The Glam Period in British Television
The 1960s was an Optimistic Time for the British
Thunderbirds, The Indian Doctor, Austin Powers, The music scene...
The End of the Doldrums...
There has recently been a revival of the glam or glamour period in British television.
Thunderbirds, those wonderful futuristic machines and those who operate them, have made a come back in the brand new 2015 series Thunderbirds Are Go!
Unlike the original Thunderbirds series this brand new one is a co-operative effort between the UK and New Zealand but all the better for that. Unlike the Thunderbirds movie of 2004, Thunderbirds Are Go! has a lot of class and heart.
Some time ago Doctor Who returned to television with new adventures.
The Indian Doctor, set in a Welsh coal mining town in the 1960s, started its run in 2010 and is still going strong. It shows the doldrums that the British were getting over back then and also what was then the new optimism.
Mike Myers Austin Powers movies, beginning in 1997 with Austin Powers: International man of Mystery, also revived an interest in the swinging '60s.
They were basically spoofs on the original James Bond films but those films did have their affect on the television shows of the day. This can be seen in such shows as The Avengers and The Champions.
So what was it about British television in the late 1950s going into the 1960s that made it in any way glamorous? Of course beautiful women in skimpy costumes helped but there was more to it than that. There was hope for a better age and a better way of life.
It took the British some time to get over the financial woes brought about by the Second World War. But certainly, in the late 1950s going into the 1960s, efforts were being made to liven up British television.
There was an emerging music scene that tied in nicely with what was happening on television. There were the Small Faces, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Bright new clothes and attitudes were the go and they were being contrasted with the old and the staid.
Glam or glamour was the name of the game.
Spy vs Spy had always been popular, but why not have beautiful young women involved?
Even when British television shows were still in black and white efforts were made to keep up with the emerging times.
There was women liberation, mini-skirts and bikinis. Was it possible to combine all these elements in a television show?
H.G. Wells, Doctor Who, Pesticides, Bees, Brains, The Daleks, Verity Lambert and Adam Adamant Lives!
H. G. Wells and the Swinging 1960s
H. G. Wells did most of his more fanciful writing in the late Victorian period. So what does this writing have to do with the 1960s? In short plenty.
Early Doctor Who owes much to the Victorian vision of H. G. Wells. It wasn't just about people travelling through time and space in what basically looked like a police call box. This was definitely part of it but not all of it.
Another part were glimpses into what might be humanity's future. Could, for example, the breaking of the food chain via an all too powerful pesticide doom human life on the planet Earth?
This was explored in the 1964 Doctor Who adventure Planet of Giants. Here we have the crew of the TARDIS ( the Doctor's machine) reduced to the size of insects by a malfunction of the machine they travel in.
It is okay to kill pests but what if the insecticide also destroys creatures that are necessary in keeping the soil healthy? Thus an all too effective pesticide can damage crop growth and cause mass starvation.
This is at once a grand combination of Victorian science fiction and also the more modern 1960s science fiction. Future possibilities are explored and a warning given to humanity.
Not long after this adventure first aired, the pesticide DDT was brought into question as something that did far too much damage to the environment and, in the end, to the humans who came into close contact with it.
Today in the USA there are other insecticides coming into scrutiny because they may have adverse affects on bee populations.
This weekend at the Bulli market, south of Sydney in NSW, Australia there was a woman selling honey.
This is not unusual but the sign she had associated with her stall was most profound. It proclaimed: Bees are Life. Certainly much of the plant food we humans eat are dependent on bees doing their thing. No bees, no life.
In Man in the Year Million, a speculative article Wells wrote before The Time Machine, he saw a future where humans would have become brains swimming in vats, nourished by chemicals.
In the 1964 Doctor Who adventure The Keys of Marinus you do have such brains in vats. You also have them in control of humans via the use of mind control.
The War of the Worlds, a much celebrated work by Wells, has its counterpoint in a number of early Doctor Who adventures.
Wells' Martians require their machines in order to get about. Certainly the Daleks cannot survive without their machines.
In the 1966 Doctor Who adventure The War Machines you have the Doctor and his companions up against a superior computer out to control everything on Earth.
