses similar to the polaroid/anaglyphic glasses more familiar to 3D viewing. (the BBC seemed confused about whether Dimensions in Time was in stereoscopic 3D or not, with images of viewers in red-green anaglyph specs featured in the Radio Times: yet such glasses wouldn’t work with the Nuoptix footage!) Aside from all this, the general consensus appears to be that the depth effects added little to the already disjointed special.

Dimensions in Time is also, to my knowledge, the only intact Doctor Who episode that has never been released on DVD: likely due to rights and contracts issues, as the special was largely thrown together at the last minute by producer John Nathan-Turner.

However, Dimensions in Time is fascinating because once you get past the bad 3D, the Eastenders’ actors and the non-existent script, it is clear the programme relies purely on a collective (or public) memory of Doctor Who to survive. It is Doctor Who reduced to visual spectacle, and is perhaps the ultimate anniversary special in the sense that it dispenses with narrative logic to offer the programme’s ‘greatest hits’: multiple Doctors, companions and monsters. As such, it relates to some of the themes identified in The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors:

Multiple Doctors / Absent Doctors: Five Doctors appear here, with Jon Pertwee becoming the only Doctor to perform in the 10th, 20th and 30th specials; he is joined by Tom Baker (who is filmed separately from the others, appearing as some form of cosmic DJ broadcasting warnings to his other selves), Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. As with previous anniversary stories, the Doctors are kept apart, with no comic interaction or rivalry shown between them (a likely effect of the last minute nature of filming); and there are two absent Doctors: the First and Second Doctors were not recast for this special, and are present only as floating mannequin heads in the Rani’s TARDIS (heads that are, for the most part, almost unrecognisable as either Hartnell or Troughton).

The Time Lords: Apart from the Rani, who is a renegade Time Lord (or Time Lady), the special offers not further insights into the Time Lord culture or history.

References to a shared narrative past: As noted above, the spectacle of Dimensions of Time is almost wholly about that shared narrative: appearances from various companions, and an array of monsters (including Cybermen, Sea Devils and Ogrons, although no Daleks) that suggests the producers simply raided the BBC prop department. The programme also features the Brigadier, giving Nicholas Courteney the dubious honour of being the only companion to be in the 10th, 20th and 30th specials (it is also his only canonical television appearance alongside the 6th Doctor).

Narrative change: There is no relationship between the episode and the ongoing series, given the show was still cancelled at this stage, with no sign of its re-commissioning or return.

Promotional materials: although there is a feature in the Radio Times, there is little other supporting work promoting the anniversary here.

The Scream of the Shalka (2003)
Produced as a Flash animated story for the BBC website and intended to function as the introduction to a new Ninth Doctor (played by Richard E. Grant, who had previously played a comic version of the Doctor in Steven Moffat’s 1997 Comic Relief sketch, The Curse of Fatal Death), this Paul Cornell-scripted story is an aborted new beginning that is now best seen as a parallel ‘What If..?’ adventure. Broadly enjoyable, the show doesn’t quite pull off its revisionist take on the series, although Cornell’s novelisation offers more background for his conception of what the online animated programme could have become.

Cornell, who had written Doctor Who novels and comics, created a more embittered, aloof Doctor who had suffered an undefined loss (of a female companion) and now travelled with a robotic version of the Master. It is not, however, really a story that offers any real comparison with other anniversary shows, and the relationship with the 40th anniversary appears only tangential.

As is clear from the supporting Radio Times issues (with their inter-locking covers featuring the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors), however, the popular memory of the series appeared to be based around nostalgia for the cancelled version of the programme, and hopes for Russell T. Davies’ new incarnation. Even in these covers, though, certain themes recur: notably a reliance on Multiple/Absent Doctors (the First, Second, Third and Eighth are absent) and references to shared narrative history (costumes, monsters, TARDIS)...

50th Anniversary thoughts
As we approach the 50th anniversary special, scheduled for Saturday 23rd November (and thus the first TV anniversary show since Silver Nemesis to be broadcast without any association with Children in Need), it is unclear what (if anything) current showrunner and writer Steven Moffat intends to draw from previous commemorations.

What is clear is that there is no longer one collective memory of the show (if, indeed, there ever was). The 2013 anniversary special needs to target different collective memories: post-2005 fans who might have only partial knowledge of the preceding 40 years, long-term fans, and a general audience who wouldn’t know who the Brigadier or UNIT was.

