Doctor Who Memories

This column was published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 26th November 2013.

After decades of adventures in time and space, Doctor Who celebrated its 50th anniversary this past weekend. With a special episode entitled, The Day of the Doctor, broadcast simultaneously worldwide alongside 3D screenings at cinemas, interest in all things Who is at an all time high. In today’s fickle television market, it is hard to believe that a franchise has lasted so long (albeit with a break from 1989 to 2005).

Growing up in the eighties, Doctor Who meant it was almost teatime. Broadcast almost perpetually on the ABC at 5:30pm, it usually followed a Japanese animated show such as Star Blazers, Voltron or Astro Boy. For the next thirty minutes, I’d witness the Doctor battle Daleks or Cybermen through my fingers or from behind the couch. Once the end credits rolled with the familiar theme tune playing, Peter Russell-Clarke’s Come and Get It would be on for 5 minutes and then mum would call us for dinner.

The Tom Baker years always seemed to be on endless repeats. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen The Ark in Space. That’s the story with the killer sleeping bag. Sure, it was meant to be an alien caterpillar called the Wirrn, but even at as a youngster I knew it was a guy in a sleeping bag painted green.

One of my friends at high school, Stu, was a huge fan and collected the Doctor Who novelizations published by Target. I’m pretty sure he had all 156 of them. Before I developed other interests (girls), he’d happily lend them to me. They were short reads and every couple of days I’d swap a consumed book for a new adventure. I wonder if he still has them all. I’m sure they would be worth a fortune in mint condition. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure Stu’s collection is not in mint condition. After all, they have all been in my school bag and I caught the bus and then walked home.

They say that your favourite Doctor is the one you grew up watching. Arguably that was Tom Baker, but in terms of new episodes, Sylvester McCoy is my Doctor. Not the most popular amongst hardcore fans, McCoy’s Doctor was a dark and slightly sinister character. I really liked his chemistry with companion Ace (the foxy Sophie Aldred) and was bitterly disappointed when the show was cancelled in 1989 by budget conscious BBC management.

A few years ago, McCoy and Colin Baker (the 6th Doctor) came to Australia for a fan event and I was lucky enough to meet them and get their autographs. They were both very pleasant and seemed well adjusted to their geek icon status. I will never forget when some idiot in the Q & A session challenged them to fight each other. That was never going to happen. After all, Time Lords are a peaceful race.

Congratulations Doctor Who. Here’s to another half century of dodgy alien costumes, shaky sets and wonderful memories.

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Published in: on January 7, 2014 at 16:23  Comments (1)  
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Classic ABC Filler Music Videos

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 23rd November 2010.

In my column last week, I took a trip down memory lane, or in my case, Olola Avenue, Castle Hill, and reminisced about my favourite ABC kids afternoon programs from the eighties. That little adventure awoke another remnant of a memory.

During the late seventies and eighties, the ABC wasn’t the slick operation it is today. There were no promotional ads for upcoming shows, and so the couple of minutes left between programs were filled with early music videos. These videos ran repeatedly whenever there was time, and so I guess over many viewings, they became the basis of my love for music, or at the least, one hit wonders.

All of these music videos are burnt into my brain. I remember the tunes, the words, and pretty much every detail of the music videos. If only I knew the names of the songs.

A little research online gave me the names and artists of each music video, with the exception of one elusive clip. This one was an instrumental, kind of a sea shanty, and the video featured a bunch of women doing some sort of traditional dancing in a white room, while the musicians looked on. Ten points to you if you already know the answer.

And now, direct from 1980 or so, via my rather poor memory, are those pesky music videos that eluded me for so long.

Bright Eyes was the theme song from the 1978 animated film Watership Down, based on the Richard Adams book of the same name. Art Garfunkel, of the little known musical duo Simon and Garfunkel, performed the song in his famous falsetto. The song was composed by Mike Batt, who was also responsible for discovering Katie Melua and writing The Wombles hit novelty albums.

Even today, Bright Eyes haunts me. The book is depressing and sad. The tune is depressing and sad. The video, which features cute animated rabbits happily hopping around fields and then being caught in snare traps and dying, is depressing and sad. As a six year old, the sombre nature of the music video was certainly not lost on me, and I’d often be found sitting in silence, thinking about “those poor Bright Eyes rabbits.”

