(L-R) Going to die, going to sort of die, going to die, going to take skirt off
On the fields of Pharos at the fall of the Fourth, when no living creature can speak falsely or fail to answer, a question will be asked, a question that will never ever be answered – seriously, what was with flooding the TARDIS?
Those who tuned into the first episode of “The Leisure Hive” on 30 August 1980 instead of watching the big, glossy US import (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century) on the other side would notice something very different from the get-go.
Firstly, the theme tune had changed, with the original Delia Derbyshire arrangement ditched in favour of a new electronic-y tune done by Peter Howell. Dudley Simpson was dropped as composer with Howell and Paddy Kingsland splitting incidental duties – Kingsland’s music has come to symbolise the early 1980s for Doctor Who.
Secondly, there was a new title sequence, depicting a star field that formed Baker’s face, along with a new neon-tube style logo.
Thirdly, the Doctor’s costume had been slightly altered, incorporating question marks in the collars, with the aim to make it merchandise-able.
Fourthly, there were some new effects using the Quantel computer system and eventually, an entirely new cast…
Doctor Who’s 18th season saw a new producer and a new script editor. Christopher H. Bidmead as script editor decided to inject a “harder” science-fiction approach to the show, but would only be there for one season, as he felt he was undervalued – he asked for a 30% pay increase to see how the BBC viewed him and left when it was declined.
The new producer, John Nathan-Turner, was going to be at the helm until this particular ship sank…
JNT – the man who ended or saved Doctor Who?
John Nathan-Turner (1947-2002) is one of Who’s most controversial figures and arguably one of its most influential.
John Nathan-Turner’s contact with the arts stated in his early life and he eventually got into theatre, where he was spotted by Graham Williams and in 1968 joined the BBC. He did a variety of roles for the show and other BBC productions, eventually ending up as production unit manager (in charge of things like financial planning) on Doctor Who and All Creatures Great and Small. In 1979, he was asked to become producer on DW and stepped down from the latter role.
As producer, JNT, certainly recognisable at conventions (beard, long hair and Hawaiian shirt), was good at getting publicity, particularly when he got rid or threatened to get rid of popular elements of the show, including the sonic screwdriver. He was always very open to fans – arguably too much so; the show could be said to have been too fan-orientated. As ratings declined (not entirely his fault, as we’ll see), he was getting blamed by fans and attempted to resign as producer on several occasions, but was persuaded to stay each time. One podcaster (Dave Keep at DWO Whocast) reflected that he could have gone on several occasions and benefited his career by doing so – he possibly chose to put the show ahead of his own personal interest.
JNT remained producer until 1990 as the show was never officially cancelled, but put on “indefinite hiatus”. He resigned on the same day the production offices shut down. Remaining involved in the universe of Doctor Who (appearing in a lot of documentaries), but doing little otherwise, he died of liver failure in 2002, a year before the show’s renewal was announced.
There were other staffing changes – Barry Letts was brought in as “executive producer” to oversee the inexperienced JNT, while Ian Levine, a ‘super-fan’ who had helped with saving some of the old episodes, became an unpaid script consultant.
This is notable as the first season in a while not to feature a Bob Holmes script – JNT was determined to bring in new talent, although at times this was not the best decision..
As mentioned in the opening, this season saw a comprehensive cast clear out. Tom Baker and Lalla Ward both departed by mutual consent.
In addition, JNT decided to axe K9, feeling that the dog was making it too easy for the Doctor to solve his problems. There was a public outcry, especially from The Sun, when this was leaked, but to no avail (they claimed that they’d gotten K9 into 20 episodes of this run, but that was always the plan).
The Doctor would get three new companions in this run. In fact, by the end, he’d be having all of them at the same time in the TARDIS, which must have been a bit of a squeeze on location. I feel that I’d better do them in one go here.
Adric – The Boy Who Couldn’t
Adric can be described as the Scrappy-Doo of Doctor Who – a lot of fans don’t like him and consider him one of the worst companions of the show’s history. Joining in “Full Circle”, he was a young ‘Artful Dodger’ mathematical genius from the E-Space world of Alzarius, with a penchant for arrogance and not doing as he was told. Those who are fans of Star Trek may well think of Wesley Crusher at this point.