For muscle this superior computer gone wrong enlists the aid of scientists and manual laborers through hypnosis.The superior computer, for added muscle, creates war machines that can destroy those who will not obey. The Doctor's superior intellect was required to defeat this particular menace.
H. G. Wells was well aware of a growing human population problem. He was also aware of the fact that British Victorian society was very much a segregated one.
If you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth you did fine. If not then you were in for a struggle. Wells had to battle to get anywhere in his own society and this is reflected in his writing. It is best seen in such works as Kipps (1905) and The History of Mr Polly (1910).
The affects of growing class differences, which incidentally stopped its growth due to the horrors of the First World War, can be noted in the futurist world of the Eloi and the Morlocks as seen by the Time Traveler in The Time Machine (1895).
In the future envisioned by Wells in The Time Machine, there is a total split in humanity.
The Eloi become the surface dwellers and the Morlocks live underground.
The Eloi are weak vegetarians reliant on the mysterious gardeners to provide the food they eat.
The Morlocks, however, have their strength and their machines. They dwell in the dark because the light of the day is no long for them. They are the gardeners.
What's more, the Morlocks are meat eaters. They provide for the Eloi as we presently provide for our sheep or cattle.
The Morlocks harvest the Eloi. Thus there is a gruesome answer proposed by Wells for human overpopulation. The Morlocks control the population of the Eloi through culling.
But are the Morlocks really cannibals? It seems to be true that both Eloi and Morlock started off as human but it also seems that both, in terms of evolution, had drifted so far from one another that they cannot really be seriously taken as being part of the same species.
Even so, the eating of the Eloi by the Morlocks is a rather gruesome idea and retains its horror.
Were the Victorians that acquainted with cannibalism? Decades before The Time Machine first saw print there was a terrible potato crop failure in Ireland due to potato blight (1879).
In earlier potato crop failures, Irish people starving to death resorted to the eating of their dead just to stay alive. These evens would have been too recent for Wells not to have been aware of when penning The Time Machine.
With the Doctor Who adventure titled The Ark (1966) you have the human race leaving a dying Earth for a journey to another planet. On board is everything the human race will need in their future home.
It is, however, a generational journey in which the ancestors of those who began it will hopefully reach this other world. Also aboard is an alien race, the Monoids, who begin as the servants of the Earth people but end up, for a time, as their rulers.
The upset occurs due to Dodo, one of the Doctor's female companions, coming down with a cold. She passes it on to the humans and aliens who have not come across this type of infection for quite a few generations. The result is devastating.
The common cold is eventually beaten by The Doctor but the social change caused by the disease turns out to be equally devastating.
The Doctor and Dodo leave in the TARDIS but return close to the time when the Ark will be near enough to its destiny to send out scout craft. The aliens, the Monoids, on board the Ark now want the new planet all to themselves.
It turns out, however, that the planet has its own sentient creatures that just happen to be invisible. They are all for peaceful settlement by the Ark inhabitants so long as it is peaceful.
The Ark has a number of salutes to H. G. Wells. there's the original division of labor aboard the Ark between aliens and humans which in the end turns nasty. There is also the notion of creatures with both intelligence and invisibility.
Also the idea that the common cold might be far deadly in the future is the kind of highly speculative science fiction that Wells would have delighted in.
The notion that mankind would eventually flee to the stars was revived in the fourth Doctor's adventure, The Ark in Space in 1975.
In the 2005 adventure of the ninth Doctor you have the Earth scheduled to be destroyed by its own sun in The End of the World adventure. Those viewing the destruction from a space station have long since made homes for themselves elsewhere in the universe.
Even in the first Doctor's adventures the mini-skirt appeared on rather fetching women from time to time, including Dodo, and there was an adventure dealing with a race of warrior women with big, futuristic hand weapons. There was also the occasional space opera.
Mini-skirts, warrior women and action in space, however, was more in tune with the 2nd Doctor.
Polly (Anneke Wills) was one of the last of the original Doctors companions and one of the first of the 2nd Doctors companions. She is a swinging blond from 1966 London. She goes from secretary to time traveler.
In 1985 a fictional H. G. Wells time traveled with the 6th Doctor in the adventure, Timelash.