Love Is All was a popular single from the rock opera concept album, The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshoppers Feast, which was composed by Roger Glover, of Deep Purple fame. With glass shatteringly high lead vocals from Dio frontman, Ronnie James Dio, the animated music video features a cavalcade of animals singing and dancing.

On review, the video is not just animals singing and dancing. The video has serious psychedelic overtones. That’s not just a frog playing a guitar leading the animal parade. That’s a frog that turns into a shrub which then sprouts five singing frog heads. I’m sure some serious drugs were involved in the making of the album and video. Not that I’m complaining. Anything is better than the dead rabbit song.

OK, so I’m sitting in a car with a close friend chatting about these mysterious videos. I mention the elusive mystery one and she pops up with the answer immediately. “Oh that’s Portsmouth, by Mike Oldfield,” she says. Sure enough, there was the video on YouTube, just as I remember it, except for the multiple musicians watching the dancers. Only Mike Oldfield appears in the clip, playing different instruments in different shirts, obviously over multiple takes.

And thus another one of my life’s great mysteries has been solved. If you know of any other music videos from that era, drop me a line via my website. And whatever you do, avoid Watership Down.

After-school ABC TV in the eighties rules

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 16th November 2010.

Growing up in the eighties, I have vivid memories of racing home from the school bus every afternoon to make sure that I didn’t miss a moment of the ABC’s early evening programming. Now this was well before pay TV where kids (and stoners) have access to cartoons all day every day. There was only one timeslot each day for the latest Japanese anime series followed by an endlessly repeated BBC show.

I recently attempted to revisit some of my childhood favourites to see if they still held appeal. The results were disappointingly mixed. Perhaps I should’ve left my rose coloured glasses on.

At four thirty, my afternoon TV fest usually started with a dubbed Japanese cartoon. My favourite was Star Blazers, a space opera that focused on the journey of the starship Argo and its crew to Iscandar, a planet with the resources to save Earth from the evil blue skinned Gamilons. Star Blazers was one of the first animated series to have major storyline arcs and an episodic structure. In my head, the show ran for months and months. In reality there were three seasons with a total of seventy seven episodes.

I bought the season one box set this year. I made it through two episodes before the box was put on the shelf for eternity. The show is humourless and overly dramatic with terrible voice acting. Just add Kate Ritchie and you’d have Cops LAC.

Other animated shows from that timeslot include Astro Boy and Voltron. The latter was a daily toy commercial and it certainly worked on me. Between my brother and I, we had the complete set of lions that joined together to form Voltron, a giant robot warrior. If I had a time machine, I wouldn’t try to prevent JFK’s assassination, I’d go back and tell my ten year old self to keep those Voltron (and Star Wars) toys in their boxes. Mint toys from that era are worth a fortune.

At around five o’clock, the BBC shows would start. Metal Mickey was a sitcom that starred a man in a giant robot costume. Every episode would end with a “hilarious” disaster where the very clumsy robot would accidentally smash through Styrofoam walls to blatantly canned laughter whilst the catchy theme jingle played. The show is available on DVD in the UK but after catching a few clips on YouTube, I decided against paying big bucks to watch an expressionless robot who occasionally says something funny. Insert your own Kate Ritchie joke here.

Doctor Who was on perpetual repeats in this slot too, usually from the Tom Baker era and in my mind, usually The Ark in Space story. You know, the one with the dodgy giant space caterpillars. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to sit through that one, but I’ll never look at bright green sleeping bags the same way again. I really enjoy the new Who, but I probably could live without another journey to the alien planet where the balsa wood walls shake every time you walk past them.

The Goodies and The Kenny Everett Video Show also usually aired just before Peter Russell-Clark’s Come and Get It, a five minute cooking show that signified the end of the kiddie programming for the evening. I still adore Tim, Graeme and Bill. I own several Goodies DVDs and could probably watch their exploits on repeat and find something new to laugh about each time. I’ll also perform the Funky Gibbon song on request.

The Kenny Everett show was an interesting choice. It’s a racy sketch comedy starring a gay comedian featuring the sexy and nubile Hot Gossip dancers. What perfect programming for kids. Actually, that might explain an awful lot about my sense of humour, and my dancing. I look forward to putting a few Kenny Everett DVDs on my Christmas wish list.

OK, so my tastes have changed a lot since then but at the time, these shows caught my imagination and probably influenced my growth, or lack of, somehow.