Dr Who: 1976 and all that…

Thanks to a thread at missing episodes, I’ve discovered there were actually two Dr Who omnibuses prior to Christmas 1976 – Pyramids of Mars on 27th November and The Brain of Morbius on 3rd December, both one hour long and presumably scheduled to fill in the odd mid-season gap between The Deadly Assassin Part 4 on 20th November and The Face of Evil Part 1 on 1st Jan 1977.

An omnibus Seeds of Doom was scheduled to follow the first two repeats on 11th December but was pulled at the last minute in favour of Gerry Anderson’s outer space odyssey Into Infinity.  I’ve heard Into Infinity referred to in the same breath as The Seeds of Doom-omnibus-which-never-was but never quite got the sense of it, assuming that Seeds would definitely have been on 27th December as per usual.  So I’m grateful to Richard Bignell for the correction.

Quite why the Pyramids and Morbius omnibuses have fallen through my memory I have no idea.

Dr Who: the 1970s’ Christmas omnibuses

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Scraps of Dr Who

Scrapbook coverAs this is the season of good will and indulgence, I hope you’ll indulge me just a little…

As a postscript to Dr Who: the 1970s’ Christmas omnibuses and from my 1973 scrapbook, I proudly present my very own cut and paste of the Radio Times cover for 15-21 December.

Nine years old and I can almost smell the Gloy golden gum…

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Scrapbook scrawl 1Scrapbook scrawl 2

Happy New Year!

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Dr Who 1970s’ Christmas Omnibuses

 

Dr Who at Christmas: the 1970s Christmas omnibuses: Part 3

A little taste of the times…

Christmas 1974 positively sparkled with an excellent, perhaps the most excellent, adaptation of David Copperfield starring Patience Collier, Martin Jarvis, Arthur Lowe and Jacqueline Pearce whilst in 1975, Crackerjack’s Christmas Pantomime, Robinson Crusoe, featured Windsor Davies, Don Estelle, John Inman and John Lawrie, a different kind of sparkle perhaps.  

Both Christmases were lit up by the annual Dr Who Christmas Omnibus: Planet of the Spiders in 1974 and Genesis of the Daleks in 1975.   

And in 1976..?


1974: Dr Who 
Friday 
27th December, 2.45-4.30
pm 

1.10 Grandstand – introduced by Tony Gubba
2.45 Dr Who: Planet of the Spiders
4.30 The All Star record Breakers
5.00 National News – with Richard Whitmore
5.10 Tom and Jerry [Regional News – not London]
5.20 Top of the Pops – Noel Edmonds and Dave Lee Travis

‘A complete adventure in one programme starring Jon Pertwee as Dr Who… A Tibetan style monastery in rural England; a stage magician with uncanny powers; an alien crystal… these are the strands of the sinister web woven by the Metabelis Spiders’  – Radio Times billing.

 

Or Jon Pertwee regenerates into Tom Baker – again.

Even the fact that this omnibus began not at 4.00 or 3.30 but at 2.45pm was exciting to me as a ten year old. The earlier time made the screening feel somehow more ‘urgent’ and it was less long to have to wait.

Indulgence

For all its shortcomings and accusations of indulgence (actually the much criticised chase takes up only half of episode 2) Planet of the Spiders remains underappreciated.  A well-crafted story arc gently builds on seeds sewn in The Time Monster (the Doctor’s teacher), The Green Death (Jo) and Invasion of the Dinosaurs (Mike Yates) to provide a coherent and poignant close to the Pertwee era.

Thus a moral tale (the emptiness of power, the innate healing power of mind, surrender of ego followed by rebirth) coupled with an end-of-an era, retrospective feel makes for an ideal Christmas recipe.

The regeneration game 

Most touchingly of all, this was transmitted only the day before Part 1 of Robot in which Tom Baker picks up the mantle and a whole newplanet-of-the-spiders-byline era of Dr Who begins.  “Tears, Sarah Jane?”  I’m sure I shed some of my own as my familiar white-haired hero was transformed before my eyes into a brown curly-haired stranger for a no less traumatic second time.

As a six-parter, this would have been 2.30 in episode format, so approximately 45 minutes have been lost.

8.6 million viewers tuned in as against a shade over nine million viewers on average for the original.  Throughout the two weeks of Christmas and New Year, BBC-1 showed Holiday Star Trek each weekday morning at 11.45am.  Possibly this may have bumped-up Planet of the Spiders‘ viewing figures.

