Time Will Crawl


Every day during the school summer holidays, at somewhere around 10:55am on BBC1, time would stand still.

This was, of course, the weird five minute limbo between what the TV schedules delineated as the 'morning' and the 'afternoon', when the initial crack of dawn exhiliaration at a lack of school and a couple of hours' worth of mostly pretty good programming (and, let's be honest about this, the BBC's Monkees/Pink Panther/Battle Of The Planets-heavy lineups were always preferable to ITV's lazy slinging out of a ropey film and an even ropier imported 'edutainment' series like 3-2-1 Contact or Unicorn Tales) gave way to a realisation that an afternoon of mindless ennui and parental-instigated trudging around hardware stores would follow. And in between those two extremes fell an atemporal vacuum that seemed to stretch on into infinity.

Imagine, if you will, that time had been stopped by Hiro Nakamura right in the middle of the slowing-down-and-speeding-up bit of Time Has Come Today by The Chambers Brothers at the exact same moment that the mechanism of the Trumpton town clock was jammed by that paint pot, and amplify the effect tenfold, and you're not even halfway there. It's not even possible to use the scribbled-in-the-margin reference to those slow motion sequences in Doctor Who And The Time Monster, or indeed the gag about it making Rag Tag And Bobtail look like The Wizard Of Speed And Time stuck on fast forward, as that would give the impression that time still perceptively moved forwards during those nominal five minutes, which it most certainly did not. The accepted boundaries of chronometric physics were simply not interested in applying.

And it was in this Galileo-averse gap in the schedules that the most banal, inconsequential and interminable animated series ever committed to celluloid would set up camp, and not so much refuse to leave as expand exponentially to fill the void. The worst offender of these by some considerable distance was C.P. And Qwikstitch, which depicted the cheaply rendered escapades of two miserable scrap-hewn R2D2 and C3PO emulants encountering the inevitable 'problems a little like yours and mine' whilst stranded on spare part-strewn planet Junkus Minor; literally a piss-poor imagination-free counterpart to Droids. In fact it's quite possible that nothing ever actually happened in it at all, but so powerful and pervasive was the accompanying eradication of temporal awareness that there was no option but to watch. Even the act of changing the channel was too deeply rooted in established scientific frameworks to seem feasible. The Why Don't You? Gang tried to warn us all to switch off our television sets and go out and do something less boring instead, they really did.


Eventually, after what seemed like whatever the equivalent of millennia are in a parareality with no use for gradations of time, normality would jolt back in with the brief and quickly faded out thrill of the Wimbledon/Cricket opening music. And yet even the phenomenon itself seemed to last for longer than it actually did; by 1986, with the rolling out of a structured BBC daytime service, and the associated move towards branded and strip-stranded children's programming, that five minute black hole of time had all but collapsed in on itself under the combined onslaught of But First... This and Andy Crane reading out the top ten in a leather jacket. The BBC did try to harness its reality-warping properties with daytime schedule staple Five To Eleven, which offered a five minute window for 'reflection' as bland actors read out bland poetry and some panpipe music played over a photo of a gorilla, but that simply made time appear to be moving very very slowly, not stopped completely. It just wasn't the same thing at all.

Whether C.P. and Qwikstitch ever managed to find their way off Junkus Minor is something that, frankly, nobody knows nor cares about. But in a completely unintended sense, their adventures took them into a realm of scientific improbability that even Steven Moffat-era Doctor Who would have had second thoughts about. Well, possibly.

Pining For The Punk Fjords

 
Although Norris McWhirter would never have dared venture inside, it's likely that the world record for the largest concentration of old-skool magic marker graffiti in a single location would have been held by an eighties railway station waiting room. Across the nation, years of neglect, underfunding, bureaucratic red tape and a general lack of interest in maintaining anything municipal beyond a basic level of functionality had allowed layer upon layer upon layer of scrawl to build up on walls that would have put the end titles of Murphy's Mob to shame, and would certainly have provided graffiti-compiling curmudgeon Nigel Rees with enough material to comfortably retire on.

Although the cumulative effect of so much handwritten text in alternating primary colours would have suggested little more to the untrained eye than that Mr. Messy had exploded, more discerning observers could just about trace an evolving subcultural history of nothing in particular through the dense lexicographical cacophony. Trends replaced trends, slang replaced slang, and not particularly coded threats to 'Bopper' for being a 'grass' replaced not particularly coded threats to his equally unimaginatively nicknamed antecedents. And weirdly agressively punctuated rewrites of Row Row Row Your Boat to be about rolling joints somehow managed to remain indelibly visible through the whole lot.

If there was one recurring graffitic totem that seemed to epitomise the simultaneous permanence and futility of unattended public walls in a rapidly changing world, it was that early eighties rallying cry 'Punk's Not Dead'. As Richard Herring has noted, this brave, defiant and principled stand against the vagaries of fashion and the rise of materialism would invariably be rendered inert by someone crossing out the 'not', and someone else - and it was never the same person - judiciously adding an 'S'. In gamely attempting to convince the world at large that punk was still a viable force, its few remaining adherents had left themselves wide open for humiliating public demolition, and quite possibly came to regret spending their small change on a marker pen rather than helping to push The Exploited slightly nearer the top forty. And it was probably at this precise moment that punks ceased to be frightening to the world at large.

Quite why they were any more deserving of this status than any other youth cult (including some more genuinely threatening ones) is something of a mystery - though those zany Sex Pistols saying 'barstard' at Bill Grundy might have had something to do with it - but punks loomed larger in the juvenile catalogue of terrifying peers than perhaps any other historical equivalent ever. Indeed, even well into the 'Punk's Not Dead' era, it was not unusual for school playgrounds to reverberate with distressed reports of 'a punk' on the rampage in the vicinity, usually accompanied by Godzilla-esque tales of them headbutting chunks out of buildings whilst a small army of police cowered helplessly behind riot shields.

But by the time of Channel 4's celebration of the, erm, Fourteenth Anniversary of Punk, though, they had seemingly lost all of their terror-generating cachet. Old ladies would write to newspapers expressing gratitude to 'punks' that had tackled a bag-snatcher. Ludicrously mohicanned male model Matt Belgrano established himself as the Wogan-friendly face of anarchy. Even the tabloid press started to view them as some sort of loveable friend-in-need in the fight against the 'dangerous' dogs, ecstasy-addled hordes and obvious hoaxes about 'live' ghost-hunting that had become the new public bete noires. After all, SOMEONE needed to take a stand against whoever it was that had started appending smiley faces with wizard's hats to the railway station waiting room walls.