Verity Lambert, possibly the youngest female producer for the BBC, was put in charge of the early adventures of Doctor Who. She left the show in 1965 but went on to produce other shows that remain noteworthy. She passed away in 2007 but left quite a legacy.
Possibly the strangest project Verity was involved in was Adam Adamant Lives! (1966-1967). Take a man who should have died in 1902 and has instead been frozen. Then have him revived in 1966.
Add to the formula the fact that Adam Adamant is a Victorian gentleman adventurer (possibly Edwardian because he vanished in 1902 but certainly Victorian in his upbringing).
Good with fisticuffs and an excellent swordsman, Adam Adamant (Gerald Harper) beams with confidence in the face of danger. Now, just for fun, throw him in with a young, swinging '60s woman (Juliet Harmer) who can't help but get into trouble.
It is easy to see how this black and white show, Adam Adamant Lives! worked in well with the Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) and John Steed (Patrick Macnee) version of The Avengers that ran from 1965 to 1968. Women on television were coming out of that time when they were expected to be the innocent victims always needing to be rescued by gallant men. Sometimes they could also do some of the rescuing.
As in Adam Adamant Lives!, The avenger Steed was a man steeped in the past and Mrs Peel the woman swinging in the '60s with some martial arts training. Both of course being awfully British in their own unique ways. Humor mixed with daring-do.
From Invisible Man to Women Warriors and Space Age Goings-on
The Beginnings of British Television Glamour
In 1958 H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man came on television. It only ran for two seasons but proved to be very popular in re-runs.
Starring Tim Turner throughout much of the run as the voice of the man made invisible by a lab accident, it had more than its fair share of exotic locales and beautiful women.
This included visits to mysterious desert communities somewhere in the Middle East (made up countries) and high jinks behind the Iron Curtain.
The special effects were good for the time and much of the action centered around the Cold War. Much of it was black and white spy vs spy with the acknowledgement that the western style countries were all for freedom and opposed to tyranny in any form.
H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man tapped into British patriotism as well as interest in science fiction.
In a humorous episode of The Avengers, made in the time of Mrs Peel as Steed's offsider, there is a con man into electronics out to sell a formula for invisibility to either the British government or to the Russians. The Russians of course can have the formula since it is completely useless and, without electronic trickery, there isn't even the hint of an invisible man.
In November of 1963 saw the first episode of Doctor Who air on British television.
The Canadian, Sydney Newman, who had come up with the idea for the show thought Doctor Who would last maybe six months.
No one back then envisioned Doctor Who would last years and then decades. No one would have imagined popular novels, comic books and toys.
The first episode of Doctor Who were filmed in a cramped studio with not much money to spend. This was Verity Lambert's first job as a producer and she was a determined young woman.
For insights into early Doctor Who the movie An Adventure in Space and Time (2013) starring David Bradley and Jessica Raine come highly recommended.
Doctor Who began in a school and then in a junk yard in London. The first adventure took the Doctor (William Hartnell), granddaughter Susan (Carole Ford), school teacher Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and school teacher Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) from 1960s London to the Stone Age.
Since this was an unplanned trip in the TARDIS, a space and time machine bigger on the inside than the outside, finding their way back to London would take trial and error.
Over the years and decades, many people would come to travel in the TARDIS but the Doctor would remain the Doctor whatever he came to look like.
Doctor Who was supposed to be a children's show but even from the start it showed signs of being more than that.
The Reign of Terror, for example, had the Doctor and crew in France during the time when Aristocrats were being beheaded by the national razor. It was an adventure with a difficult history and hardly the fare for young children.
The cliffhanger endings of episodes made Doctor Who a wonderful show for the entire family. The success of the show proved that science fiction could really work on British television.
Timeslip (1970-1971), starring Spencer Banks and Cheryl Burfield, is a 1970s time traveler series with nothing in common with Doctor Who save time travel.
In Timeslip two children discover an invisible time barrier. They crawl through it to discover they are now in 1940 confronted by German troops invading England. In the series they make other journeys including one to the future.
The 1960s came with advanced puppetry for television often referred to as supermarionation.