ITV screen the film Half a Sixpence at 2.25 all the way up to Looks Familiar at 4.50.

Transmutation

Planet of the Spiders is the first omnibus repeat still held in the BBC archives and is included on the DVD release along with the trailer.

 

 

No illustrations accompany the billing in Radio Times but on the Saturday 28th December page we have a Pertwee-Baker transmutation across four photos as if in imitation of the superb Radio Times 10th Anniversary Special artwork which blended the features of the first three doctors across a double-page spread, thus creating Hartnell-Troughton and Troughton-Pertwee hybrids.  This Pertwee-Baker version is rather more basic and it’s clear Pertwee’s head has been matted onto Baker’s be-scarfed body but still it’s a nice try and gets the idea across.

For the first time in the 70s, the new Dr Who season is not marked by a Radio Times cover, odd really considering Tom Baker’s debut the week before.  All my research has drawn a blank as to what did make it onto the New Year edition cover.

 


1975: Dr Who: Genesis of the Daleks
Saturday 27th December, 3.00-4.25pm 

12.15 Grandstand – Introduced by Frank Bough
3.00 Dr Who: Genesis of the Daleks
4.25 The Basil Brush Show – with Roy North
4.50 Final Score 
5.05 News/Weather – with Michael Fish
5.15 It’s Cliff & Friends 
5.50 Saturday Night at the Movies: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, mad World

‘A complete adventure in one programme, starring Tom Baker, written by TERRY NATION… The Time Lords have a mission for the Doctor. He finds himself stranded on Skaro -the planet of the Daleks where a war of attrition is reaching its bitter final stages’ – Radio Times billing.

 

That’s not Terry Nation but TERRY NATION.

Blast off Basil  

No really, Blast Off Basil.

In a bizarre reversal of the usual BBC-1 Saturday evening schedule, Dr Who now precedes Basil Brush which is incongruous given Genesis of The Daleks’ hard-edged, adult themes.  The omnibus would have benefitted immensely had Basil’s twenty-five minutes been added to its running time.  You really need the full exposition to feel the effect.

At the time, I wondered whether the change from Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker might signal the end of the Christmas omnibuses.  Added to that, Season Thirteen had begun not around Christmas 1975 but back in autumn of that year and so was a little past mid-way by Christmas.  There was no longer a need to refresh viewers’ memories and whet their appetites after a six month break.

Butchered 

And yet I was pleased to see Genesis of the Daleks appear in the schedules for 27th December in time honoured fashion.  But with approximately 65 minutes removed, it was the most excised of the omnibuses.

The tough cut was presumably to meet the demands of a crowded schedule.  In retrospect, it perhaps suggests the BBC losing interest in the idea of Christmas omnibuses.

Changing times

Even as an eleven year old comparing my memory of the episodic broadcast nine months earlier with this butchered version, I was aware that dramatic impact had been sacrificed.  For the first time, Igenesis-of-the-daleks-byline felt less than entirely satisfied.

Having made the change from primary to secondary school three months earlier, in retrospect, my more critical response also seems like one which prefigures adolescence.  Three or four years earlier I’d have been grateful for anything.

Added to that, by this time my parents were ignoring Dr Who, my father not being a fan of Tom Baker’s more ironic, send-up style (he really should have seen this though).  Watching alone and being in a new house I didn’t warm to took away something of the cosiness.

Stopgap Who

In Radio Times, Frank Bellamy’s artwork is captioned: ‘The most important mission the Doctor has ever faced – can he prevent Davros creating his Daleks?’ and depicts all three ‘Ds’.

8.5 million viewers tuned in compared to an average of almost 9.6 million for the spring screening.

The ITV Network runs with ski-ing and wrestling as part of its usual Saturday afternoon World of Sport package.

This was the only time an omnibus was screened on a Saturday.  The Genesis omnibus was used as a stopgap as there was no Dr Who serial later that day with The Android Invasion’s final episode screened on 13th December and Brain of Morbius not commencing until 3rd Jan 1976.

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1976:
Bank Holiday Monday 27th  December 

1.25 [Racing from] Wincanton
2.34 Walt Disney’s Babes in Toyland
4.20 The Superstars

5.30 Evening News – with Richard Whitmore

Tuesday 28th December 

1.00 Racing Grandstand 
2.35 The Nutcracker
4.20 James and the Giant Peach

5.15 Evening News – with Richard Baker

christmas-1976-radio-times

 

And so to my bitter disappointment on discovering that The Seeds of Doom, my favourite Dr Who story since The Green Death some three years earlier was not to be comped come December.

