Early Memories: Doctor Who

I've been reading Sherman and Hadoke's Running Through Corridors vol.2 lately, and it's awakened some memories of my earliest contacts with Doctor Who, a show that at some point overtook, and at times overwhelmed, my life, but that initially seemed mysterious and arcane. I thought I'd share some of those memories with you.

My Doctor Who origin, and I've told this one before, lies in The Hand of Fear (4th Doctor, Sarah Jane), which I saw in Texas, in those too-long months of shared custody. That squirming hand in Tupperware. Sarah zapping the camera with a magic ring as she walks into a nuclear power plant. Eldrad's female and male forms. And of course, "Eldrad MUST live" burned into my mind (did the catch phrase have the same effect as such modern favorites as "Are you my mummy?" and "Don't blink!"? I think it must have!). I had no idea what I was watching, and as you can see, none of those memories have anything to do with the Doctor, so I was hard pressed, going back to Canada, to find the Sarah Jane Adventures (cough, cough) even if I thought it might air here. Texas had all these crazy cable channels that showed vintage movies and shows; we didn't. I wasn't expecting to find this mysterious program any more than I could find Ozzie & Harriet on the dial.

A couple years later, I flipped to PBS, and there was The Hand of Fear. Eldrad had to live once more. So this time, I took note of when and where the show played, and I was off. Every week, I'd try to catch whatever omnibus was airing, even suffering through those long PBS pledge drives. Most of the time, it was a Tom Baker story. Occasionally, it was something unwatchable in black and white. Some of the confusion was lifted thank to a Dragon Magazine article about the FASA Dr. Who role-playing game, giving stats for the first 6 Doctors, which was my first contact with most of them, in almost photocopied black and white pics. By the time I BOUGHT the RPG, I still hadn't seen a story with each of the 7 Doctors, even though the show had ended (but just, I graduated from school the year McCoy and Ace went to check on the tea's temperature).
The real watershed year was catching an episode of Planet of the Daleks on YTV (a Canadian youth-centric channel). It was the one where Jo Grant is infected with ugly fungus. Striking and traumatic even though I didn't know who this Sarah Jane wannabe was, but it meant Doctor Who was playing on WEEKNIGHTS, not just weekends, and the way it was meant to be seen, in half-hour chunks with cliffhangers. Notably, it played at dinner time and it meant the whole family was forced to watch (again, just as it was meant to be seen), and to my delight, while my mom probably thought "here we go again" as she wasn't much of a science fiction fan, my sister and brother really took to it, and my sister especially loved Pertwee and from that first serial on, would frequently imitate the sound of the Dalek guns, which had a sort of slurping quality. She can still do it, I checked.

Soon enough, I was taping everything I could, which consisted of almost everything from thr 3rd, 4th and 5th Doctors. I only threw them away a a couple years back, when my DVD collection was complete. Or as complete as it can be, given the circumstances. From college on, I wouldn't consider them "early memories" anymore. I started reading about Who, watching and rewatching stories, even caught the TV Movie when it aired on TV. Looked at Virgin Who novels but did not then pick any up (to my contemporary self's shame and irritation). At some point, I was just a Whovian (a word I first heard on a PBS pledge drive, in fact) and it became about knowledge more than memory. So here are some actual early memories where I can see myself in my mom's living room:
First Doctor
The only one I remember seeing is The Web Planet. I loved the Zarbi in a most ironic way and would mock them years into the future, and yet years from seeing the story again on DVD.

Second Doctor
I KNOW I saw a black and white episode that was reputedly a Troughton story, but all I remember is someone shooting someone else with a laser that wasn't drawn in, just a sound effect. I see it still in my mind, but though I've watched all the Troughtons since, I don't remember ever seeing that moment again. A corrupt memory then, no idea what that was about.

Third Doctor
The Ambassadors of Death, which only survived in black and white, made me believe for the longuest time that the color era started in the MIDDLE of Perwee's run.

The Green Death was a big favorite at home, especially the flying insect the giant maggots become. Lots of laughs. I ended up giving my sister a DVD of it as a Christmas gift once it became available, so iconic was the story at our house.

Fourth Doctor
I remember The Seeds of Doom quite well. The Bond villain playing the organ for his plants. His death in a gruesome mulcher. The take on The Thing. Sarah and the Doctor going to the beach in the Antarctic.

The Face of Evil: "They say the Evil One eats babies." (Leela on being offered a jelly baby) became a catch phrase between my brother and I.

Destiny of the Daleks: I remember the Doctor playing with a gooey Dalek mutant in a trench and later kept expecting the moment from every Dalek story.

The Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors

By the time I was watching Doc5, we were out of "early memories" as I had almost 9 seasons under my belt. YTV didn't air much of Docs 6 and 7, I'm afraid. I half remember a single sixth Doctor episode, possibly The Twin Dilemma (the rest were hour-long and didn't fit the slot, presumably), and only a single McCoy story, Time and the Rani, before going back to the beginning of Pertwee again.

What about you? What are your first, possibly traumatic memories of Doctor Who? What strange moments still glimmer in your brain long after you first saw them? Did they prime you for becoming a Whovian?


snell said...

I never saw Who until my freshman year in college. No one around Kalamazoo had ever shown it. A sci-fi friend shanghaied the dorms TV lounge one Saturday and made me watch a Detroit PBS station, showing City Of Death.

Then, on my first break home, the local PBS started showing Who, and they lead off with The Five Doctors.

So that's pretty much the best way to start I can think of--one of the great stories, and then into the deep end of Who history.

Anonymous said...

The first actual scene I remember seeing was Anthony Ainley taking over that mook's body on Traken, and talking to a friend about how I'd seen a little "Doctor Who" before with the Doctor with the white hair and ruffle. So I know I'd seen some Pertwee and imprinted on him as "the" The Doctor, but I have no memories of what I first saw.

Probably my very first exposure to "Doctor Who" was an episode of "The Goodies" called "Invasion of the Moon Creatures", where there was a TARDIS joke that I didn't get at all. (I know I saw the episode, and I know the joke was in there, QED.) Also, my first exposure to Jon Pertwee was an episode of "The Goodies":


... around 1980 the local PBS station played "The Goodies" but not "Doctor Who". We did our best.

Siskoid said...

Snell: Not a bad introduction at all!

Anon: I guess people didn't send enough money to the telethon...

LondonKdS said...

The first story I remember is being allowed to watch "Warriors' Gate", in which the Gundans scared me so much I didn't watch it again for a while.

I definitely watched the Davison era, but only remember odd moments from that first viewing - in particular bits of "Four to Doomsday", "Frontios", and "Resurrection of the Daleks". I watched the Colin Baker stories, but strongly disliked the heavy grimdark and unpleasant characterisation of the Doctor.

But it was "Remembrance of the Daleks" that made me the Nathan-Thomas/Cartmel/McCoy fan I still am.

Siskoid said...

I know you mean Nathan-Turner, though I do think he was less involved by that point. It's really Cartmel's vision that dominates in the last two-three seasons.

Radagast said...

I knew of the show from a young age - it was the first thing programmed following the kids' block on TVO at the time, and my brother and I were fascinated by the title sequence (we'd never seen its like before).

We were too young for the stories, and our Mom knew it, so she'd be in to click off the TV as soon as she heard that.

I'm afraid I was never able to pick the show up until the 2005 revival. I take solace that my brother has indeed inducted his son, so I am uncle to a Whovian.

Toby'c said...

I never saw a full episode until the 2005 revival (which quickly got me hooked), though I do recall the classic series being shown on the ABC about two years before and my Dad trying to get me interested. I believe I was more interested in The Simpsons repeats at the time. I do vaguely remember one or two parts of The Daleks being on when I was in the room.

It wasn't until partway through Ten's first series (just after School Reunion) that I started renting classic stories from my video shop: Genesis of the Daleks was my first, followed soon after by The Curse of Fenric, Spearhead From Space, City of Death and Ghost Light.

For a while afterward I was stuck with whatever turned up at my library and it wasn't until I was living in Ballarat in 2008 that I got to see any of Two (Tomb of the Cybermen), Five (The Caves of Androzani - not one of my favourites at the time but it grew on me a lot later) or Six (Vengeance on Varos).

Brendoon said...

It's funny, because while New Zealand was the first country to air Who outside of the UK (we came in 10 months late but started right back at the Unearthly Child) I didn't sit down to watch until Peter Davison, because he was in All Creatures Great and Small.
Before that time, Tom Baker (and Blake's 7) FREAKED THE HECK outta me and I couldn't even stay in the room.
A memory I can never forget is the guy in the Antarctic getting stung by the alien seed in Seeds of Doom. It left me gibbering. I must have entered the room again later when I saw him walking around like some sort of planty man-thing. I ran straight out again but somehow saw later that the thing had grown bigger than a house. Last I Saw til I'd gotten a grip and Davison came on. (What looked like the creatures from the Forbidden planet smashing up a lab in Blake's Seven was even worse. I was a basket case, man.)