Nowadays you're more likely to find those selfsame railway station waiting rooms covered in coffee dispensers and adverts with similing mug-wielding monochrome girls endorsing 'Cafe Ainnichuchi' or whatever the latest one's called. And nobody's ever written anything on their faces either. But spare a thought for those defiant idealist punks who felt the best way to preserve the integrity of a youth movement that once had the establishment quaking and the charts rigged was to plead their case to a handful of rain-drenched commuters. Remember them this way: as a spiky-haired old-skool city smasher hurtling down the street shouting 'RAR RAR RADDL-A-RARR!' in the face of nobody in particular.

A Funny Old Game


The arrival of the NES - that's the Nintendo Entertainment System for those of you who aren't quite old enough to think of Keith Allen first and foremost as the host of TV's Whatever You Want - was something of a watershed moment. Straight away, battle lines were drawn up separating those who saw its 8-bit plug-and-play arcade-style controller-driven Playstation-anticipating instant thrills as the arrival of The Future, and those that stuck doggedly to the belief that home computing should be about more than just games (which should take eight minutes to load and keel over at the last second pleading R TAPE LOADING ERROR anyway) and that you weren't getting the full experience unless you understood what the PRINT LEN command did and regularly spent several hours typing in rubbish programs called things like 'Mathsteroids'. Yet, despite this deep Rad Gravity-fuelled rift, there was one NES staple that absolutely everyone agreed was worthy of the home entertainment revolution - Nintendo World Cup.

Released to tie in with Italia '90, and gamely angling to persuade teenage boys to put down that photo of Betty Boo for five minutes, Nintendo World Cup allowed up to four players to pit teams of six blocky stylised and stereotyped footballers from across the globe against each other, in the hope of finding themselves placed slightly above the opposing player on the retina-troublingly stark scoreboard. Apparently reworked from an original Japanese game cartridge based on so-called 'dodgeball' (one of those concepts that, like Saltwater Taffy and The Smothers Brothers, will always remain perplexing to anyone from anywhere else in the world so stop pretending we all understand what it is), Nintendo World Cup was very much football as seen through the eyes of someone who associated it with William 'The Refrigerator' Perry rather than Peter Beardsley. Hence the portamento-crazed Magic Fly-esque backing tunes which sounded like an American's idea of 'soccer music' for a match live from London's fashionable Edinburgh, and the naming of one of the England squad 'Davy', in presumable homage to the Monkee that had somehow come to represent the entire British Isles to The U.S.A., although they also somehow contrived to misspell it as 'Dayv'.

Admittedly on face value - unintentional lost-in-translation surrealist comedy tinges notwithstanding - Nintendo World Cup wouldn't appear to have much going for it. But even aside from the fast pace and solid-for-the-time gameplay - which certainly left the ZX Spectrum's Match Day and its infamous Ball-Stealing Referee bug light years' worth of RAM behind - there were a number of utterly unnecessary and indeed entirely unfootball-like customisations that elevated it from an impressively-rendered yet run of the mill kickabout into something that combined multi-player thrills and spills with infuriation-and-in-joke-inviting random pitfalls of the sort that never quite seemed to trouble Gary Lineker.

You could, for some strange reason, change the pitch from grass to ice, which would send any tackled player whizzing off sideways in the direction of the opposition's goalmouth. You could also change it to 'dirt', which was dotted with FIFA-contravening small piles of rocks which the players would spontaneously hurtle into, thereby rendering themselves immobile for increasing lengths of time. And then there was the utterly realism-averse 'Super Shot', which caused the ball, if kicked at the right moment and from the right angle, to become a sort of toxic pink relative of Rover from The Prisoner, causing no end of consternation (which had the unfortunate side-effect of turning the Cameroon players into goggle-eyed caricatures that made Sugarball The Jungle Boy look progressive and enlightened) as it seared unstoppably towards the goal, permanently incapacitating any player that it collided with en route. It would later cause no small amusement when a 'Super Shot' apparently made a cameo appearance in the video for Michael Jackson's Heal The World.

So, that was Nintendo World Cup. Never to become as emblematic as Gazza crying, World In Motion or Sophie Aldred dressed as a footballer on Children's BBC game show Knock Knock, but in its own way redolent both of its time and of things to come. Primarly through bearing next to no resemblance to actual football in any way, shape or form. Of course, the other thing about the NES that absolutely everyone was in agreement on was how truly appalling McDonaldland was. But it's kinder not to remind people about that.

Ten Things I Hate About Who

Way back when Doctor Who still looked as though it was never likely to find its way back on to the small screen, I had the genius idea - thanks to a certain film that's a lot better than the average Doctor Who fan would doubtless presume it to be - for an article entitled Ten Things I Hate About Who. This, as you've probably already worked out, would have taken the form of a tongue-in-cheek yet still mildly vitriolic look at a list of things about the show, its fans, and the ephemera surrounding both of them that either bored, annoyed or just plain puzzled me. However, at that stage it really was difficult to find anything 'new' to say about 'old' Doctor Who, unless you were a dedicated researcher with access to previously unknown BBC Soup Machine records, and as the list involved little more than a handful of already well-worn personal obsessions the idea was put quietly to one side.

Then, of course, Doctor Who came back, and suddenly there was a whole new set of bugbears to add to the list. So I duly wrote it, and sent it to a prominent fanzine editor who I'd kept on writing Who-related things for during the 'wilderness years'. And he sent it back to me, explaining that - and this was quite understandable at the time - in the throes of the post-relaunch excitement he wasn't sure that the tone of the piece really fitted with the direction he was trying to take. So I tried a few more fanzines and websites. And still the rejections came back, invariably with polite comments along the lines of "um... erm... hmmm... well it's not quite right for this publication's audience if you see what I mean, nice though the abbatoir is etc etc". Believing it both to be quite good and not quite as frothing-at-the-mouth negative as everyone else appeared to think, I did keep hawking it around every so often, and indeed it made the shortlist for my book Well At Least It's Free, only edged out at the last minute by an overwhelming volume of other and much better Doctor Who-related stuff.

