Monday, May 21, 2012

Pop Between Realities, Home in Time for Tea 30 (Doctor In Distress)

I have for the most part avoided significant discussion of Ian Levine, typically gesturing to the fact that eventually I'd do this post. So let's take the bull by the horns here and lay this question out in its most damningly blunt form: can Ian Levine be blamed for Doctor Who's cancellation?

This is, of course, terribly unfair. Although no Gareth Jenkins, there's something that leaves a bad taste in my mouth about a sustained attack on Ian Levine's role in the series' history. At the end of the day, Levine in 1985 was a 30-year-old geek and acted the part. He was a poor spokesman for Doctor Who in the public eye, yes. But more than anything one feels bad for him for being put there in the first place. His biggest problem, in many ways, was that he played the role that the cancellation crisis cast him in - slightly maladapted uberfan - too well.

I'd also be lying if I said that, as a 29-year-old socially maladapted Doctor Who fan, I didn't have at least some visceral understanding of where Levine was coming from. Being an angry geek in 2012 is easy. There's a whole Internet for hard-headedly arguing on. And adamant as I am that one argues on the Internet for the entertainment of the lurkers, I'm not nearly daft enough to pretend that I don't like getting to vent obsessively on forums. Where do you think I learned to write 2000 words a day? I've been drawn inexorably into being a hard-nosed tit in Internet arguments too many times not to understand Levine. Time warp me into 1985 with no Internet to argue on and give me an in with the production office of Doctor Who and I'd probably smash a television as a publicity stunt too. At least Levine holds down steady employment, which is, let's face it, more than we can say for my overeducated ass.

And so to some extent one is left wanting to let sleeping dogs lie. 1985 was a long time ago. Ian Levine is nearly 60 now. At some point one has to stop blaming someone for dumb shit they did in their early 30s. And if nothing else, the 1985 crisis is a footnote in the history of a wildly successful show. Perhaps lingering axes to grind exist among those who were making the show - or at least those who are still with us - but it's tough to say that we the chattering public still have anything at stake in this fight. We're not so much beating a dead horse as beating the empty space where once a horse carcass lay. These days Levine is mostly just another bloke with a Twitter who says stupid things about Doctor Who or DC Comics occasionally. So really, I'm one to talk.

And so I've avoided going too far into Ian Levine. But he can't be avoided entirely. For one thing, he presents himself as a central player in this time period to this day. If he's going to be one of the major interviews on the Trials and Tribulations documentary about the hiatus and the wreckage of the Colin Baker era, well, fine. He implicates himself in the judgment. For another, he's only mostly just another bloke with a Twitter. I've occasionally entertained myself by, when Ian Levine has come up in passing on the blog, noting that he has personally told me to go fuck myself. The context of this is illustrative - I rather indecorously called him out on Twitter over his fearmongering in the wake of the whole Private Eye/shortened series kerfuffle with regards to the new series last summer (I shouldn't have @replied him, for what it's worth - that was rude of me). Which is to say, if he's going to repeat the errors of 1985 and raise fearmongering panics over the future of Doctor Who, well, that, at least, remains perfectly fair game to criticize him for.

But perhaps most importantly, if most tragically, Levine serves as too useful a metaphor to let go of. He's not the only person to have views on Doctor Who like his. But he's the most high profile. And he was at the wrong place at the wrong time. His views caused measurable, definable damage to Doctor Who. I think a very compelling case can be made that were it not for some of his actions Doctor Who could have returned from its hiatus in a stronger position and that it needn't have gone off the air in 1989. Is he the sole architect of that failure? God no. But he's inexorable from it. And because he, both through his own actions and through the actions of others, got positioned as the archetype of a particular type of Doctor Who fan he serves, in many ways, as a symbol for a particular set of destructive impulses within fandom and their problems. Which is to say that, as with Gareth Jenkins, our collective disdain for Ian Levine is largely self-loathing.

Unlike Jenkins, though, I can't get around the need to deal with what Levine is a symbol of. And unlike Jenkins, there are things in his adult life that are valid sources of criticism. So with the knowledge that in 30 years time someone is going to nail me to the wall as the archetype of a disastrously smug postmodern turn in fandom, and that I will fully and completely deserve this fate, here's my one post of obligatory Levine skewering.

At the heart of my criticism of Levine, at least, is the fact that he is a shining example of why conflicts of interest are dangerous. He is, within Doctor Who, the original professional fan. But his professional status was enormously contested. He was the continuity advisor to the early John Nathan-Turner era, but this was explicitly and deliberately an unofficial role. In blunter terms, he was paid with access instead of money. This is just one example of what I've more broadly called the fan-industrial complex, but it's a real problem - Levine was simultaneously serving as the high profile voice of fandom while getting perks from the show. The result was that one of the go-to sources for quotes about Doctor Who fandom was, by and large, happy to serve as a mouthpiece for the producer.

What gives all of this an upsettingly cynical tinge is the fact that in the aftermath of the suspension crisis Levine was one of the large bloc of fandom that turned aggressively on Nathan-Turner. In Levine's account the breaking point was the casting of Bonnie Langford, but the fact remains that the overwhelming bulk of fandom abandoned Nathan-Turner following the cancellation crisis and Trial of a Time Lord. (Indeed, there's still traces of a fan orthodoxy that viewed the McCoy era as a disaster. While it's overstating the case to suggest that anybody who dislikes McCoy is guilty of this, the fact remains that a significant thread of McCoy bashing has its roots in nothing more than the fact that fandom decided in 1986 that anything Nathan-Turner did was rubbish.) This is, in many ways, Levine's modus operandi, and it's a fair part of why he comes in for so much criticism - he's reliably among the first on the scene when there's some visible glory to be snatched, has an astonishingly bad track record in picking what horses to back, and is ruthlessly swift with blame-shifting once it becomes obvious that he's involved in a turkey.

As I noted at the time, then, there is perhaps no fact more revealing about Ian Levine than that he seeks to take the credit for Attack of the Cybermen. It is, after all, something of a rarity - the only other thing he actively takes a lion's share of the credit for is missing episode recovery, and there his contributions have pretty conclusively been shown to be overstated. (He did indeed find a few, but fewer than he says, and his self-proclaimed role in stopping the junkings ignores the tremendous role that Sue Malden played. This isn't to say, as some people attempt to, that he was uninvolved - he had some real contributions - but the legend exceeds the reality. Richard Moleworth's alarmingly definitive Wiped the number of episodes Levine both actually discovered and returned promptly to the BBC instead of sitting on them for several years is six. Levine did serve as a clearinghouse - the people who did find the episodes often went through him in returning them to the BBC - but his actual find count numbers six. This is still a lot, but it's considerably less than he claims. More troubling is the fact that in several cases Levine sat on missing episodes for some time before returning them to the BBC. Ostensibly this is because of collectors who had missing episodes but would only trade them for other missing episodes instead of selling them. The problem with this assertion is straightforward: no episode has ever been recovered in that manner.)

It is, of course, a mistake to suggest that Levine is purely or even primarily responsible for the series' continuity fetishism from seasons 19-22. But equally, the fact that Levine is actually eager to take the credit for Attack of the Cybermen points to the fact that he is as strong an advocate for such an approach as exists. Certainly all records of what suggestions over the course of his unofficial tenure as continuity advisor indicate this. And this gets at the heart of where Ian Levine, to my mind, starts to acquire some active blame for the series' cancellation. Because he believed the primary audience of Doctor Who was Doctor Who fans, and at a key moment in the course of the suspension the production team, using Ian Levine as their mouthpiece, doubled down on that view catastrophically.

Before any discussion of the suspension crisis it's necessary to try to square away exactly what happened. On February 27th, 1985, it was announced that Doctor Who would not be coming back for eighteen months after Season 22. Central to any interpretation of what follows, however, is what we think this announcement actually meant. The conventional wisdom is that the eighteen month delay was a front for an actual cancellation of the series. The reason this is widely believed, however, is deceptive: both Michael Grade and Ian Levine say it was, and since they're on polar opposite sides of this kerfuffle everyone believes it.

The trouble is that the actual evidence is thin on the ground. Certainly the initial announcements when the story broke were that it was an eighteen month break. Is it possible, as both Levine and Grade imply, that this was a case of breaking the bad news into small chunks and that after eighteen months the show was still not going to come back? In theory, yes. But it's worth noting that Doctor Who wasn't the only show cancelled in this period. So far as I can tell, Crackerjack and the other shows cancelled around this time were not announced as delayed - they were cancelled outright. So the very fact that Doctor Who's suspension was announced as a delay suggests strongly that it was, in fact, a delay all along. To think otherwise is to assume that the BBC was capable of long-term conspiracy. Put simply, there's very little evidence they were that composed or competent in 1985.

This raises the question of why Levine and Grade, who are otherwise proponents of seemingly irreconcilable positions, find themselves allies on this point. The answer is much like the answer every other time, in the course of looking at history in this blog, we've found a fundamental alliance between two seemingly diametrically opposed positions - that there's another alternative position that both sides want erased. Because there's one tacit point of agreement between Levine and Grade, which is that Doctor Who is primarily for fans.