A repeat was planned but then dropped for unknown reasons.  What those were, I can’t imagine. Seeds of Doom even had snow!

Scrooges! 

The unexplained absence marked the missing of a much-loved tradition.  Christmases felt truncated, colder even, accentuated for me by a passing from childhood innocence to self-aware adolescence

1976, aged twelve, was the last year I had a Christmas stocking.    

Cold, cold Christmas 

Perhaps the omnibuses ended because Dr Who seasons no longer ran January- June.  Perhaps new producer Philip Hinchcliffe didn’t favour the format, preferring episodic repeats which became a fairly common feature of the mid-late 70s when scattered across the early-evening weekday schedule usually as summer filler.  Or perhaps there were changes to BBC senior management come 1976.

Had the tradition continued, both Seeds of Doom and especially 1977’s Dickensian/Holmesian The Talons of Weng Chiang, with its fog shrouded London streets and mysterious magic cabinet, present1976-dr-who-byline themselves as obvious high calibre candidates.  I struggle once we reach The Invasion of Time (1978) and The Armageddon Factor (1979) admittedly.

For whatever reason, the Christmas feasts were no more.  Inextricably bound to the early-mid 1970s and coinciding exactly with my remembered childhood, the Dr Who Christmas Omnibus tradition had become a magnetic, essential part of my Christmas and still engenders feelings of great warmth forty years on.

Ever since 2005, Dr Who has had a Christmas Special shown on Christmas Day, as if that somehow picked up on a longer established tradition which, like many mythologies, was actually never the case.

A Christmas toast

So perhaps at about 3pm on Tuesday 27th December 2016, I’ll sit down to Seeds of Doom on DVD with a glass of ginger wine and a mince pie or two.

Until then, in the words of William Hartnell in 1966’s The Feast of Steven (the only old Who episode actually broadcast on Christmas Day): “A Happy Christmas to all of you at home!”

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Dr Who 1970s’ Christmas Omnibuses Part 1
Dr Who 1970s’ Christmas Omnibuses Part 2
Scraps of Dr Who
Dr Who: 1976 and all that 

 

Dr Who at Christmas: the 1970s Christmas omnibuses: Part 2

Ken Dodd’s ‘We Want to Sing’, those slightly grim visits to children’s hospital wards fronted by Leslie Crowther… Christmas television wasn’t all a bundle of fun for a child of the early 70s.  

But the Dr Who Omnibuses certainly were.  From 1971-75, these glorified adventures became a fixture of my childhood TV Christmas as much as (well, rather more than) the Blue Peter Christmas appeal, Disney Time and All Star Record Breakers. 

Part 1 gave an overview of the tradition.  Here I’m recalling the stories which made up Christmas omnibuses for 1971- The Dæmons, 1972 – The Sea Devils and 1973 – The Green Death.


1971: Dr Who and the Dæmons
Tuesday 28th December,
4.20-5.50pm 

1.10 Grandstand – introduced by Frank Bough
3.55 Here’s Lucy
4.20 Dr Who and the Dæmons
5.50 National News: weatherman Jack Scott
6.00 Tom and Jerry

‘For the first time a complete adventure in one programme starring Jon Pertwee as Dr Who’  – Radio Times billing.

radio-times-christmas-1971

Spotting The Dæmons in Radio Times so completely unexpectedly just before Christmas excited me tremendously.  The anticipation of an hour and a half of my favourite story from my favourite TV programme totally out of the blue was a thrill almost beyond belief.  There was something amazing about Dr Who brightening a mere Tuesday too.

Even better, I’d missed episode two back in the Spring as it had coincided with our Whitson (rain and mumps) break at Lyme Regis in a bungalow which needless to say had no television.

Feature length fun

Note how the Radio Times billing, (which was accompanied by a Frank Bellamy illustration depicting the Master and the Doctor) highlights the omnibus’s feature film feel, encouraging the sense that it is a post-Christmas afternoon matinee treat for all the family to gather around and enjoy.

