The Doctor Who Blogs

A sense of self in a world of change

The beginnings of a bonkerish theory…

… the Christmas Special is partly set up to explain why the Doctor, after a solid run of thirteen male bodies, regenerates into a female body. And it’s connected with the First Doctor.

Moffat likes his Who metaphors: I’ve argued before that the episodes immediately leading up to the 50th Anniversary could all have been read as metaphors: each representing the various ages of the Before Gap programme. During the Capaldi era, he’s played quite heavily on the metaphor of ‘Doctor Who as legend’, as ‘story’. The Capaldi incarnation of the Doctor is often struggling to retrieve the real person who lives behind the legend of ‘The Doctor’. Robin Hood thought it was better that the legend be remembered; the Capaldi Doctor is not so sure.

Moffat also likes explaining things. The ‘explanation’ is very often a ‘blink and you miss it’, ‘available if you think about it’ kind of explanation, but Steven Moffat is still, at heart, the completist fanboy. The Doctor Falls, for example, sneaked in an explanation for why the Master became Missy after staying resolutely (and misogynistically) male for body after body. Quite simply, having met himself as a woman, the Master now knows (at some level) that he will have to make a gender switch. Missy didn’t ‘just happen’; Missy is part of a Moffat loop.

So I’d suggest that, rather than leave the Doctor’s regeneration into a female body as an ‘Oh, look, I’m a woman now, funny it took so long’ there will be an explanation – just as Moffat didn’t ignore Peter Capaldi’s previous appearance as Caecilius, but briefly explained why the Doctor had unconsciously chosen that face.

Why might that explanation be connected with the First Doctor? Because in a way, William Hartnell’s regeneration into Patrick Troughton was the real beginning of the transformation from ‘programme’ to ‘legend’. Up to that point, Doctor Who was like Journey into Space or Space Patrol. Massively popular, but didn’t outlive its time. It was regeneration that gave Doctor Who the potential to become one of the immortal stories.

But if it was the regeneration of William Hartnell into Patrick Troughton that began ‘legendary Who’, then did the regeneration of the First Doctor into the Second Doctor begin the long process of becoming ‘legendary Doctor’? Might the Capaldi Doctor see it as the beginning of the process of losing his ‘real’ self behind a legend? Given that Steven Moffat does like connecting events in-story to the history of the programme, I’d suggest that such a connection will be made.

Are the First Doctor and the Capaldi Doctor still the same person? Is that original 1960’s Doctor Who still the same programme as the bigger budgeted, CGI’d juggernaut that is the 21st Century Who? Or is that moment of doubt in Deep Breath, where the Doctor clearly wonders if there’s anything of his original self left, prophetic on both levels? In all that change, is the core self (the ‘soul’) – of the Doctor, of the programme – still the same?

What do you hold on to, when you’re a shape-shifter? What do you hold on to, when your leading actor and your production team go through periodic, complete, changes? When you can be ‘whatever you feel like when you get up in the morning?’

And, in-story, Gallifreyans aren’t just shape-shifters – unlike Zygons, their periodic regenerations shift both body and persona. They must have cultural methods of coping with this – but the Doctor has fled from his own culture. The one and only constant in the Doctor’s life is that his TARDIS likes to appear as a police box. Oh, and that he always regenerates as a white male.

Hold on to that last thought. After Moffat’s finished with the Christmas Special, it’s possible that we’ll be able to see that in a different way.

The production team have one advantage that the Doctor doesn’t have; despite the ‘missing episodes’, there’s an awful lot of Doctor Who history available for instant reference. The production team know what they’re changing from. Even though the latest actor to play the Doctor wasn’t alive when William Hartnell was the one and only Doctor, she can haul the episodes out of the archives, put the DVDs on expenses and effectively ‘remember’ the previous characterisations. If she wants to.