The role went to young fan Matthew Waterhouse (1961-) who had previously worked as a BBC clerk before getting a role in a drama called To Serve Them All My Days. Waterhouse’s acting skills arguably left something to be desired and his TV career was short – he’s focussed on theatre instead. He is the only companion actor from the 1980s not to have appeared in a Big Finish audio.
Waterhouse is also notable as the first openly gay companion actor.
Nyssa – Biochemist and Sole Survivor
Created as a one-shot character for “The Keeper of Traken” by Johnny Byrne (as such, she is not fully owned by the BBC), but promoted into a regular as JNT really liked the character, Nyssa was a young woman from Traken, an intelligent and principled, despite what happened to her father and later her planet, biochemist and general brainy woman who was also a little naïve. Silly outfits aside, she’s one of my favourite companions – and Peter Davison’s as well. She was also pretty attractive and would conclude her run in rather memorable fashion.
Sarah Sutton (1961-) started acting at 7 and got her first TV role in 1973. None of her pre-DW roles are notable and she retired from full-time acting shortly afterwards to raise her children. However, she has done a great deal of Big Finish; in fact, many of Davison’s audios are Fifth Doctor and Nyssa only.
Tegan Jovanka – The Mouth on Legs
Wanting to increase the appeal of Doctor Who down under in connection with a possible co-production deal with the Australian Broadcasting Company that did not materialise (pun intended), JNT decided to introduce a bolshie Australian air hostess, who wandered into the TARDIS looking for breakdown assistance in “Logopolis”. He wrote two possible names, “Tegan” and “Jovanka” and Bidmead then promptly thought the character’s name was “Tegan Jovanka”. Tegan would be direct, brutally honest and stubborn, once describing herself as just a “mouth on legs”.
Recommended by one JNT’s friends on the grounds that she was a genuine bolshie Australian, Janet Fielding (1953-), an inexperienced actor who lied about her age and her country’s airline height requirements, won from the 100 who auditioned. Spending three years in the role and a longer time period (based on transmission dates) than any other companion, Fielding left acting to become an agent and advocate for women’s representation for television. She actually represented Paul McGann when he got the Eighth Doctor role.
Fielding also distanced herself from the show for a long while, vocally criticising it, but has since done a few Big Finish productions with Peter Davison.
John Barrowman has named a dog after the character and blogger Neil Perryman (of Adventures with the Wife In Space) also has a cat called Tegan.
JNT managed to get this run increased to 28 episodes, forming 7 four-part stories. As such, I am not mentioning episode counts for this entry.
The Leisure Hive
The Doctor and Romana visit the famed Leisure Hive resort on the planet Argolis, where the surface has been devastated by a nuclear war. There they discover a conspiracy is afoot…
An ambitious story in the effects department (it features the first moving camera TARDIS materialisation) that went way over budget, this got positive reviews at the time, but has a more mixed opinion among fans.
The Doctor is summoned to Tigella to solve a problem over the Dodecahedron, a power source that is failing and putting the planet in danger. Before he can fix it, he is accused of stealing it. In fact, an alien shape shifter is involved and is impersonating the Doctor…
This one allows Baker to play the villain and also has Jacqueline Hill (who played Barbara Wright) appear in the guest cast, but it’s seen as Season 18’s clunker, with a poor plot and acting from most of the cast. I remember very little of it.
In addition, this was used to test a new motion-control technology called ScreenSync, that helped with CSO. This wasn’t used again in the show, but the success led to use in other BBC productions.
We now come to a group of three stories universally dubbed “The E-Space Trilogy” and released together on DVD. In this, the Doctor and Romana end up in the alternative pocket universe of E-Space.
On the planet of Alzarius, the inhabitants of a long-ago crashed Starliner are menaced by a group of Marshmen who emerge from the marshes.
Adric’s debut is a very good story with a nice twist, although not one for severe arachnophobia sufferers who are also Romana fans. The writer of this, Andrew Smith, was only a teenager and a fan who had sent ideas into the production office. His only TV gig, he became a police officer, but having retired, has now joined the Big Finish team.
State of Decay
Arriving on a medieval world, the time travellers discover the populace lives in fear of the Three Who Rule. This trio are in fact vampires...