The 4.20pm start time (earliest ever for Doctor Who to date) meant I watched it with my parents almost throughout; in 1971, Christmas deamons-bylinewas still no more than a two day break from work for many people but this year Monday 27th and Tuesday 28th were Bank Holidays.

When it came to Dr Who, my father was fully signed up to The Daily Sketch’s maxim, ‘the children’s own programme which adults adore,’ dissenting only if it got ‘a bit too silly’ (Alpha Centauri was a bugbear).  He enjoyed and even admired the programme when he got the chance to see it and the relaxed schedule of Christmas offered an opportunity to really sit back and soak it all up.  My mother flitted in and out to prepare turkey sandwiches (well it was still the 70s) and slice Christmas cake as Azal ruminated on whether or not to sacrifice the Earth.

“A pleasing terror”

As drama dealing in the supernatural, Doctor Who relates to Christmas’ associations with darkness and magic.  This is especially true of The Dæmons.

The supernatural was a popular theme in film and television in the early 70s.  December 1970 had brought the unsettling Play for Today Robin Redbreast and it’s not insignificant that regular Christmas dramatisations of M.R.James ghost stories began in 1971.  Derek Johnston’s Haunted Seasons: Television Ghost Stories for Christmas and Horror for Halloween is an excellent account of this broadcast tradition.

Undoctored

The Dæmons had been the indisuputable highlight of Season Eight, or at least it was certainly seen that way at the time.  An expensive, location feel resembled British horror and supernatural films of the early 70s, meaning the serial lent itself extremely well to feature film format.

A reprise would remind audiences of the Master’s capture at the tale’s end, a storyline which would be followed up with the Doctor and Jo visiting an imprisoned Master in the following season’s The Sea Devils.

As a five parter, once titles and cliffhanger reprises were omitted, The Dæmons came in at just under two hours long, still a trifle longer than the average film.  Perhaps it was this, or the requirements of the schedule, which dictated a trim.

Approximately thirty-five minutes are lost to give an omnibus running time of ninety minutes.  So (forgetting cliffhangers and reprises) about a fifth of The Dæmons actual storyline has hit the cutting room floor.  I don’t think it has ever been revealed who decided what should be cut but Barry Letts must have had the final say.

The omnibus drew a very respectable audience of 10.5 million viewers, more than the average of 8.3 million who viewed the original showing.

ITV were showing a number of mostly children’s programmes in opposition.  As Thames viewers, we would have had The Charlie Brown Show, the always to be avoided Junior Showtime and radio-times-dr-who-daleks-jan-1972Magpie, none of which were competition for The Dæmons.

I still remember the sense of anticlimax when the final end credit of The Dæmons – ‘Directed by Christopher Barry’ – faded from the screen along with the ‘Dddrrrrrrrrrwwwrr!!!’

Still it was only four days to go before a brand new story began and in the meantime there was a Radio Times Frank Bellamy cover to study, depicting these strange ‘Daleks’ which, curiously, my parents were already familiar with.


1972: Dr Who and the Sea Devils
Wed 27th December, 3.05-4.45pm 

1.05 Grandstand – Introduced by Frank Bough
2.35 Screen Test
3.10 Dr Who and the Sea Devils
4.35 Thursday’s Child – 1/6 adaptation
5.05 A Collection of Goodies
5.30 National News
5.40 Tom and Jerry
5.45 Fifty Years of Music – or They Don’ Write ‘Em Like That Any More

‘The complete adventure in one programme starring Jon Pertwee as Dr Who’… ‘Now you can see again the whole of the Doctor’s struggle against the Master and the strange creatures from the bottom of the sea’ – Radio Times billing.

radio-times-christmas-1972Thump!  The Radio Times Christmas number lands on our doormat and I turn straight to the after Christmas listings and – yes!  As I had hoped, The Sea Devils is there.  At this point, my expectation of a tradition was established.

The billing is accompanied by a Frank Bellamy illustration and a caption bearing all the hallmarks of an enthusiastic but not very knowledgeable Radio Times staffer: ‘Time warp time – the Doc takes on the Master and the Sea Devils’.

No turkey  

Again, the choice of story is fervently the right one.  As Season Nine finale, The Time Monster was something of a damp squib: studio bound, experimental, too cerebral at times and a bit of a mess much of the time.

