Saturday, March 30, 2013

50WHO: A Twisted Garden of Pertwee

This is the third part of a series of articles celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. Over the years there are certain stories that mean a lot to me either from personal memories or involvement I had in fandom through the years. These articles are not meant to be close examinations of the plot or production but more about what these stories mean to me on a personal level. Enjoy.

In 1985 my local PBS station KTCA debut the Jon Pertwee episodes of Doctor Who. By this point I had been watching the series for a long time. I had seen ton of episodes that spanned between the Tom Baker and Peter Davison era. In fact, I was an expert. Of course the reality of the situation was that I had been watching the series for about a year, it just seemed like forever. I had seen a handful of Peter Davison stories and the Tom Baker era was being re-shown probably for the 50th time but it was new to me. Our PBS station and many around the country just got the Pertwee package of episodes that consisted of all of the episodes of his era minus 2 and this was heralded as essentially new Doctor Who on our screens. Of course, this wasn’t the first time that episodes of Jon Pertwee stories had been shown on American television.
After seeing stories from Tom Baker and Peter Davison, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from any Jon Pertwee story and I was in for a surprise. The first story shown was obviously Spearhead from Space and what took me immediately was the fact it was shot on film.  It makes everything look so different. I have never seen Doctor Who look this way before. The pacing of the story was different too. I won’t say I instantly loved it but it didn’t shy me away. Perhaps what I didn’t take to was how much older the Doctor was than what I had been watching. The only other time I had seen Pertwee would have been in The Five Doctors and that is really know way to form an opinion on a Doctor you haven’t seen before. When it first aired, KTCA said that Spearhead from Space had not been shown anywhere before, for once they were right. The last time the Pertwee episodes made an appearance on American television, Spearhead from Space was not included.

Back in the day KTCA showed these stories as movie versions opposed to episodic format. In fact, to celebrate the arrival of Pertwee on KTCA, they showed a marathon that evening of episodes. It started with Spearhead from Space, a truncated version of Robot, a truncated Logopolis, Castrovalva and The Caves of Androzani. To be honest, I am not 100% sure on the airing of Castrovalva. The Hartnell or Troughton stories would not even be available to us until the beginning of 1986 but at that point I was convinced that I would never see those stories anyway. The next week we moved on to the second Jon Pertwee story billed in our TV Guide as The Silurians. It was surprising to see the actual title on the story to be called Doctor Who and the Silurians but it was shocking to see that the story was in black & white.
Up to this point, all Doctor Who I had seen was in colour. There was a “super” over the screen which was put up by KTCA that basically said, “not our fault that we have to air this story in black & white!” and life continued onwards. As we would find out over the coming weeks, this wasn’t the only story to be in black & white when it should have been in colour. This rare affliction also contaminated The Ambassadors of Death, Terror of the Autons, The Mind of Evil, and The Dæmons. Look on your DVD shelf now. How many of those stories are in black & white now? Of those stories on the list above that are yet to be released, will that be in black & white? No. Now, a confession. I am a liar.

I love Doctor Who and the Silurians. I love the Silurians and the setting of a story taking place in a research facility located underground in caves. This is one of the Pertwee stories I watch whenever I want to watch a Pertwee story. In fact, I re-made a DVD of the story so all 7 episodes is on one disc. I love season 7! It is one of my top seasons. The lie though is that this article is not about Doctor Who and the Silurians. It is about the colour Jon Pertwee episodes of Doctor Who!
As I mentioned above which is now lore is that Jon Pertwee episodes were the first episodes of Doctor Who to be exported to the United States in the early 1970s. This was part of the Time-Life package of 72 episodes of Doctor Who. This package ranged from Doctor Who and the Silurians to The Time Monster. There was no Spearhead from Space. It would have been real interesting to watch the series for the first time with Episode 1 of Doctor Who and the Silurians. Even with the Doctor in it, there is nothing that really gives a favour for what Doctor Who is about yet that is OK. Even though the stories I listed above were shown in 1985 in black & white, when they were shown for the first time in the US, they were in colour.

