Sunday 23 November 2014

The True and Accurate History of Doctor Who in 4D (Extended Whoniversary mix)

The True and
History of
Doctor Who
in 4D

Oh, time being the fourth dimension, I suppose?
- Ian Chesterton, 23 November 1963


Black to white.  Winter and fog both billowing.  Thunder echoing.  ‘Hartnell’ stands up and…

It’s Saturday.  In thirty seconds, give or take, a fresh British hero is about to appear.  Yesterday, the sea near Iceland boiled and steamed with colliding elements and a new island was born.  It’s not important to this story, but it’s the truth.

William Hartnell points straight at us while shapes glide behind him.  He’s playing the actor ‘William Hartnell’, announcing a new folk myth: an “extraordinary old man from another world who owns a time and space machine.”  We’ll be meeting him properly – well, some of us will, depending on how birthdays and events in Dallas affect us – next week. 

The ground bursts into clumps and the actor playing himself falls into a Droste effect.  Fifty million blades of grey moving at near enough lightspeed.  This is ‘howl-around’ but no-one calls it that yet, not even Norman Taylor and he created this self-referencing beauty.  Video feedback’s been burning synaesthetic opera onto television screens for seven years already, but it won’t be an accepted artform until New York says it is.  You dig?    

As ‘William Hartnell’ spins into history, he introduces us to strangers who’ll start their own weird journey to immortality in just seven days.  Tonight, only the Gallifreyans have two separate identities, the teachers are actors.  A sudden close-up on ‘William Hartnell’ shows the ur-Doctor looking at us through someone else’s eyes before he pulls back into time and becomes a shadow on the memory-wall of the next century’s forum-posters. 

The self-creating legend of Doctor Who begins at 5.40 pm on Saturday 16 November 1963 in a trailer that (possibly) only survives in three forms: the memory, the script (which is for the radio trailer, so the visuals listed above are totally accurate according to my imagination) and the Far From Being All Over reconstruction, in which actor John Guilor plays an actor playing an actor which is as fine an example of recursion as you could ask for.  It’s in good company. 

This is the strange - but true - history of Doctor Who as presented through the feedback loop of its trailers.


Of all the promotional tools, trailers are encouragingly simple, boiling down to: 

Cinema trailers, like almost everything from purchasing a book that’s not a bestseller to life itself, largely conform to a three-act structure of some description.  The Doctor doesn’t start cropping up in fleapits straightway, so that last piece of information is going to be left dangling like a Dalek saucer over London for the moment.

Very little evidence of Doctor Who trailers escapes the Sixties.  Whether this is down to enthusiastic storage purging or there just not being many made is hard to prove from this distance.  It’s not until 1967 that anything sans Daleks crops up - an audio bootleg of rum happenings at Heathrow originally tacked onto the final episode of The Macra Terror.  We’ll have a look at the rumours later.

Two 16mm strips of Daleks invading London exist.  Both feature the Doctor Who theme and a very correct voiceover delivering basic facts – apart from getting the year wrong – about what the visuals are all about: Daleks!  In London!  There’s not a huge amount of ambiguity at this stage.

These two trailers are intriguing for reasons beyond their obvious cultural importance.  Firstly, we get to see the BBC taking something very seriously.  Doctor Who is in the early weeks of its second season, but there’s no evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, that either Planet of Giants or the season launch warranted their own trailers.  Possibly the show’s target audience were feared to be patrolling the nation’s streets disguised as a Dalek army rather than tucked up in front of the television and fish fingers.  Still, that’s Hallowe’en for you. 

The next trailer is a definite oddity, and not just because it’s for The Web Planet.  Two separate sources list it as being one minute and forty-four seconds, which is remarkably accurate for something that doesn’t exist even as an audio bootleg.  In later paragraphs we’ll examine how trailers are a self-reflecting microcosmic shard representing the BBC’s attitude toward the show, but for now let’s just take it as read that Zarbi really did get their own dressing rooms.  This is great – despite director Richard Martin’s protestations - because it means the series has shown a wilful disregard for the fourth wall at least twice before The Feast of Steven.   

We’re on wobblier ground than the Drahvins with the next one.  Apparently running a second longer than the Zarbi cutaway, the Galaxy 4 trailer aired on the 4 September 1965 and could have been made up of anything.  There’s no evidence it wouldn’t have featured footage from all the episodes as they were completed by that point, and might even have acted as a preview for the third season as a whole. 

The Daleks’ Master Plan has paperwork that describes two separate trailers, but not what they contained - at a guess: Daleks!  Both were deported to Australia, but at the time of typing no evidence of any escape attempt has been uncovered.

There are rumours of a trailer for Serial Y, but ‘truth’ becomes malleable whenever it strays within the Toymaker’s domain, so we’ll ignore that and look at the forty-five second advert for The Smugglers instead.  It’s not impossible that this contained footage from all the episodes and may have acted as a heads-up on the fourth season but, like much of science, we just don’t know.  Sadly, there doesn’t seem to have been anything special carried out to draw attention to The Tenth Planet, either as a general whole or a specific look-at-this! for the fourth episode.

Slightly more than a decade ago, the trailer for the first episode of The Power of the Daleks was found clinging to the 16mm hulk of a political flagship like a chewed barnacle.  Chunks are missing, making it impossible to say what the full promo looked like.  Having confusingly mentioned The Faceless Ones earlier and ignored The Moonbase rumours entirely, we’re back to Daleks! for the next one.  In another time-digested memory, forty-nine seconds of clips extracted from the first episode of The Evil of the Daleks probably aired as a ‘coming next’ after the Chameleons were dealt with.

Unlike his predecessor, Patrick Troughton’s trailers largely survive as off-air audio.  Some of these have been reconstructed and given official approval, but not all of them.  And some of them are very interesting indeed.

