SDCC ’17: BritBox Brings Classic Doctor Who To Fans

by Erik Amaya

As moderator Kyle Anderson noted, it has been decades since Comic-Con International: San Diego hosted a classic era Doctor Who panel. But thanks to BritBox, the recently launched streaming service, Doctors Five and Six — Peter Davison and Colin Baker — along with former companion Sophie Aldred made the trip to San Diego to reminisce about their times on the program.

Of course, the series does not exist in amber, and Davison noted the revived program brings the classic Doctors new fans all the time. “There’s a whole new range of younger fans who come to see us,” he said. Although, he joked that he is always worried younger fans may not “recognize us” as some of the episodes he was in are now over thirty years old. Nevertheless, he said “It’s very nice to see the younger viewers find the other Doctors.”

Also, it was impossible not to discuss the hot topic in Doctor Who fandom: the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor. “I think it’s brilliant!” said Baker. “It’s time we’ve had a more fundamental change. I have four daughters and I want them to have a Doctor they can aspire to.”

Aldred noted that the backlash to Whittaker, though sexist on the part of some, is another element of the Doctor Who tradition. “People are bound to get upset with any change of Doctor,” she said. “I remember when Jon Pertwee, my Doctor, was changing. I was furious. ‘Who’s Tom Baker? He’ll be rubbish.'”

“It will take fans time to adjust,” added Davison, “But we should encourage them — when she appears — to view it with an open mind. I’ll think she’ll do a great job of it.”

Moving on to their days on the show, each cast member recalled their run-ins with the Daleks. Due to the relationship with Dalek creator Terry Nation at the time, each only met the classic villains once. Davison nearly missed his chance when Nation refused to let anyone else write Dalek stories. Fortunately, the issue was smoothed over and Eric Saward wrote “Revelation of the Daleks.”

“My story was said to have a higher body count than Terminator,” said Davison. “And I got to push a Dalek out the window.” He added that it won him a lot of points with his children.

Aldred’s encounter with the Daleks, “Remembrance of the Daleks,” was also her first proper story as Ace, the Seventh Doctor’s companion. “I got to hit them with a bat!” she gleefully recalled. The story also featured the first instance of a Dalek levitating up a flight of stairs. While the idea was magical, realizing it was not. Aldred mimicked the sound of burly prop guys huffing as they lifted the Dalek up the set.

“Back then, you’d learn new swear words when the Dalek would fall over or when things would jab into the operators body,” added Baker, whose sole Dalek story, “Resurrection of the Daleks,” was the last of his debut season. “They were the least scary things,” he said. But he also recalled an encounter with one during a dinner break while shooting the episode. He crossed the studio and saw a Dalek eye-stock following him. “I had a panic until I realized the guy inside was oiling it,” he said. It finally taught him how the Daleks can be scary.

With BritBox offering most of the classic stories, the group was asked where new fans should start. “Start at the beginning!” shouted Baker. He added that the best story of his time to start with is “The Two Doctors,” which featured him and Second Doctor Patrick Troughton. “Without Patrick, we wouldn’t have been Doctors,” he said. “He was such a good actor that he did an impossible thing; which was take over a show which lost its lead actor. And thanks to him, we have the greatest television of thirty years.”

Sadly, many of Troughton’s stories are incomplete or missing entirely thanks to BBC policy regarding old programs during the 1970s. As a result, video tape was reused and archival film prints were burned. Though many episodes have been recovered, ninety-seven are still missing.

In an attempt to recreate some of those stories, BritBox will release “telesnap” reconstructions using audio and still photos captured during the original transmission. The first of these will be “The Wheel In Space,” a Troughton era story which introduced Wendy Padbury as companion Zoe Herriot. The brief clip saw Troughton and companion Jamie, played by Fraser Hines, losing control of the TARDIS. Even as a still frame, the magic of Troughton’s Doctor shines through.

“When you first look at it, it takes a bit of getting use to it,” said Davison of the clip, who was thrilled to learn the complete audio of the story was preserved.

Aldred noted the acting is far more modern than her memory of Britsh television in the 60s and 70s. Mocking the reserved Received Pronunciation of the time, she said “It is not like that at all.”

“The Wheel In Space” comes to Britbox in the Fall. Subsequent episodes to follow.

Erik Amaya

Host of Tread Perilously and a Film/TV Writer at Comicon.com. A contributing writer at CBR, Fanbase Press, Monkeys Fighting Robots and Rotten Tomatoes. Voice of Puppet Tommy on The Room Responds. A seeker of the Seastone Chair and the owner of a Legion Flight Ring. Sorted into Gryffindor, which came as some surprise.