The Many Convolutions Of Space, Time And Mind: A Brief History Of Doctor Who

The Many Convolutions Of Space, Time And Mind: A Brief History Of Doctor Who (first published in SXFX Issue #1, June 1995)

1 April, 1938: The Silent Planet, a science fiction novel by C. Staples Lewis, is published, but is not a great success. This novel (and its three sequels) differ greatly in many ways from the subsequent stylings and lore the series would take on — the TARDIS is a rocket ship that mechanically travels through space, there is no mention of time travel at all, and, although it is never clearly stated, the Doctor appears to simply be a regular human being.

16th October, 1950: Doctor Who And The Narns is published, and immediately becomes a bestseller. A re-fashioning of themes and characters taken from his earlier Space Quartet and aimed at younger readers, the book is an unexpected success. It is in Doctor Who And The Narns that many of the most well-known elements in the series are introduced — the TARDIS can change its appearance at will and allows for instantaneous travel through time and space; the Doctor is accompanied by a number of travelling companions, including his granddaughter Susan Pevensie; the Doctor dies at the hands of Jadis and is “reborn”, revealing his Time Lord identity — and many consider this the true beginning of the series.

4th September, 1956: Doctor Who And The Last Best Religion, the seventh and final book in the Narn Chronicles, is published. It goes on to win the Carnegie Medal for the best Children’s Book by a Subject Of Her Majesty’s Empires, as well as the 1957 Hugo Awards for Best Novel, Best Short Story (for the Reader’s Digest version) and Best Artist (for illustrator Pauline Baynes). It was nominated for, but did not win, the 1957 James Tait Black Memorial Prize in the Biography category.

16th June, 1962: C. Staples Lewis agrees to sell the rights to his Doctor Who series to Tandem Books, a publishing company based in London. This not only allows them to publish the existing books, but also grants them the right to produce derivative material of their own under their Target imprint. The first product released under the deal is a toy wardrobe that, due to the clever use of mirrors and a hollow plinth, appears to be much deeper inside than the outside would suggest.

22nd November, 1963: C. Staples Lewis dies after many years of ill-health. He was 64.

23rd November, 1963: Doctor Who And The Drowning World by James Ballard is rush-released to a grieving public. This is a landmark moment in the history of Doctor Who for a number of reasons — not only is it the first Doctor Who novel not written by C. Staples Lewis, it is the beginning of Tandem’s aggressive expansion of its newly licenced property which will lead to an explosion of novels by a vast array of writers over the coming years.

In addition, this novel is our first introduction to what will eventually become many of the most recognisable recurrent characters in the Doctor Who mythos: namely, UNIT (and its members the Brigadier, Beatrice Dahl, Sergeant Benton, etc) and the Strangman, the Doctor’s Time Lord rival and nemesis. Many say this was the beginning of the Silver Age of Doctor Who.

October 1969: Doctor Who And The Final Programme by MJ Moorcock is released to much acclaim. First appearance of longtime companion Una Persson, and also the first use of the term “reconfiguration” to describe the Doctor’s death and rebirth cycle.

[MJ Moorcock went on to write three more Doctor Who novels, the last of which was Doctor Who And The Music Hall Condition (1977), which went on to win the Guardian Fiction Prize later that year. Less successfully, Moorcock temporarily joined the Space Psych group Hawkmoon, and together they released the rock opera Doctor Who On The Edge Of Time in 1975. Lemmy Kilmister, who left the band later that year and found greater fame as guitarist for Girlschool, famously described the record as “a lot of fucking rubbish.”]

October 1972: Doctor Who And The Infernal Machines Of Desire by Angela Carter is released, to widespread dismay and confusion. In a significant departure for the series, Doctor Who is the antagonist rather than the protagonist and barely appears. Carter said her intention with this novel was to “cut like a steel blade at the base of [the Doctor’s] penis.” Reviled at the time, it is now considered to be one of the classics of the series.

26th February, 1977: The Una Persson Adventures, a spinoff series of comics featuring the Doctor’s iconic companion, begins in the newly-launched weekly British dystopian comic, The Beano.