The Sea Devils was expansive, exciting, glossy, stylish, all round cracking entertainment.  With its flashy seafaring escapades, the most fondly remembered story of the 1972 Season ideally lent itself to feature film format.  And then there was that splendid swashbuckling swordfight between the Doctor and The Master.  Could that be a turkey sandwich Jon Pertwee is munching?sea-devils-byline

8.7 million viewers watched The Sea Devils in December, compared to an average of a little over eight million for the original Spring broadcast.

Meanwhile, Thames opted for an afternoon lineup of Looks Familiar (30s/40s nostalgia panel show) at 3pm, The Saint at 3.30, and at 4.25 Lift Off With Ayshea (Roger Whittaker, Olivia Newton John, 10C.C., and Frankie Stevens).

As a six-parter, an unedited transmission of The Sea Devils would have a running time of 2:30.  The omnibus clocks in at 1.40, representing a loss of approximately 50 minutes.

The Sea Devils omnibus was repeated again at 10.50am on Thursday 23rd August 1973 and again on Bank Holiday Monday 27th May 1974 in place of a cricket match making it the most exposed Pertwee story within his tenure.

Who on standby

In other repeats, Day of the Daleks appeared in a one hour slot on Monday 3rd September 1973 in place of the European Athletics Championships.radio-times-dr-who-three-doctors-jan-1973

It seemed as if Dr Who was becoming a reliable schedule filler.  As a child with no interest in sport, these totally ‘out of the blue’ reappearances had a magic of their own though why I was on hand to have seen them all, I cannot say.  It was almost as if, even in the middle of a summer morning, by wishing Dr Who were on, I made it happen.

After that breathtaking Christmas Sea Devils omnibus there would be only three days to wait for the new season.  My appetite had been whetted by the charismatic threesome adorning the New Year Radio Times cover.


1973: Dr Who: The Green Death
Thursday  27th December, 4.00-5.30pm 

1.00 Racing
2.30 The World of Jimmy Young
3.15 Penguin City – narrated by Peter Scott
4.00 Dr Who: The Green Death
5.30 National News
5.40 Tom and Jerry
5.45 Top of the Pops – Ten Years of Pop Music, 1964-74 with Jimmy Saville

‘A complete adventure in one programme starring Jon Pertwee as Dr. Who.  Deep in an abandoned coalmine the Doctor faces the hideous result of industrial pollution.  Now you can see once more the whole story of the terrible threat of the giant maggots’ – Radio Times billing.

radio-times-christmas-19731973 was the Christmas of The Goodies and the Beanstalk shown at 5.15pm on Christmas Eve on BBC-2.  But even The Goodies at their best was trumped by a repeat of my favourite Dr Who story to date.

Yes, the one with the maggots.  What lovely Christmas viewing to accompany a nation collectively munching on cold turkey sandwiches.

Radio Times this time features a two panel photo-strip to accompany the billing which shows Pertwee in close-up declaring: “The maggots are all over the place!” whilst in the second panel Jo and Cliff, clambering over rocks within sight of a giant maggot, exclaim: “…come on let’s get out of here!’

BBC-1 New Season!

The 1974 season of Dr Who began not on the first Saturday of the New Year (as had been the case on 3rd January 1970, 2nd January 1971 and 1st January 1972) but two weeks before that on 15th December 1973 meaning that The Green Death omnibus fell, somewhat inconveniently, between episodes 2 and 3 of The Time Warrior.

This inauspicious timing removed some of the impetus behind a repeat as curtain-raiser to a new season, especially as Jo Grant was now a Season Ten throwback having left at the end of The Green Death.  

Green Christmas 

The Green Death was by far my favourite story of Season Ten and my favourite Dr Who story to date.  I was thrilled that it, not, as I had feared The Three Doctors, was picked as the Christmas omnibus.  The 10th anniversary story featuring William Hartnell and Patrick green-death-bylineTroughton was of course a major landmark and had a pantomime whimsicality which lent itself well to Christmas.  But no, there’s nothing like a Welsh coal mine full of giant green maggots to brighten a Yuletide afternoon.  I suspect Barry Letts would have been especially keen to push for The Green Death as the serial aired many of his environmental concerns.

For all its high revulsion factor and ecological proselytising, The Green Death also had an unusually emotional storyline: the developing romance between Jo Grant and the young Professor Jones.  At the end of episode six, Jo accepts Cliff’s proposal of marriage, leaving the Doctor to drive off alone into the sunset.  This affecting side to the story and its tear jerking culmination makes for an appropriately heart-warming story for Christmas.