We are also in a situation where the anniversary special is being executive produced by a fan for the first time. Pennebaker and Banasik (1997) discuss the idea of a generational cycle of memory, where official commemoration only happens after people in early adulthood have grown up, and are now in positions to produce or influence media remembrances: that is precisely the situation Moffat now finds himself in, which likely means he is highly aware both of what previous anniversary shows have done, and what themes/issues to avoid or tackle.

Based on this, what is the likelihood of the themes identified in the 10th, 20th, 25th, 30th and 40th returning for the 50th? [SPOILER WARNING ON!]

Multiple / Absent Doctors: There have already been brief appearances of old Doctors since Matt Smith took over as the Doctor (and Moffat took over running the show): visual appearances of all the faces in The Eleventh Hour and Nightmare in Silver, repurposed footage of Doctors and costumes in The Name of the Doctor. The BBC have already publicised the involvement of David Tennant’s 10th Doctor, we now know that John Hurt is playing a character called ‘The Doctor’, and there have been various dismissals / comments from the other surviving actors.

Likelihood: aural appearances highly likely, visual appearances less so (due to the obvious aging of many of the actors, although Moffat partially got round this in Time Crash)

The Time Lords: Since the programme’s return in 2005, the Time Lords have been largely absent, killed off in a Time War (which has been referenced as recently as Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS but never shown on screen).

Likelihood: High, particularly given the appearance of Hurt as a previously unknown / unseen version of the Doctor

References to a shared narrative past: fan favourite villains the shape-shifting Zygons have already been teased, and it seems likely that a certain Silurian and Sontaran may appear. Again, Moffat knows the value of the show’s iconography, so appearances by the Daleks and the Cybermen seem likely. The show may also take a cue from Remembrance of the Daleks and revisit narrative locations such as Coal Hill School, and it has been revealed that the Brigadier’s daughter, and head of UNIT, will return (continuing the Lethbridge-Stewart link through the 10th, 20th and 30th specials)

Likelihood: 100%, if only because that is usually the purpose of an anniversary special, to encapsulate what is best known/loved about a programme

Narrative change: The introduction of the Hurt Doctor in The Name of the Doctor has already potentially shifted the narrative of the whole programme, and the announcement that Matt Smith will be leaving the show, opening up the introduction of a Twelth Doctor, means that change is almost inevitable. (this could also be seen as a pattern for the show: Jon Pertwee's final season started in 1973; Peter Davison's final season started in 1983...)

Likelihood: Guaranteed

Whatever else, it is clear from its specials that Doctor Who offers a different perspective on media remembrance than the traditional journalistic/documentary celebrations. More often than not, Doctor Who’s anniversary specials are a chance to celebrate and encapsulate central tenets of the programme’s history (the Doctor, monsters, companions), to visually recreate specific elements of that past (costumes, locations), or (since the 25th anniversary) retouch and reinterpret that narrative and fictional past.

But, given Steven Moffat knows more about the previous anniversary specials than most, perhaps November 2013 will offer up something new (rather than something borrowed or blue)...

Monday, 17 June 2013

50 Years in the TARDIS: Doctor Who's Anniversary Specials, Part 2

In 1973, The Three Doctors established several dominant ideas around how to celebrate and commemorate a ten year television anniversary: multiple Doctors appearing, an ‘absent’ Doctor, references to (and expansion of) Time Lord history, discussion of a shared narrative past, and narrative change to the shape of the programme. As Derek Johnston has observed (in relation to my last blog post), the programme was also a remembrance of ten years of a show that couldn’t be re-watched and was rarely repeated (indeed, many of Doctor Who’s early episodes had been wiped by the BBC and could not be re-broadcast).

Ten years later, in 1983, the series revisited the anniversary special in The Five Doctors, an episode that sat outside of the normal run of the series (broadcast on November 23rd as part of the Children in Need telethon): but this special had a more self-reflective tone that can be linked not only to an increased audience for the programme (on a global scale as much as a British one), the presence of  but also a 1981 ‘Five Faces of Doctor Who’ series of summer repeats that included early adventures including The Three Doctors and which reasserted certain notions about remembering the programme’s past: the stern grandfather (Hartnell), the playful fool (Troughton), the action-man (Pertwee), the kooky alien (Tom Baker); familiar monsters, faithful companions.