It can be said that Gerry Anderson was doing puppetry for television before Supercar but it was with Supercar in 1961 that science fiction took hold in this area of children's television. The half hour show did reasonably well in Britain, the USA and Australia. It paved the way for the eve more futuristic Fireball XL5 (1962) and Stingray (1964).
Gerry Anderson and his team, however, will best be remembered for Thunderbirds (1965) which hasn't been off the air since it was first shown.
Anderson hedged his bets in terms of getting the Americans on side with Thunderbirds by making International Rescue an organization headed by a retired American astronaut. There was a spy vs spy element in the elegant Lady Penelope, British agent.
There were references in many of the Thunderbirds episodes to swinging 1960s London including, in a supermarionation Thunderbirds film, a salute to the band The Shadows.
International Rescue's objective was to save people in life threatening situations. For this purpose the Thunderbirds were created, advanced machines that would be quite deadly if they were to fall into the wrong hands.
The Thunderbird to arrive on most scenes first was Thunderbird 1, the work horse was Thunderbird 2, the space craft was Thunderbird 3, the mini-sub Thunderbird 4, and the monitoring space station Thunderbird 5.
Recently a Thunderbirds series based on computer animation rather than supermarionation has been created. I have seen a few episodes and it is a worthy tribute to the earlier Thunderbirds.
The 2004 Thunderbirds movie with live actors was not a great success. It basically failed because viewers did not see much of the actual Thunderbirds in action.
There were attempts to sell this 2004 Thunderbirds movie not only as something for kids but also as a comedy. It had some great actors in it but one hell of a lousy script and very little use of the Thunderbirds viewers were keen on seeing.
UFO (1970-1971) starring Keith Alexander and Dolores Mantez, was an early effort by Gerry and Silvia Anderson to go with a live cast rather than with supermarionation puppetry. The earth is being invaded by creatures from outer space but it is defended by SHADO, a secretive organisation put together for just such a purpose.
The UFO plots are less well developed than those of Thunderbirds but the cars are marvelously futuristic for the time and there's plenty of wonderful space age action.
The Avengers began in 1961 as a far too serious black and white television show. It became pop art fun and rather less serious, however, in 1965 with the arrival of Diana Rigg as Mrs Emma Peel.
It was established that Steed (Patrick Macnee) was the somewhat traditional fellow in the nice tailor made suit and bowler hat with sword cane and his partner, Mrs Peel the woman who emphasized the present in both her dress and attitudes. for viewers this was a winning combination. the sets went from real to colorfully surreal.
There were elements of science fiction in many of the stories plus mysteries to solve. There was also Cold War intrigue to be taken rather lightly.
The Champions (1968-1969) was the closest thing created by the British in the 1960s that touched upon the superhero.
Starring Stuart Damon, Alexandra Bastedo and William Gaunt as the three super powered agents working for a United Nation law enforcement agency,The Champions had exotic locales, beautiful women, including Bastedo, and much daring-do. It was escapist fun.
There was one episode of The Champions that pitted this trio of defenders of justice against Nazis, young and old, with an atomic bomb in their clutches.
Another episode of The Champions had the trio in Australia attempting and succeeding in preventing an atomic catastrophe that might well have engulfed my entire country.
The Saint began his existence as so many stories in print written by Leslie Charteris. This was back in the 1930s.
Among other things the early Saint was a pilot which no doubt prompted a pilot fan to put the stick figure of this fictional fellow onto his flight jacket during the Battle of Britain.
Then came the Saint movies which were also popular. Possibly the best of them happen to be The Saint in New York (1938) and also The Saint in London (1939).
Even as late as the 1950s the Saint, at least in Leslie Charteris' pages, was a thief and a killer. Generally speaking he stole from thieves and executed the really bad menaces to society either with knife or gun.
In The Saint in New York, starring Louis Hayward, Simon Templar, the Saint, goes on a murder spree, cleaning up the city by permanently putting the heads of a vicious criminal organization on ice for good. What's more he does this with a smile and a song in his heart.
In the 1960s it was decided by British television to bring back The Saint but in a less murderous form.
If The Saint killed it would be because he had no choice in the matter. If he stole it would be a case of for show and nothing more with the goods, generally speaking, returned.