Anyway, here - with only slight modifications to bits that are no longer relevant or even in some cases comprehensible - is that contentious Too Hot For TV article in full...


...Ten Things I Hate About Who!

He's back... and it's about time. Again. Yes, Doctor Who is back at the top, with plaudits aplenty and viewing figures that leave Celebrity Goat-Defrauding On Ice languishing in the doldrums, and everything is how it should be. The new series has critics raving and is depleting stock at awards ceremonies left, right and centre. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, The Ghosts Of N-Space is number one in the Hit Parade, and even scowling curmudgeons can at least join in the jubilations via The Unquiet Dead. Things genuinely haven't been this good since Sylvester McCoy appeared on But First... This to talk about writing letters to a rock.

But can it really be true? Has Doctor Who - a programme that even at its many and varied zeniths was always accompanied by apathetic BBC 'top brass', lunatic fans, pointless merchandise, baffling pop singles by cast members, and people at school who thought it was the height of sophisticated wit to mock anyone who watched it by sarcastically and tunelessly yodelling "ah-oooo-weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-ooooooooooooooo" - finally managed to shake off all of its tedious, irritating or just plain pointless baggage in a whirl of CGI Tardises and Billie Piper's pants?

Of course not. The show itself may well be meeting with its most favourable public reception since the dim and distant days of the UNIT 'Family' and badly-done Colour Seperation Overlay, but Doctor Who has always been, and will most likely always be, surrounded by all manner of ridiculousness, whether bafflingly incomprehensible or downright infuriating. From Jon Pertwee's hilarious mis-spellings of his name that weren't, to humourless bile-fuelled letters page arguments about which continuity slide was used the most often in 1977, to fan-written and published multi-Doctor 'reunion stories', to the still ongoing obsession with how the Cybermen came to have a photo of the Fourth Doctor, this nonsense will insidiously fill your head if you display the merest flicker of interest in Doctor Who, whether you like it or not. And let's face it, for most people, it's most definitely 'not'. In honour of those selfsame 'most people', then, here's a quick rundown of the ten most loathesome, annoying and just plain bewildering phenomena associated with Doctor Who. And it doesn't even mention the 'Time War'...


10. Thieving Fans



A bit of clarification's needed here; this does not refer to anyone who's shoplifted the odd Target novel. That's a matter for their own conscience, and indeed the courts. And, if it was Turlough And The Earthlink Dilemma, their own sense of taste and smell. This refers instead to those shadowy individuals who take it upon themselves to walk off with something that is part of a private collection, or at the very least notionally 'belongs' to everyone, and hide it away for their own exclusive enjoyment.

For sheer chutzpah and apparent lack of sanity you have to grudgingly admire whoever it was that broke into the Longleat Doctor Who Exhibition in the late eighties and stole a Sontaran collar; above all else it's interesting to ponder on why they ignored the more easily removeable helmet and head, and whether they subsequently ran down the street dressed as their hero Weam Styre. Yet the cold hard fact remains that they selfishly stole something that should have been everyone's to enjoy, even if exactly how a Sontaran collar could be 'enjoyed' is a logisitical puzzler best explored another time.

This thoughtlessness is best exemplifed by the back issues of Radio Times in public libraries. Pick a random date between, say, 23rd November 1963 and 19th December 1989, and chances are that you'll find that certain items in the listings and the odd accompanying article have been surreptitiously removed, often with hamfisted use of a craft knife that leaves big incisions on several surrounding pages as well. Some might argue that Radio Times clippings aren't really that essential to enjoyment of the series itself, and this is a fair point, but on the other hand it's just one illustration of the surprising number of fans who will help themselves to anything that isn't nailed down, all the way from original scripts to Raymond Cusick's old socks, and who's to say that a couple of them might not have made off with the odd reel of film or videotape here or there?


9. Tenth Planet Four Conspiracy Theorists


Let's get a couple of things straight here. In 1973, the Blue Peter production team borrowed film copies of several early episodes of Doctor Who from BBC Enterprises, who handled overseas sales of BBC programmes, to put together some clips to celebrate the programme's tenth anniversary. Amongst them was the fourth and final episode of the first Cyberman story The Tenth Planet, which featured the regeneration from William Hartnell into Patrick Troughton, and which is now missing from the archives.

Contrary to popular belief, the episode was not 'stolen by Blue Peter'. The cast and crew and indeed whatever Northumbrian Bagpipe-wielding primary school they were championing that week are all in the clear, as the film print in question was returned to BBC Enterprises immediately afterwards, who continued to offer the complete serial for overseas sales for some years afterwards. Although they did provide some other episodes (which we'll come back to later), the actual proper BBC Film Library were never involved, and indeed never had a copy of episode four to loan out to any production teams in the first place. That's all documented fact as verified by people who actually know what they're talking about, so any stories of the episode's existence that begin with mention of someone who liberated the print whilst it was on loan to Blue Peter in 1973 can be discounted straight away.

What happened to that print once it had been returned to BBC Enterprises is another question, but given that by the time that anyone started looking for lost episodes the overseas sales rights for The Tenth Planet had expired, and that most of the other black and white stories that had been held by Enterprises were either scheduled for destruction or had already been destroyed (including the two stories either side of it), it's not unreasonable to conclude that the errant fourth episode ended up in celluloid oblivion with Marco Polo and the rest. Yet it's still virtually impossible to move for authoritative-sounding proclamations made by someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who was shown the episode at a convention many years ago by a person they can't name who assured them that a secret cabal of fan 'luminaries' were conspiring to stop it from being rediscovered in the hope of keeping its black market value high etc etc etc. Possibly this also involves the Buzz Aldrin, a 'second' shooter, the cover of A Collection Of Beatles Oldies But Goldies and coded messages to Charles Manson, but nobody seems to be quite sure.

