Sunday, 18 May 2014

What to Watch Next: Rise of the Cybermen & The Invasion

Slightly different instalment this week. Tat Wood asked if he could have a go at this week's Patrick Troughton story, so the links and commentary are all his today. 

I could draw a laboured parallel about substitutes and parallel universes here, but that'd be silly. Enjoy. 

A bit of context. Rather than just “here’s an episode of BBC Wales’ Doctor Who, here’s a similar-but-different older episode, compare and contrast”, today we’ll take a bit of time to look at what it was like actually watching Doctor Who when it was broadcast. For this, you need someone who was in the London area in 1968 and 2006, ideally someone whose dad had recently downscaled from building rockets to repairing televisions and oscilloscopes when Patrick Troughton was the Doctor. 

I’m Tat Wood and this is what it was like watching

The Invasion
As you all knew, To Lulu – Demon – and her incomplete education is a translated line from “Devotion” by Arthur Rimbaud. I didn’t know that then. 
Are you ready for the music? It’s different this time. I have no idea why she’s on an unconvincing boat. Nor why someone decided to crop the image from its 4:3 ratio original. Nonetheless, this was getting a lot of airplay then and – crushed-down squittiness aside – that’s what telly looked like.
            In the grand scheme of things, Doctor Who was when BBC1 settled everyone down for the night. Switching channels was complicated, especially if you were one of the 405-line viewers whose house was a long way from a transmitter and needed to fiddle about to get a good signal. Saturdays, for the two main channels, was mainly sport and films. All afternoon, they’d show live or recorded sport. The BBC was mandated by law to cover all the significant events so ITV sniffed around for anything left over: weird American stuff like logrolling championships or a form of hockey played on ice-skates; indoor games you played in the pub (darts, snooker) and our own form of pro wrestling. This is not much like WCW. Thus while Grandstand had football and either cricket or rugby depending on the season (and both forms of rugby, Union and League, with different, equally mimic-able commentators, Bill McLaren and Eddie Waring), World of Sport was like those lucky-bags you got (Dick Turtle or Jamboree were the main ones round our way) with random leftover sweets and cards from TV shows that never quite made it.  The gap between the end of the sport and the start of the main run of programmes was marked by disposable imports on BBC1 and – well, ITV was split into an assortment of regions, some given a different franchise-holder for weekdays and weekends, so until their concerted effort to counter Doctor Who in 1975 by almost scheduling Space: 1999 on every local station at once what you’d get varied. Nonetheless, the thinking was that if they could tempt people away from Who they would secure the family for the whole night, whilst BBC assumed that anyone who’d actually been to a football match or the pictures would want time to get home in time for the Doctor’s latest escapade.

For a sixties child, therefore, the day started with a few cartoons (notably one called The Impossibles on BBC1 – a really muddled conflation of superheroes and what it amused Hanna-Barbera to think of as ‘Briddish’-accented pop stars) or Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart on Radios 1 & 2 (shared frequencies for much of the weekend, to annoy all family-members equally) doing Junior Choice and inflicting a mix of novelty records and the previous generation’s idea of children’s music on the nation’s youth. In 1968, as Isobel Watkins demonstrates to Zoe, this Arcadian/Wordsworth Syd Barrett thing – so much a part of 1967’s idiomatic English response to psychedelia – was pretty much played out and we were left with just a lot of kitsch. Bear this in mind, though, because the same day as The Invasion started we had the debut of a Pop-Art-for-Kids oddity called Zokko!, a medley of pop, comic-style drawings with a camera zooming across as actors in bad American accents read the word-bubbles, self-playing instruments and silent movie clips hosted by a pinball machine.

no really. George Melly described ‘him’ as sounding like “a broken-hearted Dalek”, which is about right.
Barely any of this survives in the archives - what there is comes from a compilation and is edited to make it seem slower and more ponderous than it was. However, they tapped into a whole 1920s fad that was replacing the Aubrey Beardsley vogue of two years before, so the pneumatically-operated brass band would play Cole Porter over a montage of Art Deco and bubbles (this person remembers it even better than me). 