8th March, 1978: Doctor Who leaps the dimensions from written words to spoken words as he makes his debut on BBC Radio 4. Broadcast thrice-weekly in five minute episodes, the show, penned by Douglas Adams, runs for 11 years.

October 1983: Doctor Who And The Garden Of The Grani, the first ever Doctor Who videogame, is released on the BBC Micro and the Dragon 32. The game, in which the Doctor must attempt to rescue several of his companions while avoiding a terrifying witch, proves to be so frightening that it leads to the oft-quoted myth that children were only able to play it while “hiding under their desks”.

1985: An Adventure In Time, a big-budget Hollywood adaptation of the franchise, begins production. Despite a high profile cast, including Lord Peter Cushing as the Doctor and William Hootkins as Biggles, and a promising appearance at Cannes, the picture will never be released.

6th December, 1989: The 1,764th and last episode of Doctor Who is broadcast on Radio 4. The show ends with the famous opening dialogue from the very first episode — “Look, I don’t know where you got your strange ideas about time from, but it wasn’t from me!” The BBC subsequently begin a re-broadcast of the entire run of the show, and it continues in its regular slot to this very day.

May, 1996: After nearly seven years of inaction (assuming things all go to plan) Doctor Who will return. His long-awaited TV debut is set for broadcast in the Saturday teatime slot on ITV sometime next spring (exact times and dates will vary by region).

***

First Fit: Doctor Who And The Convolutions Of Time (a transcript of the original broadcast on Radio 4 on the 8th March, 1978)

The Doctor Who theme tune plays

Narrator: Doctor Who And The Convolutions Of Time. Written by Douglas Adams, and starring Geoffrey McGivern as Doctor Who, and Simon Jones as Arthur.

The theme tune fades out as Doctor Who begins to speak.

Doctor Who: Look, I don’t know where you got your strange ideas about time from, but it wasn’t from me. It just wouldn’t make sense to meet yourself. Time would have to be crystalline in structure, everything fixed like some sort of rigid multidimensional molecule. How tedious!

Arthur: I don’t really see why that would follow.

Doctor Who: Of course it follows! If you met yourself than either you or your other self, depending on which way round it was, would have to do everything exactly right from that point on to ensure that that thing happened. It’s absurd. The chances of all that happening by chance are so vanishingly remote as to be irrelevant. I’m telling you, it’d have to mean that the universe is one big time crystal.

Arthur: Well, maybe it is?

Doctor Who: Don’t you want free will?

Arthur: I’m not sure it matters at all what I want.

Doctor Who: Very good. And anyway, that’s not all. Say you did meet yourself, what then? What if you gave yourself something from the future, which you then kept with you into the future, until you went back into the past to give it to yourself?

Arthur: Like what?

Doctor Who: Oh, I don’t know. Like this 50p someone’s left on the worktop. Here!

We hear the 50p being flicked into the air, and Arthur catching it.

Doctor Who: Now then, how old is that 50p?

Arthur: It says it was made in 1974. So… wait, what year are we in now?

Doctor Who: No, no! I mean in our example. I’ve given it to you, now you go back one week, and give it to me. How old is it by the time I give it back to you.

Arthur: Two weeks?

Doctor Who: Yes, very good. But then, you go back in time, give it to yourself, who then gives it to me, who then gives it to you, and so on and so on and so on, until…?

Arthur: It becomes… infinitely old.

Doctor Who: Yes, see, like I told you, absurd. There’s no way round the infinite age paradox. If cyclical time travel like that was possible we’d have infinitely old atoms everywhere and then where would we be? Or when! We’d never know.

Arthur: So you’re telling me that you’ve never gone back and met earlier versions of yourself.

Doctor Who: Of course not. The universe is in a constant state of flux. Everything affecting everything else in cascades of absurd complexity. It’s beautiful and wonderful. Every time you step outside the TARDIS it’s into a whole new adventure. Never the same creatures, never the same planets. Always something wonderfully bafflingly beautifully new!