Without exception, each of the stories in Doctor Who’s fifth season gets a trailer - three of the seven definitely being shot specifically.  Just to be awkward, we’ll do those last.  The Abominable Snowmen’s involves a lot of wind and a sensible voice-over, ending with a zoom on the Yeti guarding the TARDIS; The Enemy of the World’s features the thrilling beach rescue from the first episode, apparently cut to look like a film trailer with the sensible voice-over asking a lot of questions that'll get answered later; Fury From the Deep’s filmed footage of a different beach excursion is taken from the first episode, overlaid with a pulsing heartbeat and concludes with slapping, lapping waves.  The Wheel in Space trailer sounds like the one for Alien (which might explain the startling fan-made animation that cropped up a few years ago), a shot of the Wheel cuts to a Cyber-egg, hatching alarmingly.  I can’t find any evidence that these used any footage that wouldn’t have featured in the episodes themselves – but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t.

The Tomb of the Cybermen trailer features special shots of Cybermats being raced across a studio floor.  Sources seem to agree that the sensible voiceover for this season opener was actually, “Next week, Doctor Who faces a new threat in the form of the deadly Cybermats” and not, “Cybermen!” as you’d first think.  The fourth wall’s looking a bit wobbly when we reach The Ice Warriors.  Peters Barkworth and Sallis deliver background to the story, in character, in a brief trailer that does exactly what it needs to – even if the subtitles on the BBC’s animated reconstruction don’t quite. 

In what’s fast becoming a tradition, The Web of Fear trailer ignores the fourth wall altogether.  The Doctor, disguised as Patrick Troughton, addresses the audience directly from the ‘subway platform’ he might well be sitting on, it’s hard to tell from the audio.  The Doctor warns us that next week we’ll meet some old friends – so that’s Professor Travers and… the Brigadier presumably.  That’s time travel for you.  Makes it hard to remember what order these things are happening in.  Along with the chums, there’ll be some old enemies, specifically: Yeti!  The Doctor solemnly informs us that these hairy blighters are much more frightening than they were a few weeks ago, so if our parents get scared it’s up to us to look after them.  This is especially important if you live in Tooting Bec, for reasons that’ll become apparent shortly after colour is invented in 1970.

Paradoxically, colour was actually invented in 1965 as far as Doctor Who's concerned.  We’ll get back to proper Doctor Who cinema trailers in the next century, but for the moment we can encapsulate the two Aaru excursions as: Daleks! In COLOUR!  Take it as read these were louder and larger than the TV could possibly compete with, colour dialled until eyeballs sweat, music, acting, script and sets exaggerated accordingly.

Ignoring a rumoured shot of the back of Ronald Allen’s shoulder, the sixth season only has two surviving trailers.  Both of these are off-air audio and even if played back to back wouldn’t last much longer than the time it takes to get through the unskippable introductions on a present-day Doctor Who DVD.  The Seeds of Death trailer possibly contained footage from The Seeds of Death in much the same way that The War Games trailer probably contained footage from The War Games.  We may never know.

Suddenly, it’s 1970 and there’s colour everywhere.  The seventh and eighth seasons of Doctor Who only seem to have two trailers.  The Ambassadors of Death one was recovered from a black and white 16mm film print of the concluding episode of Doctor Who and the Silurians.  It features the Doctor explaining the story, interrupted by Havoc throwing themselves, vehicles and money all over the place, and closes with a shot that shows the debt that Star Trek owes to Doctor Who.  The Mind of Evil trailer is audio only and can be found tucked away on the DVD if you know where to look.

The next year sees the arrival of The Sea Devils, literally in the case of the first trailer that closes with a cliffhanger-worthy close-up of one of the turtle-faced delights.  The omnibus repeat ten months later is blessed with a very similar, if slightly extended trailer.  The Three Doctors trailer has a lot of heavy lifting to do as the lead-in to the tenth year of the Doctor’s adventuring.  Nostalgia and a gentle tang of rotting mistletoe fill the air as the electronically-distorted feather boa of Omega nicks Bessie while the Doctor and Jo hide from the proto-MIDI Delaware theme.

The Doctor’s run of looking like Jon Pertwee winds up at the same time as 1974.  The omnibus edition of Planet of the Spiders airs the day before the new bloke takes over; its trailer is a snapshot of sensible voice-over exposition, chanting, flying, CSO, the Whomobile, more chanting and a trembling spider to drag attention away from the washing up.

The green diamond that crops up over an unsteady Nerva Beacon at the start of The Ark in Space trailer looks promising.  The Doctor and Harry have a brief chinwag while Sarah gets herself stuck behind an unexpected fourth wall.  Keeping a hint at recursion in place, the oddly muted trailer finishes with the same shot it started with. 

Things fall quiet until after the summer holidays.  The Seeds of Doom trailer manages a trick not provably attempted since the days of Elric Penley by not actually featuring the Doctor at all.  The calm voice-over sounds like a harbinger of something impending and final as it intones over the theme, “Fed by ultraviolet light the pod takes on a life of its own.”  Well, if not an actual life, it certainly claims an arm.

The trailer for The Planet of Evil comes out ten months after the first episode is broadcast and also includes moments from The Sontaran Experiment, which is being repeated in the run-up to the fourteenth season.  The diamond’s still there but now with an added time tunnel.  The only word in the whole trailer comes from Sarah Jane.

The Masque of Mandragora has two actual trailers, but one’s almost a sting it’s so swift.  The second trailer is interesting in that the calm voice-over explains the story while the images show off some of the best bits of The Prisoner: Sarah stalked, the Doctor being culpable and how Stuart fell.

Following the next trailer, which isn’t even for Doctor Who, things settle into a slightly different pattern for a long time.  Glorious flashbacks of Vortis, glam Skype from Mars, Jon Pertwee getting a row from a massive spider, children giggling and Philip Hinchliffe overseeing a sewer all count as advance notice that someone grown-up is about to ask the other oldest question, “Whose?” 

With that, Doctor Who becomes promoted to part of the BBC’s official Saturday lineup.  The theme plays over briefer flashes – much more like teasers than ever before.  Contact is made by strange silver-faced fellows; the lovely Wanda Ventham sees what’s beneath the skin and falls over as a result; the Doctor and Leela attempt to stop a chap jumping off a tobacco warehouse and the Doctor gets attacked by his scarf.