It's obvious enough why this position suits Levine, but one might fairly ask why it suited Grade. The answer is simple: Grade needed a pantomime villain to position his broader reforms of the BBC against, and Doctor Who fans were an easy target. Grade's mandate was to make the BBC more like a commercial broadcaster and less like the public service broadcaster it was. This is an unsurprising position to come upon in the height of the Thatcher years, where the idea of a public service broadcaster - particularly one that stubbornly refused to just be a mouthpiece for the government - was anathema. It was tremendously convenient for Grade to be able to position himself in opposition to a group as visibly pathetic as Doctor Who fans. Doctor Who was, after all, easily mocked. So Grade had a show he could rail against the production values of and have everyone acknowledge that he was right, then make a joke about how a small number of people stayed up all night in their parents' basement writing letters to complain and hit a known stereotype of Doctor Who fans. And then poof - he's saving the BBC for the masses from the clutches of some entitled man-children. How very convenient. And this is what people should hate Michael Grade for - not for cancelling Doctor Who, but for using its fans as his own private Arthur Scargill.

But we know that, by all appearances, he didn't really want to cancel the show outright. Or, at least, he didn't try to cancel it outright in 1985. Which leaves us with the uncomfortable implication that it was the Levine-fronted fan campaign to save Doctor Who that gave Grade the opportunity he needed to make Doctor Who into his punching bag of choice. And here we begin to approach the erased alternative to what actually happened.

It is worth noting that there was, in fact, a massive wave of popular attention directed towards Doctor Who during the suspension crisis, with both The Sun and The Daily Star running "save Doctor Who" campaigns. The former is explicable enough - they were fed an almost certainly fictitious line about how the BBC was trying to bluff the government into giving them money and jumped on it as part of their standing hostility to the BBC. (The fact that Michael Grade's later career is as a Tory peer in the House of Lords suggests that any theory based on him wanting to start a fight with the government is speculative at best.) But The Daily Star is not a particularly political paper, and even The Sun, for all its overt political agenda, won't touch something without a strong populist angle. That both would launch "Save Doctor Who" campaigns, in other words, suggests that Doctor Who was still beloved by a wider public.

This is the position, of course, that's excluded from both Ian Levine and Michael Grade's account. Levine is so utterly obsessed with Doctor Who's cult fandom aspects that he genuinely doesn't seem to care about a mass audience. And this is why Attack of the Cybermen, though not even the worst story of its season, is the one that's such an easy target - it's the one that doesn't even pretend that there's a reason to watch the show other than a Whoniverse fetish. And this is what's staggeringly absent from all of Levine's defenses of the program in 1985 and 1986 - the actual defences of the program. Levine takes it almost completely for granted that Doctor Who is fantastic and wonderful, and just lays into the BBC for not appreciating its splendor. When, in truth, there are clearly a large number of people who want to like Doctor Who but who are, at the moment, failing to actually do so.

The issue here, and it's a big one, is that Doctor Who was never a cult show in the UK before 1985. It had its embarrassing fans, sure, but it was mainstream entertainment. Even in 1985 there's an odd tension between its return to Saturdays (its supposed "proper" timeslot, and one targeted at a family audience) and its descent even further into the cult-TV rabbit hole of the Whoniverse. Even in the US - where it actually was an obscure cult show - it didn't work like a traditional piece of cult science fiction. Certainly it was never the show Ian Levine wanted it to be, and the good will of the public that had sustained it for twenty-two years had nothing to do with any of the things Ian Levine liked about the program. In this regard Levine was the exact wrong face for the public campaign to save the series simply because the series he loved wasn't one the public wanted saved. If they had, they'd have watched it. They didn't, and the ratings showed that.

And this isn't, to be clear, a swipe at fans. Clearly Doctor Who had plenty of fans in the 1980s who knew what the public loved about the series. You can tell because, well, they're writing it now and the public loves it. Ian Levine was no more representative of fandom than he was of the general public. Levine represented the fan-industrial complex, not fandom. And that position - that blindness to the quality of the show - is what set him up for the epic pratfall that was his public defense of it.

In this regard, it can't be ignored that the press campaign spearheaded by Levine was done with the explicit approval of Nathan-Turner, who, for reasons of obvious propriety, couldn't blast his bosses in the press personally. But equally, this reveals the show's "save Doctor Who" campaign for what it was - a "save John Nathan-Turner's reputation" campaign that adamantly denied that the series had gone off the rails in the first place. And what's tragic is that all of this was avoidable. It's not just Levine's failure, nor even just the production staff's - Jonathan Powell has been open about how there was no institutional will to reinvent Doctor Who.

But for that matter, its not all that clear that in late February of 1985 there was a sense in the BBC that Doctor Who needed a reinvention. Again we come back to the seeming fact that the suspension was never supposed to be that permanent. Yes, it was a vote of no confidence in the production team, but it clearly wasn't a full one or else there would have been an alternative in place. In reality it looks like budgets were tight for that year and so they took some long-running programs off the air to free up money for other things. (We'll talk about those other things in a few entries, but it's worth noting that 1985/86 was a phenomenally good period for BBC dramas.) They always intended to put the program back, and accepted, broadly speaking, that it was going to be a program they thought was crap but that other people seemed to like. It was just a program they didn't care enough about to keep on the air when they were short on cash. And in this regard, going ballistic at the BBC over it forced the BBC's hand. At that point they had to defend their actions, and between the program's low quality and the gigantic bullseye Ian Levine was painting on his back, well, the defense of the BBC's actions wasn't hard - they blamed the low quality of the series.

Which brings us to "Doctor In Distress," Ian Levine's charity single to save Doctor Who. That the song and lyrics are appallingly bad has been pointed out enough that I have no need or reason to join the pile. Less often noted, but still significant, is that the song is yet another example of too perfect a metaphor. Here are a bunch of pathetic C-list celebrities singing a terrible song about how good Doctor Who is. The result is confirmation of how bad Doctor Who is - so bad that it inspires crap like this and that people like this like it.

But there's a larger and more interesting problem. Let's, for the moment, take "Doctor In Distress" seriously, if only because nobody else ever has. Inasmuch as the song forms an argument for the series' existence, what is the argument? Let's look at the first verse: "It was a cold wet night in November 22 years ago / It was a police box in a junkyard - we didn't know where it would go / An old man took two teachers into time and space / It started off a legend that no other could replace." What is telling here is that it is the legend, it seems, that is irreplaceable, not the show itself. This is reflected in the chorus - it is the Doctor who is in distress and whose SOS is being answered. Not the show, but the fictional character. Similarly, the lines "If we stop his travels, he'll be in a mess / The galaxy will fall to evil once more / With nightmarish monsters fighting a war" are puzzling in that they seem to suggest that the biggest danger of Doctor Who's' cancellation is that imaginary species will run riot without him.

Indeed, what is strangest about the song is that the Doctor himself is curiously absent from it. The only point where he's described is in the line "We learned to accept six Doctors with companions at their side," as if the Doctor is some imposition on his own show that gets in the way. The companions fare little better, with the line "Each screaming girl just hoped that a Yeti wouldn't shoot her" suggesting an almost total extraneousness to a show that is really about monsters. And let's be more explicit - specifically about recurring monsters. The lyrics don't focus on bits of the show that are well-remembered by the public (or else Autons and maggots would appear) but on bits that have appeared multiple times.

All of this bespeaks a larger hubris implicit in the song. It's overtly modeled on songs like "Do They Know It's Christmas" (released a few months earlier) and "We Are the World" (released a week earlier). But, well, "Do They Know It's Christmas" and "We Are The World" are about famine in Africa. There's something phenomenally, jaw-droppingly wrong about appropriating a format created to fight famine in Africa for the purposes of bitching that you have to wait eighteen months for the next episode of your favorite sci-fi show. And this blindness mirrors itself uncannily in the lyrics themselves - most obviously when the line "That police box takes him everywhere" is followed by "Oh! Bring him back!" in a way that oddly implies that the basic and expansive premise of Doctor Who - the ability of it to do anything - is antithetical to what its fans want. The song is, in the end, a monument to nothing more than fan privilege in such a distended and warped form that the very thing that it ostensibly calls for is excised. If we treat Doctor Who over Season 22 as having gone through an exorcism, "Doctor In Distress" is the horrifying moment when fandom looks at all of the putrescent material that the season exposed and shouts "Yes! That's what we love! Bring it back, don't hesitate!"

And in all of this, it's difficult not to see the fan-industrial complex, and by extension Levine, as very much to blame. Because let's face it - The Daily Star, if not The Sun, were going to pick this one up either way. The Sun had fought to save K-9 only five years earlier. But had that campaign not been the one we had, with offensive charity singles and photographs of angry-looking men smashing televisions, it's easy to imagine a wave of populist pressure to reinvent Doctor Who instead of preserve it. Hints of it existed at the time. Jon Pertwee, for instance, went hilariously off-message in suggesting that they bring back past Doctors for a season each. Though this would probably have been disastrous, it again gets at the fact that there were other angles to take - that people wanted Doctor Who, they just didn't want John Nathan-Turner and Eric Saward's Doctor Who. The idea that they wanted Barry Letts's again in 1985 was ludicrous, sure. But had fandom not been so blinded by the fan-industrial complex and the dishy access to their idols it granted them one can easily imagine a fan response to the suspension that was based not on "bring it back now we won't take less" but on "can we please have a worthy program again with some proper writers?"

