To celebrate Doctor Who’s anniversary today, here’s a gloriously pointless article about some of the little things about the show that we love
Why do we adore Doctor Who ? There are thousands of reasons, and you can probably guess some of the more obvious ones – the TARDIS, the Daleks, the Cybermen, Sarah Jane... But there are countless little esoteric things that get us excited too.
So, what follows is a list of the trivial details that make us smile; the idiosyncratic and the offbeat; the recurring themes that delight. It's highly selective and by no means definitive (indeed, this is a cut-down and updated version of a list of 100 things previously published in our 2010 Who special - 48 just seemed like the right number to pick out for this occasion).
1 MAKING THE EVERYDAY TERRIFYING
Cracks. Seaweed. The London Underground. Statues. Maggots. Spiders. Dolls. Mannequins. Teachers. Scarecrows. Policemen. Daffodils. TV sets. More policemen. Children’s drawings. Satnavs. Santas. Rocks. Chairs. Shadows. Lifts. Policemen again. Telephone cables. Old people. Balloons. Blimey, sometimes it seems like there’s practically nothing left that couldn’t be a murderous alien threat…
2 TARGET VARIATIONS
The bits in the novelisations that weren’t in the stories as they were transmitted. Such as The Dinosaur Invasion ’s Shughie McPherson, a Glaswegian football supporter who wakes in an abandoned street, then comes a cropper to something lizardy. Or the prologue to The Time Warrior , which explains how Linx the Sontaran came to arrive on Earth. Then there were the books that provided completely new introductions to the characters; so in An Exciting Adventure With The Daleks , Ian meets the Doctor, Susan and Barbara on a foggy common after a car crash. Magic moments like this make any amount of barely dressed-up he-said-she-said bearable.
This Steve Parkhouse creation from the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip was a Whifferdill, a shapeshifter who could, theoretically, assume any form, but spent most of his time as a flightless bird… Yes, for nearly four years, the Doctor’s companion was a talking penguin. But the character was so darn likeable that you soon forgot how ludicrous that was. And he did take attention away from the Sixth Doctor’s coat (which, you may notice, doesn’t get a mention in this list, but feel free to post a complaint in the comments section about the omission). We urge you to buy the Voyager and The World Shapers graphic novels.
4 BEFORE THEY WERE FAMOUS APPEARANCES
Two types here. Firstly, early roles for the likes of Martin Clunes, dressed in a ludicrous man-skirt and space-earrings in “Snakedance” (1983). Secondly, early sightings of fans who later “went pro”, like the rather supercilious reader letter in Doctor Who Weekly from a pre-Adric Matthew Waterhouse, or the one by “Human Nature” scribe Paul Cornell in Doctor Who Monthly #70, in which he remarks that Janet Fielding (Tegan) “looked like Kermit the frog” in a poster. But both are topped by a 1986 edition of BBC viewer-response show Open Air , in which a youthful new-series scribe Chris Chibnall (clad in flecked grey jacket and retina-scorching yellow tie) informed writers Pip and Jane Baker that their scripts for “The Trial Of A Time Lord” “could have been slightly better written”. Ouch.
5 DOCTOR OHO
Right, let’s sort this out once and for all: what’s the lead character’s name – the Doctor, or Doctor Who? Silly question. It’s Doctor Oho, of course. Well, that’s what it says in the Hartnell title sequence, ever so briefly (in order to create a symmetrical howl-around image, or summat).
6 THE ZYGONS
Orange, hiss-voiced aliens covered in octopoid suckers who drink Nessie milk and hang out in a spaceship resembling the aftermath of a microwave lasagne explosion. Their shapeshifting abilities make them the ideal Big Bad for a chilling Body Snatchers homage. Bring ’em back, Moffat!
7 LITERALLY-NAMED PLANETS
Aridius: it’s very dry. Atrios: it’s engaged in a war of attrition. Chloris: it’s a jungle planet rich in chlorophyll. Someone cocked up on their Latin when it came to Vulpana, though – its inhabitants should be fox people, not werewolves.
