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Published on November 17th, 2004 | by Christian Cawley

The Power of Doctor Who or The Ultimate Plot Device?

DUSTY OFFICE, UNVARNISHED WOOD AND LOW DUSTY LIGHT. RED TELEPHONE ON DESK. A MAN WRITES, HUNCHED IN THE DARK:

“As the man in charge of this room, I, Roddy Cleaner, have decided it valid and with no cause for recompense, to empty the shelves of this warehouse with the aim of storing newer, more modern recordings of the BBC’s output. I estimate that within the next 10 years, the majority of these tapes will have been erased or destroyed and replaced with more modern, forward looking material.”

A JOURNALIST IN A BAR, CHATTING WITH A COLLEAGUE. A VAST, SWARTHY LANDLORD POURS PINTS OF WHAT THE SOUTHERNERS OF ENGLAND CALL “LAGER”. IT IS ACTUALLY LACKING IN TASTE AND A NICE FROTHY HEAD. (THAT LANDLORD HIT MY DAD ONCE, BY THE WAY…)

“…said that Bill Hartnell isn’t looking as though he can continue with the show. Seems he’s tiring easily and there’s a bad atmosphere on the set…well you might think that but apparently they have a solution! Going to be the most amazing thing on television, they say. They want us to keep a lid on it for now, but the word is that Doctor Who’s entire body will change! No really! Imagine looking back on that in 40 odd years time! The silver-suited 21st Century Englishman will think they were mad!”

Well, lucky that particular scene survived then, isn’t it? And who out there actually thinks the idea of regeneration (or rejuvenation) is mad? Hands up? So even though the BBC (as represented by Roddy Cleaner) instigated this bizarre, fascist book-burning policy and we lost many stories, the one key scene that we all need thankfully exists. One day I might explore those that didn’t make it, but for now let’s imagine a world without regeneration…

RODDY CLEANER

“Bloody cheek, some kids blamed me for Doctor Who ending. I blame that Michael Craze, he was never any good as a sailor, and who would think they could replace the leading man of a famous television show with a companion!? Bloody creative types!”

Before I continue, a big “Hello!!” to Taggart and perhaps Inspector Morse…at least one of those shows has survived after the loss of the lead actor, and that survival can definitely be put down to the success of Doctor Who’s “regeneration”. An idea that might seem madness rarely works, e.g. hiring someone for one of televisions biggest jobs on the strength that they were “on good form” at a party (once). However this particular one has impacted television and movies. Naturally though, Other Things aren’t half as interesting as Doctor Who.

Illness and age were getting the better of William Hartnell by 1966 – indeed in 1965 there had been talk of him leaving the show but he signed up for another season. Bad atmospheres on set, cast changes and a desire to change the format of the show into what would be known as the “Monster Era” all impacted at the same time, and this resulted in what would become the first complete change of a lead actor in television (since “Lassie” anyway. Oh, and Superman too. There’s probably others, but you get my drift).

In 1960s Britain, changing the lead actor of this popular children’s show was considered a major risk. Some have compared it to replacing Sean Connery as Bond; this may be true in terms of the impact on the end-product, but Bond had been around for 15 years at that point. Doctor Who was three years old and would either fail or succeed, there was no in-between.

“Taggart”, one of ITVs countless detective series was in 1994 at an impasse; Mark McManus, the eponymous wooden Glaswegian detective and Alex Ferguson lookalike, had passed away. How on earth would the show continue? Annually one of the biggest shoots ITV put together, it was already well into production of the next series. In a brave move reminiscent of Doctor Who in 1966, James MacPherson (DCI Mike Jardine) became the shows new lead (it’s also interesting to point out that he has been in the show now longer than McManus, and next year will have been the lead for the same length of time). Without Doctor Who’s revolutionary “regeneration” concept, this wouldn’t have been possible; “Taggart” now would have been long forgotten and DCI Mike Jardine would be investigating murders on remote Scottish islands in the spin-off series “Jardine”.

Let us not forget the talent and creativity that this brave move by the Doctor Who production team paved the way for. The Innes Lloyd period is often overlooked in terms of style and storytelling, but his stewardship took the show through its biggest challenge.

The Power of the Daleks is pretty unimpressive when compared to the Power of Doctor Who.

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About the Author

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A long-term Doctor Who fan, Christian grew up watching the show and has early memories of the Graham Williams era. His favourite stories are Inferno, The Seeds of Doom and Human Nature (although The Empty Child, Blink and Utopia all come close). When he’s not bossing around the news team, Christian is a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology and domestic computing, and enjoys classic rock, cooking and spending time in the countryside with his wife and young children. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.



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