Along with the twenty-third, the sixteenth season is the most obviously in need of a full trailer all to itself – and it gets one.  The diamond logo reappears as an electronic slinky followed by a succession of images involving Tom Baker, branches, Mary Tamm, lights, Stuart Fell’s final monster, Mentiads, the TARDIS and lots of explosions.  In its own way it’s a surprisingly modern random selection of images from which the audience has to piece together its own storylines and solutions.  This is still the technique used to promote larger chunks of forthcoming narrative, although with the advent of frame-specific nit-pickery from the fans, the rules have changed somewhat from 1978.

Some of the individual chunks of the Key to Time get their own chance to glitter, even if The Pirate Planet trailer isn’t quoting Monty Python’s ‘Life or Death Struggle’ sketch - no matter how much I want it to.  Mankind’s version of the Greatest Theme in the History of Ever was doing something unmentionable to the charts at the time, which might explain why The Androids of Tara trailer it’s slathered over is seemingly impossible to find today.  The Armageddon Factor trailer is marvellously brief: something happens, Romana backs away from it and then there’s an explosion.  Job done.

The Doctor’s obviously having a glorious time, nowhere more so than in the bizarre trailer for the seventeenth season.  Following a starfield, the theme starts up and the logo whooshes through, revealing the TARDIS nestled in a jungle that looks like an illustration from a World Distributors annual.  The voiceover, which sounds like it should be listing items on a conveyor belt, commands the Doctor to wake up.  The unmentioned snoring stops and the disgruntled Doctor sticks his tousled head out of the TARDIS.  “What do you mean, waking me up in the middle of August?”  The voiceover issues a warning about Daleks which alarms the Doctor right up until his memory gets wiped.  Omnipotent laughter echoes around the jungle, mocked by the Doctor.  He returns to the TARDIS, spinning the sign hanging on the door to say ‘Do not disturb until September 1’.  On the whole, it’s played fairly straight and echoes the Asylum of the Daleks prequel in more ways than one.  But is it canon?

When it finally rolls around, Destiny of the Daleks gets two different trailers, but we’re left in no doubt that neither of them say Daleks! anymore. 

The Doctor’s already won.  It’s not that the trailers give away too much in the way later ones will be accused of; it’s that the Doctor is too powerful a cultural force.  We love him too much. 

Let’s not forget the voiceover represents the BBC on Earth.  When it starts interacting with a character directly, that says something very definite to the audience.  It’s not quite mythic, it’s weirder than that.  It’s favouritism and it’s too cosy; even though the boots are pretty big, the character seems to be overflowing them.   Seeing as there are no more walls to break, this can only be seen - and I’d better apologise a bit to Fry and Laurie for saying this - as a fatal flaw. 

There’s trouble ahead. 

There has to be. 

Following Shada, things fall apart.  Adric and Traken each get a trailer but no-one else does.  The Doctor looks knackered and autumnal, right up until the culture that adores him is reintroduced to the five different faces he’s worn so far.  Because of this, he becomes immortal, although that won’t be apparent for a while.  It doesn’t help that Auntie Beeb herself seems to have become a bit frosty.  It’s hard to say why exactly.  She tries bringing back monsters to liven things up, but you can tell her heart isn’t really in it.  Maybe a fortnight’s repackaged holiday will rekindle the sacred flame?  A week in Peladon and then – nudge, nudge - back to Skaro.

The bunting comes out for the twentieth anniversary – cakes, dancing.  Most of the friends make an effort to show up for the party but there’s something not quite right.  A few night owls catch BBC2 going through old photographs during shutdown.  It’s hard to tell if those are sobs hidden deep in the mix.  Probably not, Auntie’s a tough old boot, always has been.

Up until the 6 December 1989 there are half-hearted season trailers and odd story specific moments.  The voiceover is too professional to sound less than delighted all the time – and that’s a big part of the problem now.  Yes, Doctor Who’s supposed to be entertaining, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it seriously.  Some moments look great in the trailers – but for every one of those there’s a double Myrka or Davros cut to look like he’s sneezing.  Even The Caves of Androzani trailer matches the moment Peri puts her foot in it with a double whammy of Magma Beast and soldiers shooting the ceiling for no reason.  From this point on, only the trailer for The Mysterious Planet and a final self-referencing fling for the twenty-fifth anniversary season don’t taste overpoweringly of bitter almonds.  By the time the plug gets properly pulled, Auntie’s getting ready to flog the silver down Walford.

The final decade of the twentieth century starts oddly for the Doctor.  He makes some guest appearances on Galaxy, which is a brief subdivision of British Satellite Broadcasting.  The channel itself feels like a convention with a very strange guest list – Marco Polo turns up in the documentation twice – and its trailers are made up of clips of the evening’s guests sewn into a flickering patchwork that only a small cabal of subscribers can access.  The same criteria will also apply to UK Gold, to pick a repeat station at random.

Despite a brief moment in August when Auntie blurts out the true story of how she met the Doctor, 1991 is a non-starter for terrestrials.  Following the New Year’s celebrations, Auntie starts feeling a bit nostalgic - and perhaps a bit tipsy going on the comments made when unexpectedly showing us some of the old footage she’s kept hidden away in a drawer.  Resistance – and trailers – seem to be pointless when it comes to putting the past behind her.

The thirtieth anniversary comes round with a traditional rummage through yellowing boxes.  Auntie tells us her favourite Dalek story again, then the one about the Magma Beast, followed by more Dalek anecdotes (“Go on, you always loved these.”). She ends with a random Arthurian epic that doesn’t feature Hawkwind and feels like it has an important part missing, before falling asleep on the sofa.  She wakes from this mid-year nap in November, sitting up suddenly, yelling “Daleks!” before looking around, trying to remember where she is. 

Auntie invites the Doctor over for a two-day party.  According to gossip it seems as though they might give it another shot – but the whole thing’s an abject disaster.  The guests just don’t get along.  It becomes an unwritten agreement amongst everyone involved that we’ll never talk about this again.

The toxic fallout casts a shadow over the commemorative present that’s been lovingly glued together by young Kevin Davies.  Auntie still announces continuity but seems to have given up on advertising. 