8 TURLOUGH’S EYEBROWS
We love many things about ’80s companion Turlough, a mysterious public schoolboy who turned out to be from the planet Trion: his ginger hair, his half-mast trousers, his penchant for Sahara-dry remarks. But the main one’s the way they brushed up actor Mark Strickson’s eyebrows to make him look more alien. Numerous Star Trek producers could have saved a packet on nose appliances if they’d thought of that…
From “Oh my giddy aunt!”, “Bow ties are cool.” “When I say run, run!” and “Reverse the polarity” to “Brave heart, Tegan”, “Fantastic!” and “Allons-y!”, not forgetting the likes of “Exterminate!”, “Affirmative!” and “Excellent!” (that last one always accompanied by a clenched fist). And then there are the story-specific slogans, which ’70s writing duo Bob Baker and Dave Martin particularly excelled at: “Eldrad must live!”; “The quest is the quest!”; “Contact has been made!” You could say that Steven “Are you my mummy?” Moffat has inherited their mantle. “Delete!” is a load of old bobbins, though.
10 ALPHA CENTAURI
No, not the star, but the loveable, slightly cowardly Ambassador from its system, whom everyone in Pertwee cracker “The Curse Of Peladon” and its boreathon sequel “The Monster Of Peladon” called simply “Alpha Centauri” (bit rude, that, really – how would a human ambassador feel if people just referred to him as “Sol”?). A hermaphrodite hexapod, it has the squeaky voice of a comedy eunuch, a bunch of earthworm-like arms, and looks – sorry, there’s simply no other way of saying this – like a giant green penis draped in a shower curtain. Unique among Doctor Who monsters, Alpha Centauri also made a guest appearance on The Black And White Minstrel Show , where we suppose that at least Stuart Fell (its stuntman operator) had the consolation of looking like less of a massive cock than everyone else on the programme.
11 “SPACK OFF!”
What Tom Baker yells at the Daleks at one point in 1979’s “Destiny Of The Daleks”. We think he meant to say either “Stay back!” or “Back off!” and accidentally got them mashed together, but you never know with Tom…
12 THE EMPEROR
No, not the one from “The Parting Of The Ways” (though that was cool), but the one that appeared in TV21 ’s “Dalek Chronicles” comics of the ’60s: an all-gold number with a massive, swollen bonce and a teeny-tiny body.
The TV show seemed to be attempting to channel this guy in “Remembrance Of The Daleks”, but the all-white version we saw on screen – though it had the bulbous head – looked more like a roll-on deodorant or an air freshener. However, we can forgive “Remembrance” because it also featured another much cooler bespoke Dalek: what could be more awesome than a plunger-less model with a ginormous laser cannon that can blow your head clean off sooner than you can say “clearly overcompensating for something”.
13 TIME LORD COLLARS
And you thought that having to wear a shirt and tie to work every day was bad.
14 TRINITY WELLS
The news anchor who provides a linking thread through the Russell T Davies era, she appears in seven stories but, atypically for someone on American news, never implies that we’re all about to die and that somehow it’s that communist/fascist Barack Obama’s fault. She really ought to have a word with her boss about the holiday rota, poor dear – she worked every Christmas Day for five years in a row.
Doctor Who ’s equivalent of Monty Python ’s Gumbys – although tying a handkerchief into a piece of headwear would have been an intellectual challenge too far for these Max Wall-haired Dalek hench-morons. In a universe teeming with potential threats, it’s reassuring to know that some alien races are congenitally thick.
We have Neil Gaiman to thank for the TARDIS in female form. A simple idea, but exquisitely transferred to screen in a story that was a love poem to a vehicle. Anyone who’s ever named their car will empathise. Great performance from Suranne Jones, too.
17 REUSED PROPS
Doctor Who was in at the ground floor when it came to recycling. The most obvious of countless examples? Take one blobby, tentacular Axon monster from “The Claws Of Axos”. Apply coat of green paint. Voilà: one blobby, tentacular Krynoid for “The Seeds Of Doom”!