Galloping home

I vividly recall being so excited seeing The Green Death again that I could hardly tear myself away to go to the toilet (though you’ll be pleased to know I did).  I can remember galloping downstairs three steps at a time to get back to the sofa.

As a six-parter, The Green Death would have been 2.30 in episode format, so, approximately 60 minutes have been lost, unfortunately a more major incision than The Sea Devils’.

The audience was a healthy 10.4 million viewers, substantially more than the average of 7.7 million who viewed the original broadcast.

Thames gave us at 4.20pm Children of Eskdale, a re-showing of Barry Cockcroft’s acclaimed documentary and at 5.20pm Lift Off With Ayshea (Slade, New World and The All Night Rock Show sing ’20 Fantastic Sounds’).

The start of the new Dr Who season had still been marked by a Radio radio-times-pertwee-et-al-dec-1973Times cover (the pre-Christmas edition) which was perhaps not the best but at least Pertwee was centre stage.  So it seemed as if the Radio Times tradition was confidently continuing along with the omnibuses.  More than that, there was November’s brilliant Radio Times Dr Who 10th Anniversary Special to enjoy and the 1974 Dr Who Annual courtesy of Father Christmas.

Next week, I’ll conclude with a look back to the omnibuses of 1974 and 1975, Planet of the Spiders and Genesis of the Daleks, and speculate as to why the tradition ended there.


Dr Who 1970s’ Christmas Omnibuses Part 1
Dr Who 1970s’ Christmas Omnibuses Part 3

 

Dr Who at Christmas: the 1970s Christmas omnibuses: Part 1

I’ve stayed shy of posting on Dr Who as it’s such a giant universe unto itself.  But as Christmas grows closer, this is the first of three posts on a particular Whovian manifestation and one with a strongly seasonal flavour – the Dr Who Christmas Omnibuses of the 1970s.


christmas-1976-radio-timesDecember 1976… on this day, or thereabouts, forty years ago I got a nasty shock.

The Christmas double-issue Radio Times arrived through our letter box that morning with a reassuring thud, an event which, each year, I anticipated with much excitement.  I turned straight to the BBC-1 listings for 27th December to check the start time for the omnibus Dr Who: The Seeds of Doom only to find… there was none.

Instead of pods, compost crushers and obscene vegetable matter, the afternoon was dominated, with a camp surrealism, by Walt Disney’s Babes in Toyland and sportsfest Superstars.  A quick flick through to 28th and 26th December, just in case, then a scour through the entire magazine showed The Seeds of Doom was nowhere to be found.

To say I felt disappointed or even cheated was an understatement.  Gutted would be more accurate.

On the third day of Christmas…

Doctor Who omnibuses had been a fixture of my Christmas since 1971 when I was seven.  Always scheduled on the afternoons of 27th or 28th December, this Yuletide treat extended Christmas Day and Boxing Day festivities into a third day.

As an only child, Christmas Day and Boxing Day were spent in entirely adult company with my parents and their friends, Vivien and Earnest.  Although this might sound like a hardship to some, I thoroughly enjoyed our Christmases (we played games too!) but it did mean both days were lead by adults whereas 27th December felt like my day.

With the house festooned with decorations and Christmas tree lights deeply glowing as the day darkened, feature-length Dr Who was the perfect afternoon accompaniment to Christmas cake and Yuletide log.

Forty years on, I’m reviving that tradition by revisiting those omnibuses across three posts.  Here I’ll look at why the early 70s offered fertile ground for the omnibuses and at their appeal to an avid, young Dr Who fan.  Then across two further posts, I’ll review the the stories shown each year and my memories of seeing them.

Box of delights 

Embed from Getty Images

 

I got an immense thrill in the days and hours leading up to these feature-length Whos, counting down the minutes to the start.  The thrill was no less than the anticipation of a brand new Dr Who episode on a Saturday at 5.15, different, yes, but just as intense, like reliving an exciting experience knowing just how amazing it was going to be, also knowing that the excitement would last four times as long.  I couldn’t wait for it to start and when it did, I couldn’t bear for it to end.  I’d count down the minutes towards the closing titles too as if in dread anticipation of my disappointment.

A repeat meant marvelling once more at extraordinary sights like the devil appearing in a village church threatening to destroy the world or the Sea Devils rising from beneath the waves.