Right here on the page there should be a graphic I would have loved to include but I can’t. Many years ago back in the late 1980s I visited the house of a person named Wayne. He sold Doctor Who merchandise. One of the things he showed me was an original sales brochure for the original package of Jon Pertwee episodes from Time-Life. This dates back to the mid-1970s. The title said something like “Get the new Series Doctor Who available as 72 episodes.” This also included the picture of Jon Pertwee from the title sequence. I believe it was one page folded to be 2 pages of double sided print. Inside it gave descriptions for all the episodes available. Wayne wouldn’t sell it to me back then. Now that I had more of an income I wanted to give him a good price for this document of significance. He never sold it but now couldn’t find it. I really want that piece. Has anyone else seen it? Wayne told me he also had something similar from Lionheart to announce the Peter Davison package of episodes. I was hoping to get this to scan in and offer to Steve Roberts to put onto a Jon Pertwee DVD as an extra but it won’t happen. If I ever do get this piece, I promise to scan and add to an upcoming article. If you have scans of this, please contact me.
As I have mentioned before, and hopefully not enough times to bore anyone, I remember walking into the video room at Time Festival in 1988 and seeing some of The Dæmons in colour. I probably looked like a cartoon character with my eyes getting super big and then wiping my eyes with hands in disbelief to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Please remember, I was a kid who had no idea what existed in the archives. This was all new to me and I had previously seen The Dæmons from KTCA in black & white. This copy was Eric Hoffman’s perfect off-air copy which was the envy of fandom.  He was mentioned to me he was pretty sure he also had The Mind of Evil but had lost it over the years. It doesn’t matter anymore. It was really exciting but that was just the tip of the iceberg. As I have mentioned in this article, after that weekend I made it my job to track down episodes that weren’t shown on PBS. When I started to meet new friends they would open my eyes to what was available.

I remember my new friend Peter stopping by my house. I mentioned to him how I was really interested in getting a copy of the colour Dæmons. Peter had some tapes with him and he asked if I would also like colour copies of some other stuff. He showed me some of Doctor Who and the Silurians and also The Ambassadors of Death. Once again, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! If this guy Peter had them then surely a TV station would have these too. What was KTCA playing at? Then I learned the truth. The truth was that the recordings that I was watching in 1989 were made in the late 1970s. Not only that but these recordings were made mostly by chance. Video recorders were very expensive and so were the tapes. Something like Doctor Who and the Silurians was 7 episodes even if the colour version we had (recorded from Iowa) was movie version. These were not taped by one person nor from the same city. The recordings were made all over the place. My copy of Doctor Who and the Silurians in colour came from Iowa, The Ambassadors of Death came from WNED Buffalo, Terror of the Autons from WTTW in Chicago and The Dæmons came from LA. Even the fact that there was a 6 minute segment from the final episode of The Mind of Evil was nothing short of miraculous.
I think my favourite from the bunch once I saw it in colour was Terror of the Autons. Just the word Auton is a cool 70s type word. I love the colour palette of this story. The way the shots are framed and the colour palette really make me feel like I am looking at a video comic book. I love it. This was one of the stories I would just try to keep getting in better quality. As many of my fellow tape trader friends could verify, just because we had some stories in colour, it doesn’t mean that the colour was always good. These copies just came from a handful of sources so these were often copied so many times that it was mostly black & white with colour bursts. Plus the sound was very, very hissy. The more you would trade, the better quality recordings became available to you. Then there were the episodes that people thought were in colour but were wrong.