But instead we got the John Nathan-Turner Legacy Preservation Campaign. And by the time Levine went off-message and leaked the cut in episode order for the return, an incident that seems to have been more or less where he and Nathan-Turner stopped getting on, the damage was irrevocable. Michael Grade had a convenient enemy, John Nathan-Turner had ensured his job and that he could just carry on as he had been, and we were all set for the disastrous reinvention that wasn't of Trial of a Time Lord. It would take just a year more for the show to begin its turnaround, and by 1988, as we'll see, it got to where it was a show that the public could plausibly have embraced. But by then it was too late. Public outrage had been squandered on defending the desiccated corpse of a series left at the end of Season 22. The show was, as of April of 1985, finally completely doomed.


  1. While I agree that there's a little bit of Levine in all of us and I don't like to get too deeply involved in bashing him (although I have in the past), to be fair, he does bring a lot of it on himself. Not just through his actions or his status as elder-fan or whatever, but through his rather unnecessarily combative manner of conduct. I mean, yeah, we've all probably gotten embroiled in shouting matches on the Internet about things we love, but there comes a point where you just have to draw a line in the sand, take a step back and say it doesn't really matter THAT much, and Ian just seems to be one of those people who's all but incapable of taking that step.

    He also seems to be one of those fans who just wants something around for the sake of it, even if it's just something he can endlessly whinge about.

    As for Michael Grade, as much as he's the 'villain' in this escapade I can't really blame him too much for either his actions at the time -- as has been noted, "Doctor Who" simply wasn't performing, and the BBC ultimately isn't just a charity for "Who" fans and needs to operate accordingly -- or for his resultant dislike of the series, given how much of the fan outrage has centred on him. I mean, good heavens fandom, surely we can start to forgive an almost-thirty year old business decision that we all kind of have to admit was at least partly justified anyway?

    1. Have to agree here. Ian Levine may be a "professional fan" with all that represents, but to me he's more of a "professional asshole". He has a habit of horribly verbally abusing people who hold different opinions to him and threatening legal action over the most minor things (like him screaming about and threatening to sue people who do reconstructions because the besmirch the good name of Loose Canon).

      Frankly I'm not too keen on the idea of granting him too much benefit of the doubt.

  2. The one thing you forgot to add about Ian is that he's very, very rich.

    He can afford to hire the surviving members of the cast of "Shada" (sans Tom Baker) and get them to voice an animated version of the story for his private amusement. He's also produced a version of Terrance Dicks novel "The Eight Doctors" for himself, despite proclaiming on many occasions that no non-TV Doctor Who amounts to anything more than fan fiction.

    I can't remember if you're going to carry on to the New Series or not but if you are I'm looking forward to what you have to say about his appearance as Victor Kennedy in 'Love & Monsters'.

    1. And what a telling choice of novel to adapt.

    2. The Eight Doctors is a novel? I thought it was a torture implement.

    3. I am going to carry on through the novels, to the new series, and up to the present day. The declared stopping point of the blog is when I catch up with Doctor Wh, as I am uninterested in continuing it without the benefit of history.

    4. As for his wealth... yeah. I can't even wrap my head around what a complete collection of DC Comics must cost.

    5. "The declared stopping point of the blog is when I catch up with Doctor Wh, as I am uninterested in continuing it without the benefit of history."

      Have you considered the odd future hiatus in order to let the series (and history) recede a little bit so you can pick it up again? After all, at some stage you may find yourself blogging about an episode that only finished the month before, whereas allowing that month to stretch into six would improve the historical perspective, so to speak.

    6. I've thought about it. But I kind of like the idea of history slowly running out until I reach the present. There's a denouement such that the project reaches something that is a meaningful ending. I like endings. And unlike Doctor Who itself, this blog feels like it should have one.

      That doesn't rule out sequels though. I may well come back and do a run of entries to wrap up the Moffat/Smith era, which I'm guessing will outlast this blog. Or the whatever-follows-Moffat/Smith era, if I outlast them.

    7. We'll have to make our own Phil Sandifer blogs during the inevitable Wilderness Years. Out of wood.

    8. I think if you cover enough of the books over a long-enough period of time, it'll give you the distance to cover up to Series 5 or 6.

      Here's hopin'... :-D

    9. Weird story: I actually know why Levine chose The Eight Doctors to adapt. He claims that it was at one point considered for an anniversary special during the Wilderness Years, and that as a completist he feels that he has to create a reconstruction for anything that made it to the production stage. So he's done all of the "lost" Season 23 stories (Gallifray, Yellow Fever and How To Cure It, etc) and Shada and, yes, The Eight Doctors.

      I think this speaks to OCD to some degree.

  3. "So with the knowledge that in 30 years time someone is going to nail me to the wall as the archetype of a disastrously smug postmodern turn in fandom"...

    Why wait 30 years?

    "The result was that one of the go-to sources for quotes about Doctor Who fandom was, by and large, happy to serve as a mouthpiece for the producer."
    Well, yes, but more damning is that he effectively became the major outside-voice influencing the production team. Hence in a very real sense Dr Who in the 80s became Dr Who made for Ian Levine.

    "While it's overstating the case to suggest that anybody who dislikes McCoy is guilty of this, the fact remains that a significant thread of McCoy bashing has its roots in nothing more than the fact that fandom decided in 1986 that anything Nathan-Turner did was rubbish."
    Indeed. Certainly the first two seasons aren't easy to sit through, and Keff McCulloch being... well, Keff McCulloch didn't help (nor did the concept of Ace and her "swearing", and all of that either, mind...), but I'd argue that the last two serials of season 25 and season 26 really in toto mark a remarkable upswing.

    What is really unpleasant in all this is that it wasn't just Levine, though, and he wasn't the worst. The "Liverpool incident" demonstrates just how nasty the fans could be, and their habit of blaming the actors for the state of the show (to the extent that McCoy was frequently blamed for "getting the show cancelled") shows just how rabid the massed ranks of fans were.

    "This is, in many ways, Levine's modus operandi, and it's a fair part of why he comes in for so much criticism"
    Well, yes. The other reason, however, reveals his true nature as a lesser demon: he made his money out of doing Stock-Aitken-Waterman knock-offs.

    "There's something phenomenally, jaw-droppingly wrong about appropriating a format created to fight famine in Africa for the purposes of bitching that you have to wait eighteen months for the next episode of your favorite sci-fi show."
    Yes. But Doctor Who is, by this point, a religion. Like the major religions of football, Antithatcher, and Star Trek. In this model, Nathan-Turner is the priest, and Levine is the man who knows every inch of every rubric, and phones his priest up in the middle of the night, worried about X, Y, or Z. He is, in short, Ned Flanders. But swap out Flanders' Christianity for a fanatical devotion of a TV programme.

    "But instead we got the John Nathan-Turner Legacy Preservation Campaign."
    Wasn't Nathan-Turner basically given no choice but to stay on the programme? Or was that later on?

    1. "Why wait 30 years?"


      "Wasn't Nathan-Turner basically given no choice but to stay on the programme? Or was that later on?"

      The repeated attempts by Nathan-Turner to quit all come post-Trial.

    2. Worth noting that JNT was not, until production of S21 was completed, a Producer as far as the Drama Department was concerned. He was doing a producer's job, he got a producer's salary and was credited as a producer on his show, but he was, bureaucratically speaking, still a production manager who was 'Acting Up'.

      Had he left Dr Who he may have had to go back to being a PUM or token Associate Producer(as George Gallacio did after the mini-disaster of The Omega Factor), he basically stayed on Dr Who until his promotion was confirmed. Which was more or less immediately before the 'cancellation crisis' blew up in his face. So there are threads within threads there.

      He had also been working on the potential soap opera 'Impact' (a revival of the 60s show 'Compact) for about a year at this point, so was clearly looking to move on anyway. He also indicated in later years that had K9 & Company taken off, he would have liked to have produced that, giving Doctor Who over to someone else after the twentieth anniversary. (Possibly Saward, who harboured ambitions of becoming a Producer at this time.)

    3. What was the "Liverpool incident"? I'm interested because I attended fan events in Liverpool in the eighties.

    4. Some fans in Liverpool published a fanzine that mocked Colin Baker's loss of his son to cot death.

    5. Thanks. I didn't know that.

    6. I don't understand how come there was no point between writing the fanzine, making the layout, getting it printed up and distributing it, that any of the "fans" thought that it might be a bad idea and that perhaps they shouldn't do it.

  4. I like to think that Ian Levine is to DW as August Derleth is to Lovecraftian horror fiction. He facilitated good in terms of preserving the heritage of his favourite bit of culture, but he perpetrated bad in his own direct contributions to it, not least because he was obsessed with minutiae and completely missed what was actually great about it. We kind of owe him thanks and scorn at the same time, which is an awkward combination that in itself might fuel our resentment.

    I should probably add the caveat that August Derleth was a prolific missing-the-point knock-off writer in several fields, not just in the Lovecraftian, and that his profile generally is a lot higher than Ian Levine's. It's a comparison I find useful, but not exactly a direct one.

    Simon - what's all this about a special Ian Levine edition of The Eight Doctors? Any more juicy details?

