Twice a month, David Ward (the artist formerly known as Ogmios) invites us into his world of literature, comics, horror, sci-fi and more. It’s his world – we only read about it.
When Andy, our esteemed editor and pop-culture guru extraordinaire, approached me with the idea of writing an article about Doctor Who, I gave him the great and much-overused, and not a little trite, statement that “great minds think alike.” A similar series of articles had been percolating in my mind for a few months, and his request gave me the impetus to start clacking away on my wireless keyboard* about my thoughts concerning the Last of the Time Lords.
Doctor Who had its start in 1963 on the BBC, and until its cancellation in 1989 was the longest-running science-fiction show in television history. In 1996 there was a failed attempt to bring it back to living-rooms in the form of a Fox-BBC co-production made-for-tv film (an excrescence), and then it came back, bursting through the Untempered Schism, in 2005 and has enjoyed massive success in the UK, Canada, the US, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand – basically, anywhere where you could find fans inside and outside the English-speaking world. It has not stopped, and it continues today with the Eleventh Doctor’s first series airing as I type. Even in 2009, when the show was limited to a series of BBC specials rather than a series proper, audiences were still graced with roughly six hours broken up into five specials**. This covers a massive amount of time, and the show has an impressive legacy. While there was a hiatus of essentially fourteen years, it has been on television proper for over thirty years, and it’s been in the public consciousness for close to fifty. Simply put, children have been screaming “EXTERMINATE” for generations.
I cannot claim either this lineage or its experience; at thirty-three years of age, I have been with The Doctor a mere seventy per cent of that time, and of that, only a few were seriously dedicated to watching the show. I never witnessed, and still, to this day have never witnessed, the adventures of the First Doctor, William Hartnell, nor those of Patrick Troughton, the Second Doctor. My viewings of the Third Doctor, John Pertwee (a personal favourite of my father, who introduced the show to me in the early 1980s) were limited to syndication, as were those of arguably the best Doctor of them all, Tom Baker. I have embraced the new series, however, with some gusto as many of my friends and family can attest.
I would like to say that I remember, with scintillating clarity and poignance, the moment at which I first set my eyes upon the spinning TARDIS moving through the temporal-spatial vortex, with that all-too familiar eerie electronic music pulsing in the background, but I cannot. The memory simply isn’t there. I remember watching the show with great eagerness, and I always hoped that it would be one of those wonderful weekend afternoons (or possibly evenings – as I say, the memories are sketchy) where they would play an entire serial rather than just one or two episodes (for those who don’t know the show before its 2005 resurrection, Doctor Who episodes were rather short). I always hoped to see Tom Baker’s face before it faded to black, but I was satisfied with those of Jon Pertwee or Peter Davison, the Fifth Doctor.
What I do remember are the characters, and I’ll start with the good: Tom Baker as The Doctor, Lalla Ward (no relation, sadly, but she is married to one of my other heroes, this one from our own reality – Richard Dawkins – so that automatically makes her one of the coolest women in the world) as Romana, and some poor animatronics fellow as K-9, voiced either by John Leeson. And then there were the BAD: The Master, played by Anthony Ainley; Scaroth, the sole survivor of the Jagaroth, played by Julian Glover; and, of course, the Daleks.
While it seems natural to delve right into The Doctor’s most vicious nemeses, the Daleks, I would like to focus for a moment on the lesser-known Scaroth from the serial “City of Death”. For a long time, I thought I had imagined this villain. Whenever I spoke to friends of mine who adored the show, and please note that this was before the days of the Web and downloadable content, when Doctor Who episodes were as rare as a Spandau Ballet Appreciation Society, I would always try and describe Scaroth, usually to no avail. I couldn’t remember his human visage, which I find more than a little embarrassing as he is the villain Walter Donovan in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, another favourite of mine as a child, albeit an older one, but I did remember his true face, and it was terrifying. Vestigial, cyclopic, and utterly monstrous, Scaroth terrified me as a kid, but in that wonderful sort of way that children adore – peeking through fingers, watching, scared shitless, knowing those monsters would visit them in their dreams. I couldn’t even see the ridiculousness of the Tom Wolfe-like suit they put him in; such fashion faux-pas were obviously beyond my reckoning in my first six years.
A couple of years ago, I picked up Doctor Who: Starships and Spacestations, a BBC book that was mostly tied to the fourth series with David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor, and to my absolute and unbridled joy, I saw a picture of Scaroth in an article on Alien Encounters. I was vindicated. I hadn’t imagined this creepy character. I have since shown this picture to some of my friends who also enjoyed the show as children, and to my father (who has been watching the show since it started, and this fills me with more than a little envy), and again, no one remembers the character. I distinctly remember filling pages and pages of those half-sheets of foolscap they hand to you in primary school (you know the ones I mean – they feel like newsprint, have blue lines, and never seem to have proper edges to them) with images of The Doctor, K-9, and Romana fighting Scaroth and legions of Daleks. While I know the Daleks never joined forces with Scaroth, and I’m sure they would have found him abhorrent their pestilential and genocidal ways, I know I drew one image of Scaroth riding a Dalek, with Daleks all around, blasting lasers (my Daleks could fly, by the way, which they could not do until the first series with the Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston).
I’ve started with my earliest memories of the show, as sketchy and almost ethereal as they are, but both The Doctor and the Daleks are coming . . .
*a piece of technology I continue to find almost as impossible or improbable as the most far-fetched bits of mechanical and electronic flotsam and jetsam floating through episodes of Doctor Who
**consider, for a moment, that the average British series runs roughly 6 episodes, so that works out to t2 ½ hours per series for 20-30 minute shows and 6 hours for hour-long dramas – not too shabby – British audiences are spoiled by the good Doctor, whose seasons run in the range of 12-13 episodes