At the risk of raining on this heavily Kit Pedler-orientated parade, in order for any theoretically existing copy of the episode to have a black market value, there has to be a 'black market' for it to be sold on in the first place. The more people who have copies, the more copies will get out, and in a world where even colour-flickering picture-disco-dancing off-air copies of vaguely Doctor Who-related washing up liquid adverts screened in Australia in the seventies are common currency, then - black market or no black market - there's no way that its existence could stay unknown for long. If there is still a copy of the episode out there somewhere, then it's infinitely more likely to be in the possession of some ordinary film collector who has no idea how rare it is, rather than under the zealous guardianship of a well-connected 'superfan'. So stop making those weird allusive accusations aimed at John Noakes, Biddy Baxter, Jason The Cat or whoever - wishing hard enough is not going to bring it back. And anyway, we've got the audio, the telesnaps, the clips, the Target novel, the coffee mugs, the dinner jackets, the submarine...

Of course, one of the other episodes borrowed by Blue Peter in 1973 - 'The Traitors', the fourth episode of The Daleks' Master Plan - was checked out from but never returned to the BBC Film Library, despite reminders being sent out, and is the only one of the episodes officially held by the Film Library that remains unnacounted for. But for some reason, anecdotes about knowing of the existence of missing footage of Mavic Chen and the Varga Plants doesn't really have the same sort of fan-impressing currency.


8. Pointless Merchandise


Surely all Doctor Who merchandise is pointless, you're doubtless asking? Well, as undeniably devoid of point as they may have been, 'pointless' does not here refer to Doctor Who-branded merchandise of the 'classic' era such as Build The Tardis, Peter Davison's Book Of Alien Monsters From Outer Space or the official Target badge ("in three bright colours it will draw comments from all of your friends", though probably not exactly the sort of comments the publishers envisaged). No matter what heights of uselessness they may have scaled, they were all at least unashamedly cheap and cheerful, and intended for a limited market that was only too happy to snap them up, albeit in some cases with tongue very firmly in cheek.

Far more pointless in any context are the 'mass appeal' items - or, in 'old money' (which you usually need a disproportionate amount of to buy them), run-of-the-mill consumer goods that have nothing to do with Doctor Who, science fiction, television or even the Shrivenzale, but which still get the programme's title and logo slapped on them in the hope of fleecing obsessives with more disposable income than sense. These started to appear in earnest while the show was off the air, and if anything have actually increased in number and indeed price tag since it came back. They're always 'collectable' and 'exclusive'. And, though the adverts never mention this, 'codswallop'.

Take The Danbury Mint Tardis; one hundred pounds (actually twice that now, as it's been discontinued and is only available from second hand sites that emphasise, you've guessed it, the 'collectability' angle) gets you four inches of heavy unpainted metal that may be an accurate representation of a Police Box but is arguably a less appealing one, and certainly a less functional one, than the old Dinky/Denys Fisher toys, or the new Character Options ones, or indeed the various pencil case, ceramic moneybox and bafflingly purpose-free 'all-purpose' storage tin variations on the design that have appeared over the years. And at least most of them had the decency to get the prop's dimensions slightly yet appealingly wrong and not charge you eight hundred and forty three million dollars for the privelege. And that's just the pewter-sculpted tip of a limited-edition numbered iceberg - recent years have seen a flood of phonecards, chess sets, replica award certificates, terracotta Derek Martinus vases, photographs of Peter Davison's shed, lifesize model frogs that croak the words 'Doctor Who - The Hartnell Years' and lord knows what else, all of which seem to have no reason for existing other than to persuade someone to part with a lot of money.

You'd expect that, much like people baulked at the prices of the early BBC Video releases and refused to fork out for them until the cost was nearly halved, common sense would persuade the majority to stay away from such expensive and useless items. The fact that this kind of garbage continues to be released, though, would suggest otherwise. Oh yes, you may well scoff at someone who thought nothing of blowing twenty notes on a mint condition copy of the 1965 Century 21 Daleks EP, but at least they'd never dream of buying the Doctor Who Car. You know, that car he's always driving around in. With his name and face on the side. Presumably that's what makes it 'collectable'.


7. JNT-Bashing


John Nathan-Turner's tenure as producer of Doctor Who - by far the longest and straddling three changes of lead actor - is always going to be a thorny subject for fans. He managed to pull off a brilliant reinvention at the turn of the eighties, but seemed to lack the courage to make any similar changes in later years, even when they were clearly desperately needed. He succeeded in getting the show back in the public eye, but seemed unable to make the distinction between capitalising on milestone anniversaries on the one hand, and tacky tabloid fodder on the other. He fought back against the BBC's plans to 'rest' the series, putting his own job at risk in the process, but didn't seem to learn an enormous amount from the threat of cancellation. He made pioneering use of new technology, but never quite knew how to respond when other more fundamental production changes were imposed on him. He produced The Caves Of Androzani and Remembrance Of The Daleks, but also produced The Two Doctors. JNT was simultaneously the best of producers and the worst of producers, and the mass of contradictions inherent in his legacy has certainly given fandom something to chew over.

Except that most of them refuse to chew, and opt instead to spit their food all over the table like a petulant toddler. Visit any online Doctor Who discussion form, skim through a fair proportion of fanzines, even peruse the letters pages of Doctor Who Magazine and you will find the same mantra being repeated time and time again - that John Nathan-Turner 'ruined' the series, that everything produced during his tenure was 'pathetic', and that he reduced Doctor Who to the level of 'pantomime embarrassment', the latter of which isn't even their opinion (that's assuming that the others could actually be classed as opinions) anyway, as it's an ongoing hand-me-down phrase that no doubt originated with a single reviewer's summation of a single story back in the eighties. Some of the 'braver' practitioners of the art also throw in a few swear words and what practically amount to accusations of blasphemy, and if he hadn't already passed away at far too young an age it's a fair bet they'd be wishing that on him too.

For all his faults, or to be more accurate the faults of the programme while he was in the producer's chair, it's hardly as if John Nathan-Turner was a war criminal. Some of his work was atrocious, some of it was very good indeed, and all of it is worthy of more analysis and discussion than just shouting any mention of his name down. Yes, even Meglos. Maybe.


6. 'New Who' Hardliners


And what goes hand in hand with blanket dismissal of virtually every last second of Doctor Who made during the eighties? Blanket praise for the revived series, that's what.

Let's be absolutely clear about this from the outset - since Doctor Who came back in 2005, it's been utterly thrilling stuff for a significant majority of the time, and has certainly consistently urinated on The Armageddon Factor from a gigantic height. Even those who aren't quite sold on it must at least have enjoyed the odd episode here and there, and if they haven't then it's not like there isn't a huge library of 'classic'-era DVDs for them to fall back on. Curmudgeonly atmospheric disturbance-occasioned raining on the parade of those who've found themselves harmlessly swept up in the excitement would be churlish to say the least.