The Saint would now earn his living by seeing that goods stolen by other criminals got back to where they belonged and insurance fraud was revealed.
The Saint starring Roger Moore was first shown on television in 1962 and came to an end in 1969. There were lots of attractive women in every episode and some turned out to be quite deadly.
One good thing I personally enjoyed about this particular Saints adventures was the fact that they could take place anywhere in the world including Australia. In one Australian adventure not only was the setting right but many of the cast were in fact Australians.
Perhaps here it should be noted that one of Roger Moore's earlier efforts on television was Ivanhoe (1958-59). In it we have the noble fictional warrior Ivanhoe righting wrongs in an England badly treated by Prince John.
The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Richard Greene (1955 - 1959) is also worthy of note. Back then it was possible to tell the story of Robin Hood on television without political correctness interference.
Back then, with The Adventures of Robin Hood, the old songs,stories and romanticism could come alive without kowtowing to the present. Back then a Saxon friar could, indeed, be a Saxon friar.
The Baron (1965-1966) starring Steve Forrest was an adventure series featuring one American antiques dealer working on occasions for the British secret service with his lovely British assistant played by Sue Lloyd.
It was decided that the Baron should be American to prompt sales of the show in the USA. This show has been compared at times with The Saint with The Saint coming up on top as the better show.
Danger Man, starring Patrick McGoohan, ran from 1960 to 1968.
Take a British super spy, provide him with a few super spy gadgets and drop him somewhere behind the Iron Curtain or some other locale where there's danger and you have Danger Man.
Can one British spy make a difference? In the episodes of Danger Man this is definitely true.
Man in a Suitcase, starring Richard Bradford, ran from 1967-1968. A disgraced spy becomes an agent for hire. It was created by Dennis Spooner and Richard Harris. The locales were exotic and reminiscent of The Saint's adventures.
Probably the strangest, most off the wall television show to be made in Britain in the 1960s was The Prisoner.
Starring Patrick McGoohan, The Prisoner (1967-1968) was the story of a man who finds himself in a mysterious village where the people do not have names but assigned numbers.
Many attempts are made by the prisoner at escape and he attacks the very idea of having a number and thus being a number.
Was this number business in The Prisoner a reflection on the direction our society has gone in? Are we more and more likely to be considered so many numbers to our governments and even our friends and acquaintances?
Uncomfortable questions about what was present day life and continues to be present day life were raised in this somewhat fantasied out and highly controversial show.
From 1969 to 1970 there was Department S, a thriller about a special fictional arm of Interpol out to solve cases no one else could solve.
Department S starred Peter Wyngarde as author Jason King and Rosemary Nicols as computer expert Annabelle Hurst.
Jason King (1971-1972) starring Peter Wyngarde was a spin-off series from Department S. In both Department S and Jason King beautiful women were somewhat plentiful. Neither show was in the same league as either The Avengers or The Saint.
The Glamour Period of British Television Gave Way to a Grittier Reality
The End of Spy vs Spy, Punk, Gritty Cop shows plus Competition from Overseas
The Ending of the Glam Period in British Television
By 1977 Britain was in a financial black hole. There wasn't any money for extravagant television shows.
What's more, the enthusiasm for spy vs spy and the notion that one or two people could make a difference had run its course.
The Cold War came to an end in 1989 but, even as much as a decade beforehand, there was no real belief that it would result in a blazing nuclear holocaust.
According to the documentary series Secrets of Britain, there was the very real danger in 1983 of nukes flying but the general public didn't know this.
It was generally believed that both the Russians and the Americans had used too much restraint and common sense over the years for the fear of such a disaster to remain.
Britain as a go between with the super powers was a fine idea in the 1960s, especially with the James Bond movies. But that notion was looking rather weak even in 1977.
If either the Russians or the Americans were to go mad and start the nukes flying it was going to happen in the 1960s.
Back then, in the 1960s, Britain might have been able to talk down a nuclear disaster, at least in fiction, from happening.
Thus James Bond, Steed, Mrs Peel, The Champions, Danger Man, etc had their place in our world. Their place in our world was not so secure in the 1970s.