    1. Lately, Ian Levine has been making animations and recons for nearly anything peripherally Doctor Who. He did a fully animated Shada with most of the original cast back, which he offered to 2|Entertain who turned him down, a fully animated Mission to the Unknown, and a recon of the original Episodes 3 and 4 of Planet of Giants that will be on the DVD.

      But this just scratches the surface. Either as recons or animation, he's done The Eight Doctors with impersonators for the Doctors but loads of the original companions back, an extended special edition of Dimensions in Time from the deleted scenes, a new version of Downtime with Sylvester McCoy filmed scenes, Lost in the Dark Dimension, Death Comes to Time, the original Season 23 (using the BF Lost Stories for some and original scripts such as Yellow Fever and Gallifrey) and Season 27 (again, using the BF Lost Stories)... I think I'm missing some.

      Although he has offered some to the DW range and has said vague things about hoping one day all this can be seen, he IS mainly doing these simply because he's rich enough to pay for all of this and hire animators and William Russell, Carole Ann Ford, Frazer Hines, Lalla Ward, etc. simply for his own personal amusement.

    2. It's not perfect,but I like your Derleth comparison. Levine is amazingly hard for me to figure out how to react to, and you hit on part of the reason. Phil covers the case against pretty clearly,but the list of positives is also quite high, and not just related to Doctor Who. I have multiple books from DC where Ian provided the source material when DC's own library was inadequate.

      At the end of the day, Ian Levine has been consistantly willing to put his time and money towards helping preserve and share the history of Doctor Who and DC Comics,and I have multiple items of both in my personal collection that can be tracked back to him. For that I am truly grateful.

      I just wish I didn't flinch so much when he turns up as the public face of fandom.

    3. Trigger warning needed before mentioning Derleth!

      Perhaps the worst thing he did was putting forward his own works under Lovecraft's name, on the pretext that he had merely "completed" (by a dozen or a hundred pages' worth) some "story" of Lovecraft's that turned out to be a handful of lines.

    4. While working on my dissertation I discovered that Derleth is also responsible for the fact that we have the complete run of color Krazy Kat preserved. For this alone I find it necessary to forgive him his faults.

    5. So his redeeming features are of the same kind as Levine's?

    6. Yes, though to my knowledge he was not much of a self promoter on the subject. And, you know, actually was the sole reason we had copies of the color Krazy Kat comics for decades as opposed to, in most cases, a clearing house for other people's finds.

    7. I enjoyed Derleth's Lovecraft and Doyle pastiches when I was a preteen. I am not so sure I would have enjoyed ATTACK OF THE CYBERMEN or "Doctor in Distress."

    8. I do wish we could see his version of "Shada."

    9. I was among the second batch of fans who made their way to Acton on Tuesday to see Ian Levine's Shada. Very good it was too. I wrote my review of it on Gallifrey Base under the name Kongroove. It was very weird meeting other fans at the French restaurant beforehand and having to introduce ourselves twice: once by name and once by handle.

    10. "I do wish we could see his version of "Shada.""

      Oh man, August Derleth's version of Shada would be mind-blowing.

  5. Sadly this period of Doctor Who seems to have cemented forever the public perception of the show as being one that exists for, and is only watched by, sad anorak-type geeks with personal hygiene problems and no social skills.

    Now I've just cracked 50, and have been watching Doctor Who on an off since the late 60s. I wouldn't class myself simply as a Fan though (and I certainly would object to being called a "whovian"). My relationship with the show is more complex than that, and I suspect it probably mirrors that of most viewers.

    Doctor Who is a show that, unusually for Television, has been around for as long as anyone my age and younger can remember, and I have grown up with it. This of course means watching it as a child (Troughton to early Baker), then watching as a teenager (late Baker), then not watching it at all (Davison to McCoy) and finally as an adult with my own kids (Ecceston onwards).

    One thing I do recall over this long period of Who-watching is the change in public perception of the show, mainly reflected in the responses of people to finding out that I watched the show.

    The show was never derided for being geeky or sad, or just for being a children's show, at least through the years of the first three Doctors. Personally I think this is down to the fact that today the sterotypical Doctor Who fan is portrayed as someone who started watching the show as a child, and is now in their 30s-40s and "hasn't grown up".

    But even by the time the 4th Doctor appeared there wasn't yet anyone alive who fit this bill, because the show hadn't been around long enough. Even if you were 6 when "An Unearthly Child" aired, you were still only 18 in 1975. You might still be watching, but you couldn't be accused of being obsessive.

    This ties in with Phil's observations that Doctor Who fandom as we know and recognise it today, didn't really start until the which time you are starting to see a growing number of fans who are now in their mid to late 20s.


    1. -continued.

      About this time I noticed derisive comments from people whenever I mentioned that I "liked" Doctor Who. This for me meant having fond memories of Pertwee and Troughton, and a liking for iconic objects such as Daleks, Cybermen and the TARDIS. I didn't go to conventions or even (if we're talking 81 onwards) watch Doctor Who, and yet the mere mention of the show got me branded as a "Doctor Who fan".

      This attitude persisted non-stop from then until the first few years of the 21st Century, unabated until Wham! 2005 and suddenly we had a complete paradigm shift. You can see this from posts on GallifreyBase (or Outpost Gallifrey as it was) between '05 and '06. Doctor Who is cool. Everyone's watching it. Not only that, but the majority of the adult viewers are those who unashamedly used to watch it. Everyone's got fond memories of their childhood Doctor, and I mean everyone. Not just fans. In fact during the first 2 seasons of the new series you can't even differentiate between fans and Fans. Everyone's a fan.

      Which brings me to the fantastically paradoxical fact that it's starting to creep back again, regardless of the fact that to all intents Doctor Who is still being watched by as many people as in 2005. And yet we are starting to see comments about "geeky fans" again. I work in an office where most people watch it, and yet because I used to watch it years ago, I am starting to get laughed at for being an anorak again. This is doubly ironic because not only was I never a stereotypical Who Fan, I wasn't even watching it during the period when the idea of the stereotypical fan first came into being!

      The derision has changed slightly now, of course. "Who Fans" are no longer people who simply "watch Doctor Who" - because today almost everyone watches Doctor Who, and you're not going to lump yourself into the group you're taking the piss out of. No, today the stereotype is a little different, and is almost exclusively reserved for people who "used to watch it when it was on before."

      Doctor Who fandom, and it's reciprocal relationship with the General Public is truly a fascinating subject, and tells us a heck of a lot about the nature of both obsession and other people's perception of what constitutes obsession.

    2. I personally have come to prefer the Moffat era to RTD's, but it's easy to see why that change in perception has happened. The RTD era very much aimed to be cut from the same cloth as the other big, British populist entertainment of that era like The X-Factor and Britain's Got Talent, where as some of the tropes of Moffat's, with its complicated story arcs and quirkier Doctors, are more commonly associated with "nerd" shows.

      Also, and this goes for both the RTD and Moffat era, there's been a gradual shift throughout the new series' six seasons of acknowledging and embracing the classic series more. Now, Series 1 still had lots of little lovely homages, but they were more there for those that noticed them and in the background. In order to be successful, the show had to openly throw its hands up and say, "Forget what came before, watch it NOW and you'll be interested" and be very cautious about what it referenced and when. Four years later, the season finale stops so Sarah Jane can reminisce about Genesis of the Daleks with Davros. Now that was a story that was still very much aimed at the BGT crowd and it got Number 1 in the ratings that week (undeservedly, IMO, but that's another discussion), but you can see how this perception of the classic Who audience shifted as classic Who got more and more prominent in newer Who.

      Tragically, and I say this as a 21-year old American, I think the fact that "people who used to watch it when it was on before" is now what people mock is disgusting. I've always hated mainstream society's emotional blackmail about liking certain things and the lazy stereotypes, linking with it assumptions about one's hygiene, living situation (fucking basements...) or habits. But as a polyamorous, bisexual stoner/psychonaut who has his own apartment and showers every day, I would say that.:p

    3. You know that's twice someone's mentioned living in basements in this entry, and it sound really strange to a Brit. I know you guys turn your basements into living space (I've seen it on US sitcoms) but we just don' in our basements. And anyway we call them cellars!

      That aside, yes I think you've right that the re-emergence of Geek-mock seems to mirror the new series' embracing of the classic series. For all his perceived faults (fandom ones, not mine), RTD took pains to aim his show squarely at the mainstream, aware of the damage that Who's "cultness" had done in the past. It was only perhaps after Series 2 that the show started to re-introduce new viewers to the classic series. Kind of like finally bringing a shy reclusive older brother out of the shadows where he's been hiding out since all the vitriol directed at him 20 years previous. "This is the classic series. He's been unfairly maligned over the years, perhaps undeservedly so, but please give him another chance, because without him you wouldn't have me."

      Unfortunately this has just reminded everyone of how crap he was, and how much fun it was to take the piss out of people who liked him.

    4. Yeah, "lives in his parents' basement" is a very common US stereotype about anoraks. The implication is that they're too inept to survive in the real world or hold a real job and so they're stuck, siphoning off their parents' good will. The fact that basements aren't usually a living space (even in the US) is also a dig at them, as in they're too old and/or unwanted to be given a proper bedroom, and are tolerated by being thrown somewhere out of sight, out of mind.