In The Five Doctors, a mysterious figure retrieves each of the five Doctors (and a relevant companion) from their own time-streams: so, the First Doctor is reunited with his granddaughter Susan (Carole Ann Ford), the Second with the Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney), the Third with Sarah Jane Smith (Elizabeth Sladen), etc. They are all taken to an alien landscape (that the Doctors eventually recognise as the Death Zone on Gallifrey), and forced to avoid familiar villainous adversaries (a Dalek, Cybermen, a Yeti, the Master) while playing ‘the Game of Rassilon’. Meanwhile, the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) tries to solve the mystery with the High Council in the Citadel of Gallifrey.

As laid out, the narrative feels like a metaphor for writing an anniversary storyline: the necessity of selecting each Doctor and companion team, placing them in danger, relating that to a known monster. This self-reflective quality is also clear in some of the dialogue and interactions: Sarah Jane’s surprise that it is the Third Doctor she meets not the Fourth (‘all teeth and curls’ is the Third Doctor’s comment), the familiar (from The Three Doctors) bickering between Second and Third, the Brigadier’s comment ‘Splendid chap... all of them’ (a deliberate echo of The Three Doctors’ ‘Splendid chap... both of them’), and the interaction between Tegan (Janet Fielding) and the Fifth Doctor about going on the run from his people in a rickety old TARDIS: ‘why not, that’s how it all started’.

Like The Three Doctors there is no referential sense of 20 years having past, or that there is such a concept as 20 years or 1983 in the fictional world being displayed. Here, as in 1973, the passage of ‘real time’ is less important than the concept of reuniting a series of known actors and characters. However, in other respects the programme hews close to the themes introduced in The Three Doctors:

The multiple Doctor / the ‘absent’ Doctor: As already noted, the programme brings together five Doctors, although using six actors. After a brief clip of William Hartnell, the role of the First Doctor is played by Richard Hurdnall; Troughton and Pertwee return; and Davison continues to play the Fifth. Absent here (bar some clips from the untelevised episode Shada) is Fourth Doctor Tom Baker, who choose not to appear, having only been out of the role for two years.

The Time Lords: Whereas Time Lord hero Omega was the villain in The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors offers more glimpses of the Time Lord society by delving into its dark past, and the figure of Time Lord founder Rassilon. Unlike The Three Doctors, which revealed unknown aspects of Time Lord society and history, by the 20th anniversary there had been several programmes devoted to Gallifrey, its people and customs, so the planet itself was much more familiar. That also allowed writer Terrence Dicks to exploit knowledge of President Borusa, previously a friend of the Doctor, and make him the unseen villain of the piece. The figure of Rassilon hangs over most of the story, but with some uncertainty over how positive he was, either encouraging or stopping Gallifrey’s dark times.

References to a shared narrative past: There are continual references to ‘old’ events: the Second Doctor and the Brigadier talk about Cybermen and Omega, and are chased by a Yeti; the First Doctor and Susan talk about the Dalek’s home planet, Skaro; as noted, Sarah-Jane Smith talks about the facial difference between 3rd and 4th Doctors.

Narrative change: Although The Five Doctors has less impact on the wider series narrative than The Three Doctors, it works to redefine and underline the programme’s central concept: a Time Lord on the run from his own people, adrift in time and space. It also appoints the Doctor to the position of President of Gallifrey, something that is does return in the Colin Baker story The Trial of a Timelord.
Promoting the Anniversary: Once again, the programme was promoted through a special Radio Times cover, a magazine, other media appearances (Blue Peter, Pebble Mill), and a major BBC-organised convention in April 1983, ‘The Dr Who Celebration: Twenty Years of a Timelord’. Based at Longleat House in Wiltshire, the convention was a huge success, with over 35,000 people attending. Like the other promotional materials, the convention worked to stress a particular remembrance of the programme that drew on monster costumes, the showing old episodes, and appearances of the actors who had played the companions, villains and the Doctors.

Remembrance of the Daleks (1988) and Silver Nemesis (1988)
Only five years later, due to threats of cancellation, production postponement and the replacement of Colin Baker, interest in a Doctor Who anniversary was at a lower ebb and, despite several stories and events marking the programme’s silver anniversary, the emphasis was back on ‘in-season’ celebrations closer to The Three Doctors than The Five Doctors. While all four stories from season 25 can be described as commemorating the programme’s past in some form, the two villain-centric stories offer the most obvious anniversary elements.