18 THE UNSEEN
Who can conjure vast imaginative vistas with a single line of dialogue about, say, “the metal seas of Venus”. Seventies script editor Robert Holmes was a master of this. The moment in “The Talons Of Weng-Chiang” when the Doctor states that he was there, in the 51st century, “when the Filipino army made its final advance on Reykjavik” makes your head whirl. The Filipino army? In Iceland? Then there’s the mention of “the silent gas dirigibles of the Hoothi” in “The Brain Of Morbius” – so richly evocative. Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat have continued this fine tradition, creating empty spaces in which childish imaginations can run wild.
These space rhinos’ lyrical flow is proper bo, fo’ sho. We particularly like the bit in “The Stolen Earth” where the Doctor (communicating in their language) says, “Ma ho”, and suddenly sounds like 50 Cent.
20 THE CLOISTER BELL
DOONNNG! DOONNNG! Ask not for whom the TARDIS bell tolls… it warns of impending disaster. It’s season 18 script editor Christopher Bidmead’s one truly lasting contribution to the series, and we were delighted when it made a return in the new series.
This Japanese publisher released translations of five Who novelisations in 1980, and the covers – clearly produced by someone who’d never seen the series – are wonderfully idiosyncratic. Our favourite? The cover for The Auton Invasion , which seems to promise all manner of manga amputee naughtiness.
22 MADAME VASTRA AND JENNY
A lesbian lizard fighting crime in Victorian London with help from her trusty aide? Why is this not a series of its own? (We also love the Sontaran nurse in “A Good Man Goes To War” – another spin-off begging to be made.)
23 WILFRED MOTT
This loveable old ex-para, unwitting cause of the Doctor’s tenth regeneration, started as a one-off cameo role in “Voyage Of The Damned”, but was upgraded to regular status after the sad death of actor Howard Attfield (Donna’s father, Geoff). We used to think of Bernard Cribbins as that bloke who sang “Right Said Fred”. Now we think of him as that fantastic actor who made us cry.
24 THE EXTERMINATION EFFECT
As a Dalek screams its bloodcurdling war cry, the image flips into negative… such a simple, cheap idea, but so very effective. Over the years, the effect developed, becoming more focused on the living target (and from “Destiny Of The Daleks” onwards, a video effect death ray issued from the weapon) but we rather liked the way that in the old days when a Dalek fired it affected everything on-screen, as if it was exterminating the whole world. Because if they could, they would.
25 VWORP! VWORP!
This sound effect has accompanied the TARDIS’s arrival in the official mag since part one of Steve Moore and Dave Gibbons’s “The Collector” (1980 – go and buy the Dragon’s Claw collection!). It fails as onomatopoeia – wouldn’t ARRUUUAH! ARRUUUAH! be nearer the mark? – but this is one case where familiarity has made the heart grow fonder.
26 THE CLIFFHANGER SCREECH
Not Bonnie Langford, but that eerie electronic gargle at the end of an episode – or, more often nowadays, a teaser. Even when overlaid on a finale as feeble as “Death To The Daleks” episode three – the Doctor looks down at some coloured floor tiles! – it makes the neck hairs stand to attention. EastEnders ’ drummer-falling-down-the-stairs sounds like a wannabe amateur in comparison.
27 THE QUARKS
A shameless attempt to coin it in by creating the “next Daleks”, these lumbering robots from Troughton snorefest “The Dominators” looked like something made by Ed Wood out of cardboard boxes, and went on to be regulars in the ’60s comic strips. See also: the Mechonoids, the Krotons and the Chumblies.
28 HOUSEHOLD OBJECTS
Some people laugh at the fact that the ’60s Cybermen had practice golf balls glued to their joints, or that Daleks had to operate their spaceship controls using a sink plunger. But for us, growing up, it was part of the magic. Every time we had to pull on some cricket gloves for PE, we could pretend we were a Cyberman from “Silver Nemesis”. It almost made cricket seem interesting.
29 ROBERT HOLMES
Pipe-smoking creator of the Autons and the Sontarans, a master of the gothic homage and the double act. Okay, he wrote his fair share of clunkers (“The Space Pirates”, “The Power Of Kroll”, “The Mysterious Planet”…), but he also originated a dense mythology for the Time Lords and authored “The Caves Of Androzani”, recently voted the series’ best-ever story. He doesn’t get enough credit for his rewrites of others’ work, either. Compare and contrast “Genesis Of The Daleks” and “Destiny Of The Daleks” to see the difference a great editor can make to a generic Terry Nation script.
