As the cult TV show marks its 50th anniversary, John Daly talks to some life-long Irish fans
WITH the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who on Monday, the discovery recently of nine missing episodes of the iconic series came as an early birthday present for the show’s millions of fans.
Found at a television station in Nigeria, the treasure trove is thought to be the largest haul of missing episodes ever recovered and includes a number from the 1967-68 period, starring the second Doctor Who, Patrick Troughton. While the BBC destroyed many of the original transmission tapes in the 1970s, a number were transferred to film for sale to foreign broadcasters.
Philip Morris, director of Television International Enterprises Archive, made the startling discovery. “The tapes had been left gathering dust in a storeroom at a television relay station in the town of Jos, Nigeria,” he said. “I remember wiping the dust off the masking tape on the canisters and my heart missed a beat as I saw the words ‘Doctor Who’. When I read the story code I realised I’d found something pretty special.”
“I’m licking my lips at the prospect of seeing these recovered episodes,” says avid Doctor Who fan, Terry Eaton. “A discovery like this is really something special, and all the more incredible coming just ahead of the 50th anniversary.”
An employee of Marks & Spencer in Dublin, Terry, 52, has been a nut for “all things Whovian” since his childhood. It’s clearly a passion that has continued into his adult life. Having grown up in a household with three sisters, Terry’s love of science fiction and fantasy began with the writings of famous masters of the genre like Gerry Anderson, Irwin Allen and Adam West, as well as the films of Ray Harryhausen.
“Like the cherry on the BBC television cake, it has always been Doctor Who that brought something special to the annals of science fiction. The concept of the regenerating timelord, in his rickety old Tardis, was British science fiction at its best,” he believes. “Where American studios threw money at their programmes, the BBC threw something else entirely at Doctor Who — imagination.”
The creativity of those early stories fired the impressionable mind of a young Terry Eaton. “They instilled in me a love of reading — the annual at Christmas was always eagerly anticipated, and still is,” he exclaims. “But it also fostered a love of history at school, as well as a passion to learn the geography of the planet I lived on, and the names of the other planets in our solar system.”
The proud owner of a collection ofWho memorabilia going back over 40 years, Eaton is a regular visitor to science fiction conventions around the world. Surrounded by thousands sharing the same passion, it becomes an annual Doctor Who reunion in unusual places around the world. “You do meet the same people every year at these conventions, so, of course, there are long discussions and debates on all sorts of Whovian topics. It does help that conventions are usually held in interesting cities so our long-suffering partners can avail of sunshine, culture, or shopping.”
His Doctor Who collection, built up since childhood, consists of models, figures, books, vinyl records, mugs, lunch boxes and money boxes, badges, pins and patches, scrapbooks, posters and high end art pieces. “It just keeps expanding, really,” says Eaton. “If I see something that’s really interesting, I just go for it.”
On a recent trip to London, Terry and his wife took a day trip to Windsor. “While we were walking around, I noticed a small police box in a souvenir shop, and of course had to have it. When I commented to the salesman that you very rarely found the item in the souvenir stores, he informed me that they couldn’t carry that item as the BBC sent teams around to check.
“So close is Doctor Who linked to that image, shops are not allowed carry the Gilbert MacKenzie Trench police box first used in 1929, because now it’s quite simply the Tardis. There is yet another golden nugget only a fan would love,” he adds.
With the 50th anniversary, Terry Eaton encapsulates his lifelong passion: “The wonder and excitement of my youth is still there, and, at 52, I still hold the Doctor in a special place of sentimental attachment. This icon of science fiction has been with me through my own personal journey in time, just as I’ve been with him through his.”
Brogen Hayes picked up her love of the show while watching the programmes with her older brother as a kid. “I’ll never forget the Daleks,” she says. “I was so scared of them, I’d hide behind the couch and watch through my fingers. Part of the thrill of Dr Who at that age was to be scared.”
Managing to balance her real-life job as deputy editor at Movies.ie with her passion for all things Tardis, Brogen also attends the Comic-Con convention when time allows. “It’s like ground zero for the fans and nerds, and even if you’re not interested in anything in particular, it’s a tremendous place to see the kinds of things people get into.”
Like many, Brogen has trouble deciding on the perfect Doctor: “Always a dilemma — I grew up with Tom Baker and his mad eyes, so obviously he’s a major favourite. Moving away from one’s first Doctor, who always has a special place, I’d probably opt for David Tennant, the tenth, as the best.”
The imminent arrival of Peter Capaldi holds no fears for Brogen — no one Doctor could be greater than the sum of those gone before. Capaldi is best-known for his role as foul-mouthed spindoctor Malcolm Tucker in BBC’s The Thick of It.
“There’s always an outcry from fans when the doctor regenerates — which, by the way, is the cleverest idea any sci-fi writer has ever had. I was personally heartbroken when David Tennant moved on, but after just one episode it was clear that Mark Smith would bring something unique and special as well.”
At age 55, Capaldi will bring an experienced aspect to Doctor Who that will ultimately please the legions of demanding fans, she believes. “As an older Who, he will bring a gravitas to the role. But, on top of that, he has that twinkle in his eye that all the great ones have.”
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