But then... there are those who take it just that bit too far. Beyond the massed ranks of viewers who enjoy a good Saturday teatime thrill and purchase the occasional 'I Saw The Moxx At Alton Towers' car sticker but still know a below par episode or two when they see them, there are those whose enthusiasm takes on a more religious and even quasi-fascistic zeal. Few would deny that there have been at least a couple of moments when the revived series didn't quite hit the mark, but for those few who would deny, there is nothing to criticise, and no episode that deserves less than seven out of ten (if you go by those sodding 'My Scores For This Series' things they keep posting everywhere). It's the best thing since the reinvented sliced wheel, and woe betide anyone who ever disagrees. Not that there's any need for them to provide any reasons, though - it's everyone else who's in the 'wrong'.

Part of the joy of being a fan of something is the ability to discuss and debate it at great length, pondering over what makes it work and conversely what doesn't. Glance through the average printed work on the series, particularly pre-internet photocopied fanzines, and you'll see that this is something that Doctor Who fans arguably did better than anyone else. Passionate debates were always raging about individual stories, and it wasn't unusual for an article praising or slating one to be followed by a response-written counterargument in the next issue, and another in turn in the one after that.

And that's precisely the point - there were always those who were prepared to go against the prevailing opinion purely because they disagreed with it. There were those who would controversially offer an apathetic shrug in the direction of City Of Death or The Caves Of Androzani, and those who would passionately argue that positive re-evaluation was long overdue for The Underwater Menace or The Space Pirates (well, apart from those film trims), and entire fanzines were once founded on a resentment of the general assumption that the Pertwee era was the best of the show's history. Anyone who's up for a bit of a verbal exchange in the age of Matt Smith, though, is set for a bit of a rough ride, as any hint of dissent amongst the somewhat overdone jubilation is curtly shouted down, particularly in the murky realms of Internet discussion forums. If those doing the shouting down don't happen to agree with the detractors, the fence-sitters or even the 'good rather than the best progamme ever made in the history of ever!' brigade then that's fair enough, but all the same it does seem more than a little suspicious when few will even hear a word said against The Long Game. And anyway, if they like the new series that much, you'd think that they'd at least be capable of coming up with a couple of interesting and well-argued reasons why.


5. 'Canon'


To some, the word 'Canon' will mean nothing more than the tradename of a well-known printer and photocopier manufacturer. Others might well be reminded of the fat lumbering TV detective played by William Conrad. To fans of Doctor Who, however, 'canon' is quite possibly the most contentious word in their lexicon (and bear in mind that's a pretty extensive lexicon that also includes 'crochety', 'emblazoned', 'telesnap' and other words that are seldom if ever used anywhere else in the real world).

While few seem to be quite as keen on debating the merits of the actual episodes of the revived series, endless brow-furrowing drags on and on over whether assorted spin-off novels, audio adventures and fan-produced balloon-modelling events can be considered part of the official continuity of the series itself. And here's the cold, hard and no doubt much-dreaded answer that they've all been searching for; they can't. Well, technically they can, but logic dictates that if one thing is in, then anything similar has to be in too, and it's pretty much certain that most of those doing the brow-furrowing wouldn't be keen on that. If the latest swanky sophisticated spin-off is 'canon' then so are the TV Action strip with those 'Blaxploitation' companions, Doctor Who And The Pescatons, and those men with hoods from the cover of the K9 Annual. You want Benny and That Other Girl from the New Adventures novels considered part of the series itself? Fine, but then you'll also have to have Frobisher and that robot who went "me'll have a gusher, these days, these days". And what about when Jon Pertwee met the cast of The Tomorrow People in costume? Do you really want Kenny involved??

Meanwhile, to suggest that unoffical fan-made efforts, however good they may be, should be incorporated into continuity proper just smacks of arrogance - nobody would consider a tape of some Rolling Stones fans jamming to be authentic Stones material, would they? Keep enjoying this stuff - and a fair amount of it is worth enjoying - but just don't get worked up about where it fits in between televised adventures. Because even Big Finish supremo Gary Russell doesn't do that!


4. The 'Real' Hartnell-Era Story Titles


Once, the Hartnell Era Story Titles - or at least what people commonly believed to be the Hartnell Era Story Titles - were exciting, evocative, and did exactly what they said on the film can. An Unearthly Child mirrored the spooky intrigue of that initial foray into an abandoned junkyard, The Edge Of Destruction promised edge-of-the-seat thrills that were amusingly at odds with the sedate wandering around roundel-festooned corridors, and The Massacre at least gave some indication of what the story might be about.

Then someone had the idea of actually going and checking BBC records (and it's worth emphasising at this point that we should be grateful for their efforts), and came up with the rather more unexciting list we all know and love - and on rare occasions even use - today. As boring and perfunctory as they may be, it's hard to feel any sort of resentment towards the likes of Doctor Who And 100,000 BC, Doctor Who Inside The Spaceship or Doctor Who And The Ridiculously Overlong And Historically Inaccurate Title (With Occasional Variations In Spelling), as they serve their purpose harmlessly enough and in any case their more cliffhanging counterparts are still in common usage.

There is one magnified fly in the DN6-tainted ointment though, and that is the supposed 'correct' title of Mission To The Unknown, 'Dalek Cutaway'. There are frankly thousands upon thousands of reasons why this should not be taken seriously as story title, and less than one to suggest that it should be. For starters, does it even look like a story title? Alright, so many of the 'proper' Hartnell Era Story Titles are bland and functional in the extreme, but this one is taking bland functionality to a whole new level. It's little more than a description, and the the way in which it was used on the few BBC documents it did appear on would seem to confirm that's all it ever was. Conversely, anything even vaguely official - including the document sanctioning the wiping of the master tape of the episode - used Mission To The Unknown. There's also the question of why a single-episode story whose episode title appeared onscreen would even need an individual story title, and the clincher comes with the Radio Times using Mission To The Unknown separately as both episode and story title (and yes, they did use those 'Doctor Who And' ones as the story titles on numerous other occasions). And - 'Excerpts From The Tardis Dictionary Disk' aside - what the Radio Times says, goes. And anyway it sounds stupid.