      Sickening, of course, and like all stereotypes, perhaps based in a smidgen of truth, but then exaggerated and smeared across entire groups with any individual case being definitive "proof" (look at the comments section to any YouTube video where a black person acts cocky or disrespectful; you'll find the comments filled with idiots saying not only racist comments, but racists comments that act like this one video justifies their prejudice). There's nothing inherently wrong with living in a cellar anymore than there is eating fried chicken or being good at math; where it's harmful is when negative associations are attached to those concepts in the context of particular groups and then extrapolating from that, an assumption that if you're from that group, you more than likely fit that concept.

      For what it's worth, I'm someone who met the younger brother first, but have quite enjoyed getting to know and spending quality time with the older brother.

    5. This, in turn, has a particularly brutal effect in the current economy, when people in their 20s are getting hit the hardest by unemployment. A lot of my generation has had to move back home to varying levels of appalling social stigma.

    6. There's far less of a stigma in the UK, where people who still live at home with their parents are mostly envied for the amount of their free disposable income. Living at home is not seen as an admission of failure in the UK, as due to the vastly inflated house prices most people can't afford to move out until their early 30s anyway. And when they do, they have to spend so much of their income on mortgage or rent that living at home still sounds attractive. As an example our combined wage is about £34,000 a year, whereas our house (3-bedroomed semi) is probably worth almost 5 times that. Rental of a similar property would be about £500 a month (a third of my monthly take-home pay).

    7. "Unfortunately this has just reminded everyone of how crap he was, and how much fun it was to take the piss out of people who liked him."

      I dunno. I mean, I don't doubt this has happened, but in my experience -- which is admittedly mostly online -- there seems to be plenty of new series viewers who are actually quite generous to the classic series when they watch it, if not it's fans (but then, considering the fans who generally tend to come in for mockery from said new series fans also tend to be those who have no small reserves of vitriol for the new series themselves, this is perhaps not entirely unexpected or unreasonable). Particularly since there is no way of getting around the fact that it was made in a time when the TV viewing habits were much different and the generations that are getting into the new series have grown up with completely different styles of television.

      Does it still come in for some mockery? Naturally, but then it's a creaky old British science fiction series made on what these days is barely even a shoestring budget; it would, frankly, be ridiculous if it DIDN'T.

    8. What we have to remember is that it's not actually the Classic series that is being mocked, but the fans of the Classic series. I would guess that by far the majority of new viewers have never seen anything earlier than 1996. Classic Who is almost never repeated in the UK (another symptom of the "embarrassing older brother syndrome", and to go out and buy a DVD of “Day of the Daleks” completely on trust is something I doubt many new viewers would do.

      As to my comment about everyone remembering how crap it was, again that’s the perceived wisdom, along with the idea of “cardboard sets that wobbled”. These are all lazy generalisations that are simply transferred down the generations. As this blog should have told all of us who’ve been following it, there have been whole decades in the past where the show was considered perfectly acceptable, enjoyable, and competent Television for its time. There have been times the show could have won awards (if anyone had considered nominating it), and other times when it was frankly embarrassing. In other words no different to any other Television of the time.

      But for various reasons Doctor Who has acquired derisory baggage along the way. Baggage aimed primarilyat the fans of the show, but then reflecting from the fans onto the show itself. That baggage has now stuck, and will last as long as the show does, no matter what anyone tries to do to dispel it. Like the fact that JFK said “I am a Jam donut” or that a duck’s quack doesn’t echo, “Old Doctor Who was crap, watched by nerds” is now firmly ensconced in the public consciousness. Sadly I forsee a time when Eccleston and Tennant will be included in this generalisation, though hopefully not for a decade or so.

    9. >Like the fact that JFK said “I am a Jam donut” or that > a duck’s quack doesn’t echo, “Old Doctor Who was
      > crap, watched by nerds” is now firmly ensconced in
      > the public consciousness.

      I don't think that's true. If anything I think the opposite became true a few years ago. The success (and, yes, quality) of the current iteration of the series has redeemed, even sanctified, the series previous incarnation(s) in the public mind. Anecdotally it's now this one big rolling success that no one understands why it was cancelled in the first place. Certainly the children of friends of mine, without exception, will cheerfully watch twentieth century Doctor Who on discarded VHS or DVD and regard it as a legitimate precursor to what they watch now. Equally, the people I work with are generally warm and nostalgic about the Doctor Who of their childhood. Speaking from experience, this was simply not the case in the first half of the first decade of this century.

    10. Well I can certainly speak from experience. Back in 2005 when the new series was in full flow, any comments I made about Doctor Who (e.g. Dalek design over the years, how the TARDIS worked, what that silver head was in Van Stratton's museum) were listened to and questioned with genuine interest. Now, only 7 years later, current viewers know all about Cybermen and Regeneration, and yet if I remark on my knowledge of the classic series I am treated with the amused mockery familiar from 20 years ago. And I'm not alone. Another work colleague, who grew up watching McCoy, has also noticed this as well. And even 30 years later you still get the odd "I bet you've got a long scarf" comment.

    11. The conversation reminds me of some of Phil's comments from some of his entries around the Hinchcliffe era and the Mary Whitehouse conflict about being bullied as a child for being a Doctor Who fan in the early 1990s in Massachusetts. (Did I get your state right, Phil? I can't quite remember.) The show has been received in a variety of different ways, given its visibility in its culture.

      Levine perfectly represents the most contemptible elements of Doctor Who's fan-industrial complex. But the show has such a different visibility now. Judging by Spacewarp's comments about watching the show in the 1960s, I'd say he's in the UK. But its North American and worldwide visibility is so different now that the British experience doesn't necessarily speak to it.

      I remember Phil discussing how he drove by his old elementary school a few years ago, and saw a snow sculpture Dalek, the sign that the good kind of Doctor Who fans had finally won: we had made Doctor Who cool. Geek culture in North America has gone pretty much mainstream, supplying many major elements of popular culture, but also maintaining its underground creative elements. Everyone knows who The Avengers are, but the deep and creative students of the art know about Alan Moore's Swamp Thing run. Doctor Who is part of this. And I think Steven Moffat taking the cast to San Diego's Comic-Con for season six publicity was precisely the right way to court sci-fi fans today.

      When I see people at conventions in American cosplaying Doctor Who (whether as Doctors, companions, monsters, or the TARDIS), that's a sign of success. Yes, the stodgier members of the culture will still make fun of them. But there's a key difference between making fun of a Doctor Who fan in 1994 and in 2012. In 2012, it's a square making fun of a cool person.

    12. "As to my comment about everyone remembering how crap it was, again that’s the perceived wisdom, along with the idea of “cardboard sets that wobbled”. These are all lazy generalisations that are simply transferred down the generations. As this blog should have told all of us who’ve been following it, there have been whole decades in the past where the show was considered perfectly acceptable, enjoyable, and competent Television for its time. "

      Key words being: for it's time.

      You can't get around that. Yes, there's loads about "Doctor Who" and it's fans that are wonderful, amazing television, entire periods where it was among the best things ever put on TV -- we wouldn't be here otherwise. But it is still a product of the eras that produced it. And that means it dates. EVERYTHING does, except maybe a few rare exceptions. "Doctor Who" as a concept is timeless. "Doctor Who" as an actual TV show is part of the TV landscape that produced it, and like it or not, future generations are going to find things to mock about it. There's no getting around that and, frankly, for all we'd like to it's pure wishful thinking to believe otherwise.

      "But for various reasons Doctor Who has acquired derisory baggage along the way. Baggage aimed primarily at the fans of the show, but then reflecting from the fans onto the show itself."

      Everything dates. Everything gets subject to perceived wisdom. Everything accumulates baggage, especially if it lasts for as long as "Doctor Who" did. It happened to "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" for much the same reasons. There's no real use railing against it, because the key thing is in how that mockery is done, and like Jim Smith I suspect that these days the mockery is at least partially affectionate. In the 1990s and early 'noughties, I'd have fully agreed that the mockery of the show and it's fans was more mean-spirited, but it really strikes me that it's a lot more friendly and good-humoured now. Frankly, "I bet you've got a long scarf" isn't the worst insult that can be hurled at someone.

      "Sadly I forsee a time when Eccleston and Tennant will be included in this generalisation, though hopefully not for a decade or so."

      Of course they will. Every generation finds reasons to mock the ones that came before it. It's a consolation you get from enjoying something old -- the fact that one day, your attackers will have to defend their precious loves from the same kinds of taunts they've subjected yours too.

    13. Musing . . . I'm the same age as Phil, and I discovered Doctor Who a little earlier than he did, age four, watching classic series episodes on a Canadian children's station that bought a pile of British television to fill out its schedule for the first few years it existed. I didn't quite go through the same social ostracism he did over Doctor Who. Because it was on a popular children's cable channel right after school, I had friends in primary school who watched it too. I left the show behind for a long time, only coming back to it to try out the 1996 movie (utterly underwhelmed), and only really returning to it in the early 2000s thanks to my internet investigations.