Arthur: But what about those photos you were showing me of all of you together that time?

Doctor Who: Anomalies.

Arthur: Anomalies? You can’t expect me to believe that.

Doctor Who: I could expect you to believe anything.

Arthur: Doctor, please, I’m English.

Doctor Who: I bet you’ve never even built yourself a toy time machine.

Arthur: Well, no, but…

Doctor Who: But…?

Arthur: Look, it’s just… It doesn’t sound right. If everything’s always changing, what’s the point of doing anything? What’s the point of trying to change things?

Doctor Who: What’s the point of not?

An old fashioned mechanical alarm clock starts ringing.

Doctor Who: Right, we’re here! Hurry up, Arthur.

The doors of the TARDIS creak open.

Arthur: Doctor, where are we?

Doctor Who: Victorian London, of course.

Arthur: Victorian London? That sounds quite nice.

Doctor Who: Nice? What if it’s a Victorian London populated entirely by clockwork vampires?

Arthur: Oh, I don’t know… Also, Doctor, about that chaotic universe stuff… Does that mean now we’re in Victorian London I can never go home again because everything in the future will have changed? Hey! Hey, Doctor? Where are you going? You’re not going out there are you?

Doctor Who: Listen!

Arthur: What?

A bell tolls again and again in the distance.

Arthur: They’re just church bells, Doctor.

Doctor Who: Exactly. Now why would there be church bells in a city of vampires?

Arthur: Doctor, are there really clockwork vampires? Doctor?

We hear a high-pitched scream.

The Doctor Who theme tune begins to play especially loudly

Announcer: Next week on Doctor Who.

Doctor Who: This is fascinating. Look at that monitor. Arthur! What are you doing? Look, will you put that 50p down and come over here.

A 50p piece can be heard being slammed down onto a worktop.

Arthur: Doctor, I can’t see a thing on this screen.

Doctor Who: No, not that one. How could it be that one? It’s covered in vampire oil, for god’s sake. That one!

Arthur: Doctor, that can’t be right. It says we’re in an older version of the TARDIS.

Doctor Who: Yes! Well, a slightly newer version, technically. A TARDIS from a whole week ago!

Arthur: It’s impossible. Surely if we were here then, we’d have noticed us?

Doctor Who: Quiet! Someone’s coming. We better hide. It might be the Daleks!

Arthur: Who the hell are the Daleks?

The theme tune plays fairly loudly.

Narrator: Tune in next week to discover what happens in… Doctor Who And The Unexpected Turn.

***

Doctor Who And The Reconfiguration Of An Icon

It’s been six long years since Doctor Who last leapt through the dimensions of space, time and mind. But now he’s back, and everything you think you know about him is set to change. We meet Shaun Bean on the set of the Doctor’s most spectacular adventure yet. Words: David N. Golder. Imagery: Ken Russell

There’s been rumours of a TV adaptation of Doctor Who for almost as long as the character’s been in existence. As far back as the early 1960s there was talks between C. Staples Lewis and the BBC about a possible show, but his untimely death and the sale of the rights to Tandem (who wanted to concentrate on the written word) put paid to that.

In the years since there’s been many more almost-adaptations, most famously the failed Peter Cushing movie in the 1980s which, despite being finished, never made its way to the screen. But now, here, finally, it’s all definitely coming together.

We’re on a closed set in Cardiff, located somewhere deep inside the vast complex of hangars and corridors that make up the impressive and iconic Harlech Television Centre. Around us trundle terrifying robots, harassed production assistants, and what resemble gigantic animatronic crabs.

This might be Shaun Bean’s first big television role (he’s most famous here in the UK for his appearances in the Jim Henson Storyteller series, but he also had a recurring role as the Lighthouse keeper in the Irish version of Fraggle Rock), yet he almost got his big break two years ago.

“I was cast as Richard Sharpe in the BBC series [of the same name], but had to drop out after two days because I broke my bloody ankle playing football with some of the lads from the production team,” Shaun wistfully recalls. “I know it’s hard to imagine anyone but Paul [McGann] in the role now, but I’d have been bloody great. I really believe that.”

