Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Happy Times and Places - An Unearthly Child

To mark 60 years of Doctor Who, Toby Hadoke has devoted a special five-part instalment of his Happy Times and Places podcast to the very first episode, An Unearthly Child. I'm in part four.

Toby asked a bunch of us to watch the episode then nominate our five favourite things about it, which he then responds to. I won't spoil who else is involved but there are some brilliant insights, underlining my point that there's always being something new to be discovered.

Also by me on this blog:

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

The Power of 3 podcast #172

I chatted to Kenny Smith for the latest episode of the Power of 3 podcast. As well as asking me about my new book David Whitaker in an Exciting Adventure with Television, Kenny and his co-hosts Dave, John and Steevie discuss their favourite Doctor Who stories written by David.

Monday, November 27, 2023

The Sky at Night: The Art of Stargazing by Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock

I've just received my copies of The Sky at Night: The Art of Stargazing, a new guide by Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock to the 88 constellations of stars. It's a lovely book, each constellation illustrated by Tom Matuszewski and with diagrams by Greg Stevenson. What a fun and informative thing to work on.

Blurb as follows:

"What is the story behind the stars? Many of us gaze up into space and marvel at the Milky Way, but do you know what you're really looking at?

The Art of Stargazing is the ultimate insider's guide to the night sky in which award-winning space scientist and The Sky at Night presenter Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock shares her expertise and unique insights into the marvellous world of stars. Take a tour of the 88 constellations and explore the science, history, culture and romanticism behind these celestial bodies.

In this must-have handbook for budding stargazers - and anyone looking for a little more wonder in their lives - Maggie will help you to identify stars and teach you the basics of naked-eye observation, offering fascinating facts plus advice on kit, 'dark sky' locations and much more. Also included are beautiful illustrations to accompany each constellation and an easy-to-read sky map. With Maggie by your side, the night sky will truly come alive."

My credit in the indicia

It's the fifth book published in the past few months that I've written or worked on - the last year or so has been extremely busy, jumping from project to project. Bit knackered now.

Friday, November 24, 2023

The Daleks in Colour and Kennedy's "Survivors"

Watching the glorious The Daleks in Colour last night, I was especially struck by the bleakness of the story and world, a tale of nuclear holocaust made in an age when that was a stark possibility. As my chum Toby Hadoke pointed out to me a while ago, the second episode of the original serial, “The Survivors” (in which we first see the Daleks), was recorded on the evening of 22 November 1963, just hours after the cast and crew learned of the assassination of President John F Kennedy and the whole world seemed poised on a knife-edge.

This week, a post by Letters of Note started off a chain of thoughts. Following Kennedy's death, his widow Jacqueline wrote to Nikita Khrushchev, Premier of the Soviet Union:

“I know how much my husband cared about peace, and how the relation between you and him was central to this care in his mind. He used to quote your words in some of his speeches - 'In the next war the survivors will envy the dead.'”

Khrushchev seems to have been credited for this evocative phrase in the 20 July 1963 issue of Pravda (I've not been able to check this but it says so here). Whatever the case, President Kennedy quickly picked up on the phrase, quoting it on 26 July in his radio and television address to the US people on the nuclear test ban treaty - a transcript and recording can be found on the website of the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

“A war today or tomorrow, if it led to nuclear war, would not be like any war in history. A full-scale nuclear exchange, lasting less than 60 minutes, with the weapons now in existence, could wipe out more than 300 million Americans, Europeans and Russians, as well as untold numbers elsewhere. And the survivors, as Chairman Khrushchev warned the Communist Chinese, 'the survivors would envy the dead.' For they would inherit a world so devastated by explosions and poison and fire that today we cannot even conceive of its horrors.”

These words were very widely reported, such as in the Daily Telegraph the following day (it's a front-page story, but the line about survivors is on p. 16 where the news story continues). That was on Saturday, 27 July 1963 and, despite what Kennedy said, I think people could very well imagine the horrors. Surely it can't be a coincidence that this was probably also the weekend over which Terry Nation wrote his 26-page storyline for a Doctor Who serial at that point entitled "The Survivors".

The storyline does not include a date but we can deduce when Nation wrote it from two surviving documents in the BBC's Written Archives Centre. On 30 July, BBC Head of Serials Donald Wilson produced notes for a preliminary meeting about the promotion of Doctor Who and listed the first three serials then currently planned: the caveman adventure The Tribe of Gum aka An Unearthly Child, the ultimately unmade The Robots and the story that became Marco Polo

The following day, story editor David Whitaker produced one-paragraph synopses of these three stories - plus a newly commissioned fourth one: Nation's serial was now under the title “The Mutants.” So: Nation wrote the storyline over the weekend, surely influenced by the leading news story and Kennedy's evocative phrase, then met with Whitaker on the Monday or Tuesday and was commissioned for the story.

One more thing, which I mentioned yesterday in my interview with BBC News (and tweeted back in July). Nation’s thrilling, 26-page storyline, on the basis on which scripts were commissioned, used the words “execution”, “elimination” and “extinction”. Whitaker summarised the plot in one paragraph for his colleagues, and used a word Nation had not: “exterminated”. 

Source: Asa Briggs, Competition, p. 418. My book David Whitaker in an Exciting Adventure with Television is out now.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Three Counties Radio and Doctor Who @60

The first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast 60 years ago today and there's a whole load of stuff on TV, radio and online to mark the occasion.

This morning, I joined Andy Collins on BBC Three Counties radio to talk about David Whitaker, first story editor of Doctor Who, and how his childhood in places such as Knebworth, Cheshunt and Nasty (as well as living in London) fed into those early adventures - and explains why the Daleks invaded Bedford of all places. You can listen here:

ETA: Danny Fullbrook also interviewed me for the BBC News website about David Whitaker's connection to the area - see Doctor Who: Bedford writer's childhood influenced the Daleks.

The second part of my contribution to the Something Who podcast is also now live. Having tackled 1965 story The Rescue (written by David Whitaker) in part one, me, Richard, Giles and Paul get to grips with 2010's The Eleventh Hour.

More of me rabbiting on about Doctor Who here:

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Zero Room Audio - recording of David Whitaker book launch

John Ryan has posted an edited recording of our launch event for David Whitaker in an Exciting Adventure with Television, hosted at the Portico Library in Manchester earlier this month. I was interviewed by Carol Ann Whitehead - and I think you can hear my jangling nerves.
Excitingly, this recording marks the return of 1980s audio fanzine Zero Room

Monday, November 20, 2023

Something Who #83: Dido Know, Don't Dido?

I joined Richard, Giles and Paul on the latest episode of the Something Who podcast for a deep-dive look at the 1965 Doctor Who story The Rescue by David Whitaker, and the 2010 episode The Eleventh Hour by Steven Moffat.

It's really interesting to compare what seem to be such disparate, unrelated stories and see the different production teams grappling with what's basically the same problem: how to restart Doctor Who with new regular characters and a tone of engaging, fun adventure.

It was also fun to apply the stuff I've learned researching my newly published biography of David Whitaker, almost like an end-of-term test.

Oh, there is a bit where I had to attempt some acting, a good leap out of my comfort zone.