It also allowed christmas-dr-who-1opportunities to spot elements of story or setting which had passed me by the first time as well as checking those bits which didn’t reappear.

And the timing made it feel so incredibly special, the perfect Christmas present delivered by the BBC, every year.

Like so many aspects of childhood, this one felt as if it would go on forever.  But it was not to be.  I didn’t know it at the time but the Dr Who Christmas Omnibus tradition had ended with Genesis of the Daleks in 1975.

Repeating itself

Doctor Who repeats were rare indeed.

In the 60s, Evil of the Daleks was the only complete serial to be shown again in June 1967.

Summer 1971 brought a highly unexpected Friday teatime episodic repeat of Jon Pertwee’s debut, Spearhead from Space, perhaps partly as a schedule-filler, partly as an acknowledgement of the series’ rising profile.

Then came Dr Who and the Dæmons, ‘for the first time a complete adventure’, on Monday 28th December 1971.

What may have prompted this first Christmas repeat in a new format?

A Christmas celebration  

Following declining ratings, in 1970 Dr Who was given a chance to prove itself with a new actor, Jon Pertwee, in the title role.  The 1970 season was judged an artistic and commercial success so the series’ future, for now, was secured.

By 1971, with a second season of improved ratings and audience appreciation under its belt, Dr Who merited additional exposure as a further boost to its rising profile.

Evidence that the BBC wanted to get behind the series came in the form of the New Year Radio Times covers which graced the start of all five Jon Pertwee seasons.  Radio Times was very pro-Doctor Who during Pertwee’s tenure.

Throughout the 60s, Doctor Who was shown almost all year round.  But from 1970, seasons were 25 or 26 weeks long only running roughly January-June, meaning the show was off the air throughout the summer and autumn months.  So a Christmas repeat of a story from that year’s January-June run would serve as a curtain raiser for the new season.

deamons-titlesThe story goes that, following original transmission in May, Episode One of The Deamons was discussed by BBC1 controller Paul Fox and Richard Levin, head of television design. Both men commended the quality of the story’s script and production and it was perhaps Paul Fox’s support which producer Barry Letts was then able to leverage to bring about the Christmas omnibus in December 1971.

Could there have been a 1970 omnibus?  Obviously, yes, in theory but three out of four Season Seven stories were exceptionally long seven-parters and probably Barry Letts hadn’t been long enough in the job to propose the idea.  An Inferno omnibus would have been quite something though.

Which story to tell?

What of the choice of stories across Christmases 1971-75?  Each selection surely had to be the story judged ‘best’ from the previous season, whether in terms of ratings, audience appreciation or some other vaguer sense of impact.

An obvious candidate would be the climactic story.  A reprise would remind viewers where they had left Dr Who series six months earlier and create momentum into the start of the new season beginning in christmas-dr-who-1bjust a few days time.  Three out of five stories chosen over 1971-75 were series finales, the exceptions (quite rightly) being The Sea Devils and Genesis of the Daleks.

Despite the much heard criticism that six part stories are too long, all stories given the omnibus treatment were six-parters (The Dæmons is an honorary six parter) perhaps because they tended to be the more expensive, more expansive, higher profile adventures, resembling the blockbuster feel of a one-off feature film.

Yet the BBC could simply have opted for four parters – The Claws of Axos, Day of the Daleks, The Three Doctors, Destiny of the Daleks and Revenge of the Cybermen – and saved themselves the trouble of making cuts.  I’m so glad they didn’t.

Or, worse still, they could have chosen the wrong six-parters – Colony in Space, The Mutants, Frontier in Space, Monster of Peladon.  What a post-Christmas comedown that would have been (it is specifically the non-Earth six-parters which are to blame for the genre’s overlong, overpadded reputation).

Happily the stories selected, presumably by Barry Letts, were the right ones every time.

I hope you’ll join me for two more posts in the leadup to Christmas when I’ll look at each of these stories in turn, starting next week with 1971-73: The Dæmons, The Sea Devils and The Green Death.

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Photo Credit: buddymedbery Flickr via Compfight cc


Dr Who 1970s’ Christmas Omnibuses Part 2

 

Lord Bless All… on Christmas Eve

Back in the Spring, I posted on Lord Bless All – ‘a haunted three minutes… a Dickensian mood of carols and God’s blessing at Christmas.’  For me, it’s the most beautiful track on Robin’s Reign.

I suggested giving it a try on Christmas Eve… so now here’s your chance!