But the Napoleonic War’s loss is space’s gain. They’ve only filmed a handful of episodes so far, but already it is apparent from the performances I’ve witnessed on set that Shaun has brought an incredible presence to the role. A brash but charming rogue one moment, a coldly calculating and deeply alien presence the next, and all dressed up in garb that’s half Victorian gent, half gameskeeper. It’s a brilliant creation, although I’m finding it hard to pin down exactly which configuration of the Doctor this incarnation is supposed to be.

“Ever since I’ve been cast people have been asking me, ‘So, which Doctor will you be?’ or ‘Oh, which companion are you going to have?’ And I keep having to tell them this isn’t that sort of adaptation. This is the start of something new.”

So this isn’t going to be a straight adaptation of the novels, but something more?

“That’s right. We didn’t want this to just be a great bloody re-hash of all the stories everyone already knows. ‘Oh look, it’s the Makra!’ Or Aslan and all those bloody Narns again.” Shaun laughs deeply. “We can travel through the whole of the galaxy. It’d be a bit of a waste if every week we just kept on meeting the same few foes over and over again. Although we do actually have an episode with the Makra in.”

It is to this end that the writers of the series have brought in a number of respected science fiction writers including Terry Nation, Terrance Dicks and Terald Vaak, and between them they’ve devised a number of new foes that everyone involved in the show are deeply enthused about. These include the Daleks, relentlessly evil metallic monsters with a radiation-twisted mutant at their heart; the Automotons, a race of robots constructed from living plastic; and the Siborgs, half-human-half-robot terrors that are heavily reminiscent of the classic Star Trek enemy the Cybermen.

The producers are quick to rebuff any suggestion of similarities, however. “They are completely different,” explains Terry Nation. “Star Trek’s Cybermen are a completely alien race, whereas our Siborgs are actually humans. They’re us! It’s a comment on technology and individuality. There’s lots of emotional pull there that you just couldn’t do if they were a relentless evil from beyond the stars.”

I ask director Ken Russell about the episode they’re currently filming. “The Doctor’s being attacked by snakes today. It’s pretty great. At the end they discover the snakes are allergic to bagpipes, and everyone has a good old toot.”

Shaun, shifting nervously in his chair, tries to explain. “It’s not the best synopsis, I know. Ken’s just trying to unsettle you. And well, it’s not the best episode, either, I admit. But it has its charms.”

The latest script Shaun’s received is much more to his liking.

“The TARDIS emerges in a nunnery in the 17th century, and, being the Doctor, he can’t stop showing them the limitations of their beliefs. It’s pretty moving. The priesthood accuse him of heresy and send him to the torture chamber to repent, but of course he won’t.” Shaun shakes his head. “I haven’t got to the end yet but I can’t wait to see how he gets out of there.”

Shaun is also eager to talk about his co-star, Joely Richardson, who plays the Doctor’s new companion, coyly referred to merely as “the lady” in the promotional material issued to the press thus far.

“We first worked together on The Storyteller,” Shaun tells me. “I think we’ve got a great chemistry up there on the screen. I think it’s going to prove a shock for many of our viewers. But hopefully an enjoyable one.”

Is Shaun hinting here at an on-screen romance for the Doctor? Before he can answer a flustered PR manager hurries in and tells him it’s time to go. I have time for just one more question.

So, Shaun, if you really could go anywhere in all the dimensions of time, space and mind, where would it be you’d go? He doesn’t even have to think about it.

“Hillsborough, definitely,” he says. “Every Saturday afternoon, cheering the Owls on. There’s some earthly pleasures that even the heavens can’t provide.”

Doctor Who will be appearing on ITV this time next year.

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Notes:

1. The Many Convolutions Of Space, Time And Mind: A Brief History Of Doctor Who was written In January and February 2016
2. While First Fit: Doctor Who And The Convolutions Of Time was written in July 2014
3. And they were all published in SXFX Magazine
4. Undoubtedly history’s second greatest science fiction magazine.

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