Doctor Who: two words that bring back so many happy memories. British kids immediately think of Saturday tea time, 5.25 p.m. sat on the floor and quaking through their fingers at the sight of Davros’ twitching claw in Destiny of the Daleks, or friendly bobbies transformed into faceless killers in Terror of the Autons.
The “classic series” of Doctor Who (1963-1989) always required a bit of imaginative effort on the part of the audience. Due to the somewhat dodgy special effects, we had to imagine what the developers really had in mind. The 1980s stretched our powers of imagination to the limit as we struggled to figure out what actually was happening in the confused and contradictory Trial of a Timelord.
That was no more hard to sit though than the constant interruptions on PBS that used to appear in the midst of the American broadcasts. Just as we reached a vital moment in the action, sundry fans would pop up, urging the public to make a donation to keep the cash-strapped station in business.
Fifty years of adventures in time and space has generated a large number of websites, and new ones are springing up all the time. Many of them are truly excellent. The BBC’s own website makes a great starting point. It has a very handy listing of seasons and serials in order, with a fun and tongue-in-cheek look at each story in turn. The BBC has also been releasing all of their existing serials on DVDs. Snippets and trailers can be seen on their You Tube page.
Alongside the official guide, there is also an exhaustive analysis of every story by Shannon Patrick Sullivan. When I think of the hours it must have taken to put this website together, it shows that this website was a real labour of love for its author.
For technical types who are interested in the process of restoring the show’s archive footage, you can check out the blog from those responsible, the Restoration Team. They also have a Twitter feed where you can see their work in action, such as their work on the recently discovered episode of the Second Doctor story, The Underwater Menace.
With all those stories out there, how can you tell if any of them are worth watching or not? Amazon may be the best place to get bargains on the DVDs, but the reviews for this series are not particularly useful. When it comes to Doctor Who, many people will give five stars to just about any serial. For what it’s worth, I think only very few stories merit that honour, and quite a few deserve only one star,e.g the aforementioned The Underwater Menace. One site which has given honest opinion about the series for over ten years is the Eye of Horus. Their reviews are very personal, but they give a fair assessment of the DVD releases, and they are often first out of the blocks with news about the series, old and new.
The Eye of Horus is also one of the main sources of information for merchandise, although much of this is only distributed in the UK, and even then, only through Forbidden Planet.
For a slightly different take, check out Doctor Who news. This remains one of the best sites for keeping up with the recent activities of the Who cast, including news about releases, conventions and timings of repeat broadcasts.
Doctor Who News have recently been running a number of features on the birth of the show, which are also well complemented by facsimiles of official documents on the BBC’s own site. If you want to know more about the show behind the scenes, there is a wealth of information on Dr Who Interviews. The list of the show’s luminaries on this site is pretty much all-encompassing.
Nowadays with easy access to almost any story or episode, it is hard to imagine a world without the chance to view the Doctor’s previous adventures. Although US and Australian viewers had ready access to old stories through repeats, we in the UK had to make do with the Target novelisations. For a real blast from the past, have a look at the extensive fan site On Target.
There has never been a better time to explore and enjoy the classic series. The DVDs especially are a treasure trove of gossip, features, and trivia. These sites are a fun way to keep the experience going, especially when you spot a familiar face wreathed in bubble wrap and latex and you think “who is that?” All the answers are online.