3. 'Grade Is A C---'


Yes, alright, so Michael Grade (briefly) cancelled Doctor Who in the mid-eighties. He also cancelled Crackerjack, Pop Quiz and many other shows, as good as cancelled Juliet Bravo, slashed available funding for children's programming (hence the afternoon Children's BBC slot containing little bar repeats of The Flintstones and Fame! for months on end), and insisted on a much smaller budget for Blackadder II. This was not out of malice or spite, but necessity; namely the need to make cuts to fund the expensive launch of a BBC daytime TV service. Anything that was underperforming with the audience was first on the list, and while his comments on Room 101 didn't exactly help his cause, in his autobiography It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time (which, incidentally, is great and you should all read it) Grade gives a good account of his actions. He was, after all, a station controller who'd watched in dismay as The Two Doctors drove huge numbers of viewers away from BBC1 on the key viewing night of the week. And, y'know, those are the sort of decisions their job requires them to make.

In that same book, you will find evidence aplenty that, far from being some cigar-chomping lizard-eyed profit-margin-obsessed mogul with a particular hatred for science fiction fans, much of Grade's career has been taken up by commissioning and supporting quality drama, taking incredible scheduling risks that often paid off in unexpected ways, and most importantly staunchly defending The Singing Detective - arguably the finest television series ever made - against detractors determined to denounce it as filth. You'd never get that in the age of 'compliance'. He's also on record as having said he loves the revived series and considers it brilliantly made, so now - finally - can we have a bit of hatchet-burying and a little less bile flung at one of the few 'good guys' in the television industry?

And before anyone chimes in about Chris Morris, Grade fought hard to get Brass Eye shown, only reluctantly pulling the original transmission when he discovered that some material would have placed Channel 4 in a legally dubious position, and he didn't really deserve to be insulted in such a childish and ungrateful fashion. The Paul Daniels interview was funny though.


2. Shhhhh! Spoilers!!


No, this isn't a rant about hating River Song - we'd need a whole additional top ten for that - but about actual spoilers. And those who trade in them, AND those who complain about them. Confused? You will be... (pauses while nobody notices the 'clever' metatextuality of that reference).

Remember waiting all week to see what The Destroyer looked like? And then finding out the answer was 'a bit rubbish'? Anticipating a new episode of Doctor Who used to be as exciting as, and sometimes more exciting than, the episode itself. The show's early producers have often spoken of how their biggest audiences were for the first episodes of new stories, with people tuning in to see who the latest aliens looked like, after losing interest in the previous bunch halfway through. Look at that early fan newsletter reprinted in Doctor Who - The Sixties, and you'll see the editor jumping up and down with excitement despite not knowing much more than the working titles of stories that were due to air in a fortnight or so. Even twenty years later, in the age of Doctor Who Magazine, little had changed; prior to transmission, all anyone really knew were story titles and bits and pieces of cast details and that was it. Only once, to the best of anyone's knowledge, did an episode escape in any form before it was aired, and even then it was a hissy and distorted audio of a very visual second episode of a story, so it made no sense anyway.

These days, however, you can't move for people who want to know every last detail about new episodes as far in advance of transmission as possible. Go to any prominent fan site and you'll find - whether you want to see them or not - a list of 'spoilers' that are almost as long as the actual scripts. But where's the joy in knowing exactly what's going to happen beforehand? Would, say, The Invasion Of Time have worked as well if all its twists and turns had been common knowledge pre-broadcast? Of course not, but then rampant spoilerism isn't anything to do with joy; it's more to do with the need to be the most knowledgeable fan on the block, to discover that elusive last little snippet of information that will have a couple of dozen internet forum posters hailing you as a hero for about thirty seconds.

Enough of this nonsense. Let's get a bit of surprise and mystery back into Doctor Who, and maybe, just maybe, get back to the days when even "wait... don't move!" and Sylvester hanging over an ice ledge for no reason could, in the heat of the moment, feel like exciting cliffhangers. But then again... there's the whining from the production team, who seem unable to understand that with their very public displays of 'secret filming' and encouraging their pals who've been to preview screenings to slap 'not allowed to say anything about it but I've just seen best episode ever!' type statements all over Twitter, that they are basically poking the spoiler hornet's nest with a red hot poker... and those fans who think that they have to assume a militant anti-spoiler stance and complain that the Radio Times announcing what day and time it's going to be on is ruining their enjoyment... and suddenly you feel like revealing everywhere that the Ice Warriors are back (sort of) next series. Sometimes, you just can't win. And now someone's going to complain about having Rhinocratic Oaths by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band spoilered...


1. The 'We Hate Social Workers' Scene in Silver Nemesis


Some things are just beyond ridicule.

All The Leaves Are Brown, And The Sky Is Grey...


So when exactly was this Second Summer Of Love that Danny Wilson kept singing about? Those who were in at the whole Fleecey Fleecey-sporting waving-arms-in-a-field ground level would probably claim it was 1988. At the other extreme, anyone whose involvement was limited to thinking their radio had gone a bit funny would most likely point towards 1991, when something very definitely did get in the water Top Forty-wise and it was all Italio House Piano as far as the eye could see. Danny Wilson themselves would probably say 1989, because that's when their record was out. And Dominic Sandbrook counters that there was no Second Summer Of Love, at least not for anyone outside of a small elite hanging around outside Eastern Bloc records who had less than no impact on the daily lives of millions of people in Basingstoke, and anyway he thought Tricky Disco by Tricky Disco was rubbish.

When pushed, though, most people would probably suggest that the Second Summer Of Love took place in 1990. After all, that was the year in which the 'Madchester' bands and their ravey Adamski-type big-hatted chums briefly took over the charts, the ever-cheerful Graham Bright MP introduced his Entertainments (Increased Penalties) Act in the hope of clamping down on those pesky young people enjoying themselves without obtaining written permission first, and the Ecstasy menace loomed so but-we're-her-fre-hundssss-invitingly large that the government rushed out a Public Information Film about Dexter Fletcher's friend falling off a bridge reaching for a Tracker bar or something. And, over and above all of this, 1990 was Time For The Guru. Unfortunately, nobody told Summer Chart Party.