Originally intended for Season 15, being dropped for reasons mentioned in that entry and kept aside for later use, Terrance Dicks’ dark, atmospheric tale is a mini-classic and probably one of the best stories of late Tom Baker. Apart from one dodgy model shot, it looks great as well.
The TARDIS lands in an eerie white void after being hijacked by a creature called Biroc, a slave who wants to free his imprisoned race, the Tharils. It’s the gateway between E-Space and their universe, the past and the future. The only things there are a castle and a slaver’s spaceship. Team TARDIS must rescue the Tharils and escape before the void collapses.
Romana and K9 depart in an superb farewell at the end of this hard-to-follow, but very unusual and well done conclusion to the E-Space Trilogy. It’s not in fact noticeable that this story had major production problems – the scripts needed major re-writes to the point that an Agnew credit could have been asked for with some justification, there was a carpenters’ strike that delayed filming and a director with limited TV experience, Paul Joyce had a lot of problems with the cast. In fact, about half this story was done by the production assistant Graeme Harper. That’s a name we’ll be hearing again soon.
The final two stories of this run and the first of Season 19 are also a trilogy, known as “The Master trilogy” and released as the New Beginnings set.
The Keeper of Traken
The Doctor is summoned to Traken by its ailing ruler. Traken is a world of great goodness, but an evil statue has arrived and its controller is after the keystone of Traken civilisation. That evil is a Time Lord.
Nyssa’s debut story (although she does not board the TARDIS until the following tale) is probably one I need to rewatch. It’s very studio-bound and I don’t recall a lot happening, except for the haunting ending.
The Master here is played by Geoffrey Beevers, who has had a long career in British television in guest roles. He appeared in one episode of “The Ambassadors of Death” in 1970 as Private Johnson and has done the Master a few times on Big Finish, as he is the only surviving classic Master actor. He was also married to Caroline John until her death earlier this year.
However, at the end of this story, the Master steals the body of Nyssa’s father Tremas, played by Anthony Ainley. Ainley’s career will be covered in Season 19’s entry.
Logopolis is a planet of mathematicians who by their actions have been keeping the universe from collapsing through a build-up of entropy. When the Master interferes, the entire universe is put at risk and the Fourth Doctor will have to make the ultimate sacrifice to stop him…
A story with arguably the highest body count (off-screen) of the show at least in the classic era, with much of the universe, including Traken, destroyed, “Logopolis” is a pretty good final story for the Fourth Doctor, with a great air of mystery. It also marks the debut of the Cloister Bell, the gong-like “serious stuff is going down” sound that has featured a number of times since.
The BBC Micro
In the early 1980s, the BBC sponsored an “educational” home computer by Acorn known as the BBC Microcomputer or just the BBC Micro, with first commercial release in December 1981, to link with a computer literacy project. The system, Acorn’s Proton, with its own programming language called BASIC, was durable (which helped with school use), versatile and very popular – with 80% of schools having one in the UK and export versions being sold in the USA and West Germany – it’s worth noting that the Great Video Game Crash of 1983, which the US gaming industry took two decades to recover from, didn’t happen in Europe. One of its games, 1984’s Elite, became a classic space shooter and trader. Three official DW games were released for the system as well.
The Micro saw extensive use in BBC programmes of this era (and even turned up in Aliens), so it was no surprise that the Doctor used one in his TARDIS and the show itself used them extensively, even for visual effects.
The show began to hit serious ratings problems in this season. The ITV regions showed Buck Rogers against it for the first few weeks of the season and consistently won in the ratings when doing so. The ratings improved a bit after Buck Rogers concluded, but not to Season 17 levels – the average was only 5.9 million. Seeing a problem, the BBC moved the show for Season 19 to a twice-weekly weekday slot to avoid the still-popular show’s second and ultimately final run in the UK (it was cancelled after two seasons).
Peter Davison was going to be having a difficult three years, as the show’s decline began. Before he began, a shooty-dog almost got his day…
More than one notable fan switched over during this time. Something to do with the women in tight lycra.
Of which more later.
After the widow of Yugoslav leader Jozip Tito, who died in 1980.
Yep, it’s an anagram.
Including my own in the mid-1990s.