I won’t say no to Dr. Who 

30 November 2020 tbs.pm/71618

IN MY VIEW
by
DENNIS POTTER

 

 

Daily Herald masthead

From the Daily Herald for 30 November 1963

HUGE, hairy spiders and giant psychopathic crabs. Web-footed monsters crawling painfully out of the slimy deep. Hideous, gurgling creatures wailing like wounded bagpipes, with single, blood-shot eyes swivelling menacingly in their jelly-like forehands.

For SF, as wide-eyed addicts have it, can be great fun. Even if it keeps you awake nights, such bilious fantasy is also a very potent means of throwing up vivid ideas about our more hum-drum human predicaments.

Disappointingly, TV has never really gone overboard for this type of adventure.

True, the BBC almost paralysed social life years ago with three brilliant Quatermass serials, each as stunning as a kick in the forehead from a New Zealand Rugby forward.

Dust-choked

Carole Ann Ford

Carole Ann Ford plays Dr. Who’s grand-daughter.

But they followed Nigel Kneale’s masterpieces with a windy and wordy weird named Andromeda. Last year, too, Boris Karloff’s terror-haunted features introduced an otherwise forgettable SF series on ITV.

After that, almost nothing of note. The plastic monsters and foam-rubber spiders gather cobwebs in the props room along with the duct-choked theatre organ used in far-off days of the nine-inch screen.

A crackerjack peak-hour SF serial launched this winter would soon zoom up the popularity charts – especially as British SF writers, both in output and quality, are undoubtedly among the best of a gloriously gruesome bunch.

Meanwhile, I shall watch with sympathetic interest the progress of the BBC’s new Saturday afternoon serial, Dr. Who.

Cliff-hanger

This cliff-hanger is about a distinctly Marples-free machine which transports four characters through space and time.

The programme is “designed to bridge the family viewing gap between afternoon and evening audiences.”

Fair enough. We need an escape from grunting and all-in wrestlers and tongue-tied Grandstand commentators. Yet this official BBC description implies more action than ideas, something rather less-than-sophisticated in content. Kid stuff, in fact.

However, today’s episode sees us firmly, if unsafely, planted in Palæolithic times – or the Stone Age, if you don’t read SF. And the will certainly make a diverting change of scene.

Mind you, it should come as no great surprise to find weekend TV plunging back amongst pterodactyls and cave-men.

Those withered Hollywood repeats, for instance, have long since had the authentic odour of the Stone Age clinging to their celluloid.

 

TV listings

TV listings for Saturday 30 November 1963 from the Daily Herald

 


 

❛❛Russ J Graham writes: It’s always very nice when you find that a hero of yours is into something you’re into. And here’s Dennis Potter (1935-1994), one of the finest dramatists the English-speaking world has ever produced, showing his love for a new weekly serial of adventures in time and space.

Episode two of Doctor Who goes out tonight, after a repeat of episode one – it was very rare for Doctor Who, or most serials, to get a repeat in those days, especially as a recap a week later. But the BBC felt that people weren’t quite in the right frame of mind for their big television drama serial a week earlier. After all, the night before, the president of the United States of America had been brutally slain in Dallas by bullets fired by person or persons who we’re still not quite sure of 57 years later.

Potter would probably not be all that thrilled by what followed the first episode – the Cave of Skulls storyline dragged on a bit even in 1963 – but it would only get better from then on.

He’s right that there has been a paucity of adult science fiction since the Quatermass series of stories finished, although he’s wrong to dismiss A for Andromeda. He has also missed ABC’s sci-fi serial Emerald Soup, but that’s okay because everybody else did as Doctor Who steamrollered it out of history.

The dig at there being too many aged Hollywood films on weekends at the time is a common one, especially for people desperate to sell new material to the TV networks. It’s also a bit unfair – the only film to be found in London that weekend is 1955’s The Last Command on ATV on Sunday, and that was a premiere, newer films almost never turning up on television at that time to protect cinemas.

You Say

2 responses to this article

Darren Giddings 1 December 2020 at 7:42 am

The reference to Marples presumably refers to the then Transport Minister Ernest Marples, a road haulage magnate who was zealously in the process of dismantling the UK rail network in 1963.

Ben Grabham 1 December 2020 at 12:26 pm

Really Interesting to read DP’s views on Dr Who – he was a TV Critic for a long time, and its instructive to know who he felt about early 60s TV.

For my Money, I’d have probably stuck with BBC TV Service until 9 and then switched – though what a line up on TYLS! Brings home that it was all coming together in 1963, as Philip Larkin rightly surmised…

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