Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Growing up with the Doctor – Part 3

Growing up with the Doctor – Jon Pertwee (1970-1974)

It is probably a truism that one of your most favourite Doctors is the actor who was playing the part of Dr Who during teenage years; certainly this is true for me. I suppose it is the time when you are starting to come to maturity, and your comprehension of drama is changing from child to adult in the process.

A child sees the plain story, but the adult sees how the story is being told; there's a degree of reflection. I can probably illustrate it best with an extreme example, and a digression onto American TV. The TV series Batman ran from 1966 to 1968, and when I saw it through the eyes of a child, I saw menacing super villains, and our superheroes defeating them, exciting cliff-hangers; I saw an adventure series. When I watched it years later, I noticed it very much as pop art camp comedy.

But by the time I was thirteen, I was far more aware of how the story was told. The Pertwee Doctor was down to earth as well, injecting a note of realism into the series not present in many Troughton stories. Krotons on the Planet Gond were a distant threat. Plastic shop window dummies coming to life and breaking out of shops were a threat so close that I never went past a shop window display without feeling the shadow of those images. I also visited Madame Toussaud's in England, another spooky location from "Spearhead from Space".

These were exciting years for science. Harold Wilson had been talking mostly technobabble about "the white heat of the technological revolution", but his finger was definitely on the pulse of the nation. Science was cool. The moon landings, which began in 1969, continued throughout the Pertwee era on Dr Who until 1972, and cheerfully stole from "2001: A Space Odyssey"; the BBC played the same thunderous opening notes from Richard Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra" used in that film for shots of the Apollo rockets heading into space.

"The Sky at Night" with Patrick Moore rocketed  in popularity, if you'll forgive the pun, and "Tomorrow's World" was also compulsory viewing, as was The Burke Special (1972–1976). The end of Pertwee's era would also see ITV's show "Don't Ask Me" with Magnus Pyke. Science shows were popular and prime time viewing.

Hard forms of science fiction were also in drama with Doomwatch and Moonbase 3, and for children, Timeslip explored the ethics of technology, with subjects such as cloning, longevity, global warming and human experimentation.

And books also reflected this trend, popular book on "Extraterrestrial Civilisations" and "The Black Hole", as well as publishers putting out UK paperback versions of Isaac Asimov's many popular essays on science and scientific history.

At school, I discovered that aside from an ability with mathematics, I was also quite good with science subjects like physics and chemistry. The Doctor-Scientist was very much my Doctor, and the show reflected concerns about environment, social justice, pollution, waste, war and peace.

 Just look at a list - The Silurians (race harmony), the Mind of Evil (prison reform), Day of the Daleks (enemy occupation), Curse of Peladon (the Common Market), The Green Death (pollution), Monster of Peladon (fair deals for workers) - all mirroring in one form or another, contemporary concerns. Pertwee was above all a very moral Doctor, bringing resolution to conflicts, and teaching others about the right thing to do. Here is a speech from "Planet of the Daleks" which typifies this Doctor:

The Doctor: Throughout history, you Thals have always been known as one of the most peace-loving races in the galaxy.
Taron: I hope we always will be.
The Doctor: Yes, that's what I mean. When you get back to Skaro, you'll all be national heroes. Everybody'll want to hear about your adventures.
Taron: Of course.
The Doctor: So be careful how you tell that story, will you? Don't glamourise it. Don't make war sound like an exciting and thrilling game.
Taron: [smiles] I understand.
The Doctor: Tell them about the members of your mission that will not be returning. Like Maro, Vaber and Marat. Tell them about the fear. Otherwise your people might relish the idea of war. We don't want that.

I did take time out from science to have my first real girlfriend, Julie Pallot, and a world away from Dr Who, where David Cassidy appeared on Top of the Pops, and Donny Osmond sung "Puppy Love". I still found time to watch the last episode of "The Three Doctors" at her mother's flat, though. It's very hard to keep away from Dr Who.

But all too soon, much as my love affair faded away, the Pertwee era was also coming to a close. Jo Grant left, and soon it was time for Sarah Jane Smith and the Brigadier to watch while Pertwee's Doctor   collapsed dying and changed into the Tom Baker one.

The moon landings had ceased. And the glory days of popular science would wane. The technological heat had been extinguished with the three day week, nuclear power was seen not as cheap energy, but as a radioactive menace, and the great hope of C.P. Snow that science and government would go forward side by side was ending.

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