All of a sudden it’s 1994.  Though she musters up enough courage to half-heartedly honour the New Year tradition, reminiscing about maggots and mummies, Auntie refuses to talk about the Doctor, or even allow his name to be mentioned, for the next couple of years.  

To be fair, the first trailer for the 1996 TV movie looks promising.  Earth landmarks stretch repeatedly – there’s flashing overlaid by the reassuring bark of Roy Skelton doing Daleks!  Paul McGann sits up – which seems to be a running gag in Doctor Who trailers for some reason – and then it all goes a bit odd.  The music’s wrong and someone’s slipped a lot of X-Files footage in by accident; McGann announces that he’s the Doctor, but doesn’t sound at all convinced; the Terminator shows up, there’s a car chase, some fireworks, the TARDIS, Time Lord robes and some more explosions.  We can see money’s been spent on it.

The TV Movie’s second trailer runs in the early evening of the 27 May 1996.  The majority of fans have already purchased VHS copies from Woolworths that morning and know what to expect.  Even so, it seems unfairly cruel. 

Although the trailer’s played straight by the voiceover, the choice of clips errs toward the slapstick, including the comedy faint and infamous, “I always drezz.  For the okayzhun.”  The final shot is a close-up of Paul McGann looking like he’s changed his mind.

It’s hard to tell what caused Auntie to turn on her old chum quite so viciously, but for the next seven years she seems intent on undermining everything he says with a sarcastic remark that seems funny at first but turns into a poison-dripping barb on closer examination.  A ‘sting’, if you will.       

1999 is the year that both Baker Street Boys make their televisual Doctor Who debuts (supporting artist work notwithstanding).  First up, in March, we have the back-door pilot, Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death - which we’ll look at in greater depth when it goes to series in 2010 - then, on November 13, Auntie hosts a Doctor Who Night which comes with the first proper in-house trailer for three years. 

A young girl is eating spaghetti in a living room made entirely of primary colours.  Around the room different articles become animated, various toys twirl and spin, a Silurian in a fishtank has its eyes light up.  Thinking it’s a game, the fish joins in.  Over this, samples from the series echo and twist like the spaghetti wrapped around the girl’s fork, now fixed halfway to her mouth as she tries to re-enact that bit with the jelly in Jurassic Park.  The trailer closes with – ho ho ho – a balding middle aged man peeking up from – ha ha ha – behind the sofa. 

The night itself continues in this vein.  Another back-door pilot, this one for a docudrama about the early years of Doctor Who is twinned with an incredibly self-indulgent pitch for the part of the Doctor; there are a few well-intentioned documentaries that have never appeared as special features; a repeat of both the final part of The Daleks and the TV Movie (just to rub it in) and a final, massively misjudged, ‘spoof’.  Oddly enough, the whole evening echoes the BBC voiceover talking directly to the Doctor twenty years previously, only this time Tom Baker’s playing ‘Tom Baker’ rather than the Doctor.  The end result is exactly the same, it’s just more efficient this time around. 

Three days after Doctor Who Night, Auntie starts her final public sprint down memory lane – BBC4 doesn’t count – and the trailers produced just reinforce her true feelings.  Spearhead from Space gets two, and both look like the ‘Sorted’ sketch from The Day Today.  The first involves setting out-of-context lines of dialogue to an inoffensive piece of ‘punk’ music, cutting in flash-grab images over the top.  The second one is made up entirely of startled extreme close-ups set to a ‘metal’ soundtrack.  They might have felt hip at the time but both look awfully embarrassing now.  If anything, the Genesis of the Daleks trailer is even worse.  Cut to look like another music video, flashing cuts and buzzwords – “Monster!” “E-vil!” “Dalek!” – conclude with a ‘dancing’ Dalek that undoubtedly looked – ha ha ha – hilarious in the editing suite.   

It’s probably very clever; it certainly seems to think it is.

Aptly enough, it’s the 29 February 2000 – a date for special things to happen if ever there was one – that Doctor Who lies down and dies.  It’s the end no-one was prepared for.

As you get older, things stop happening for the first time.  What was once new becomes everyday, familiar and, ultimately, contempt breeds like the Wirrn.  The fact we really have seen it all before, is part of the reason we all become more irascible. 

I left a comment dangling on a string over London in Act I.  Providing it hasn’t been replaced by CGI, let’s pull it down now and have a proper stare at the Three Act Structure.  

Although trailers have changed a lot in the century they’ve been flogging different types of snake-oil, on the whole they’ve mostly settled down into a shape that, more or less, matches the following pattern. 

Act 1:  The Premise or Beginning  
In which we are introduced to the overall themes of the story in question and often several of the characters.  Modern trailers tend to feature highly-edited snapshots of the tedious mucking-about exposition stuff whereby the youthful protagonists are up to whatever japes that’ll end with them running away from angry wererhinos or trying to bring about sweeping social change through dance or whatever - usually overlaid with cheery stock music.  We know this section’s over when the music stops, the screen goes black and there’s a trigger noise.  This might be someone saying, “Did you guys see/hear/touch/taste/smell that?”  Alternatively, a single minor piano chord drooling with reverb will do the job just as well.

Act 2:  Furthering the Story  
Basically a rerun of the first Act but with added obstacles and jeopardy.  The car won’t start and the wererhinos are getting closer, someone’s trapped up a ladder surrounded by cats, our hero gets thrown off the dance team for being too original – any one, or all of these, will probably appear in some variation.  It’s at this point that Lux Aeterna or selections from Wojciech Kilar’s music for Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula get cranked up.  Again, if you can end this act with a sudden blackout and silence that’d be swell.  Having someone say, “It’s started” as though they’ve got a heavy cold never did anyone any harm either. 

Act 3:  The Montage or Climax  
Stick on your favourite ‘banging’ tune and strobe shots of people running, screaming, dancing, sobbing, cheering or what have you.  Try and bring the whole thing to a crescendo by flashing up the surnames of your cast if they’re famous, shots of characters looking emotional if they aren’t.  If your trailer is for a film with laughable dialogue, or made after 2011, the banging tune can be replaced with the honking noise used in the Prometheus trailer.  It doesn’t hurt to conclude with a final scream or brief speech, something along the lines of: “I’m the Doctor.  I’m a Time Lord.  I’m nine-hundred and three years old and I’m the man who’s going to save your lives and all six billion people on the planet below.  You got a problem with that?”