By 1977 there was a lot of youth unemployment in Britain and elsewhere resulting in feelings of powerlessness and also of anger toward the earlier generation. There was a sense of betrayal.
The happy go lucky music of the 1960s was out and so was the glamour associated with it. In came Punk and then New Wave.
Hope for a better age and a better way of life had, for a while, gone and this was reflected in British television.
Grittier more realistic detective style shows began to dominate the box. Shows such as The Sweeney (1975-1978) starring John Thaw and Dennis Waterman.
Here with The Sweeney we have armed robbery and violent crime principally in and around London. The crims are seedy opportunists and the Flying Squad (Sweeney Todd = Flying Squad) pull no punches. Here crime is a dirty business and so is the nicking of the criminals.
Light comedies such as Dad's Army (1968-1977), Are you Being Served? (1972-1985), Some Mothers Do Have 'Em (1973-1978), Porridge (1974-1977) and The Good Life (1975-1978) also did well. They were relatively cheap to produce and the people did need a good laugh or two to get over tough financial times.
Of course there had always been good cop shows and comedies made by the British.
In terms of cop shows during the glam period there was Gideon's Way (1965-1966) and Z- Cars (1962-1978).
Starring John Gregson as Commander Gideon of Scotland Yard, Gideon's Way looked at the seedier side of what was then modern London. The opening sequence of the show highlights the Thames and the building close to it thus informing viewers that there is something solid and tradition about what they were viewing.
Episodes of Gideon's Way such as The Nightlifers showed how the energy and even the new optimism of youth in the 1960s could go wrong if it fell into bad company.
In terms of comedy there was Till Death Us Do Part (1965-1975), Father, Dear Father (1968-1973) and Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969 - 1974).
Possibly the comedy series most affected by the glam in the glam period was Monty Python's Flying Circus with its off the wall and rather controversial humor. Terry Gilliam provided the freaked out animation. Possibly the best remembered sketches of the show are :The Dead Parrot, The Fish Slap, The Spanish Inquisition, and Ministry of Silly Walks.
A lively and also successful counter comedy to the wild enthusiasm of Monty Python was the punk like and punked out Young Ones ( 1982-1984). There is the violent punk Vyvyen (Adrian Edmondson) and Neil (Nigel Planer), the paranoid hippie who has seen much better days. In terms of the difference between glam and punk, how Neil is often treated by Vyvyen says it all.
The difference between the 1970s, the glam period of the 1960s and present day Britain might best be illustrated in the highly unusual and series Life on Mars (2006-2007).
Starring John Simm, in Life on Mars you have a present day police inspector apparently transported into the 1970s by being hit by a car. It is the rough and ready world of 1973 he lands in and the cops he deals with don't always play by the rule book.
Much effort was taken to re-create the '70s look for the Life on Mars. It seems that even in 1973 there was a slide happening in Britain toward a less optimistic outlook than in the 1960s.
It wasn't, however, all gloom in the 1970s.
Doomwatch, starring John Paul and Simon Oates, ran from 1970 to 1972. It involved a government agency that dealt with fictional problems created by what was then present day science. The problems included a substance that ate plastic and thus endangered people who traveled by jet aircraft. In another episode there were super intelligent rats on the loose.
Space 1999, a highly ambitious live action television show put together by Gerry and Silvia Anderson, ran from 1975 to 1977. Starring Martin Landau and Barbara Bain of Mission Impossible fame, it looked great but the premise behind it wasn't strong.
The notion that atomic waste will come to be stored on the moon and that this storing of atomic waste would end up propelling the moon out of its orbit around the earth seems highly far-fetched at best. To also have scientists, etc on the moon (Moon Base Alpha) when this does happen and have them survive further stretches credibility. Even so, Space 1999 was great escapist fun.
The eagles, space craft with a streamlined futuristic look, were the runabouts in space that could take explorers from Moon base Alpha into outer space and even land on planets the moon comes across on its travels. They were also capable of defending the base against attack.
By its second year Space 1999 was facing financial difficulties. It was also struggling to hold its audience. American Fred Freiberger was brought in as producer to replace Silvia Anderson. He had previously been involved in season 3 of the original Star Trek. It was hoped he could make the show more appealing to the American market. To some extent he succeeded better in doing this than he had on the 3rd season of Star Trek.
