The Story of Doctor Who
The biggest surprise for me in 2003 was not the BBC announcing a new series, which kind of seemed inevitable in an optimistic kind of way. No, what really shocked me was the channel broadcasting an hour-long (59'14m for anoraks!) retrospective documentary at primetime, just before flagship show EastEnders.
What's more, now they seem to know what they've got, they even had a half-way decent stab at it, and didn't bodge the job. Yes, it was designed purely for the casual viewer, and so it should be. It's just four hours after transmission as I write this, and already I've read complaints from fans saying they should have covered the Big Finish releases and Scream of the Shalka. I won't really go into that in any further detail, just in case I vomit.
It all opens with Jon Culshaw's increasingly unfunny and pointless Tom Baker "impression" and Carole Ann Ford kissing Verity Lambert's ass. As a "Joe Public" special then it frequently steers onto shaky ground by having the unpopular Colin as the most featured talking head, and some of the clips don't show off the series to its greatest potential. Maybe it's because I was watching it with a non-fan and became aware of the unsettling realisation that it's all a bit of cheap tat, really, isn't it? Particularly high in this regard was the tacky The Tomb of the Cybermen, and all the other clips that showed off Troughton not as a deep manipulator but as a clown. (Or "Cosmic Hobo" as Colin would irritatingly have it). Hartnell's most featured story was The Web Planet, while Jon's was the dodgy CSO effects from Terror of the Autons. If all this was horrific, then it's only the horror of the series itself, though you do kind of wish they'd shown Oak and Quill from Fury from the Deep instead of Sylvester's "confrontation" scene from Battlefield or Tom's "possessed" acting in The Armageddon Factor. At least they included a shot of Zoe's arse, I suppose. In fact, being an Anorak then I had it down as only 15% of the clips being embarrassing, with 30% being crackers. The rest were just good, standard stuff.
Yet if the quality of an era can be judged by its public appeal then Tom's had to be by far the greatest. My housemate was impressed with the clips and laughed at all his anecdotes, one or two or which actually sounded almost new. For a brief period in the middle of the show Who didn't look embarrassing or dated, but vibrant and fun. Yes, even the bit where a wire pulls over the hatstand.
Peter also came across well, largely due to his self-depreciation, and largely because the only 80s companions to be focussed on in any way were Peri and Ace. So no Adric, Tegan or Nyssa, and, for that matter, no Mel. No, the real embarrassment came with seeing Sylvester and, particularly, Colin, back in the role on national television at peak time. As I watched through the crack in my fingers, I heard a voice in the room shout "nob!" at Colin… and for once it wasn't even me! Yet what really began to strike me in the dog end of the documentary was how completely bizarre it was watching a programme slagging off BBC management and BBC internal politics… on the BBC! Although this point of the programme covered arguably the weakest material, it also marked a refreshingly frank attitude from the BBC that's no longer trying to convince a more knowing viewership that it's a flawless establishment. This kind of frank post-postmodern take also saw open admittance of the programme's own faults, with most of the really embarrassing monster clips showcased in a "poor effects" coverage. In terms of trivia, then a nice rarity saw the actual moment where the glass broke with Sophie (Battlefield), and surprisingly, it's not Tewwance Dicks that gobs, but Brian Hodgson. Check it out from his "slowed it down" line, a real bonus for fans of accidental spitting. And let's not forget Frazer's blonde highlights - the vain twat!
A major plus has to be that, despite heavily featuring arguably the least popular Doctor, all of the talking heads were people who had worked on the series. Not the audios. Not written a book. Not edited DWM. Worked. On. The Series. It's a refreshing change after all these years. Oddities included an extended profile of Sil but no Master, and the Paul McGann situation. While I roll my eyes so high they practically erupt through the top of my head at anyone who claims they should have featured Big Finish, I did find it odd that Paul McGann was totally overlooked and not referred to. "Paul McGann doesn't count?" as Russell T. Davies once wrote for Queer As Folk? Think about it, though: there are even those who believe the BBC are ripping us off by making eighth Doctor books and audios, yet refusing to acknowledge he exists in this documentary. But if the mission statement of this retrospective was to reclaim Doctor Who and repackage it for the mainstream then it worked, from not mentioning a failed revival, to getting Verity Lambert in to mirror the public's negative view on the way the series ended up.
Final thoughts have to be that the quality of the clips were surprisingly poor in many cases, particularly the Troughton stuff which has since been restored but not used here. The last words went, appropriately enough, to Tom, with "best time of my life, you know." As a fan, this was missable, but for the public it served its purpose immensely well… or, at least, it would have done if more than 4.4 million had tuned in.