Trailers have to be less than two and a half minutes for some reason.  Perhaps if they’re longer they count as short films and become eligible for awards.  If you stretch the above structure to about ninety minutes then you’ve got the basis for a horror film.  Stretch it to two hours and it’s a superhero movie.  Turn it into nine thousand, five hundred and seventy-four words of text and you’ve got the structure for an examination of Doctor Who trailers since 1963.

Which brings us back neatly to 2003, and the start of our third act: “This is Where it Gets Complicated.”


The twenty-first century comes as a bit of a shock.  Auntie's taken some time to think things over, which becomes apparent when she springs a special winter surprise for the Doctor’s fortieth.  Although it only appears on a few select releases, the celebratory trailer cut to Orbital’s ‘Doctor ?’ shows a marked shift in attitude toward her estranged friend.  The trailer is sympathetic and dramatic, images from every era of the show cut to the beat.  Whilst admittedly not to everyone’s taste, it’s nonetheless a celebration of the show, mercifully free from the mocking efforts of the last century’s final examples.  In September 2003, Auntie proudly announces that she's going to give the Doctor another chance.  You can hear chins drop.

The first new Doctor Who footage arrives as a series of brief teasers at the start of 2005.  An impressive shot of the moon, panning across space to take in the glowing curve of the Earth as the words: “It’s almost time…” type themselves across the screen, then voices.

“I’m the Doctor by the way.  What’s your name?” 


“Nice to meet you, Rose.  Run for your life!”  

The type returns with: “…but not yet.”  It’s superb and still cuts much further into who I am than it has any right to.

2005 was an odd year for me.  I knew that I’d be leaving my hometown of Cardiff forever, twelve days after The Parting of the Ways.  As the imaginary Countdown Dalek kept reminding me, this move to the Arctic Circle was my own fixed point in time.  The Doctor was finally returning to the BBC – and he was going to live in Cardiff just as I left it for good.  It seemed both ironic and hideously unfair but there wasn’t a choice involved.  I didn’t realise quite how important a part of my life the series had become until it came to rewatching the trailers as research for this.  We’ll get to that.

The second trailer begins with a shot of the underpass leading to Newport train station filling with the orange blossom of an explosion.  Then the action cuts to what appears to be an aquarium.  The Doctor looks up at us, staring out of Christopher Eccleston’s eyes – fourth wall be damned.  Again.  “Do you wanna come with me?” he asks.  “’cause if you do, I should warn you-" And then the theme starts.   

The Doctor strides through the new TARDIS – all coral and possibilities – intercut with lots of slow motion running and shots of ghosts from the past and aliens from the future.  There’s a subtle nod to The Ark and then Big Ben explodes.  “It won’t be quiet, it won’t be safe, it won’t be calm, but I’ll tell you what it will be.  The trip of a lifetime.”  Wow.  There’s a slightly shorter version of this trailer released, but never mind that.

The final teaser focuses on Rose and is about as brief as you can get away with.  She’s got a choice.  The camera pulls back to show the Doctor and the untested new companion standing in the TARDIS.  In 2013 we know what happened next, but back then, in Cardiff, it could still have gone either way.  Due to my personal circumstances time felt almost physical during the weeks the Ninth Doctor did his thing.  Weight was dropping off me as the deadline glided closer – I’d forgotten all this.  Each episode ends with a trailer for the next one but we aren’t going to look at those here.  Strangely, that only leaves the ones that I find almost impossible to watch.

Bad Wolf concludes with a very strange cliffhanger.  The situation is bleak and seemingly inescapable which makes the Doctor’s unexpected rejection of the Dalek’s demands and subsequent righteous fury – via Abslom Daak - a triumphant overturning of expectations that really shouldn’t be forgotten, whatever your opinion on the new series.  In the days preceding The Parting of the Ways Auntie runs a countdown of trailers.  This, to me, is the most important and exciting piece of promotion since the series returned.  Not because I knew this was a regeneration episode.  Not because I didn’t know what was going to happen next at all.  No.  This was important to me because I cared.  It mattered.

It’s the God of all Daleks! 

Time is up in 5 days.

Tuesday 14 June

Thousands of Daleks! 

Time is up in 4 days.


Missiles lock on – the Doctor looks up. 

Time is up in 3 days.

The Doctor: If this message is activated then it can only mean danger, and I mean fatal.


Rose:  You can’t do this to me…

Time is up in 2 days.

The Doctor: If this message is activated then it can only mean danger, and I mean fatal.


Rose: You can’t do this to me…

Time is up in 1 day.

This comes to a head on Saturday 18 June 2005, thirty seconds before the start of the final TV programme I watch as broadcast.  Clips from all the previous trailers skip by – intercut with a countdown from 30, ending with a flashing:  

Time is up.1

The Parting of the Ways concludes with a quick recap of the series and the start of a new countdown, this one to The Christmas Invasion.

Red Bee Media, a company who’d somehow splintered away from the main body of BBC Broadcast Media, produce the trailer for season… Um… David Tennant’s first season as the Doctor.  Self-referencing the subtle gag of the Doctor constantly sitting up, the trailer also looks a lot like the video to ‘Hammer Horror’ by Kate Bush.  Afterimages of where the Doctor’s been slowly drift behind him.  It’s a form of video feedback described as ‘persistance of vision’ rather than ‘howl-around’.  The trailer ends with some heroic standing but not much else, bringing us to “Vortexts”.  Sorry, “Mobisodes” – no - TARDISodes”. 