30 ROMANA II’S OUTFITS
A feminine take on the Doctor’s coat and scarf. A schoolgirl. A fox hunting outfit (complete with riding crop!). An Edwardian bathing costume. June Hudson’s designs for Lalla Ward’s Time Lady may not always have been practical or logical, but they were an awful lot of fun.
31 DAFT NAMES
Thanks to Russell T Davies, our spell-check dictionaries now include Raxacoricofallapatorius, Bannakaffalatta and Clom. We also have soft spots for Yartek, leader of the alien Voord (“The Keys Of Marinus”), Krang (no, not the rock music magazine – a Cyberman from “The Tenth Planet”. Yes, they once had names!) and Tarpok (sounds like an artificial fabric, actually a Silurian from “Warriors Of The Deep”).
32 DALEK BALLS
Oh, stop it with your smutty minds – we mean those hemispheres around the base. Their purpose intrigued us as kids – what were they for? 1983’s Doctor Who Technical Manual explained that they were “sense globes”, which relay data on temperature, humidity and movement. Then again, according to Steven Moffat’s Red Nose Day spoof “The Curse Of Fatal Death” (1999), they detect ion-charged emissions and operate as atheric beam locators. We prefer the explanation from 2005’s “Dalek”; they’re explosive devices that detach when the Dalek chooses to self-destruct.
33 HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT
An acting technique that, due to the cramped sets, it was essential for the regulars to master in the early days, and which continues to make us chuckle. “The Keys Of Marinus” has some particularly impressive examples, with Susan flattening herself against a wall as an alien walks right past her…
Scientific debate still rages about exactly what pterodactyls looked like, but thanks to Chris Achilleos’s cover for Doctor Who And The Dinosaur Invasion , we’re all agreed about what they sounded like.
35 THE K-9 AND COMPANY TITLE SEQUENCE
Want to know what the ’80s was really like? Then don’t bother watching Ashes To Ashes – instead, watch the opening minute of this abortive 1981 spin-off series starring Elisabeth Sladen and the metallic mutt. It employs every corny technique in the book, including a Dynasty -style “turn to face the camera”. Over the course of 60 pulse-pounding seconds, we see Sarah Jane reading The Guardian (she’s smart!), quaffing white wine (sophisticated!) and jogging down the road in legwarmers (athletic!), before speeding off in her Austin Metro convertible (er… she holds a full driver’s licence!). Meanwhile, poor old K-9 is helplessly perched on a dry-stone wall, presumably waiting for someone to come along and lift him down. And all this occurs to an egregiously farty synth theme (take a bow, Ian Levine). Terminally naff – and utterly hilarious.
The Doctor’s had a piece of chicken thrown at him by Henry VIII, and received fashion tips from Beau Brummell. He told Napoleon “an army marches on its stomach”, and had his ear bent about potatoes by Sir Walter Raleigh. William Tell taught him to shoot a crossbow, and Janis Joplin gave him a coat. Basically, he’s the intergalactic equivalent of David Gest, the great big show-off. But it is kinda impressive.
37 CYBERMEN ON SKIS
What, you didn’t know the Cybermen are into winter sports? They are in “Eskimo Joe”, a Second Doctor comic strip set on an ice planet, which ran in TV Comic in 1969. Don’t worry, he defeats them with the aid of some robot gulls… This kind of insanity is absolutely typical of the TV Comic strips. Other adventures see him appearing on a TV panel show, managing a rock band, being lowered into a vat of boiling oil by Father Time, and facing attack from giant wasps controlled by the Quarks. Giant wasps! You’d never see that kind of nonsense on TV.
The name of a continent on the Dalek home world Skaro, according to 1964’s The Dalek Book . It also has twin moons called Colin and Nigel. Okay, so we made that bit up.
39 THE WAY JON PERTWEE RUBS
THE BACK OF HIS NECK…
… when he’s thinking. Watch out for it and you’ll notice he does it an awful lot over the years.