Then came Grandstand, with the proper theme and everything.
By 1968, ITV had got World of Sport about right and hired Dickie Davies as presenter – he was so good the BBC eventually cloned him and made Desmond Lynam their anchorman. As a blokey show, World of Sport attracted blokey adverts, back when this sort of thing was still legal. The representation of 60s editions of the series isn’t great, but here’s what the last few pieces of this jigsaw were like. You got Kent Walton commentating on fat old men in tight shorts and trying to drown out the sound of old ladies shouting “rip ‘is nuts orf” (this is from 1970, they don’t seem to want to release black and white recordings) then into the results, for those people who had entered the football pools and were praying for a lot of goal-less draws. This was when the countdown to Doctor Who began for most kids I knew. They were still using the 1968 theme well into the 80s, so the way this fades in at around 2:40 is profoundly Proustian even if this is a 1980 clip.
And then, if you were lucky, your ITV franchise would plonk on their safety-play against time-travellers, either an Irwin Allen import or the local equivalent. That year’s best effort was this (don’t worry if you can’t hack the whole episode – nothing could ever live up to the promise of that title-sequence). If you were unlucky, they would resort to any leftover adventure series from way back. Even by this time, any late 50s or early 60s costume-romp (The Buccaneers or Sir Francis Drake – I remember being so freaked out by the Doctor Who theme that I ran upstairs and refused to return until they’d switched over to something with Roger Delgado as the villain) looked antiquated. Some of the low-rent franchises resuscitated Old Mother Riley shorts from the 30s.
          BBC’s idea of how to kill time before the TARDIS landed with Troughton and Fraser Hines in it was usually an American import, The Monkees, or The Munsters. In this period they’d latched on the deservedly-forgotten All New Lucy Show which I recall as having an animated title of a Jack-in-the-box bouncing along the floor to reveal Lucy, co-starring her kids (which means I have a clearer idea of Desi Arnez Junior than of his dad). Historically, the majority of such fillers were puppets (starting with The Telegoons, then Pinky and Perky, Lamb Chop and the more celebrated – because, frankly, better than this but not by much – Basil Brush and Roland Rat: The Series.) That would come after Len Martin had read the football results in his measured sing-song.  Then a news update and the weather, plus that BBC World model (in the late 60s accompanied by the chiming of a B, then another B then a C, in this case, almost a minute in after a typically get on with it-ish forecast, arranged by Freddie Phillips of Trumpton fame) then  - at last – that week’s episode.  As the story progressed we got the last major incidence of that magical combination of Radiophonic Workshop and Peter Hawkins. Well, last in Doctor Who, at least. Even before the series started Blue Peter had been mixing those two forms of sonic magic in Bleep and Booster. This was more drawings-and-slidey-cameras but with occasional over-exposure and groovy noises. There was a video of this (which I unwisely lent to a DWM editor who shall remain nameless) so I know that the story ‘Solaron’ began on Halloween 1968, the week The Invasion began. But that’s not around online so here’s a bit from The Great Brain, six months later, culled from a 1988 Sunday Morning filler with a lot of other goodies on it). When Episode Six comes around, note that they’ve cast a window-cleaner to look like this matroishka,

just in case you think that the resemblance between the Cybermen at St Paul’s Cathedral and the Odessa Steps sequence of Battleship Potempkin was accidental.

 So that was Doctor Who for a week, to be discussed in the school playground until next time.

Then what?
            Well, ​as luck would have it, we have this relic of 2nd November 1968. ​He really was as ghastly as I remember. The announcer at the start is that same Len Martin who would do the ‘East Fife four, Forfar five’ stuff at the end of Grandstand until 1996. Notice anything about the set?
Hexagons were ‘in’ that year, weren’t they?
            Which is probably the key thing to note about Doctor Who. In any phase of its broadcast it exists as part of what else the BBC is making and what they think the people who watch it are also watching. Most BBC television output is fairly compartmentalised, with drama over here and Light Entertainment over here but Doctor Who always smeared those boundaries, an admixture of Top of the Pops and classic serials with jobbing set-designers and directors assigned almost at random after doing Z Cars or It’s Lulu.  The Producer, the Script Editor and a typist were the only people who worked on Doctor Who full-time. The BBC Wales way of doing things is in some ways very different but the people making it now all grew up with the Television Centre culture as normal.