For the benefit of those who are understandably left none the wiser by its Yahoo Serious Festival-compliant title, Summer Chart Party was a seemingly ubiquitous TV-advertised compilation album that gathered together some recent top pop hits to help your summer party, 'chart' or otherwise, go with a swing. And - helped in no small part by the fact that it appeared at the very dawn of Compact Disc, when choices were limited, parameters finite, and delusional beliefs that it would somehow now be possible to 'rationalise' your music collection were rife - it sold by the absolute bucketload, to the extent that it was not unusual to hear it blaring out from three neighbours' backyards hosting barbecues you weren't invited to within the same week. This it achieved despite being quite possibly the single worst compilation of all time; and yes, that does include Wig Wam Glam.

Surely, you'll be thinking by now, a public vote-courting collection of hits from the days when people actually still took notice of them can't be that bad? Well yes, that's what you'd assume. But that's reckoning without just how out of step Summer Chart Party was with changing trends, musical fashion, and above all anything even remotely connected to the concept of 'summer' in the first place. Summer Chart Party was the work of the short-lived yet terrifyingly prolific Trax Music, who spent around eighteen months flooding record shops with tepid re-recordings of songs from 'the musicals', comeback albums nobody wanted nor needed, and baffling all-over-the-place 'themed' compilations called things like Strollin' Seventies. Summer Chart Party was their one big attempt at scoring a million seller in the already oversaturated pop market, and - like someone who had read The KLF's The Manual and decided to do it slightly wrong on purpose - it followed an established successful format virtually to the letter.

A cursory glance at both the cover and the tracklisting makes it all too wince-inducingly obvious that the compilers - and indeed the designers - of Summer Chart Party were shamelessly attempting to emulate the Hit Factory compilations, those million-selling late eighties collections of recent Stock Aitken & Waterman-affiliated hits with the odd rare 12" extended version and little-known 'big across Europe' curio thrown in for added interest. As such, we get a substantial line-up of PWL-friendly artists; Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, Pat & Mick, Rick Astley, Lonnie Gordon, Sinitta and, er, Damian - mostly with tried and tested hits from a year or two previously so that listeners mercifully get I Should Be So Lucky and Too Many Broken Hearts instead of Hang On To Your Love - alongside contemporaneous Smash Hits fodder from Yazz, Lisa Stansfield, Stefan Dennis and long-forgotten Eurovision hopeful 'Emma'. Oh and Jive Bastard Bunny, but we'll come back to them in a moment. Anyway, all of this would appear on face value to chime neatly with the prevailing What-Time's-Neighbours-On? mindset of the times, but trying to copy The Hit Factory on a compilation that proudly proclaimed itself The Sound Of Summer 1990 was a non-starter on two counts. Firstly, whether they had admitted it to themselves yet or not, Stock Aitken & Waterman's popularity was most definitely on the wane by the summer of 1990, and most of their earlier hits had been sold and resold to punters a million times over already, not least on the Hit Factory compilations themselves. Secondly, and more significantly, it was an album that smacked of the eighties at the dawn of a new decade that just couldn't wait to leave the eighties behind.


Ignoring the New Kids On The Block-sized elephant in the room, and just ignoring Deacon Blue in general, what the pop-hungry audience that only months earlier had been thrilling to the likes of Big Fun and Sonia really wanted in 1990 was some kind of rap-friendly rave-tastic pseudo-hip hop crossover, perhaps best exemplified by Betty Boo, and even Kylie had dipped her toes into audibly-off-her-face waters to tremendous effect on Better The Devil You Know. Not for nothing did Smash Hits attempt to go head-to-head with Summer Chart Party with the prosaically-titled Smash Hits Rave!, seeing their Yazz and Sinitta and raising them Sydney Youngblood and The 49'ers. To be fair, Summer Chart Party did feature a couple of tracks on this wavelength, presumably by accident rather than design, notably the tremendous Got To Get by Rob'n'Raz Featuring Leila K, Candy Flip's cover of Strawberry Fields Forever - occupying a not-particularly-party-enhancing slot midway through the parade of upbeat pop fun - and the much-better-than-you-remember-it waaaaargh-hargh waaaaargh-hargh waaaaargh-hargh wuwuwuwaaaaargh-hargh festival Ride On Time by Black Box. And while Erasure were somewhat devoid of common ground with the wide-trousered dancey types, it's nice to see the oft-overlooked Blue Savannah getting an airing here too.

On the other hand, this grudging concession to the rave-flavoured ambience of the time allows the point-evading woo-yeah festooned 'cover' of Venus by Don Pablo's Animals (or, if you will, lots of people in hats doing nothing in particular on Top Of The Pops) in through the back door to stink the place out, and amazingly that's not even the worst track on offer here. Nor even is Fairground Attraction's quick-say-'Ooh-I-love-this'-and-sort-of-jive-with-half-of-your-body-while-standing-stock-still-with-the-other 'real music' anthem for the terminally smug Perfect. No, that honour - in an alternate universe where 'honour' is a synonym for 'being hit with a cricket bat' - must surely go to That's What I Like by Jive Bunny & The Mastermixers. You know, the second one. With the Hawaii Five-O theme in it.

The kindest thing anyone could possibly find to say about the entire Jive Bunny phenomenon is that it was a shrewd idea; in every other sense, it was the culmination of some of the very worst trends of the eighties - the relentless rise of the 'medley', from Stars On 45 through The Sixties Mix, right up to this virtual entire wedding disco condensed into four minutes; the furious adherence to a decade-out-of-date notion that nostalgia for the fifties was in any way a good or desirable thing; the selling of novelty records on the back of shabby yet eyecatching videos; and the wilful provision of 'evidence' for the likes of Tony Parsons to further their not entirely sense-making theories about how pop music was only good in the past, and the fact that new pop music was simply regurgitating old pop music was a clear sign that new pop music was even more only good in the past than previously thought but old pop music was being made equally only good in the past or something. The Mastermixers were a bunch of faceless backroom boys who had put their inaugural rock'n'roll medley ('medley' being a generous term considering that it consisted of little more than the title of each song in rapid procession) together in the genuine hope of cornering the wedding disco market. Jive Bunny, on the other hand, was an animated figurehead seemingly drawn by a particularly disinterested member of the Why Don't You...? gang, who smugly popped up in front of archive footage of fuck all to do a couple of hand jives; particularly punchable at 3:26 in the video for Swing The Mood, though you do have to grudgingly admire the 'concerned' look it registers when Elvis joins the army.

