Doctor Who – The Golden Years
1983 – 1993
83-93 – Change my dear – but not the kind you were expecting!
As 1983 hit, Who was flying high, and the sense of change was already in the air following the departures of Adric and Tegan.
The series marked its 20th anniversary year by having a returning enemy in every story, and begun by having Tegan rejoin the TARDIS crew in Arc of Infinity, which also took filming overseas to Amsterdam for the first time since City of Death. The companion complement briefly returned to three with the introduction of would-be assassin Turlough, though it ultimately wasn’t long before Nyssa left the TARDIS behind (as well as a good deal of her clothing) in Terminus. The anniversary itself garnered a 90min special featuring three Doctors, one imposter and a use finally for bits of Shada footage, and the Target release followed the very next day in an impressive turnaround by Uncle Terrance!
Into its twenties now, and the show increased the darkness quotient – to such an extent that Tegan finally left because of the ever-increasing death count. There was a feel of all change in the latter part of the season, with subsequent stories seeing the departure of both Turlough and Kamelion, and then the Doctor himself as Peter Davison bowed out in The Caves of Androzani. One very turbulent regeneration later and Colin Baker landed with a bang, trying to strangle Peri early into The Twin Dilemma after mistakenly assuming her responsible for his new costume. Despite being a generally weak post-regeneration story particularly in its placement at the end of the season, it did not impact Attack of the Cybermen which kicked off 1985 in a new 45-minute format to strong viewing figures and even a (albeit briefly) repaired chameleon circuit. This first foray into the longer episodes had mixed success, the pacing often feeling like two 25-minute episodes stitched together. The increase in brutality, though, increased further and the season was notable for its levels of bloodthirstiness with the Sixth Doctor’s cyanide-ing of Shockeye in The Two Doctors probably the most directly vicious act we’d seen from the Time Lord since threatening to brain a caveman in 1963!
And then, the unthinkable. Production was suspended for a year and the offset of transmission shift to September meant it was 18 months before the series returned, spawning fan outrage and the release of Doctor in Distress, which even included a pre-Oscar-success Hans Zimmer on synthesizer (making a change from oing for Gold in his BBC work). Ironic really that even in spite of this 1985-6 saw more new Who than will have been transmitted in 2012-3 with nary a sniff of a charity single! The Trial of a Time Lord was the first full-season arc since The Key To Time, and saw a reversion to the 25-minute format yet retaining a reduced number of episodes (only one more than the Season 22) effectively halved the output. That said, kicking off with what is still one of the most impressive effects sequences on British TV was a good start before shaving Peri’s head and revealing that she was not dead as Mindwarp indicated but married to Brian Blessed. One only hopes she had earplugs!
One unfair firing later, and it was time for another regeneration, and changes in production team and unclear direction filtered through to Sylvester McCoy’s first season as the Doctor – there are flashes of his and script editor Andrew Cartmel’s plans, but they were often swamped by clowning and dissolution of ideas. It didn’t help that there was so little character detail or development for Bonnie Langford’s Mel, so when she left to redeem Glitz by the screaming-and-carrot-juice method and Sophie Aldred took the TARDIS as Ace things started looking up.
This continued into the next season which started on a high with Remembrance of the Daleks – a story that created one of TV’s greatest Tropes, the Crowning Moment of Awesome, based on Ace’s baseball bat attack on an Imperial Dalek. The silver anniversary of the show was marked, maybe unsurprisingly, by a Cyberman story, but despite its entertainment value its similarities to the aforementioned Dalek story diminish it somewhat. Both stories started dropping hints that the Doctor was more than just any other Time Lord, and this concept was developed further the next year. The character of Ace also saw significant advancement through the stories, and her maturation and easy chemistry with the Seventh Doctor made them an excellent partnership that only worsened the blow when the show did not get picked up the following year and the Doctor Who Production Office shut down completely in August 1990.
In some ways it was the end – but in others the moment was prepared for, carrying the Whoniverse from strength to strength. As WH Allen was taken over by Virgin, so the novelisations got a higher word count and Ben Aaronovitch’s translation of his story Remembrance of the Daleks was a tide change in depth and expansiveness. In addition, 1991 saw the beginning of a new original range of novels called The New Adventures, aimed at both an older age range and allowing for stories with depth, ambition and content beyond that of the limitations of television. Beginning with a quadrilogy of stories spanning from ancient Ur through Nazi Germany to the far future and even into the Doctor’s mind, these like televised stories may not have been consistent but soon showed some impressive new talent like Paul Cornell and Mark Gatiss who were to become more familiar to Whodom in years to come. As 1992 drew to a close and Ace fell in love, then stormed away, these were coming at a rate of one every two months – it was expensive sure, but it was still a great time to be a Who fan. The show may have been off the air, but the air was ripe with possibility – and the only thing that could be predicted was change!