If you were into tape trading into the 1980s, you may have been told of the colour version of Part One of The Invasion of the Dinosaurs (The Invasion). I knew 2 people in MN who swore up and down that they had the colour episode. Their story went that these colour copies had been copied so many times that they had virtually lost their colour. What, we are told, was the true hint that this was an actual colour episode is because of burst of colour and a greenish blue tint to the overall picture. This was not the case. The reason why there is a greenish tint to the episode is that the analog signal degenerates with each copy that is made and creates strange colour anomalies even to black & white material.  There was no colour episode of The Invasion of the Dinosaurs Part One in fan trading circles. It’s just a mistake people took for thinking that it existed and why not? The fact that so many other episodes that the BBC only held at the time in black & white surfaced in colour off-air domestic recordings makes it seem reasonable but there is a reason for this. These were all US recordings from the Time-Life syndication package recorded in the late 1970s. The Invasion of the Dinosaurs was not part of that syndication package. It was only shown in the UK in 1974 and the colour Part One was never syndicated anywhere. When it eventually came to the story becoming available to the US via Lionheart in 1985, they omitted Part One all together because we were apparently all too stupid to understand the story changing from black & white to colour. The black & white episode was finally made available to PBS stations via TJ Lubinsky in 1996 or 1997 for pledge drive purposes. This also included the first time Planet of the Daleks Episode Three was shown in black & white in the US too. The last time I spoke to one of these people about their “colour” episode of The Invasion of the Dinosaurs Part One, they still firmly believed that what they had was a descendent from the colour tape. That’s impossible but they can believe in what they want and I will believe in factual evidence.
Of course it is all academic now anyway. If you own The Invasion of the Dinosaurs on DVD, there is a colour version of Part One on that disc. It may not be perfect but you better believe when I watch the story that is the version of Part One I watch. In fact, if you were a fan in the 1980s and knew the archival status of the Pertwee years, would you have ever thought that one day you would own all of these episodes in colour? In June of 2013, you will have the ability to buy one of my all-time favourite Doctor Who stories in colour, The Mind of Evil. With the release of this story, it concludes a journey that began in the early 1990s with the unofficial Doctor Who Restoration Team syncing the colour signal from the NTSC off-air recordings to the black & white film print to create a colour version of a story. It’s just that now, the re-colourization of this story is more complex on many levels. I won’t go into great detail here as I will be writing a review of it in the coming months but this is the story that so many of us never thought we would see in colour because there were so many hurtles to jump through for that to happen. This story only had 6 minutes of off-air colour recording. Now, because of Chroma Dot Recovery and manually re-colouring Episode One this story will complete the Jon Pertwee era in colour. In a matter of a few weeks you will be able to watch Spearhead from Space onwards of the Doctor Who catalog in colour. I still can’t believe it! I will never take that for granted.

As for The Mind of Evil itself, I read on some forums people remarking that this release in colour will allow people to re-evaluate the story more almost intimating that people will now watch it because it’s in colour and re-appraise its place in history. I’ll be honest, I think of The Mind of Evil as the true “UNIT Family” story, over The Dæmons. There is so much more happening in the story for all the regulars and each one have more “character moments” than they do in The Dæmons. I hope this DVD release does open people’s eyes to how brilliant this story is to watch. Terror of the Autons and The Mind of Evil back to back is an amazing set of episodes. The work and diligence that the Unofficial Doctor Who Restoration Team have brought to Doctor Who is amazing, the work and genius of technology to restore the Pertwee episodes to colour is simply stunning.
What about the man himself? What about Jon Pertwee? As I do these articles, I forget that I have met many of these stars themselves. I first saw Jon Pertwee at Time Festival in St. Paul in 1988. I was 14 and I remember him coming out on stage for opening ceremonies. All the guests came out of a Police Box (very original), and when Pertwee came out it was noteworthy. First of all, he was wearing his costume and he grabs the microphone and confidently says, “I am the Doctor!” Cue enormous applause. Well, from everyone except me. I never fall for that crap. Yes, it is awesome to see him there but you are not the Doctor, you are an actor. Even at 14 I had no humour.

