Tuesday, 11 June 2013

50 Years in the TARDIS: Doctor Who's Anniversary Specials (Part 1)

[A] remembrance is... a reconstruction of the past achieved with data borrowed from the present, a reconstruction prepared... by reconstructions of earlier periods wherein past images had already been altered’ (Halbwachs 1952, 69)
Later this year, Doctor Who will reach its 50th anniversary, a major milestone that few television programmes have achieved. Although partially overshadowed by the announcement that current 11th Doctor Matt Smith will be leaving (and the now-traditional media interest in who will replace him), the 50th anniversary will see a range of different celebrations, from a special episode through a BBC-organised convention. As long-term fans of the programme know, however, we have been here before: Doctor Who celebrated its 10th, 20th, 25th and 30th anniversaries with similarly well-anticipated television specials, commemorative magazines and/or events. As each of those anniversaries has demonstrated, the history of Doctor Who is in almost constant revision, with reconstructions of narrative conceits and alterations of past fictional events a de rigeur feature of dramatic anniversary commemorations.

Over a series of three blog posts, I want to think about how Doctor Who’s anniversary celebrations have set up recurring traits around anniversary television programmes. Specifically, I want to think about how fictional celebrations such as The Three Doctors (1973), The Five Doctors (1983), Remembrance of the Daleks (1988), Silver Nemesis (1988), Dimensions in Time (1993) and Scream of the Shalka (2003) created their own remembrances of the programme’s history – both in terms of narrative (the fictional world of the Doctor, the TARDIS etc.) and behind-the-scenes production information.

The media representation and commemoration of ‘real world’ historical events (such as the Second World War) tends to take place through news and documentary-led programmes, and such programmes manufacture their remembrances through a combination of archive footage, dramatic recreation, voiceover, and (often temporally disingenuous) editing patterns. These manufactured media histories, then, renew, challenge and efface real memories, creating a collective public memory of the original event – as I was writing this first blog, for example, it was claimed that collective memory of the First World War has likely been shaped more by Blackadder Goes Forth than any textbook or documentary.

This, then, suggests the importance of media constructions to public memory of ‘real world’ histories. Using Doctor Who, however, these blog posts will explore how anniversary fictions can reproduce and reassert particular elements of its fictional dramatic history, while promotional materials support a particular mediation and representation of the programme’s production history. By looking at these specific stories, it is clear that anniversary dramas retell stories about their fictional pasts, adding a new veneer of meaning in each retelling, and representing subtle shifts in the collective memory through each recreation.

10th anniversary: The Three Doctors (1973)
If you’ve read this far, I’m going to assume you have a basic sense of what Doctor Who is: a time travel drama aimed at family audiences, that was first broadcast on Saturday 23rd November 1963, and grew in popularity due (at least in part) to the introduction of the Daleks in December 1963.

The first major anniversary story is 1973s The Three Doctors, although a case could be made for ‘World’s End’, the first episode of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, given it was broadcast on 21st November 1964 and is the end of the first major arc of the programme, reintroducing the hugely popular Daleks (who had been killed off at the end of their first story) and ending with the departure of the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan (Carole Ann Ford). Yet although it falls around the right time of year, and features returning villains (subsequent conceits of the anniversary episode), the story was not designed to commemorate the programme’s one year anniversary.

The Three Doctors, however, was produced as a deliberate attempt at commemoration, bringing together the First (William Hartnell), Second (Patrick Troughton) and Third (Jon Pertwee) Doctors to battle a Time Lord villain, Omega. The story is a solid example of Pertwee’s era as the Doctor, a partly-Earthbound action-adventure romp, featuring most of the regular supporting cast from UNIT (the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce), a military force designed to combat the alien and unusual, led by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney), and featuring Sergeant Benton (John Levene) and Jo Grant (Katy Manning). This Earthbound focus was a production conceit for budgetary and story reasons: the Doctor’s memories of time travel taken away by the Time Lords and the TARDIS’s dematerialisation circuit removed.

Unlike traditional ideas of media anniversaries, which are based around the proximity to an actual date, The Three Doctors was broadcast as the first story of the 10th season of the show, with episode one debuting on 30th December 1972, almost a year ahead of the anniversary. Most journalism-based media anniversary programmes also make specific reference to the period of time that has passed: but The Three Doctors has not narrative reference to ten years having passed, or even that the adventure takes place in 1973.

That said, several anniversary themes are established that recur through future programmes:

The multiple Doctor / the ‘absent’ Doctor: the programme is built around the combination of Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee in both production and narrative terms. It is the first time Doctor Who would revisit its past in such an overt manner, but by no means the last; it was also designed to be the first time all three Doctors shared screen space and time, although due to illness Hartnell’s First Doctor is mostly ‘absent’ from the reunion, delivering his lines via the TARDIS scanner. The Three Doctors also sets up the dramatic concept of rivalry and competitiveness between the Doctor’s incarnations: the Second and Third Doctors bicker throughout, while the First (who describes his ‘replacements’ as ‘a dandy and clown’) acts as a drill sergeant in his cameos. Off-screen, the Troughton-Pertwee relationship was cordial, but featured a clash of acting styles, with Troughton more given to on-set improvisation.

The Time Lords: Ten years into the programme, very little was known about the Doctor’s people, the Time Lords. The Three Doctors establishes much more information: Omega gave the Time Lords the power of time travel by harnessing the power of a black hole; Omega is a hero on Gallifrey, the Time Lord’s home; the Time Lords have a governing structure that includes a President and a Chancellor; and there are ‘Laws of Time’ (the first of which is that Time Lords should not meet their other incarnations)

References to a shared narrative past: Anniversary programmes tend to be spaces where particular views or perspectives on the past can be solidified: here, for example, Benton and the Brigadier both recognise and reminisce about previous adventures with the Second Doctor, most notably those involving villains such as the Yeti and the Cybermen (in turn, these reconstruct a vision of Doctor Who that focuses on the spectacular nature of the villains: something promotional materials such as the 10th anniversary magazine special would also focus on)

Narrative change: like The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Three Doctors ends with a narrative shift that affects the whole programme: the Time Lords return the Third Doctor’s knowledge of time travel, and give him a new dematerialisation circuit, allowing the programme to return to its earlier narrative structure of off-world and Earth-bound adventures.

Promoting the Anniversary: The Three Doctors was promoted with features in the Radio Times, a special celebratory magazine, appearances on Blue Peter and a special exhibition at the Science Museum in London focus on the actors, crew, costumes and stories that defined the decade. Each of these materials offered a stronger sense of the programme’s decade-long success, the actors and crew involved, and the range of monsters the programme was famous for. As such, these were more traditional media ‘anniversary’ celebrations, pulling together strands from the previous ten years, rather than The Three Doctors’ narrative approach.

Next time: From The Five Doctors (1983) to Silver Nemesis (1988)...

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