18 February, 2009

Time Teaming

Doctor Who Magazine has been running a feature called 'The Time Team' since July 1999. Four fans commit to watching every episode of broadcast Doctor Who from the beginning. Back then, that was the small matter of 696 episodes - that was years before Russell T Davies caught the BBC Drama department in a whirlwind of enthusiasm (it must have been a Tuesday) and convinced them to resurrect the series. They've subsequently amended their mission to include the new episodes, so that total keeps getting topped up every six months or so.

Doing 'the pilgrimage' is something I think all fans should try to do, but it surprises me just how lazy fans are nowadays. Back in the 1980s, when I first joined a fan group, we didn't have the internet. We didn't even have that many official VHS tapes - I think only one had been released by 1984. I met fans who'd secured pen-pals in Australia, where the episodes were still repeated regularly, or who had contacts within the BBC who could get them copies of tapes through illicit means.

It's so much easier nowadays - especially with fans filling in the gaps of missing episodes by creating 'recons' of lost episodes using photographs and surviving clips - all for non-profit.

In January 2000, BBC Two began repeating colour episodes of the series from the first colour episode, 'Spearhead from Space'. However, during transmission of 'The Silurians', they decided to skip forward four years and do 'Genesis of the Daleks' again, before abandoning the repeats entirely. My flatmate and I decided we'd continue the job they'd abandoned and began to watch the colour episodes ourselves. We finished that trek with 'The TV Movie' just before New Year's Eve that year. That was possibly the last time I watched the TV movie with anything close to enthusiasm.

In January 2008, my flatmate and I decided to have a go at the full run - every episode in order, right from the start, just as DWM's Time Team have been doing. It really is the best way to enjoy the new series, by watching something so much slower and ponderous. It also showed us that our opinions of previously loathed or loved stories can change ['Your interest in Macra can go up as well as down.'].

One of the first rules we set out was that we'd only watch two episodes in any one sitting. We reasoned, on past experience, that some stories are just too much work to sit through in one go, and while we're not going to wait a week between episodes like they did on original transmission, rationing ourselves to two episodes at a time meant we'd be less likely to rush through a story and get bored of it. It also meant we could occasionally stop after just one episode if we really couldn't face carrying on.

We rediscovered just how brilliant those first couple of seasons were, with William Hartnell as 'the original' Doctor, and were surprised by how upset we got when the first Doctor lay down on the floor of his Tardis and turned into a scruffy man who seemed to want to spend his time dicking about with hats. We were more surprised by how long it took for us to warm to this new Doctor. We found that we couldn't stand Victoria one bit (whiney, pathetic little snot) and adored Zoe, but didn't like many of her stories. And then all too soon, just before Christmas, we finished the black-and-white era with the final episode of 'The War Games' and it was time to get all emotional and choked up once again.

A year after we began and we've just begun season eight - the one that begins with 'Day of the Daleks' and ends with... actually, I don't want to think that far - 12 of the worst episodes ever. Weep! Why couldn't we have stopped with Troughton?

Whatever, it's something every true fan should attempt - certainly they should have watched a story before they voice their opinions on it across the world-wide web...

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