Saturday, November 22, 2008

Exterminate - Forty five years of Doctor Who and the Daleks

1963 is one of my favorite years. That was the year it all changed, and not just for me, apparently. Philip Larkin put it this way in his Annus Mirabilis:

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(Which was rather late for me)
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles’ first LP

At five I was a little too young to realize that two of those things existed. The Beatles I was big on. Forty-five years on, 1963 looks like the watershed year it was.

This day, on 22nd November, 1963, President Kennedy was shot dead in Dallas. I have a vague memory of that – not the assassination itself, but of my family being strangely subdued and my grandmother buying a memorial book, Four Days, which I still see around. My family lived in Yorkshire, England. The impact of that deed was worldwide.

Also on that day, the Beatles' second LP, With the Beatles, was released. I already knew about the Beatles. Now there was a phenomenon with impact. I missed most of the other 1963isms. The dreadful weather; General De Gaulle's Non to British hopes of joining the Common Market. I remember the White Heat of Technology Speech by the new leader of labor, Harold Wilson, but I'm sure I heard of it much later. One of Britain's many communist spies, Kim Philby defecting to Russia, the Profumo Scandal, and the authorization of Britain's third TV channel, BBC2, with a mandate to edumacate the masses or something, I don't know, I didn't see it for many years afterwards. In fact I don't remember ever watching ITV, the second channel. BBC (the first one) was all we had. (I'd occasionally sneak round to houses with lower parental morals in order to catch an ITV programme, but that's probably another story.)

But tomorrow, 23rd November, is the forty-fifth anniversary of the day the world REALLY changed. On that day, the first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast. And then, as Philip Larkin put it,

Then all at once the quarrel sank:
Everyone felt the same,
And every life became
A brilliant breaking of the bank,
A quite unlosable game.

Dr Who debuted on the BBC, in glorious black and white. It was the story of an old duffer and his niece, made far more strange and beautiful than the usual BBC story by the fact that the old man – the doctor – was a traveler in time and space. His vehicle was disguised as an emergency telephone booth, a rather steampunk attempt at fitting in with 1960s planet Earth. I'm no otaku and I can't remember a single original Dr Who storyline, although I do remember the (1965) motion picture in great detail. All I knew of it was Dr Who fought the Daleks, and that was enough. Here's a clip from the 1965 movie.

This clip opens with a flipbook of the book The Dalek World, which - oooh! - I have.

After that, I insisted on getting Dalek material in my own chosen medium, the written word. I still have some of it – a couple of Dr Who annuals, which I reread recently and was surprised to find were simple in terms of word-length but complex in terms of moral values, depiction of unpleasant events and so on, and the Dalek Pocketbook and Space Travellers' Guide,

which had a fair amount of facts (as then believed) about the solar system and was therefore my introduction to science. (Thanks, I think, Dr Who!) Unlike most, I did not hide behind the sofa when the Daleks appeared, and unlike 99.9% of people at the time, I knew that the effect that produced the Dalek voice was ring modulation. (My father worked in audio electronics.) I don't know why. Chicks dig Daleks, what can I say.

Hey, I used to have a little black battery-operated Dalek like the one she's holding…

The BBC has some historical photos and background on its site here.

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