Each episode of the 2006 season trails with a tiny drama written by Gareth Roberts.  Designed to lead into the main story, some are a lot more successful than others.  New Earth’s is designed as an advert for the hospital and finishes with a scream and an angry Cat Nun; Tooth and Claw’s is dialogue free and excellent – something lands in Scotland and then Dr Dee gets stalked and eaten by a werewolf many years later; School Reunion’s features Mickey hacking a mainframe and a shot of a Krillitane; The Girl in the Fireplace’s is a proper prequel to the story and finishes on the moment the clock on the mantlepiece breaks; Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel both look like things we haven’t seen since adblocker software arrived; The Idiot’s Lantern’s one is presented as a TV’s POV; The Impossible Planet’s is an unsuccessful debriefing over a table; The Satan Pit’s is the shortest horror film you’ve ever seen; Love & Monsters’ is light on dialogue and heavy on breathing; Fear Her’s is, to be fair, astoundingly bad; Army of Ghosts’ is the shortest spy film you’ve ever seen; Doomsday’s invasion of a TV studio wouldn’t have been out of place in the show itself. 

2007 sees the TARDISodes dropped completely in favour of a more traditional season trailer.  This features a new theme for the Doctor along with an awful lot of suits and a lot of awful effects.  At this point the show is still working out how to present itself, how to stay fresh and how to stay upright without too much obvious wobbling.  Aside from a resounding endorsement of Mr Saxon from fictional characters playing ‘celebrities’ the season sticks to next time trailers within the text of the show itself.  The push to cinema screens to advertise Christmas comes as a bit of a surprise but it’s a good way for Auntie to show off both her Minogue coup and confidence in the show.  The full trailer follows the Three Act Structure to the letter.

Having enjoyed this visit to the flicks, Auntie decides to send the 2008 season trailer off to enjoy itself amongst the popcorn.   

Act 1: 
Donna and Wilf discuss the Doctor.   

Act 2: 
Lots of running around and things blowing up.   

Act 3:   
The Doctor (crying), Donna (crying), Martha (oozing) and Rose (surprising).  Strangely there’s no Doctor Who theme. 

An alternate TV season teaser is also shot in black and red by Red Bee Media, functionally entitled Doctor Who Campfire Trailer.   

Act 1: 
The start of John Carpenter’s The Fog.   

Act 2:  
Ood(s)! Sontarans! Daleks!   

Act 3:  
The end of The Usual Suspects.  Catherine Tate does her best but the dialogue’s atrocious and awkward throughout.  Mini-monster teasers are also cloned from this and fitted to cinema blockbusters to see if they’ll bond.      

The End of Time turns out to be Christmas and New Year 2009/2010 – which is a decade later than humanity had been promised.  Because of the final lap of honour from Mr Davies and his Doctor there isn’t really anything overpoweringly trailer-based from the specials.  Looking back, that seems very odd – after all, the Doctor was everywhere during that last week.  It’s quite touching to think that the first final encounter between the Doctor and David Tennant was in a gentle mini-adventure with reindeer.

The first trailer for Series Fnarg is shown right after the end of The End of Time.  Seconds later it’s being pulled apart frame by frame to see what riches spill onto the desktop.  Red Bee Media’s Season Fnarg teaser is released on 20 February 2010 and it’s a bit different.  Not just because it’s all blue.  First shown exclusively in 3D cinemas the trailer begins with:  

Act 1: 
The Doctor and Amy lying on the grass, staring at the night sky and swapping bon mots.   

Act 2:   
The ground shreds beneath them and they fall down the rabbit hole into what feels a lot more like an advert for an operating system or a new model of smartphone than a TV series.  Action figures soar toward our tumbling heroes, but get pushed away into the CGI.   

Act 3:   
We’re back in the night garden and all’s well apart fro-  The ground explodes again and a Silurian face bursts through.  Although it doesn’t make any sense and is the first piece of promotion that feels more like an advertisement, this trailer comes with a free film, Alice in Wonderland oddly enough.  Once again, the rest of the series contains next time trailers within the main body of the episodes themselves. 

An odd video arrives on three days before Christmas 2010.  Featuring no walls to speak of, the Doctor and Amy address the camera directly and start flirting with a superpower.  It turns out to be the first public step in a long and complicated dance.

The first hints Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death has been greenlit as a series start to appear in the Series Otter trailer following A Christmas Carol.  Apart from doors opening, the trailer is largely constructed with shots of America, characters staring meaningfully into the distance and some very forced self-referencing that sounds worryingly like an attempt to manufacture catchphrases.  Or ‘branding’, if you prefer.  On the plus side, the Doctor Who theme’s still pumping away underneath.     

At this stage, you’d better roll-up your sleeves and affix sensible walking shoes.  2011 soon becomes an absolute mess from a promotional point of view with nearly forty minutes worth of criteria-matching trailer-unique material gushing out of BBC Wales over the next two years.  The Impossible Astronaut and The Day of the Moon comes with three video preludes between them.  There are two brief teasers, both looking like security camera footage of a street - one doesn’t have a Silent in it.  On the 25 March, nearly a month before the series arrives, the first of the many Matt Smith era ‘prequels’ appears online.  At the time it's a spooky vignette, set in the White House and featuring President Richard Nixon taking a phone-call from a young girl warning him to beware of the monsters lurking behind him.  (Reviewing it now, it’s lost a lot of power because once we’ve rattled through the shots of the set, very little actually makes sense when compared to what came after.)  It works as a trailer because it builds the new series anticipation up to the point where salivation ruins shirts throughout fandom.  It also works as Auntie’s second step toward formally reintroducing the Doctor to Uncle Sam, because it’s flattering rather than fawning and they’ve been penpals since the Seventies. 

The next prequel is for The Curse of the Black Spot, materialising online just after The Day of the Moon wraps up.  Constructed of a pan around the ship’s set, overlaid with narration from grizzled Cap’n Subtle Self-Reference and a few decent becalmed ship effect shots, it’s eerie, atmospheric, effective and written by Stephen Thompson, making this one of the very few prequels not penned by Steven Moffat. 

Following The Almost People, eager website refreshers are gifted with the A Good Man Goes to War prequel, in which Dorium builds up the Doctor’s legend by delivering what sounds like an audition monologue to a couple of Headless Monks. Again, it makes a lot less sense when examined from a distance, as do the next promotional pieces, including the brief shot of a skeletal hand on a beach, finger-bones clasped around the dying sonic screwdriver.  The familiar green light fades to black as the batteries run down.  This, with the tagline Time runs out, is presented as a second-half-of-the season advertisement.  What it actually refers to soon becomes one of the great mysteries of Doctor Who, along with the identity of the unlocker of the Fetch Priory cupboard door.