            Two ITC shows in particular, on air at the same time as The Invasion, make good comparisons. Both Joe 90 and Department S resemble The Invasion more than either looks like the other.The eponymous department was an international organisation affiliated to the UN but always investigating “odd” and “unexplained” phenomena in London – just like the Brigadier’s explanation of UNIT. You probably know it, if at all, for Jason King, camp icon and career-destroying role for Peter Wyngarde. Keep an eye on Rosemary Nichols as cool brainbox Annabel Hurst. Most weeks she’s programming a computer before going undercover. That’s sort of what they had in mind for both Zoe and Liz Shaw. Thus when they have a go at a slightly new formula for Doctor Who they pick up on ITC’s recipe so exactly that it’s alarming to see Corporal (as he was) Benton in a Mk II Jaguar, because anyone driving one of those has an appointment with a cliff in anything Lew Grade was making that year. (I had a sniff around for an episode of Department S that wasn’t in German but they all seem to have run away in the last week). 
            Of course, with familiar monsters and some spaceships Doctor Who has a few things slightly out of the ordinary it can chuck at this formula. The models in The Invasion are a bit odd. Remember how good they were in, for example, The Daleks’ Master Plan (as we’re told to punctuate it now)? This lot are slightly under-it by comparison, despite having lightbulbs built in. The Visual Effects department were working overtime to cover the impending Moon landings so as this phase of Who ground to a halt the number of models and space-launches increased as practice. There was a studio simulation of the bits the BBC couldn’t show (satellite-time sometimes had to be bought before they knew when things would happen). One extant clip from Apollo XII shows how inept these were, although try telling that to the conspiracy-theorists. As Christmas 1968 drew near the trailers on BBC 1 had a theme of Michael Aspel in a space-suit. That too is no longer to be found online but check this out. And this, and this
The thing to remember about 1968 as far as television in Britain is concerned is that everyone knows colour’s coming but few people know what to do about it. Being early adopters of this whole broadcast pictures lark, the two halves of the duopoly, BBC and the 14 ITV companies, all went for the quick and dirty 405-line VHF system, which they could get to people as the fad caught on across various bits of the country. Knowing that America’s first experiments with colour transmission had been a joke they weren’t in a hurry to rush out this latest gimmick until everyone who was happy simply to see Pete Murray or the PG Tips chimps had finished paying for their first sets on Hire Purchase. Nonetheless, once the 1962 Pilkington Committee had decided that this was the next step and that the BBC, who get public money for exactly such risk-taking, should get an extra channel to iron out the kinks, 625-line UHF broadcasts began fifty years ago, with Play School. You needed a special set and a new aerial to get BBC2, so not everyone bothered. In 1967, they started colour transmissions, with precisely one colour-adapted studio to start with, whilst beginning to offer BBC1 in both formats.
            The first Doctor Who story made in the new format was Enemy of the World, which is probably why one episode where nobody moves about too much was retained in the archives. Over on BBC2, they’d tried making a science fiction series, mainly adapted from short stories in Brian Aldiss’ Penguin  and Faber anthologies (he’d been published by Faber and done documentaries, so was officially ‘worthy’ and not ‘trashy’), and Out of the Unknown showed all the problems on doing SF on telly that Doctor Who, with far fewer resources chucked at it, had managed to avoid. Almost every story in the future had a male cast entirely in cotton pyjamas and blond Beatle-wigs (any women accidentally included in the plot were bald or similarly-bewigged but in silk kaftans like Nana Mouskouri). They all had steel walls, reflecting the cameras. The sharper picture revealed every wire holding up a model spaceship. And, of course, everyone knows that in the future we’ll all eat pills and have unconvincing American accents. If you can imagine a version of Tomb of the Cybermen with money spent on it you’re almost there. Eventually they got the hint and did stories with fewer hostages to fortune, set in a matt-finish England. Here’s one of the later colour episodes, The Last Lonely Man, which is directed by Douglas Camfield, stars Peter Halliday and George Cole (with a lot of other Camfield stalwarts) and has music by Don Sharp, as an example of how colour television in Britain isn’t quite ‘there’ yet in 1968, it’s lit all wrong and the design and costume people think that because they can use unusual colour schemes, they have to (if you can find what’s left of Little Black Bag you’ll see an especially lurid example).