Blake's Seven, another ambitious British space age drama, ran from 1978-1981. Created Terry Nation who had become famous for his script work on Doctor Who, this was the story of a group of outcasts and convicts fighting a guerrilla war, from a highly advance space craft, against the totalitarian Terran Federation.
Blake's Seven starred Gareth Thomas, Sally Knyvette and Jan Chappell and is best remembered for its adult approach to science fiction. It continues to get mixed revues. You either love it or hate it.
By the End of the 1980s Doctor Who was Looking Rather Shabby
The End of Doctor Who
The title to this bit may actually be rather deceptive in that the adventures of Doctor Who did not end with the cancellation of the show in 1989. The novels, some with brand new adventures, continued and there was renewed interest in earlier Doctor Who so video and then DVD sales were good.
But what did lead to the cancellation of Doctor Who as a television show? There were many factors going back to at least the fifth Doctor played by Peter Davison. He was a good choice for the Doctor but some of his companions were not so good for the show.
Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) was a good choice in that she was an alien woman from another planet with admirable skills in science. She could aid the Doctor in ways other companions could not. What's more, she was always looking for answers to put to The Doctor rather than desperately needing The Doctor to come up with all the answers.
On the other hand, Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding) was not such a good choice. She was an Australian flight attendant who talked a good game of self dependence before she met the fourth Doctor but tended to do a lot of complaining when in the company of the fifth Doctor.
Janet Fielding was an attractive enough young woman but her complaining as Tegan not only got on the nerves of The Doctor but also on the nerves of the viewer. And yet that seemed to be what the producer of Doctor Who at that time wanted.
Then there was Turlough (Mark Strickson) who was a rather strange companion for the Doctor in that he spent some episodes of the show trying to kill him.
The final companion of the fifth Doctor also spent much of her time complaining but with an American rather than an Australian accent. And she went on complaining into the reign of the sixth Doctor.
Peri Brown (Nicola Bryant) wowed some British viewers when she appeared in a bikini on her first episode in Doctor Who. She very quickly, however, became the new and not improved Tegan. Being there with the Doctor after his regeneration into the sixth Doctor didn't do anyone any favors.
Peter Davison's Doctor Who had been mild mannered so it was decided that the next Doctor should be much more erratic and self absorbed. He should also be highly opinionated with melodrama in his voice and mannerisms.
The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) was really, in some ways, the worst kind of British gentleman from the 19th Century given a TARDIS and a series of adventures. He was an eccentric not always understood by his companions. It was a case of the regeneration going very wrong.
Colin Baker played the addled Doctor to the hilt but this did not go down well with many viewers. There was also his shocking suit that looked as if it came from some tailor's nightmare. This was made on purpose in order to help change the Doctor's character. It should also be noted that the sets were starting to look rather shabby and the special effects second rate compared to what was happening in the USA.
In The Trial of a Time Lord we are first introduced to Mel Bush (Bonnie Langford), destined to be the sixth Doctor's final companion and the seventh Doctor's first companion.
Mel did not appeal right away to viewers as either a pusher of carrot juice or a female who screams at every opportunity.
What's more, unlike other Doctor Who companions, she didn't have a proper introduction. She just seemed to turn up. This did not sit well with this viewer and, no doubt, other viewers. What' more, having a woman who did little more than scream on cue seemed to be taking the Doctor backward rather than forward and, up till then, Doctor Who had always been a forward moving and thinking show.
Colin Baker was replaced by Sylvester McCoy who thus became the seventh Doctor. Efforts were made to rejuvenate the show. Gone was screamer Mel to be replaced by Ace (Sophie Aldred).
Ace turned out very quickly to be what viewers wanted in a Doctor's companion. She was young with dash and pluck. She had a knack for blowing things up and was against racism in all its forms.
Sylvester McCoy as The Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace made such a great team that many viewers to this day feel that their time in the TARDIS was far too short.