A trailer for the second half of Series Otter and a clip from The God Complex are shown at the San Diego Comic Con in June 2011, but seeing as a slightly shorter trailer escapes in the UK within a couple of months nobody complains too much.  The trailer’s a compressed three acts of close-ups, soundbites, effects, explosions and emotional slow motion overlaid with bombastic trailer drums and soaring choirs - which almost raises the delicate subject of Murray Gold.

The prequel for Let’s Kill Hitler crops up in public around a fortnight before the show itself.  The camera pans around the TARDIS set while Karen Gillan reads a voice-over script with emotive gear changes that grind almost as badly as the Type 40 itself, even lubrication with Gold(en) syrup doesn’t help.  The piece ends with the Doctor looking uncomfortable.  Once again, with the benefit of distance, it doesn’t make any sense in the context of the overall series.  It looks pretty but it sure does echo.

The final Series Otter prequel is for The Wedding of River Song and feels, visually at least, like a deleted pre-title sequence (and, my Kroll, never before have so many consumers had to pay for so many… software patches).  Following the previous technique of touring the set, the camera meanders through Area 52 finally arriving on River Song’s eyepatch – a fourth wall shattering shot first seen in June.  The soundtrack is made up of bubbling and an ‘ancient’ prophecy that’s never even heard of Elm Street.

The final prequel for 2011 crops up in the first week of December.  The Doctor is trapped on a spaceship in orbit around the Earth.  He’s holding down a Big Red Button - the only thing stopping the ship exploding – while trying to shout season’s greetings and goodbye down the phone to Amy’s answer machine.  It’s interesting to note how many of these prequels are based around phone calls of one type or another.  The Doctor takes his finger off the button and the spaceship explodes.  Although The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe is many things: this cheaty nod to the Saturday morning matinee serial reprises still comes as a surprise.    

The first trailer for the troubled Season Pond/Clara arrives in March 2012, in an official convention in Cardiff.  Footage and clips air at Comic Con in July and make it online at the start of August, in time for breakfast.  The music’s triumphant, there’s lots of shouting, colour, landscapes, effects shots, catchphrases and Daleks!  As trailers go, this one looks great – and just about fits into the Three Act Structure if you squint a bit.  Next up is Pond Life so it’s probably time we had a proper chat about Murray Gold.

Since the series returned in 2005, it’s been the musical monopoly of a single composer – which is fine, just look at the Simpsons.  From this point on, and especially when we’re considering promotional material, something odd happens.  Now, whether some of the many prequels were produced in a rush, or recovered from cutting-room floors to cover cracks that were just too big to ignore is neither here nor there.  They exist.  The problem is that from now on, most of them feel like adverts for things other than a television show.  Some of that, to be fair, is down to the scripts but the majority of the blame has to be laid at Murray Gold’s door.  Far too often tracks are played over scenes with no thought for whether they fit the edit; they become unearned manipulative emotional shading.  Should the audience feel sad?  Track two.  Should the audience feel amused?  Track one.  Should the audience think the dialogue is funnier than it is?  Track one again.  Should the audience feel stirred?  Stick on ‘I am the Doctor’.         

Pond Life is a prime example.  This five part Asylum of the Daleks prequel/mini-series is written by Chris Chibnall rather than Steven Moffat.  It premiers online and counts down Series Pond/Clara a month a day and works fine at the time, raising excitement and awareness in the way you’d hope.  Unfortunately, with distance, each episode feels like an advert for something else.  The first one has the same beats as car insurance; the second smells like you might want to get that boiler checked out; the third is for a supermarket – possibly Tesco; the fourth seems to be for air freshener or furniture polish and the final one's a reminder that the Yellow Pages isn’t just there for the fun things in life, like bikes. 

The prequels to Asylum of the Daleks and A Town Called Mercy both try a new approach to advertising by coming out the day following their respective episodes.  Both are pay-to-view American iTunes exclusives for about half an hour, then the bootlegs start popping up.  The first feels like a deleted scene and, again, raises questions that remain unanswered.  The second, despite the Blade Runner reference, feels like a more successful path toward upgrading the Cybermen.

The Snowmen gets two prequels, the first is in November when Matt Smith informs us that the correct name is now ‘minisode’.  The Great Detective is a Children In Need exclusive from the Baker Street Boys featuring the Paternoster Gang.  The second trailer, Vastra Investigates, arrives the week before Christmas.  Both probably aren’t deleted scenes.  The teaser for the second half of Series Pond/Clara rolls out straight after the 2012 Christmas special and looks amazing. 

Act 1:  
The honking from Prometheus overlays some impressive fx landscape shots.

Act 2:  
The drums come in and images move faster.  The dialogue crackles.

Act 3:  
Everything’s still and blue.  Something that looks very wrong glides up behind our hero…  “I am the Doctor.  And I am afraid.”  With information like this the audience fills in the narrative and comes up with impressive theories that the reality can never hope to match.  Every frame, once again, is hung up for the web to see.

At the start of March a brief prequel to The Bells of Saint John is released, within two months it’s a mass of contradictions.  The next prequel takes time travel a little too literally.  Two years late for A Good Man Goes to War, The Battle of Demon’s Run: Two Days Later covers a clone-sized plot hole quite nicely in spite of the music.  Track one.  Again.

The Name of the Doctor gets two prequels.  She Said, He Said appears to be set in a prop house and made up of audition material, whilst Clarence and the Whispermen – released eight days after the series has finished - might be a deleted alternate opening scene.  It closes both a plot hole and the season quite nicely.

In another of her idiosyncratic approaches to advertising, Auntie shows the first trailer for the fiftieth anniversary special at Comic Con in July, and then eats it.  The odd prequel/trailer/minisode, Doctor Who Live: The Next Doctor is shown on the 4 August 2013, cunningly disguised as a light entertainment worldwide simulcast.  When the trailer for the forthcoming Baker Street Boys’ docudrama leaks from a showing in France, barely an eyelid is raised.  The stolen footage is mobile, handheld, terrible.  It hardly matches the quality of audio bootlegs from the last century.  But, like all good alternate universe stories, there’s a tiny tell-tale error right at the very end, hidden in a don’t-even-blink misspelling of ‘BBC Wales’.

