An article by forum contributor Professor Who…
The Fiftieth Anniversary of Doctor Who as an Australian Fan.
by Andrew Boland
Part One – the 1980s
Whilst the 50th anniversary fever is raging high in the United Kingdom and America, I think it’s only fair to remember our favourite TV programme also has a strong and passionate following in my home country, Australia.
It wasn’t so long after the first episode aired in the UK, that Australia was also enjoying stories such as ‘An Unearthly Child’, ‘Marco Polo’ and of course, ‘The Daleks’. In fact, we are second only to the UK in the number of episodes shown, being one of the select few countries to screen both ‘Power of the Daleks’ and ‘Evil of the Daleks’. The only episodes not to have been shown in Australia are the twelve from ‘The Daleks’ Masterplan’, and ‘Mission to the Unknown’. They were sent to Australia, but not shown. The only episode never to make its way to Australia in any shape or form is ‘The Feast of Steven’ (and that’s as far as I know!).
Australian fans are as devoted as any across the world. They buy all the products that they can, they’ve watched all the episodes, they’ve bought the replica sonic screwdrivers, followed DWM religiously, organised fan clubs and indeed made fanfiction videos (as has this author)! The fans keep the show alive, and they kept the show alive when the light was fading from the late 80s through to 2005. Whilst America and the UK get most of the exclusives, I believe firmly that Australian fans have played an important role too. Here’s a little window into my world as an Australian Doctor Who fan. It begins circa 1985.
I was introduced to Doctor Who in 1985, and for sure, this was a great time to be a Doctor Who fan in Australia. Fandom was as fanatical as ever at that point, and the ABC obliged by screening Doctor Who four nights a week at 6.30pm. Colin Baker’s first full season, cut into 25-minute episodes, was followed by something no fan had expected – two Patrick Troughton stories, ‘The Mind Robber’ and ‘The Krotons’, and if that wasn’t enough, that was followed by a full (bar episode one of ‘The Invasion of the Dinosaurs’) run of Jon Pertwee stories. After a few early Tom Baker stories were screened, there was a break.
Prime time Saturday night saw Colin Baker return in ‘Trial of a Time Lord’, strangely edited into 50 minute episodes! And then we had a series of Tom Baker stories from where the series left off on Saturday afternoon, originally as 50 minute episodes but then full omnibus versions. When we hit Peter Davison, they suddenly jumped from ‘The Visitation’ to ‘Warriors of the Deep’ with no warning or reason. After ‘Resurrection’ Doctor Who disappeared from our screens.
At this time, we were now in 1988, more fan clubs had opened up, especially in Melbourne. Along with ‘the Doctor Who Club of Australia’, we had ‘The Doctor Who Club of Victoria’ and a rival club ‘Gallifrey’ also appeared on the scene. Australia was home to Mark Strickson and Katy Manning at the time, so these were the most common guests to any conventions, although it was always difficult and rare to see the stars of Doctor Who at conventions in Australia. Jon Pertwee did make his way down under at one point, but sadly I somehow missed that.
It was around 1986-7 that I went to my first ever Doctor Who ‘meet’. A day called ‘Carnival of Monsters’ featuring two rooms screening stories from each of the first six Doctors. What a strange and unforgettable day it was! I went to the room where the black and white tales were being shown – 13 episodes in all, ‘The Daleks’ followed by ‘The Invasion’. The only black and white ‘Who’ I had seen were the Pertwee episodes not held in colour at the time. I will never forget this day – this is the point where I became a bonefide fan. I discovered I was not alone in my love of this series.
I remember thinking it was strange two episodes of ‘The Invasion’ weren’t shown. Perhaps they only had time to screen six of the eight episodes I thought. My brother and father were with me and my Dad was telling me it was time to go and I kept begging for ‘one more episode’, and each time he obliged. So strange, the picture was poor but everyone was transfixed. I remember a subsequent meeting a year or two later when ‘The Tenth Planet’ was shown, and it was almost impossible to make out what was happening on screen and the audio was inaudible! Yet we all sat transfixed to this small TV set and spent the three episodes desperately trying to make out what was happening. How times have changed – the DVD was just released this week with the missing episode animated!
At these meetings there was a special box too, a box of tapes with the soundtrack to almost every story. My best friend and I would borrow ten tapes plus at a time and even though the quality was bad we loved listening to the Hartnell’s and Troughton’s. Then, another friend told me they didn’t have all the episodes. That was a serious moment of shellshock to me, which became worse when I discovered the extent of the tragedy.
Target books were HUGE in Australia too, I’m sure even today go to any decent second hand store and you can find most of the range. I remember being transfixed by ‘The Macra Terror’ when it was released, and then when I discovered it was one of the missing stories I was utterly heartbroken. The Peter Haining books gave us a rough order of stories – Doctor Who: A Celebration, The Key to Time (I still love this book) and later, 25 Glorious years. I used to try and use ‘The Key to Time’ to work out which story would be next. As it skipped the odd story, it was not fool proof! Books by Peter Haining were much prized and beloved by the Australian ‘Who-community’ in the 80s.
1988 saw the McCoy series on ABCTV, and the 25th anniversary of the show. ‘Time and the Rani’ though had already been released by Target and all I could do was wonder how many Colin Baker stories were between ‘The Ultimate Foe’ and ‘Time and the Rani’. I was heartbroken to find the answer was ‘none’. In fact I liked Colin Baker from the start, he’s my second favourite Doctor behind the incomparable Patrick Troughton. It goes without saying I was even more heartbroken to be picked up from camp one day to hear the tragic news of the cosmic hobo’s death.
The new episodes though, were what we always waited so patiently for. In fact a wait of a year or more was not uncommon. Patience was the key thing as an Australian fan. Despite hearing the news reasonably quickly and the occasionally smuggled early copy on video tape, we always had a long wait to receive new episodes of Doctor Who on television.
It was late 1988 that the ABC screened season 24, a year after its broadcast in Britain. It was now in an afternoon slot, which meant the ABC now saw it solely as a children’s programme which was sad. Four nights a week though! AND as a special surprise, they continued on after ‘Dragonfire’ to give us ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’, before another 12 month wait for the rest of Season 25. Well, it wasn’t the anniversary special, but faced with a choice between ‘Remembrance’ or ‘Silver Nemesis’, it was the right choice! Not only that, I think it was around this time they also screened ‘An Unearthly Child’. The first Hartnell on Australian TV for a long time.
By now I was firmly in ‘fandom’, collecting various and many magazines from different clubs and publishers. There was ‘Sonic Screwdriver’, ‘DWM’, ‘The Frame’, ‘DWB’ and more. A shop that still exists in Melbourne today, ‘Minotaur’, was THE place to buy magazines, books and the videos which were starting to appear too. The ABC gradually released the videos, but months after Minotaur did, because Minotaur imported them from the UK. I remember the first video I ever owned was ‘The Seeds of Death’, naturally. A FULL Troughton adventure? Brilliant, bloody brilliant. The next would be ‘Talons of Weng Chiang’, which I missed the ending to when it was on the ABC.
These, for me, were the best days to be a Doctor Who fan. The next two decades would bring change, a show gone but not forgotten, and an eventual relaunch. Australian fans would never waver from their support of the show they loved, and could eventually love again. But that’s for Part Two.