Much like Summer Chart Party itself, That's What I Like simply repeated the earlier successful format note for note only using slightly less impressive source material, kicking off a long and tedious nosedive - you can't even really add 'diminishing returns' as that would imply that there were sufficient returns to diminish in the first place -  to the point where even Pete Waterman was publically saying he would be embarrassed to be involved with the Jive Bunny franchise. And yet they ploughed ever onwards, flinging out threadbare medley after threadbare medley including the long forgotten likes of Can Can You Party?, Over To You John (Here We Go Again), and the truly odious Let's Party It's Christmas, although thankfully what little commercial appeal they had was totally eradicated when the 'Mastermixers' decided that they would like to appear in the photos instead of Jive Bunny.

As for Summer Chart Party - an album that did not contain a single song that could in any way be described as emblematic of 'summer' - it was an experiment that the 'backroom boys' would not see fit to repeat. The precise date of the Second Summer Of Love will likely remain in dispute for ever more. The First Summer Of Bewildering Compilations That Amazon Used And New Sellers Will Now Actually Pay You To Take A Copy Of, however, will always be 1990.

Could It Be Magic? (A: No)


Relax had Two Tribes. The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 had The Growing Pains Of Adrian Mole. Rockliffe's Babies had Rockliffe's Folly. Even C.A.B. had C.A.B. 2.

But the Rubik's Cube? Well, that's one unexpected runaway eighties success story that never actually inspired a sequel. Or so you'd think, given how it's now pretty much uniformly used as a textbook example of a one-off here-today-gone-tomorrow short-lived global sensation to rank with The Dirtwater Dynasty and It Bites. Which is a very strange way of looking at it, as not only does that version of events imply that precisely none of the millions upon millions upon millions addicted to attempting to master the art of flipping edges and twirling corners before flinging it at the wall in frustration with a copy of a You Can Do The Cube by Patrick Bossert in hot pursuit - in numbers and with an intensity that made Flappy Birds look like Atlantis Is Calling (S.O.S. For Love) by Modern Talking - would ever have been salivating at the prospect of a brand new follow-up puzzle from the same team, it also fails to entertain the likelihood that Professor Erno Rubik would have wanted to further capitalise on the phenomenal worldwide popularity of his maths homework that got out of hand.

The non-clip-show-friendly fact of the matter is that once the original plastic mind-and-wrist-hurter had caught on, a legion of cube-infringing imitators soon sprang up like third division Britpop bands singing about eating some loverley fish and chips, hoping to cash in on the purported puzzle craze by convincing punters to fork out for market stall-proferred Rubik-alikes in all sizes and shapes from barrel to tennis ball. And like a first division Britpop band, Professor Rubik responded to this poorly catered-for demand by changing direction entirely, promptly developing Rubik's Snake, a twisty turny angular shape-making whatnot that was pretty much that thing from the episode of The Monkees set in a toy factory made reality. Actually, Oasis make a bit of a mess of that analogy, but the point that hasn't actually been made yet still stands - namely that underneath all the branding and promotional fanfare the Snake was really just a fun novelty, and what everyone really wanted from the house of Rubik was another fully certified brainteaser and mindbender. And, bowing to public demand, a fully certified brainteaser and mindbender from the house of Rubik was exactly what they got in that year of pan-cultural transcendental symbiosis, 1986.

Rubik's Magic, as it was rather grandly dubbed, consisted of a set of eight elaborately-hinged plastic squares, each bearing a portion of two of three Olympic-esque multicoloured rings. Initially discrete, the point of the puzzle was to jumble the circular sections up and then reassemble them in one of many interlocked forms of ascending difficulty. It was, the global populace were breathlessly informed, the brand new trailblazing puzzle sensation with more than a hint of mid-eighties sophistication; literally the next Rubik's Cube. And so it was that on Christmas Day 1986, shortly after flicking through their copies of Cool's Out and scoffing their Citrus Spring selection boxes, an entire generation of youngsters attempted to get to grips with the foldy-flipboard-interlinked-circles thing. And attempted. And attempted. And... gave up.


Much like the Sinclair QL was to the ZX Spectrum, or if you prefer like Dramarama: The Young Person's Guide To Going Backwards In The World was to Dramarama: The Young Person's Guide To Getting Their Ball Back, this wasn't even so much an attempt to reinvent the wheel as it was to reinvent an individual spoke. Nobody could accuse Rubik's Magic of skimping on the need for dexterity, logic or flashy displays of lateral thinking, but the important element it left out of the equation was fun. It didn't look as appealing as the Cube, it lacked the vital fiddlability factor (in fact, fiddle too idly with Rubik's Magic and you ran the risk of twisting one of the interconnecting wires unusably in the wrong direction), and played straight into the hands - literally and metaphorically - of people who would solve it and then go 'ahhhhhhhhhhhh!'. If anyone did try to dazzle you with their Magic-solving skills, it was about as impressive as the 'David Copperfield Unplugged' tricks from Chris Morris' Radio 1 show. Where the Rubik's Cube had inspired still-bewildering Ruby Spears animated hijinks Rubik, The Amazing Cube, Rubik's Magic could barely even scrape a mention on BBC2's 'popular science' shows. Patrick Bossert's You Can Do The Magic would sadly never see print. He may as well have invented Rubik's Shark and jumped over it.

Within a couple of years, Rubik's Magic was a regular trestle table sight at church bazaars. And yet, for all its shortfalling in terms of hands-on puzzling thrills, it at least had and indeed retains a charming air of mid-eighties highbrow high-concept folly, and we can only guess at what might be found on a Fantastic Eighties! compilation with the Magic rather than the Cube on the front (though the smart money's on Atlantis Is Calling (S.O.S For Love) by Modern Talking). There was an attempt at making amends with Rubik's Clock in 1988, which presented the hapless puzzle-solver with nine chronologically-skewed clockfaces in the style of one of Peter Petrelli's hallucinations, and challenged them to reset the mechanically-interlocking dials to all show the same time. However, this wasn't actually created by Professor Rubik, who simply bought the rights to market it, and so it doesn't really count. Outwardly impressive, but lacking the true credentials, it was, in so many ways, the Beautiful South to his earlier creations' Housemartins.