diamond geezer

 Saturday, November 23, 2013

Look Who's here to celebrate a Time Lord's 50th.

These four Daleks were lurking in the scenery block at the back of Television Centre when I went on a tour back in February just before the place closed. They were filming An Adventure in Space and Time, the anniversary drama you might have seen on BBC2 on Thursday, recounting the awkward birth of the world's longest running science fiction serial. Our tour wasn't allowed round the central court because they were busy with cameras, but we did share reception with a dozen extras dressed in everyday Sixties garb, waiting patiently for their cue. Partway round, climbing a cantilevered staircase, we passed author Mark Gatiss deep in discussion on some point of production. Just after I took this photo two sceneshifters arrived to wheel the Dalek quartet outside, which rather ruined the illusion somewhat, but it was still a special moment for someone who's been watching the series for almost all of his life.

I well remember the first time I watched Doctor Who. It was just another ordinary children's drama episode until some shop dummies came to life, smashed through some windows and caused a massacre on Ealing Broadway. I've watched most of the episodes ever since, which was difficult in those days of single transmission and no video recorders. Indeed I was unnaturally annoyed that my 18th birthday coincided with the final episode of a Peter Davison story, because I realised I'd probably never ever see it. Did eventually, as it turned out, on UK Gold during the long dark interregnum when we all thought the show was dead. I watched the rebirth with some under 10s sitting beside me on the sofa, and wondered whether the next generation would enjoy it as much. Seems they do, indeed this is perfect family fare, and the future of the franchise looks safe enough for regenerations to come.

I thought it would be good to celebrate today's 50th anniversary with an A-Z of Doctor Who, except it turns out I did that for the show's 40th back in 2003.
Q is for Quarry: Filming to a strict budget can be difficult so, when faced with yet another script demanding an alien location, the BBC would usually decamp to a desolate quarry in Dorset and pretend that they were in fact light years away. Where would science fiction filming be without quarries? I guess pretending that all alien planets look like deciduous forests or bleak moorland instead, those being the other two favourite stock locations. The genius of Doctor Who scriptwriters led them to set one particular story (Sarah-Jane Smith's last) in a real quarry, thereby confusing all the viewers who naturally assumed that the Tardis had landed on yet another featureless alien world again.
You can read all of that A-Z back here (although be warned, most of the links no longer work). Then I thought it might be good to visit some of Doctor Who's key London locations, except it turns out I did that when the series returned in 2005.
The very first Doctor Who episode was set in London, supposedly somewhere around Shoreditch, which just goes to show how before-its-time the show was even then. The show opened with an atmospheric shot of a dimly-lit junkyard. What was that mysterious looking police box doing there in Totters Lane, and why was it humming? The scene then switched to a nearby secondary school where we were introduced to the Doctor's granddaughter, Susan, and to her teachers Ian and Barbara. Two key Doctor Who locations... or they would have been if only the first episode hadn't been filmed entirely in the studio. There is no such London street as Totters Lane, let alone a Foreman's junkyard at number 76, neither is there a Coal Hill School anywhere in the Ofsted database. But I still managed to find them both, within a mile of each other in west London, thanks to two stories that revisited these locations more than 20 years later.
And you can read that run of posts here. So instead I'll just throw you a few Doctor Who links below. You might want to check them out today, or you might be so sick of the anniversary palaver that you'd prefer to come back later once all the excessive fuss has died down. Maybe Monday. Or maybe next April, when there won't have been a new episode for months, nor any on the immediate horizon. Or maybe 2028, when the whole thing's been cancelled again. Enjoy this weekend while you can.

A map of Britain's remaining police boxes, courtesy of the Ordnance Survey (most of them are in central Scotland)
TV Cream have been counting down the 50 Greatest Doctor Who Moments in a series of five lovingly-made podcasts. They're endearingly eclectic, spliced with numerous oblique media clips, and you're as likely to hear Winifred Attwell and James Bond as Colin Baker. Hoursworth, there is.
The Who Shop in East Ham (you have been, haven't you?) is hosting a visit by Nicola Bryant tomorrow.
Ian Visits has done a run down of the Doctor's interactions with the London Underground
Will and Matt have a simple quest - to watch one story from every season of Doctor Who, selected in a random order, and then talk about each in a series of podcasts. It's called Season to Taste. It's taking them a while, and they're only just over halfway through, but if you enjoy high level geekstuff and have several hours to spare then you should catch up soon.
Ivan writes a blog about what was on TV 50 years ago. That makes today's post rather special, with the first episode of Doctor Who as well as The Larkins (with Peggy Mount) and Diana Rigg in The Avengers.

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