The best of the seventh Doctor's adventures would have to be Remembrance of the Daleks. In this adventure you have a return to the school and also the junk yard where Doctor Who began. Also it is the 1960s, soon after the original Doctor had left on his first adventure. There are two sets of Daleks on earth after a device developed by The Doctor and his people. Ace gets to bash a Dalek with a weapon created by The Doctor.
Remembrance was lavishly produced and with excellent special effects. There were, however, censorship problems that hurt the Show. The special effects were considered by some wowsers to be too good and thus too scary for television.
In an interview Christopher Eccleston, the ninth Doctor, came out with a rather strange statement. He believed that it wasn't until Doctor Who was finally brought back to television in his time on the show that the Daleks could defy gravity. In fact it was in Remembrance that a Dalek did just that by flying up a set of stairs. Of course Daleks defying gravity were in the comic papers long before it was possible to have one do so in Remembrance.
There were script weaknesses in some of the seventh Doctor's adventures plus continuing problems with less than brilliant sets.
In The Curse of Fenric Ace is called upon to seduce a soldier. Here the dialogue is awful and Ace completely out of character. This sort of duplicity isn't really in Ace's nature and so it did not sit well with some viewers. The rest of the adventure, however, was brilliantly done.
Ghost Light is an adventure that still doesn't make a lot of sense.
Survival was the last adventure and has the benefit of The Master (played here by Anthony Ainley) being the final adversary. Here the final words of The Doctor still bring a tear to one's eye.
In the last decade of the show Doctor Who could not compete with American shows such as V (1983) and Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994).
There were financial restraints that had plagued Doctor Who from the beginning and ended up contributing to its demise.
There was an attempt in 1996 to revive Doctor Who through a television movie starring Paul McGann. It was, however, a halfhearted attempt with too much emphasis on the nature of time. In this film Sylvester McCoy was called upon to play the outgoing seventh Doctor. Ace played by Sophie Aldred does not make an appearance thus disappointing some viewers.
The Time Traveler Returns
In 1993 the time traveler returned in the form of Garry Sparrow (Nicholas Lyndhurst) in Goodnight Sweetheart (1993-1999).
Garry could only travel from modern London into 1940s London and back again but that was enough to get him into lots of trouble. He ended up with a woman in present London (played by Michelle Holmes) and a woman in war torn London (first played by Dervla Kirwan and then Elizabeth Carling).
Goodnight Sweetheart was a comedy with some romantic moments. It was, however, faithful to what life in 1940 was really like. There is one episode where Gary is desperate to get penicillin to his sick 1940s better half.
In 2005 Doctor Who returned to television in exciting new adventures and with a budget worthy of such a show. This was the ninth Doctor.
Currently Peter Capaldi is the 12th Doctor and is doing an excellent job.
One of the better spin-off of Doctor Who was The Sarah Jane Adventures starring Elizabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane. A woman who traveled with the third and fourth Doctor finds herself with a role to play as home guard for the earth.
Sarah Jane has a sonic lipstick device and the occasional help from K-9, a mechanical dog. She also has recruits in the form of some of the local children of her neighborhood. The show began in 2007 and sadly ended in 2011 with the passing away of the much loved and respected Sarah Jane.
It should here be noted that, as Sarah Jane, Elizabeth Sladen got to work not only with the third and fourth Doctor but also the 10th and 11th Doctor. Both the tenth Doctor, David Tennant, and the 11th Doctor, Matt Smith, had nothing but praise for Elizabeth. Both were thrilled to have had the chance to work with her. She is still sorely missed by both fans of Doctor Who and fans of The Sarah Jane Adventures.
Among the young stars who were in The Adventures of Sarah Jane the following are worth keeping an eye on for future appearances elsewhere: Tommy Knight, Daniel Anthony, Maria Jackson and Anjli Mohindra.
Another successful spin-off from Doctor Who was Torchwood (2006-2011) starring John Barrowman.
There have been a few spy vs spy shows from Britain of late but none in the mold of the 1960s. The best of them so far is The Bletchley Circle (2012 -2014) starring Anna Martin and Rachel Stirling.
Set principally in the 1950s, The Bletchley Circle is about a group of women who were code breakers during the 2nd World War and who have come together again to use their skills to solve crime and protect the innocent. It is a well thought out and well put together show.
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