The super cool thing at that point was TVNZ aired every (still existing) episode from Hartnell onwards, every day of the week before the 6 o'clock news. It took YEARS but the result was a lot of really rabid Who fans in the antipodes. Great days!
WHO and 2000AD comic made the trauma of school easier to forget.

Brendoon said...

And even though I couldn't watch Tom til' Davison had softened me up, Baker's still my Fave.

Jerry Harris said...

Late 70's, WOR out of New York was on national cable and they broadcast Dr. Who on Saturday mornings. They started with Tom Baker and "Robot." I don't know if at the time I knew what to make of it because I had no idea who the Doctor was. Years later I ran into the Dr. again on PBS at my grandmother's house. It was a different Doctor, Peter Davison, and the episode was "Castrovolva." It blew my my mind. My local PBS picked the show up a few years later. They even showed all of the older B&W episodes.

Anonymous said...

One of my fellow junior high band members recommended the show to me, so on July 12, 1981, I turned to WTTW in Chicago at 11pm and watched "The Invisible Enemy." Not exactly the greatest episode ever made, but 13-year-old me was enthralled. I was a fan from that point on, but what really cemented my love for the show was when, a few months later, I sat down to watch Logopolis, not knowing it was Tom Baker's last episode. Being unspoiled for that regeneration was and certainly will always remain the greatest television-watching experience of my life.

My next exposure to Peter Davison was almost two years later, when WTTW had cycled through all the T Baker eps again and finally aired Davison's first season. My first Pertwee was just two months after that, after they exhausted all the Davison episodes available to them at that point and jumped all the way back to Inferno. I saw Troughton and Hartnell a few months later in The Three Doctors, but didn't have an opportunity to see a solo adventure of either one until quite a few years later.

LiamKav said...

I just about remember seeing some McCoy on TV when I was 8 or 9 (possibly Battlefield? I recall McCoy in Bessie, for some reason), and I also remember asking "why is his have different" so I must have been aware of prior actors. I also recall my dad saying to me "you sometimes see the old guy getting carried away before the new one arrives", which says to me that he must have seen the final episode of The War Games twenty years prior and then missed every regeneration since then. :)

My first REAL memory was a friend lending me "The Five Doctors" on VHS. As a first episode it does cover a lot of ground, but I'm not sure how well it works as an actual taster of typical Doctor Who. It's very much an anniversary episode, and it also brings to mind a comment made by either RTD or Moffat about multi-Doctor shows, in that it tends to be more about the actors than the character. Still, I liked it enough to start devouring the Target novelizations, including getting told off in English class for not reading something "proper". I also saw "Genesis of the Daleks" on TV and was bought "Destiny of the Daleks" and "The Two Doctors" on VHS. And I also caught "Dimensions in Time". But after that, I kinda ignored the show for about 15 years. I read maybe one or two of the Virgin books, but they didn't grab me. I kinda ignored the show (compared to, say, Star Trek, which I've consistently loved since I started watching it back when I was 10). I watched "Rose" and loved it, then missed the rest of Series 1 apart from "Dalek", which I also loved. It was only when Series 4 was on that I decided to get series, so I got DVDs of all of New Who, watched them all, then started going through the old stuff.

And that (in far too much detail) is my history. Still prefer Trek, though. :)

Brendon Wright said...

>Still prefer Trek, though. :)
Certainly nothing to worry about! Some folks even prefer football. Wild, eh?

>told off in English class for not reading something "proper".

Haha, how things have changed now we're in the era of gaming consoles.
Reading ANY kind of book is a bonus, I would say.

I've gotta admit to being an anachronism, I find movies and TV hard going now and it's the kindle I can't put down.

LiamKav said...

"Haha, how things have changed now we're in the era of gaming consoles.
Reading ANY kind of book is a bonus, I would say."

Every generation has it's bogeyman ruining the kids. "Children won't read a book when they can listen to the radio." "Children won't read a book when they can watch TV." "Children won't read a book when they can play video games." If anything, I'd say the internet is encouraging them to read more. Now, you could make an argument that it's stopping them from reading longer form text, but that's different. Besides, we've had a games console in the house since I was 6. They've been around for nigh-on 40 years at this point.

Actually, although I did like my English teacher, in this instance he was flat out wrong. It's something I've noticed more and more... children often love reading, right up until it becomes "work". Teachers telling them not to read what they enjoy, and to read set texts instead. It becomes a chore, and destroys their enthusiam. If they want to bring a comic to school to read? Let them! A Transformers comic I read when I was 9 years old taught me about the grandfather paradox. What more do you want?


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