40 THE RASTON WARRIOR ROBOT
“The most deadly killing machine ever devised” – and the most economical Who creature ever devised too (the invisible Refusians aside), as the budget only had to stretch to a silver leotard and a blank mask. The scene in “The Five Doctors” where it slices and dices a bunch of hapless Cybermen is quite brilliant.
41 THE SECONDARY CONTROL ROOM
A classy wood-panelled version featuring stained-glass panels, with a console resembling an antique writing desk. It featured in just one season of the classic show, before they reverted to the original. Should we ever win the lottery, we’re gonna get a room made over like this, and sit around in it drinking vintage whisky in a smoking jacket. Shame it didn’t put in an appearance in “The Doctor’s Wife”.
42 ABSLOM DAAK
Doctor Who Weekly ’s most memorable comic strip character. The creation of Steve Moore and Steve Dillon, Daak is tough-talking and bestubbled. A convicted murderer guilty of “crimes too horrible to bring to the public attention”, he’s driven by a thirst for vengeance to “kill every last stinking Dalek in the galaxy!” – preferably by giving them a taste of his “chainsword” (think chainsaw meets sword). He’s everything the Doctor is not… and we love him for it.
43 THE GAY AGENDA
Well, that’s what the socially conservative like to term modern-day Who ’s bothersome habit of not assuming that everyone in the history of the universe is heterosexual. Such people see a passing reference to two old ladies from the year 5,000,000,003 being married and feel the need to declare, “I don’t mind what they get up to in the bedroom, but why do they have to shove it down my throat?” The more they froth at the mouth, the more amusing it gets.
44 LONDON LANDMARKS
The Cybermen walking down the steps to St Paul’s. The Daleks trundling about on Westminster Bridge. The Autons turning the London Eye into a giant transmitter. The Slitheen ship crashing into Big Ben. The revelation that there’s a UNIT base beneath the Tower Of London… We adore these moments that turn tourist attractions into science fictional sites.
William Hartnell’s habit of cocking up the odd line enlivens many an otherwise dreary First Doctor episode. Here’s three of our favourites:
1. “Anti-radiation gloves” instead of “drugs” (“The Daleks”).
2. “Two burnt cinders floating around in Spain… er, in space!” (“The Chase”)
3. “I prefer walking to any day. And I hate climbing!” (“The Time Meddler”)
Of course, in Hartnell’s time, the programme was recorded in very long takes; Matt Smith would probably make just as many fluffs in the same circumstances. And the hardening of the arteries that Hartnell suffered in his later years was also a contributory factor to his line-learning woes. Still funny, mind.
46 TOM BAKER’S “IMPROVEMENTS”
Directors no doubt rolled their eyes every time Tom boomed, “Now what I think would be funny here is…” Many of his suggestions were, to use a phrase Tom often employed of the scripts, whippet shit, but occasionally he hit the jackpot. Take the moment in “The Face Of Evil” where the Doctor, surrounded by warriors, threatens to kill one “with this deadly jelly baby”. Amusing, yet perfectly logical (they wouldn’t know it’s just a sweet), it’s the highlight of the episode.
47 HARTNELL’S WIG
It reminds us that Hartnell wasn’t really that old – much of that doddery old goat business was just good acting. Hartnell was 55 when he first took on the role of the Doctor – that’s four years younger than Peter Davison is now! And 12 years younger than Mick Jagger!
Take “Inferno”, where the stern Big Brother type seen on posters in a dystopian alternate Earth is visual effects designer Jack Kine. Or the “mind-bending battle” in “The Brain Of Morbius” (above), in which earlier incarnations of the Doctor flash up on a screen – actually the likes of producer Philip Hinchcliffe and director Christopher Barry, wearing stock costumes. Then there’s the group of Doctor Who alumni seen taking a guided tour of Windsor Castle in “Silver Nemesis”, which include director Peter Moffatt and Nicholas “The Brigadier” Courtney. We love spotting this stuff – so much so that we were kinda hoping a towering Welsh bloke would be spotted lobbing around handfuls of confetti at Donna’s wedding… Sadly, it was not to be.