Vanessa Jackson

Vanessa Jackson

Vanessa Jackson, Degree Leader in Television at Birmingham City University. Vanessa also runs a television history project.

As Dr Who mania reaches fever pitch in the run up to the 50th Anniversary of the drama series, we ought to question the secret of its success – and I think the answer is very simple, it is the ability to reinvent itself. It was a stroke of genius to be able to reincarnate the Doctor as each lead actor outgrew the part or wanted to move on. And that is why the drama connects so well with its contemporary audience. Each incarnation refreshes the formula, and makes it easy for the audience to associate with the Doctor who first embodied the role for them. With each incarnation comes the opportunity to develop other aspects of the series, to develop the multiplatform offer, the games, the behind the scenes footage, and of course the actual show itself – but perhaps this hasn’t always been the case.

After a successful run since the early 1960s, by the late 1980s the series had arguably become quite niche, and potentially tired. It was Jonathan Powell, Controller of BBC 1 in 1989, who took the brave, or perhaps reckless, step of cancelling the original series of Dr Who, and a whole generation of children missed out on a Doctor to call their own. It wasn’t until 2006, with Lorraine Heggessey as Controller of BBC 1, that the newly incarnated Doctor – Christopher Eccleston, returned to our screens. At the helm was show runner Russell T Davies, who revamped the whole series, and brought it into the mainstream. Gone were the creaky sets and homemade monsters, and in came high production values, with convincing special effects, and a new generation of children had a Dr Who for themselves!

My Doctor Who would have to be John Pertwee – the dapper, distinguished, third Doctor, who played the title role from 1970-74. I remember the buffon hair, the velvet jacket – but most of all I remember his adversaries: the Master, and of course, the Daleks!

For my thirteen-year old daughter, the answer is very different, her Doctor is David Tennant. She’s in good company, David Tennant, the tenth Doctor, was recently voted the nation’s favourite, in a Radio Times poll, brought out to mark the 50th anniversary of the children’s sci-fi drama series.

The original Dr Who was made in London, with the series moving to Cardiff with the recommission. Of the original series, only one complete story was recorded outside London – at BBC Pebble Mill in Birmingham. The Horror of Fang Rock starred Tom Baker as Dr Who, and was a four part serial, transmitted between 3-24 September 1977. Each episode being 25 minutes. It was recorded at Pebble Mill due to engineering work at the studios in London.

The BBC have made some of the original paperwork from this episode available online – here is a link to the Programme as Completed Form (PasC), the document which contains information about the contributors, script, music etc., although according to some production assistant friends of mine, this PasC is rather thin!

There is another Dr Who connection with BBC Pebble Mill; in 1984 an episode was dubbed at Pebble Mill. The Doctor in question this time was Peter Davison, the fifth Doctor, who played the role between 1982-4.

The episode is part 1 of Resurrection of the Daleks. This was shown as 2 double-length episodes rather than the usual four 25 minute ones, due to the scheduling around the 1984 Olympics.

Rethink Media Conference returns to Birmingham on 25 March 2014 and will provide inspiring insights, informed debate and potential solutions to the many challenges facing the fast evolving digital media sector.

Rethink Media is organised by Birmingham City University – a national leader in media education – and aims to support emerging media by showcasing new business models and the tools to improve content creation, maximise distribution and support audience engagement.

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Vanessa Jackson

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