The site of Time Festival 1988. It was a Radisson when the convention was held there.
Also in attendance at the convention were Frazer Hines and Janet Fielding. I was disappointed to see that they all smoked… chimneys. Unfortunately this was the beginning of a long and often amusing journey of seeing actors from my favourite series acting in a scandalous manner. Not that smoking is scandalous but it would not be the last time I would see an actor from Doctor Who, scratch my head and say really? I had to have seen Pertwee at least 10 times through the years. You could get good Jon or bad Jon at a convention. I don’t think that was because he was temperamental or rude. I think as someone into his 70s travelling to the US often, it wears on a person. I don’t think he suffered fools gladly which I appreciate. I remember seeing him in Indianapolis in 1991 bitching out the front desk of the hotel because of the noise in the bedroom, promptly walking out getting into a red convertible and driven to the site of the convention with his white hair dancing in the breeze of the warm spring day. At that same convention, there was this guy who was always dressed as the Master with a southern accent who kept trailing Pertwee from table to table at an event. It was one of those meet and greets sort of things we were invited to and we watched as Pertwee worked the room with this Master fellow following him around. My friends and I expected for him to blow a gasket (see future article on Sylvester McCoy to see a Doctor Who star lose his shit), it shockingly didn’t happen.
At that time, we were close friends to John Levene and even he commented it to us when he came to our table. Oh yes, I was good friends with Levene for a while but we grew apart. Levene stayed at my parent’s house for a week in September of 1990. One day I will write about it and it will make the Claws of Axos special feature from Toby Hadoke (Living with Levene) look like a man visiting another man who has no personality. My story is awesome. Hell, while I am even at it, maybe I will even write an article about how I stayed at Richard Franklin’s home in Yorkshire. Maybe I will include screen grabs. I’m either an open book or a sadist.

Very little of this article contains any reference to Doctor Who and the Silurians. The title of this article comes from the name of a panel I attended at Time Festival in 1988. I believe the title actually comes from Eric Hoffman.
Next 50WHO article: I think Colin Baker is a very underrated Doctor and I actually think Season 22 is one of my favourite seasons. Next month we focus on Doctor #6 and I look at one of my favourite stories of his era Attack of the Cybermen. Also, I realize that I must be colour blind……

Next week: Much is happening and I am very behind on writing reviews but once I catch up on reviews, a priority for me is to pay my respects to Frank Thornton and I see this in two articles. One article is an Are You Being Served? article while the other is based on the many appearances he made in television over the years and I look at some of the rarer aspects of those such as his appearance on Harry Worth in the 1960s.
Have a great week!

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Michael Rogers said...

Another great post, and more great memories to share. Where I grew up in Iowa, our first Pertwee package only included all color episodic stories (at least, up until that point). In 1985, my first Pertwee was Inferno. I was hooked after THAT. :)

Jeff Flugel said...

That was a lot of fun stuff, Greg! I envy you meeting Jon my (very brief) dalliance with fan conventions I met Peter Davison and Colin Baker, but not the Pert, who is neck and neck with Tom Baker as my all-time favorite Doctor. Looking forward to more of your WHO celeb memories!

Dave G said...

I really love these postings that are more personal in nature. Besides getting to know more about the show iteself, we get to reminisce with you about things that we may not have thought about for years.

Time Fest '88 was a lot of fun, and meeting the guests was a blast. Someday I will dig out the signed stuff from there and remember it all over again.

Greg said...

Hi Mike, Jeff, Dave:

Thank you so much for the kind comments. It was fun to write down these memories as it was so early on in my life as a Doctor Who. I haven't thought of this stuff in years.

warewolfboy said...

Where did you get that mind of evil screenshot from? It loos fantastic!

Greg said...

Hi Warewolfboy,

It does look nice! I can't wait to see what Stuart did with the recolorization of Episode One!

No long to wait now!

Take care,

warewolfboy said... looking forward to episode 1 too.

Anonymous said...

If you've got any convention stories about Nick Courtney, please please post! :-)