Wishing all lightspotters everywhere a very Happy Christmas.

See you in 2016.

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More on Lord Bless All in my review of Robin’s Reign

 

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60 Years of Carols from King’s

This post maybe seems a little off topic for lightspots but it’s about a key ingredient of Christmas for me so I hope you will enjoy this unexpected betwixt Christmas and New Year piece.


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A kind of tradition

Like many Christmas traditions, the origins of the BBC’s Christmas Eve broadcast of Carols from King’s are not quite what you might expect.   The first television broadcast from King’s College Cambridge was in 1954 but the ‘tradition’ was not revived until some ten years later, significantly, perhaps, coinciding with the start of BBC2 earlier in 1964.  To my knowledge, the service has been broadcast annually ever since.

Complete footage of that first 1954 broadcast has been recently unearthed or, according to accounts, ‘unfrozen,’ cleaned up and was shown on Christmas Eve together with the 2014 service.  Christmas Day brought an accompanying documentary celebrating sixty years of Carols from King’s.

It is a rare treat to see any television footage from as early as 1954 as so little survives.  Given that the service is dictated by its own unchanging internal liturgy, not too much is different content-wise between 1954 and 2014.  The 2014 broadcast is bathed in a glorious golden amber glow which I have never seen so well captured as here and which seems almost synonymous with the warmth and light of Christmas itself.

Christmas card and a tapestry

Nevertheless, there were times when the milky monochrome of 1954 lent its own possibly unintended enchantments.  An arresting shot appeared of organ pipes and fan vaulting framed together like a kind of 1950s heraldic Christmas card or perhaps a design for the Christmas Number of the Radio Times.  At other times the picture seemed briefly transformed into a kind of ecclesiastical tapestry rendered in 405 lines and black and white.  The restored picture still background-flickered a little just as our coronation television used to, as if to remind us of the era.  You were aware of the huge heavy 1950s’ cameras on their dollies tracking slowly and affording none of the heavenly vantage point views of recent years.  There were a couple of quite prolonged holding shots which felt very stationary to a modern viewer.  Another difference was the marked lack of close-ups in 1954, as if to suggest that the liturgy, the overall form and the tradition – not the individuals partaking in it – are of paramount importance.  This had been corrected by 1964.

That first Carols from King’s took place a year after the coronation and was probably inspired by the success of that huge television ‘first’.  The bringing of tradition into a new age of television resonates with that brief New Elizabethan era which reigned as post-war austerity and rationing faded but before consumerism really got a grip.  The following year, ITV began broadcasting and the McMillan era beckoned.

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Year of the solo

The service always begins with Once In Royal David’s City, the first verse sung by a lone chorister.  In the documentary celebrating sixty years, the 2011 candidate recalls the “moment when everything goes away and you’re just there – an amazing feeling.”

To me, performing that role in our local church near Guildford at the age of ten exactly forty years ago, it was the single most nerve racking experience of my life.  I was at the head of the choir as we processed slowly up the nave towards the choir stalls.  I could hear my voice gulp at every word.  Strangely, afterwards, everyone said they never heard my gulps and I think they were telling the truth; it was the sound of my own nervousness audible only to me.   So nervous was I, in fact, that singing solo felt like a kind of out of body experience, an extreme hyper self-consciousness, perhaps.  The voice I was hearing was not the sound coming out of my own mouth.

In 1974, Christmas began the moment I reached the end of that first verse.  Like the King’s choristers who have sung that solo, I always look back upon ‘my solo’ whenever I hear it sung today.

Watching religiously

As a child, I never watched Carols from King’s  – we didn’t have BBC2 until 1973 and BBC1 or ITV probably offered a more entertaining alternative.  But over the last twenty years or so, I have watched it regularly, religiously, you might say, such that Christmas would seem incomplete without it.  It almost feels as if I have always watched it, so powerfully does the service connect with Christmas past as collective memory, as liturgical tradition, as television institution and with childhood memories of Christmas and carols in particular.

John Rutter put it perfectly when he said “For an enchanted hour and a half the world seems to stop and we are in the realm of Christmas where everything is perfect”.  Yes, it does feel as if there is a quietening, a feeling of peace descending… Transmitted in the very late afternoon, it has become the setting for a warming mince pie and a glass of ginger wine with my partner before we both depart to our respective families for Christmas.

Images show rehearsals for Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College