      But, given the evolution of the show, the kind of Doctor Who biographies Phil and I have may be the best way to experience the show. We never lived through the trauma of the cancellation as it was happening, and could explore the classic series on its own terms as a private interest. Then when the new series began, the childhood hero returns stronger than ever, and occupies a place in global pop culture more remarkable than it had ever been before. Considering that Phil and I are also both underemployed academics/writers, it can be an inspiration in the stupidly hard times we live in. Trying to get by is a little easier when your fictional hero has overcome the toughest times imaginable, thanks to the efforts and talents of the real people who now make the show.

    14. Yes the mockery is good-natured, and of course now I'm in my 50s it doesn't affect me the same way it would if I'd been younger. And I'm glad to say that today's youngsters (the real viewers) are still fond of the programme. Up until a few years back my daughter used tp come home with tales of playing Doctor Who in the school playground a few years back (though she did get annoyed as, being blonde, she always ended up being Rose).

      Yes I'm in the UK, the East Midlands, Nottingham, and I work in a University.

    15. to go out and buy a DVD of “Day of the Daleks” completely on trust is something I doubt many new viewers would do.

      Though for people who want to sample the classic show there's plenty of bits on YouTube etc.

    16. While browsing through DVDs in HMV, I noticed a young boy of about 8 or so clutching a copy of Dalek Invasion of Earth and explaining to his father why this was one of the best Hartnell stories. Warmed my curmudgeonly old heart, it did.

    17. Adam: I like your story about different ways of coming at the show shaping the experience. One thing I will point out though is this: the 'cancellation trauma' wasn't necessarily that traumatic. Take me, for example: I was barely aware of it. And we're not talking about some random member of the public either. I went to university with Craig Hinton (coiner of the term 'fanwank') and therefore watched Doctor Who videos on a fairly frequent basis in the early 80s. I traded fanzines with Justin Richards. My first bosses -- in the job I started in 1985 --wrote Time Lord, the Doctor Who RPG, and were later involved with editing the Virgin Adventures series. So I wasn't a hard core fan by any means, but I was hardly a disinterested party either.

      But I hadn't heard of Ian Levine until a couple of years ago, and I don't remember the hiatus as being that much of a big deal. I recall the actual cancellation as more serious, in that during the 'gap', at some point (it could have been when I had to copy edit Mission to Magnus) I realised I was no longer interested in Doctor Who. For all its faults, it took the new series -- especially experienced in the company of a young son -- to revive that interest.

    18. "This, in turn, has a particularly brutal effect in the current economy, when people in their 20s are getting hit the hardest by unemployment. A lot of my generation has had to move back home to varying levels of appalling social stigma."


      And older people changing careers due to current career paths being dead-ends... assuming their parents could afford their kids coming back... much less still live...

      And some say the fundamentals of our economy are still sound... yeah, right...

    19. I remember being a teenage fan during the so-called Wilderness Years of the 90s, and there was no good-naturedness in any of the comments I received; it was genuine social suicide to mention even a liking for the show. Luckily my best friends happened to be just as much fans as me and so I had a social circle I could talk about it with but someone else finding out about it at school was something I genuinely dreaded. I used to buy videos and DWM with the same kind of expression people have when they buy porn (I imagine, ahem...)

      I thought things could improve if the McGann movie turned out to be a stunner... But it didn't exactly turn out to be a stunner!

      I think Phil is right to remind us that while all fans have to accept the fact they share an interest in the same things as Ian Levine, they can take comfort from the fact that Ian Levine has probably does not share a lot of the same interests as them. I care about continuity geekiness and recons (God help me!), but I don't think Levine cares about dialogue, humour or character... And I, and I believe most fans, old and new, recognise that that's what makes Doctor Who Doctor Who.

      Having said that, where do I get off saying how someone should enjoy Doctor Who? If Levine's happy, leave him be, as long as he's not doing anyone any harm!

  6. One of the best books about music I've read is "Last Night A DJ Saved My Life" by Frank Broughton and Bill Brewster and what's of particular interest to us here is the chapter on Northern Soul and Ian Levine's involvement in it.

    Levine, of course, was one of the leading lights on the scene in the mid-70s and became in house DJ at the Blackpool Mecca. However, as the number of "rare groove" Northern Soul records began to dry up, Levine lobbied for the inclusion of other genres on the playlist of the Mecca and other major venues, such as Wigan Casino.

    Ironically, considering how fundamentally traditionalist Levine is when it comes to Who, this approach was an attempt to prolong the life of the scene, by adding a whole new pool of records to dip into. Levine started to play more modern disco records in his sets, which upset the traditionalists, who claimed he was contaminating the purity of Northern Soul.

    Ultimately a schism came that Levine seemed to revel in. He enjoyed the controversy. There were "LEVINE MUST GO" signs seen at the Mecca. Starting to ring any bells?

    In the end, Levine span off into a whole new arena and founded the UK Hi-NRG scene, embodied by the opening of the "ultra disco" Heaven in 1979.

    So with Northern Soul, Levine wanted to introduce new elements to enable it to live; with Doctor Who, he wanted to hold it back, encased in the televisual amber of the Hartnell and Troughton years, the time he admired the programme the most. But, in both cases, the "divide and conquer" method was used.

    Me? If the cancellation of the series had come in 1978, I'd have smashed my TV. In 1985, the news barely registered.

  7. Another point is The District Nurse, the BAFTA winning drama series that was 'suspended' at the same time as Doctor Who, not returning until 1987. There's no indication at all that Doctor Who's initial 'postponement' was anything other than that. A short term decision taken to save money/spread money around/enabling the capital spend required to set up EastEnders properly.

    I agree entirely that the Levine fronted campaign gave Grade an easy target, the 'own private Scargill' you refer to, to be used as the visible opposition to his 'reforms' of the BBC, and I've argued that for years.

    Another factor I think is relevant, and which is much under-reported, is that Grade's antipathy towards the programme seems to come from the internal BBC investigation into why Warriors of the Deep was "unfit for transmission" (in short, blame Thatcher and Mat Irvine in that order) being one of the first things across his desk when he arrived.

    If Warriors of the Deep was my first contact with Doctor Who in decades, I'd probably want to cancel the series too.

    1. "why Warriors of the Deep was "unfit for transmission" (in short, blame Thatcher and Mat Irvine in that order)"

      I don't see why Thatcher or Mat Irvine should shoulder the blame for Warriors of the Dep. Neither of them had anything to do with either writing or commissioning the godawful script.

    2. I think the script, while clunking and nothing special, is basically fine. The serial's main issues come from the need to pull forward its studio recording dates due to the studio requirements of covering the (more or less) "snap" 1983 general election and the special effects department (in this instance led by Mat Irvine) and their inability to cope with the new deadlines. Yeah, there are other problems with the story in terms of lighting and make up and being directed by Pennant Roberts, but it's really only when the Myrka rolls up that the serial goes off a cliff and becomes unfit for transmission.

    3. I've never understood this viewpoint that there was ever a decent script behind Warriors of the Deep. The production faults of the story are the kind of thing I can see past, and really any fan could. But the story, the script and especially the characterisation of the 'heroes' couldn't be more confused and rotten. Give it the same budget as Star Wars or Aliens and it'd still be irredemable.

      Fankly if the Myrka ever was the problem, then the final episode in which the Myrka is completely absent would be enough to save the story. Instead it just means there's nothing to distract from the moronically written climax.

    4. You say this like it's not the only Dr Who story with a climax which is moronic as written. With decent production it would push the same buttons as, say, the execrably scripted but well directed Terror of the Zygons, and many other stories before and after. The production catastrophe is the main issue. Is it a great script? No. Is it functional? Yes. Look at Arc of Infinity. Is that great TV? Of course not. Is it basically functional? Clearly. There's a line between Warriors and almost all other TV Doctor Who that only the aesthetically blind to the point of actual autism would fail to spot, to be honest.

    5. In Terror of the Zygons and stories beforehand there's never a point where the Doctor's actions and judgements fail to make sense given the predicament he is in.

      In Warriors of the Deep, from the moment the Doctor decides to sabotage the base's nuclear reactor, through his constant declarations of how 'noble' and worth preserving the attacking Silurians and Sea Devils are, which is completely contrary to what is happening on screen, and makes him clearly delusional of the entire massacre going on around him... there's never a point where the audience has a chance in hell of being on the same page as him.

      There is no way Warriors of the Deep's script can be considered even remotely 'functional' if the story is that schizophrenic that the action happening on screen and the dialogue of the main character are both telling completely different stories to one another, and the hero is suddenly behaving contrary to any common sense whatsoever and seems incapable of learning anything sensible. Drama kind of depends on characters actually reacting to a predicament, not ignoring the miracle solution lying at their feet all along.

      You can call Terror of the Zygons cliched or routine or childish fare, at least it's not incoherent, nor is it televisually or dramatically illiterate in terms of how it uses its protagonist.

    6. In Terror of the Zygons Sarah finds the Zygon's secret base my moving a secret book in a bookcase that one of the Zygons gives her a stepladder to reach.

      Plus, when the Zygons sleep gas the entire village to get their recording devices back from inside the stag's head so that no one will suspect they're there, the operation goes successfully, but they leave whole where the stag's eyes would be, alerting them to where the bug was and that there really was a bug. Which is ridiculous. There are lots of ways of dealing with that, but that isn't it. That's just thoroughly afunctional.