The other thing this demonstrates is the difficulty they had in ‘selling’ an idea to anyone who normally only watched orthodox dramas, although this is offset by the practical problem of justifying the budget by being an hour per episode regardless of whether they have an hour’s worth of material. The early monochrome episodes fill this void with Radiophonica and graphics and that’s how we get back to The Invasion. In this episode, they’ve taken the premise of the original story and junked the actual story in favour of something less interesting and more expensive (they do that a lot – The Midas Plague is like episode two of a series based on the story rather than the story itself). The first twelve minutes of this are taken up with a set-up that would be over in three today, then there’s twenty seconds of ying-tong music over stock footage of a futuristic city then… that’s right, it’s the hypno-sound from The Macra Terror, which John Baker reworked with a cocktail-lounge piano overlay for Tobias Vaughn’s office muzak.  
            So that’s what the Doctor Who team were more-or-less committed to avoiding if they could help it. What were they aiming at with The Invasion? Well, pretty much everything else on telly. As Mary Hopkin reminds us, dulcimers were ‘in’ that year. Don Sharp’s soundtrack has a lot of honky-tonk piano, vibraphones, thick, clicky Fender bass and echo underneath that distinctive sound. Sort of midway between this and this. And as soon as we mention The Ipcress File the cat’s out of the bag as far as the plot of The Invasion goes but the mood of the film, balancing glamorous Swinging London against the grotty city real Londoners inhabit and exotic espionage/ brainwashing stuff alongside the mundane bureaucratic aspects of military intelligence work, is a good yardstick for UNIT adventures in general. More than this, though, it was the template for a lot of noir-ish fantasy-adventure series of the kind ITC had cornered the market in making. If you don’t know how weird Man in A Suitcase or Strange Report got, find out later – a rogue ex-CIA operative driving a Hillman Imp and with Dandy Nicholls as his landlady is just the start.

Rise of the Cybermen

Anyone complaining about a spoiler should note that the RT for Episode One of The Invasion had a dirty great picture of the cliffhanger to Episode Six.
In a lot of ways this episode also makes more sense in the wider context of what the BBC was up to that year than on its own terms. Converting disused factories and warehouses in Cardiff into studios and reviving a vaguely embarrassing brand they’d disowned in 1989 had paid off and now they were going to cash in, big-style. They’d successfully launched the series and, by aping US formulae, had given it fresh impetus with a barnstorming mid-point publicity-push with the most famous (and lucrative) monsters. The one cloud was the rather reticent star but he’d been replaced and they’d made that the focus of the big Christmas Day schedule (usually BBC1’s biggest day). A second series was the occasion for a merchandising bonanza so all of the first few stories had something sellable in. Plus, don’t forget, two ‘making of’ series, a child-friendly new magazine with toys to accompany the long-established one, a forthcoming Pokemon-style card-collecting mag and, with Panini running the main magazine, a sticker album. Even if nobody had ever heard of the Cybermen before, Rise of the Cybermen made sure you knew they were coming. There was a bumper Radio Times edition with the sticker-album and the first few for you to start the collection and a very striking cover. This meant that there was an advert for it on ITV which is unprecedented (those Sky Ray ads from the 60s were cinema-only). There was also an online tease – do you have to be old to think ‘Gemini calling’ sounds like Lord Haw-Haw?
            In the guest-cast for this were:
Someone from EastEnders (Mona Hammond CBE)

Someone from CBBC (forty seconds in: the Chuckle Brothers have yet to appear in the series, although Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS with them as the scrap-dealers would have been heaps better) 

Someone from a big hit BBC sitcom who’d worked with David Tennant in a smash-hit film, someone else from an ITV hit sitcom (as usual, Rigsby makes a racial slight then gets shown up)… and Rose’s dead dad. It’s made of other telly, just as The Invasion was but the BBC1 ecosystem that produced them both was changing. We’re months away from the abrupt cancellation of both Grandstand and Top of the Pops.
            (Talking of which, this was Number One for most of Series Two, so every ToTP appearance had to look different.)
            It’s set in an alternate universe, so obviously there have to be airships.
Of course, every old fan knew that airships were due for a comeback – they did a feature on it in practically every Doctor Who Annual World Distributors put out in the 70s.
            This being a two-parter we don’t need to go into too much detail here about where this episode fits in. One thing that is worth reminding ourselves about, though, is that the BBC1-viewing public were confronted with something else that night that was even more alarming - Sycorax Rock!

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