The Year of the Doctor slaps September's legs while Auntie sinks Atlantis with one of these fancy hashtag things that the kids keep faffling on about.  #savetheday will turn up again in the middle of November, but by then no-one’ll really care (even the Doctor doesn’t sound convinced).  The next month a very strange 3D trailer escapes into the 2D world, but something’s gone wrong.  The parts of the internet that still worry about Jon Pertwee’s eyebrows crack and fissure before floating off, unlike Scotland, to form new, and slightly frightening, tourist destinations.  There’s something in the air and it isn’t just jelly babies.

November’s mad.  Two days after the Doctor tries capering around in Matt Smith’s skin to promote a website disguised in a hashtag hidden in a blipvert, the Official Trailer for The Day of the Doctor is released.  Before anyone has a chance to watch it, a second one leaks via BBC Latin America’s Facebook page.  Luckily, the security problems are instantly fixed and the words 'Latin', 'America' and 'leak' are never heard again.  Well, not until 2014 anyway.  The Doctor crops up in the middle of BBC idents two days on the trot, the first time to remind us what clocks do, the second to go all portentous and, “It’s all been leading to this…”

November 14th sees lots of people make the mistake of thinking Paul McGann's surprise birthday party is actually for them.  The following night there’s a brief clip on Children in Need, and five days later the training level for an unmade video game leaks.  It’s not great, but by now everyone’s too full of sugar to care.

The Birthday Beano kicks off worldwide with a Sontaran-induced scream of popcorn for those who paid for the extra dimension.  They also get to duck under a 3D chin, but that doesn’t really count either.  The Five(ish) Doctors doesn’t have a trailer, but seeing as Doctor Who exists in the world of Doctor Who now – like a metatextual ouroboros chomping hungrily on its own recursive occlusion – it gets mentioned here.  Say what you like, it’s still just as canon as Night of the Doctor.  There’s a sneak glimpse of The Time at the end of The Day, but it slips by mostly unnoticed.  A much larger fuss is raised during the BBC’s all-purpose Crimbo trailer and the keyboards that so gamely vivisect any tiny moment of new footage get a thorough pounding.  As usual, they’re far too trusting.  You’d think these people don’t know how trailers work.

The year of the Doctor ends with another BBC one-size-fits-all-Xmas-atmos trailer and a few brief previews, before the Doctor dies forever and the 1963 series concludes.  And then snaps back to life like a reinvigorated skeksis as the old wizard slips gently, but firmly, into Capaldi the White.

The Doctor, like anyone sensible, enters his fifties quietly.  Nothing much happens until May when Auntie teases us that the Doctor “lands in August.”  It turns out that she’s not quite right.

On the 10th of June we get told that there’s going to be a world tour.  At this point nobody would guess the South Korean stage will be the most entertaining.  Seventeen days later, the Doctor asks us if he’s a good man, and something scaly and Aristotelian stirs and flickers.

It’s Independence Day.  Nick Briggs does a fine impression of the sort of bad-trip Dalek we’ve not seen since COLOUR!  “I-SEE-IN-TO-YOUR-SOUL-DOC-TOR!”  It’s cracking stuff.  Two days later, not to be outdone, BBC Latin America (remember them?) leak the scripts and ‘pre-air screeners’ for the first half of the looming series.  

Luckily, nobody downloads the scripts - apart from the Scottish Sun, which, if you think about it, is a contradiction in terms - and when the rough cut for Deep Breath crops up six days later, nobody downloads that either.

Undeterred, Auntie pops out a fourth teaser which features the Doctor basically asking if we’re sitting comfortably.  We aren’t.  Especially all the people who 'haven’t' downloaded any of the leaked material.  You know the sort, the kind of reprehensible vermin that’d buy bootleg VHS of otherwise unobtainable movies at comic marts through the eighties and nineties or splash greasy cash on promo copies of unreleased albums back when that was a thing.  Not to be first, but because they knew that the indiscriminate Bear of Fate might pounce at any moment.  How very dare they?

The day after my birthday, a startled trailer for something gets plopped on Twitter.  It flaps back and forth, gasping for air while thousands of well-meaning and beautiful people tug it apart and reassemble it as the Master.  Sometime the same week the pre-air screener version of Into the Dalek finally tunnels free.  Again, nobody watches it, which is a huge shame.

Auntie tries to combat the far-more-exciting leakage with blippy countdowns.  Deep Breath, shuddering and wonderful, explodes quietly in cinemas.  It’s trailed with another not-quite-as-good-as-it-thinks-it-is-but-still-better-than-anything-else Sontaran pissrip and all’s well with the world.

The internet vomits out superior versions of Robot of Sherwood and Time Heist and a nearly-but-not-quite Listen over what would be a wonderful five days in August if anyone noticed.  Auntie carries on using the Next Times as trailers for The Caretaker, Kill the Moon, Mummy on the Orient Express (minus Clara), Flatline and In the Forest of the Night, but releases most of the most important part of Dark Water as a special download and hides the trailer for Death in Heaven back in the closing moments of In the Forest of the Night.

The 2014 Yuletide Beast arrives all over the credits of Death in Heaven and a full scene (with Clara) breaks out in the middle of the tradition (or old charter, or something) of the Children In Need Clip, proving finally that Dan Starkey is not only a damn fine actor, but he’s also this generation's Roy Skelton and should be knighted immediately.

The world changes beyond measure every day.  Over the past fifty complete years there’ve been a lot of days.  Communication and technology move in a direction we think of as forward, because that’s how we sleep at night.  We chuckle and mock the past with frightened eyes, because we aren’t really living in the future.

That was now.

This is then.

And up stands ‘Hartnell’, echoing thunder.  Billowing: both fog and winter.  White to black.


This 'article' was originally published as the, vastly different, 
Celestial Toyroom #429
Thanks to:
Grant Bull
J.R. Southall

Very Special Thanks:

1.  I was a wreck watching those again. 
2.  Lovely lady.  Have you met?


No comments: