Twitter was full to bursting with Doctor Who fans yesterday as the BBC finally revealed which episodes of Doctor Who had been found. There was an embargo until midnight, but the news leaked out well beforehand. I was privy to snippets of information from various sources, as it came to pass the nine second doctor episodes had been unearthed by a chap who’d been poking around in Nigeria, “the Indiana Jones of television archives’. It’s a bit unusual that all the episode have been released straight to itunes, I’m pretty sure it’s partly the will of the bloke who found them knowing their value and wanting a cut of the reward. It’s a pretty epic find. Hard to image these tins of film have been lying on a shelf for over forty years. That’s before the Tom Baker or even Jon Pertwee became the doctor, and to be found this year of all years, is call for celebration.
As Fraser Hines said watching his younger self in the lost episodes, ‘it’s time travel’. It’s the power of memories and it resonates strongly with Who fans of all ages. ‘My doctor’, the one I grew up with has no missing episodes. All of Peter Davison’s episodes are now available and sit on my shelf to enjoy at any time, but they’re still special to me, watching them and recalling my early memories of the show. Let me indulge;
Tom Baker was all a bit scary for me, my earliest memory was his last adventure, Logopolis. I don’t know if I was terrified of the Master’s tissue compression ray that shrank people to tiny toys, or the fact that the victims were randomly attacked on the hard shoulder of a normal motorway trying to fix a flat tyre.
Then at the end Peter Davison appeared. He started off not really knowing anything, which was good because I didn’t either, and it felt a lot less scary, but sometimes it was downright was weird and disturbing. The creepy well dressed man and woman in Four to Doomsday, Tegan being possessed by a big snake, and the harlequin in Black Orchid. For a young lad living in Sunderland, ‘cricket whites’ were as alien to me as anything else the fifth doctor might have worn until Black Orchid explained them.
I remember the death of Adric, the doctor falling against the cyberleader scraping Adric’s gold badge against his air filter, and the silent closing credits. The raston warrior in the five doctors killing a whole troop of cybermen. Turlough being forced to kill the doctor, with the black guardian shouting orders inside his head. It was desperately exciting. It felt desperate. At the age of 8 there’s was nothing I’d seen like it. Star Wars didn’t do it for me, but Doctor Who did. Every Tuesday and Thursday it was entirely possible the doctor might not have the answer, he could not save the day and people would die in horrible ways. He wasn’t an alpha male, he wasn’t cocky and he wasn’t afraid to show vulnerability.
My sharpest memories are from February 1984 and Resurrection of the Daleks. Shown in two double length episodes instead of the usual four, it felt special and epic and edgy. Sinister policemen gunning folk down in the street, nasty green gas that made faces melt and the confrontation between the doctor and davros, it was dark.
Of all the Doctor Who I’ve seen since, it’s this run of stories that resonates for me most. With increasing pace and insurmountable odds the fifth doctor never looked for trouble, he just had a run of incredibly bad luck. From Arc of Infinity (the first VHS bought in the 90’s) all the way to Caves of Androzani (one of the first DVD releases by the BBC to test the popularity of the format) adventures took place in the darkest bleakest corners of the universe, and at the centre of it all was the fifth doctor. The smartest man in the room, listening, observing and politely advising people in uniforms not to to do really stupid things, displaying all those doctory values that I’ve come to love, slow to anger but passionately bold about what was right and wrong, he was a big beige stripy beacon of hope, and he was my doctor.
Queue up Peter Howell’s screaming synth arrangement of theme tune. I can still feel it go right through me.