      Then there's the introduction of an entirely different plot at the end "The Duke... the real Duke.. is the President of the Scottish energy commission!" "That's right, I am!"

      It's a lovely piece of TV, but it gets away with its scripted inanities because of production brio - as does Robert Banks Stewart's other Doctor Who serial. (The Android Invasion from the same production block is similar.)

      This is not to defend Warriors as good or say those three stories aren't better TV. They are. But that's partially production covering up bad scripts, something that happens in Doctor Who far more often than we as fans will admit, with our slightly ludicrous insistence that Doctor Who is some form of pure drama propelled by the power of the written word and belief that production standards are somehow gauche, rather than an integral part of the whole piece.

    7. There's nothing in those plotting glitches that impugns the way that the Doctor and his companions work as an enduring hero myth. At the end of the story the Doctor remains reinforced as the formiddably intelligent, reliable hero we can root for. Warriors of the Deep turns all that completely on its head. It takes those hero myths and completely wrips them out from the heart of the show, giving us a hero incapable of learning anything, or of worthy or even sensible action, or being championable.

      Infact the very late in the game, about turn in the plot you highlight with the move of the plot to London and the energy commission, is certainly prefferable to Warriors of the Deep in that we have the Doctor reacting and adapting quickly to a new predicament and a sudden game changer, rather than being faced with the same predicament throughout the whole of Warriors of the Deep, with the same easy and obvious solution abundantly to hand all the way through from the beginning... and somehow our hero still being completely and obstinately incapable of doing anything to resolve it until everyone's dead.

      If Terror of the Zygons works simply on an endearing sense of pact simplicity, then it can stand as a monument for how the utterly humourless, morally confused, incoherent Warriors of the Deep was never going to work on similar lines, because it can't even approach those lines.

      Frankly when Warriors of the Deep is riding a script which is that po-faced about belligerently forcing whatever anti-war message it thinks it has, down the viewer's throat, and which devotes its ending to contriving to justify some preachy, pretentious sentiment by the Doctor, in the most bleak, humourless and nasty way, whilst being utterly devoid of any whimsy (as written).... it's impossible to then turn around and say 'oh it's not meant to be taken as serious drama anyway'.

  8. The most bizarre coincidence of reading this blog post is that just the oher day, I was sorting thru a stack of old 45s, and one of them was (incredibly) "We Are The World" (YIKES).

  9. "Each screaming girl just hoped that a Yeti wouldn't shoot her."

    It occurs to me that there seems to be a recurring element in the Ian Levine influenced years of Doctor Who (among many). But the most inexplicable one is this: What's with the Yeti?

    They appear in two stories in 1968, appear briefly for no reason, purpose, or consequence in The Five Doctors, are mentioned again in the lyrics of this song, and are mentioned in a line of dialogue in Remembrance of the Daleks. How did the Yeti catch on as B-level monsters in the Nathan-Turner and wilderness years? I am mystified as to how their lore survived.

    1. They survived through me...well people like me. There's a good reason why series like "Tomb of the Cybermen", "Fury From the Deep" and "Web of Fear" are fondly remembered, and the top of everyone's Recovered Episodes Wish List. To a child watching them at the time they were absolutely as scary as f**k. I've recently watched ep 1 of Web for the first time since 1968 and the atmosphere is incredible. Now that may be memory talking, but then that just illustrates the impact those stories had on 1960s children. Tomb was regarded in the same light...right up until it was found, and now the prevailing attitude is "meh...".

      That's why the Yeti caught on. Because our childhood memories are far better than the reality, and we don't have the reality.

    2. And perhaps more specifically because the first generation of fandom were children of the 1960s. Shift the timeline down ten years and you'd probably have a line about each screaming girl just hoping that she wouldn't be turned green by a giant maggot.

    3. Yes, and the most telling example of this is Cyberman discussions on Gallifrey Base (they resurface every 6 months or so). Everybody seems to rate highest Cyberman stories and designs that they watched at their most "Who-pressionable" age (if that isn't a word, it ought to be). Thus fans born in the late 60s think "Revenge" is the pinnacle, while fans my age (born 1961) seem to find "Invasion" or "Moonbase" Cybermen to be the best. Mid-late 70's kids would wet the bed at the thought of "Attack" and "Earthshock". Not so much for Daleks as their design hasn't altered much, but there we've got the "better with/out Davros" argument. This is a generalisation of course, but tends to follow for most fans. UK fans of course. US fans will probably have tastes based on what particular reruns they were brought up on. That's one thing the US had that the UK didn't - regular repeats of Doctor Who. We had to wait until 2006 for that.

    4. Depends on what you had access to though. Between 1991 and 2001 UK Gold must have rerun every complete serial at least three times.

      Your broader point is really a version of Peter Graham's* dictum that "The golden age of science fiction is 12", which has always been sound.

      * early "literary SF fandom" fanzine editor.

    5. Yeah but who had UK Gold back then? Only the Posh kids.

      I love that golden age quote. I've never heard that before, but it's spot on. That's the age when my tastes were cemented - Asimov, Clarke, Doc Smith and Moorcock.

    6. You think? UK Gold was a free channel on Sky and all the data indicates that the vast majority of Sky take up in the early 90s was football related and came from the more affluent end of C2s rather than ABC1s. The whole Murdoch edifice was (rightly) viewed with great suspicion by the middle classes, whatever their political leanings. It wasn't considered respectable to have a satellite dish. Early 90s pop culture is replete with jokes about it being a sign of having no class, or being crass, or being stupid and so on. That's not necessarily my view, but it's the culture of the time.

    7. Maybe I should have said Estate kids, lol. What's that old joke? What do you call the box on the back of a satellite dish? A Council House.

      I'll be honest, I don't know who had satellite back then, though I certainly didn't. Couldn't afford it. However I'm certain that the US started getting Pertwee & Baker reruns on PBS before UK Gold over here. Ironic really that our version of PBS - BBC - never repeated Doctor Who, adding credence to the belief that by the end of the 80s the Corporation was deeply ashamed of the series.

    8. Quite a lot of Doctor Who is repeated on BBC One or Two from about 1970 to 1984. Then again a reasonable amount in the early nineties. The late eighties are a funny time, certainly. The BBC not choosing to exercise its automatic right to repeat for free a portion of the series after 1985 might fit into your assertion, although I don't think the BBC is ashamed of Dr Who in the late 80s, I think it's utterly befuddled by it and has no idea what to do with it or what it's even for. I think, as this piece argues, Levine has to take quite a lot of responsibility for that.

    9. Doctor Who repeats between 1970 and 1984? How did I miss that? I loved Doctor Who during the Pertwee years and would have died for repeats (I had to wait about 30 years to finally see the Peladon ep that I missed thru the Power Cuts). BBC One and Two? Are you sure about this?

    10. Well you're right (though few Pertwees).

      Why the hell don't I remember them?

    11. Yes. 100%. I don't have a list to hand.

    12. That list isn't quite complete. I can post one this evening.

    13. I am mystified as to how their lore survived.

      I suspect the line about a "yeti in the loo" helped to solidify them in fandom's memory.

    14. Indeed - they were used at Pertwee's press call as well.

    15. "Each screaming girl just hoped that a Yeti wouldn't shoot her."

      For some reason I'd always misheard that line as "better yet he wouldn't do her." Perhaps because my brain couldn't quite process the idea that such a song could be this completely devoid of irony.

  10. I've always found the lyrics to this piece very, very, very strange as well. Did he really think monsters would take over the universe if the show wasn't brought back a six months earlier?

    I guess I....wouldn't be that surprised...

  11. When I read essays like this, I always think something like, "Dear God! We fans were a bunch of tossers in the 80s."

    Then I calm down a bit and think, "Why pick on the 80s in particular?..."

  12. Feeling deeply ashamed of Justin Hayward, who should have known better.

  13. Surely the probablilty about the 1985 cancellation story is not that they didn't plan on bringing it back as promised and thus entering this conspiracy, but they had cancelled it and then turned it around to an 18 month cancellation before the announcment for fear of the stink it would cause.

    1. It's really very clear from contemporary material that Doctor Who postponed only. It is only "cancelled" in the sense that the January to March 1986 series is cancelled, i.e it didn't happen. (A definition that DWB resorted to using to defend their 'Cancellation Crisis' angle a few months later.) *Lots* of programmes are either postponed or cancelled at that point. Doctor Who is one of the former. The fan outrage, orchestrated by Levine with JNT's backing forces the BBC to publicly justify a financial decision with relation to creative direction that, bluntly, were nothing to do with the 'postponement' whatsoever. In the process the BBC Ratners the series and unleash the wildest beasts of fandom. Accidentally. That's not conspiracy, that's just what happened.

    2. Lots of programmes were actually cancelled. Out of drama only Miss Marple, Bergerac and Doctor Who survived and even Bergerac was off air for a year. Contemporary material will only show the announcement, it won't show the working out or the mutterings in corridors and meetings. The fact that Grade said he cancelled it should be enough. It doesn't take a great stretch (considering everything else that happened at that time) to imagine a scenario where Grade did cancel Doctor Who along with most other drama output, mutterings got out, Levine heard, then he gave it a reprieve with the 18 month hiatus, the news was officially announced, but because of what had been heard Levine didn't trust the news even though it came to pass.