Unlike previous anniversary programmes, both Remembrance of the Daleks and Silver Nemesis use the idea of 25 years as a central narrative conceit: the former taking place in 1963 (days or weeks after the Hartnell Doctor left), the latter story taking place on 23rd November 1988, and built around a comet / spaceship that revisits Earth every 25 years (because the Doctor got his calculations wrong when it was launched). More self-referential than The Five Doctors, most notably through a recreation (and repositioning) of the programme’s own fictional past (Remembrance revisits Coal Hill School and – where Susan went to school in An Unearthly Child and I.M. Foreman’s junk yard, where initial companions Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) first discover the TARDIS), neither story features the multiple or absent Doctor approach of previous specials (although Hartnell’s Doctor is referred to by one character), or old companions.

However, other tropes are present: no Time Lords are seen on screen, but both stories revolve around their advanced technology (the ‘Hand of Omega’ (a stellar manipulation device) in the Dalek story, and a living metal discovered by the Time Lords in Silver Nemesis); the episodes also feature the series’ most recognisable recurring monsters: the Daleks (and their creator Davros) and the Cybermen; and both stories represent attempts to shift the narrative direction of the show, making the Doctor into a more active participant in his own drama, a Time Lord eager to manipulate the future.

As such, the programme’s 25th year saw a reconstruction of its own history (something that Steven Moffat’s current run has also attempted, most notably in The Name of the Doctor, the lead-in to the 50th anniversary special), setting up bridges between the present, past and future of its fictional world, offering a new framework for understanding the previous 25 years and repositioning the show for its immediate future...

That future, however, was shorter than anyone knew...

Next time: From Dimensions in Time (1993) to Scream of the Shalka (2003)... to 2013?

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

50 Years in the TARDIS: Doctor Who's Anniversary Specials (Part 1)

[A] remembrance is... a reconstruction of the past achieved with data borrowed from the present, a reconstruction prepared... by reconstructions of earlier periods wherein past images had already been altered’ (Halbwachs 1952, 69)
Later this year, Doctor Who will reach its 50th anniversary, a major milestone that few television programmes have achieved. Although partially overshadowed by the announcement that current 11th Doctor Matt Smith will be leaving (and the now-traditional media interest in who will replace him), the 50th anniversary will see a range of different celebrations, from a special episode through a BBC-organised convention. As long-term fans of the programme know, however, we have been here before: Doctor Who celebrated its 10th, 20th, 25th and 30th anniversaries with similarly well-anticipated television specials, commemorative magazines and/or events. As each of those anniversaries has demonstrated, the history of Doctor Who is in almost constant revision, with reconstructions of narrative conceits and alterations of past fictional events a de rigeur feature of dramatic anniversary commemorations.

Over a series of three blog posts, I want to think about how Doctor Who’s anniversary celebrations have set up recurring traits around anniversary television programmes. Specifically, I want to think about how fictional celebrations such as The Three Doctors (1973), The Five Doctors (1983), Remembrance of the Daleks (1988), Silver Nemesis (1988), Dimensions in Time (1993) and Scream of the Shalka (2003) created their own remembrances of the programme’s history – both in terms of narrative (the fictional world of the Doctor, the TARDIS etc.) and behind-the-scenes production information.

The media representation and commemoration of ‘real world’ historical events (such as the Second World War) tends to take place through news and documentary-led programmes, and such programmes manufacture their remembrances through a combination of archive footage, dramatic recreation, voiceover, and (often temporally disingenuous) editing patterns. These manufactured media histories, then, renew, challenge and efface real memories, creating a collective public memory of the original event – as I was writing this first blog, for example, it was claimed that collective memory of the First World War has likely been shaped more by Blackadder Goes Forth than any textbook or documentary.

This, then, suggests the importance of media constructions to public memory of ‘real world’ histories. Using Doctor Who, however, these blog posts will explore how anniversary fictions can reproduce and reassert particular elements of its fictional dramatic history, while promotional materials support a particular mediation and representation of the programme’s production history. By looking at these specific stories, it is clear that anniversary dramas retell stories about their fictional pasts, adding a new veneer of meaning in each retelling, and representing subtle shifts in the collective memory through each recreation.

10th anniversary: The Three Doctors (1973)
If you’ve read this far, I’m going to assume you have a basic sense of what Doctor Who is: a time travel drama aimed at family audiences, that was first broadcast on Saturday 23rd November 1963, and grew in popularity due (at least in part) to the introduction of the Daleks in December 1963.

The first major anniversary story is 1973s The Three Doctors, although a case could be made for ‘World’s End’, the first episode of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, given it was broadcast on 21st November 1964 and is the end of the first major arc of the programme, reintroducing the hugely popular Daleks (who had been killed off at the end of their first story) and ending with the departure of the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan (Carole Ann Ford). Yet although it falls around the right time of year, and features returning villains (subsequent conceits of the anniversary episode), the story was not designed to commemorate the programme’s one year anniversary.

The Three Doctors, however, was produced as a deliberate attempt at commemoration, bringing together the First (William Hartnell), Second (Patrick Troughton) and Third (Jon Pertwee) Doctors to battle a Time Lord villain, Omega. The story is a solid example of Pertwee’s era as the Doctor, a partly-Earthbound action-adventure romp, featuring most of the regular supporting cast from UNIT (the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce), a military force designed to combat the alien and unusual, led by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), and featuring Sergeant Benton (John Levene) and Jo Grant (Katy Manning). This Earthbound focus was a production conceit for budgetary and story reasons: the Doctor’s memories of time travel taken away by the Time Lords and the TARDIS’s dematerialisation circuit removed.

Unlike traditional ideas of media anniversaries, which are based around the proximity to an actual date, The Three Doctors was broadcast as the first story of the 10th season of the show, with episode one debuting on 30th December 1972, almost a year ahead of the anniversary. Most journalism-based media anniversary programmes also make specific reference to the period of time that has passed: but The Three Doctors has not narrative reference to ten years having passed, or even that the adventure takes place in 1973.

That said, several anniversary themes are established that recur through future programmes:

The multiple Doctor / the ‘absent’ Doctor: the programme is built around the combination of Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee in both production and narrative terms. It is the first time Doctor Who would revisit its past in such an overt manner, but by no means the last; it was also designed to be the first time all three Doctors shared screen space and time, although due to illness Hartnell’s First Doctor is mostly ‘absent’ from the reunion, delivering his lines via the TARDIS scanner. The Three Doctors also sets up the dramatic concept of rivalry and competitiveness between the Doctor’s incarnations: the Second and Third Doctors bicker throughout, while the First (who describes his ‘replacements’ as ‘a dandy and clown’) acts as a drill sergeant in his cameos. Off-screen, the Troughton-Pertwee relationship was cordial, but featured a clash of acting styles, with Troughton more given to on-set improvisation.

The Time Lords: Ten years into the programme, very little was known about the Doctor’s people, the Time Lords. The Three Doctors establishes much more information: Omega gave the Time Lords the power of time travel by harnessing the power of a black hole; Omega is a hero on Gallifrey, the Time Lord’s home; the Time Lords have a governing structure that includes a President and a Chancellor; and there are ‘Laws of Time’ (the first of which is that Time Lords should not meet their other incarnations)

References to a shared narrative past: Anniversary programmes tend to be spaces where particular views or perspectives on the past can be solidified: here, for example, Benton and the Brigadier both recognise and reminisce about previous adventures with the Second Doctor, most notably those involving villains such as the Yeti and the Cybermen (in turn, these reconstruct a vision of Doctor Who that focuses on the spectacular nature of the villains: something promotional materials such as the 10th anniversary magazine special would also focus on)

Narrative change: like The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Three Doctors ends with a narrative shift that affects the whole programme: the Time Lords return the Third Doctor’s knowledge of time travel, and give him a new dematerialisation circuit, allowing the programme to return to its earlier narrative structure of off-world and Earth-bound adventures.

Promoting the Anniversary: The Three Doctors was promoted with features in the Radio Times, a special celebratory magazine, appearances on Blue Peter and a special exhibition at the Science Museum in London focus on the actors, crew, costumes and stories that defined the decade. Each of these materials offered a stronger sense of the programme’s decade-long success, the actors and crew involved, and the range of monsters the programme was famous for. As such, these were more traditional media ‘anniversary’ celebrations, pulling together strands from the previous ten years, rather than The Three Doctors’ narrative approach.

Next time: From The Five Doctors (1983) to Silver Nemesis (1988)...