    3. You missed out The District Nurse.

      It depends what you mean by "contemporary material", I suppose, but it is really, really very clear that there is absolutely no possibility of Doctor Who ending at this point. They renew JNT's contract. They allow JNT to renew Saward's contract. They pick up Colin's contract. It's all there in the paperwork. It remains an ongoing series. The idea that there is a chance of it stopping is entirely fan created, it has no basis in documentation or fact. It's fan argot. It's not TV history. That's 100%. Absolutely 100%.

    4. So this means that the reasons behind the eventual cancellation are still far in the future, and are not anything to do with this season or the next?

      Television programming does tend to work on a seasonal (i.e. what happened that year, ratings-wise) basis, so nobody would cancel a programme in 1989 and then cite the quality of the programme 4 years previously as part of the reason?

      In which case the removal of Colin Baker must have been solely determined by his performance in the TOATL season then?

      (he asks, aware that everyone will have probably moved onto the next post by now)

    5. For my part, at least, I think the answer is somewhere in between the two extremes. Certainly had Seasons 23-26 bounced back to season 19 numbers it's difficult to imagine the show getting axed. And no, nobody is going to cancel Season 27 based on Season 22's ratings. On the other hand, plenty of people are going to not watch Season 26 because Season 22 sucked and they don't believe the show has gotten better. And I think this is where the public support for the series finally gave out.

    6. I agree that the (as we used to call it) Hiatus is where the public's affection for/interest in the show ends, but I think that's a sudden severing rather than patience running out. The ratings for Season 22 are within a margin of error of the ratings for Season 20 & 21. Okay, there's a massive loss between Attack 1 & Attack 2, but Attack 1 is the most watched episode since, what, Time-Flight? And Attack 2 is slap bang in the middle of the average for 82-84.

      It's when Doctor Who goes away and is, as I said, "Ratners" by the BBC itself that it starts to become a bit of a joke. Then, when it returns in 86 it's damaged goods. That it follows the ludicrously unsuccessful Roland Rat The Series as part of a failed BBC One Saturday night line up.

      Also, by that point the fans are very visible. Very audible. You get people like Andrew Beech (and Chris Chibnell!) going on TV to basically say "We're Doctor Who fans and we think this version of it is crap". Now think this'll make the BBC make a version of Doctor Who they like. Whereas it just makes the BBC wonder WTF they're making it for at all. It's a weird sort of momentum that keeps Doctor Who going from 86-89, I think. The BBC seem to sort of feel they should be making it, but I don't think they know why.

      As regard to Colin's removal, there's a concerted effort to relaunch the show in 1987. Far more so than in 1986, where up to a point it's "Business As Usual". The new Doctor is a part of that, I think. Now as JNT himself said, if you have a producer who is desperate to live and a lead actor who is desperate to stay it makes no sense to instruct the former to fire the latter and then tell the former that he has to stay on the series if he wants to keep his job as a drama producer. David Reid, who was JNT's Head of Department in 1983 later called the instruction by senior management to a producer to fire his lead actor both extraordinary and unprecedented. I think he actually didn't believe it had happened until given documentary proof.

      In the "hiatus" of 85-86 JNT & Looney Eric were, on just about the only point on which they agreed was a fact in later years, had two very brief meetings with Jonathan Powell (Head of Department) where his adivce was basically "Less violence, more humour". Possibly he just read out a memo from ten years before?

      I'm of the opinion that if fans hadn't made a fuss about the moving of the Jan 86 series back to September 86 no one would really have noticed. Doctor Who would have rolled back a bit late, probably with fewer episodes, and carried on as before. It's the need to justify a fiscal decision with a creative motive that creates a perfect storm for Doctor Who. That storm is as perfect as it is because the series is in a creative doldrum at that moment. Saward, never the most suitable of SEs, is now burnt out and his and JNT's relationship is beyond repair. But I don't for a second think Grade knew any of that when he tided a few quid out of drama budget by moving Doctor Who's 1986 series back eight months on the same day he did the same to a load of other shows.

      It's worth remembering that in British TV it is (and to an even greater extent *was*) not unusual for a series to skip a year here and there. Context is important and Doctor Who criticism is often very bad at applying the correct context of "What else was happening in BBC drama around that time" I think. Doctor Who didn't skip a year. It just came back a few months. Without the fuss caused by a headline in The Sun (keen to bash the BBC as ever) by Ian Levine with JNT's consent? It's a nothing. With it? Beginning of the end.

    7. The one caveat I'd insert is that Season 22's ratings can't be looked at straightforwardly. There's a visible bump when the hiatus is announced - and no surprise. It was the most promotion Doctor Who had gotten in years. (And the poor bastards tuned in for Timelash.) Ratings jumped nearly a million when the suspension was announced, then climbed again two weeks later and stayed up for Daleks. But this was a period when Doctor Who was constantly in the news. The ratings prior to that were markedly off the pace of Season 21, with The Two Doctors 1 and 2 - the supposed marquee pieces for the season - pulling in the worst ratings Doctor Who had seen in several years.

    8. We need to go back to context again here. They're not really all that off beam for the same weeks of the year for Season 20 or 21 though. 6.6 is a figure you find in the ratings for Seasons 20 & 21. 6.0 may be the lowest figure for a few years, but it's one point (one point is within the actual mathematical margin of error for these things)off the figure for Planet of Fire 2 broadcast exactly a year earlier. You can make to much of these things. However..

      Yes, Doctor Who's ratings do climb with the publicity of the announcement (which is between Two Doctors 2 & 3) but if we're going to accept the individual points, they then drop again for Timelash Part One, jump again for Timelash Part Two and *then* stay up for Daleks. (Which rather makes a mockery of the oft claimed "fact" that the ratings were nobbled by Robin of Sherwood's return. In fact, RoS came back the same week Timelash started and was in competition with three of the most watched episodes of the season.)

      Basically, the ratings for the first half of the season are fine. We need to divorce our dissatisfaction (and I do mean *our* I share it) with the creative direction of this period of the programme with the historical record.

      Can I ask? Are you British? Were you in the UK then? Are you old enough to remember this happening? And how much the paperwork have you had access to? That's not me trying to castle you, I'm just interested.

  14. Dear Mr Sandifer,

    I hate to be that person, but I think you mean "inextricable" rather than "inexorable".

    I'll go back to lurking now. Love your blog.


  15. Staggeringly, Ian Levine hasn't come on here to defend himself!

    1. Levine has said that the song almost ruined him so I don't think he's likely to defend it now. However, I think dumping on Levine is too easy. Any successful scifi or fantasy show will have its version of fandom and many of those fans will have no idea of what makes a good story and will instead press for the return of this or that character and will swoon at any continuity reference, no matter how out of place. Levine was rare because he is a fan who had money and was friends with the production staff but still, the blame lies not with the fans who come up with daft ideas but with the producers who listen to them. The blame for the debacle of the Colin Baker years and the lies firstly with John Nathan-Turner and secondly with Eric Saward. Had JNT left with Peter Davison and either asked for another BBC appointment or left the BBC and formed or joined a new production company (as many producers did in the 80s) his tenure with Doctor Who would generally be seen as a success despite it's flaws. JNT stayed and moreover, the BBC did not subsequently relieve him of the position and rejuvenated DW with a new production team but insisted he stay on after the debacle of the first Colin Baker series.

  16. I'd really like to see this revisited in light of the JNT biography that Miwk published a while back. Because while you say that the hiatus was always intended to be just that, both Grade and Powell go on the record in that book (which was published long after they had any axes to grind or reason to care what anyone thought about the matter) that they were both deadly serious about the cancellation, and only the public outcry forced them to backtrack to "hiatus".

    Powell clarifies, in fact, that everything they did after that was an attempt to slowly strangle the series to death through poor scheduling, budget cuts, and active neglect. He considered JNT to be an incompetent mess and Doctor Who to be schlock, and he was neither interested in putting a good producer on what he thought was a bad series nor in destroying some other show by putting JNT in charge of it. The relevant quote:

    '"There wasn't anybody else around," shrugs Powell himself. "There was no natural line of succession that I could remember seeing. If I'd loved the programme, I would have gone and somehow found a producer. Those were the days when the BBC had begun to take freelance producers but there wasn't a culture where you could ring up a freelance producer and say, 'Come and have a chat about Doctor Who, we're looking for ideas' - it very much had to be within the department. I didn't know what to do. I had no ideas. Also, what was I going to do with fucking John Nathan-Turner? What was he going to do? I didn't want him doing anything else because I didn't think he was good enough. You didn't want to give him stuff because you didn't trust him. And the worse the programme got, the less you were going to trust him. I wanted him to fuck off and solve it - or die, really. If he'd solved it, fine. But it had probably gone beyond solving. The only way of resuscitating it would have been to put a new producer on it - but we didn't want to resuscitate it."'

    Those do not sound like the words of someone who was planning to put the series on an 18-month hiatus all along, I have to say.

    Actually, I'll just revise this to requesting an entry on the JNT book, full stop. That'd be awesome, thanks! :)

  17. Late to the party as usual, but I don't like the McCoy era because it was cheap and rarely made much sense. Even so called classics like "the Curse of Fenric" completely elude me. I was close to 20 when I first saw those episodes and it just lost me.