The Doctor doesn’t have that luxury. He’s over two thousand years old; his childhood was so long ago that he tells Bill that he can barely remember whether he was a boy or a girl. He has a photo of Susan and River on his desk – as if he’s now frightened of forgetting his own family. If the Smith Doctor was ‘the Man Who Forgets’, the Capaldi Doctor has become ‘the Man frightened of forgetting too much’. In episode after episode the Capaldi Doctor struggles to remember stories that much of the audience know perfectly well. The Second Doctor told Victoria that his family slept in his memory – which implies that he didn’t need photos; he remembered them without any props. The Capaldi Doctor keeps their pictures on his desk.

What do you hold on to, when you’re a shape-shifter who’s over two thousand years old? What do you hold on to, when your memory of your childhood is slowly fading and you need a photo to remind you of the granddaughter who was once so precious?

What do you hold onto when you’ve always hated regenerating?

We first saw the Doctor as an old man with a granddaughter. At that point, regeneration wasn’t even a twinkle in Sidney Newman’s eye; he wanted some actor with a bit of gravitas, and in the 1960’s that meant age.

But once regeneration becomes part of the lore of the programme, you start to wonder why the First Doctor would keep that first body so long that he was literally starting to wear out. Then you look at the Second Doctor (forcibly regenerated by the Time Lords) and all the following Doctors. None of them chose regeneration – except in the sense of ‘regenerate or die’.

Romana, on the other hand, seemingly regenerated because she fancied a new body. She also appeared to have considerably more control over the process than the Doctor does; the only time the Doctor managed to control the process was when the Tennant Doctor regenerated into the Tennant Doctor, by diverting some of his regeneration energy.

Let’s look at this again; it seems that the Doctor has never willingly regenerated – and in fact, once chose to keep the same body. The Tennant Doctor compared regeneration to dying – a ‘new bloke’ walks away. The Capaldi Doctor had to insist that he was still ‘me’, the same person as the Smith Doctor.

But then, unlike those Gallifreyans who regenerate among Gallifreyans, the Doctor generally regenerates surrounded by people who struggle to accept the new body, the new persona. Regeneration, for the Doctor, has become traumatic. Through the eyes of his companions, he sees just how much each regeneration changes him; no wonder that he has to insist that he is, indeed, still ‘me’. And unlike the Master, or Romana, he doesn’t generally start his regeneration process exclaiming ‘great, a new body to look forward to’.

Metaphors again: the Companion is the audience surrogate; their difficulty in accepting the ‘new Doctor’ represents the audience struggle to accept the ‘new bloke’. Until Smith, new Doctors generally had an old Companion or a continuing character (like the Brigadier) to make the cross-over with them and be the lightning rod for any audience confusion. But how far can the Doctor change until they stop being ‘The Doctor’? How far can the programme change the Doctor until the character stops being that Doctor created by William Hartnell, Verity Lambert and Sydney Newman?

Moffat likes paradoxes. At what point in the Doctor’s life will the paradox of Theseus’ Boat come into play? Can the Doctor replace everything about himself over a dozen times, and still be the original? Is he still that little boy who’s afraid of the monsters in the dark?

He tells Bill that he’s not sure whether he was a boy or a girl any more – yet Rule One is: the Doctor lies. Because when he returns to Gallifrey he (twice) goes straight back to the barn where that little boy hid.

He’s changed everything about himself a dozen times. Except for one thing. He’s still that little boy.

If gender selection at regeneration is a true 50/50 chance, then the probability of the Doctor managing all male regenerations this number of times is about 1 in 4000. Moffat’s been hinting that it isn’t truly random; the General loudly insists that she’s never trying that again, the Master has met Missy. The suggestion is that Gallifreyans can, at some level, select which gender they will become. The General prefers being female, the Master prefers being male; so that’s what they usually choose.

And the Doctor doesn’t like regenerating. He’s scared that he’s going to lose himself; that the ‘new bloke’ might be the one who finally makes the break from that original self, that the humans who generally surround him at regeneration might one day be right – regeneration makes him a different person, not just a different persona. So if there’s one thing he can control, one thing he can choose not to change – is he going to dare to change it? Or is he going to always keep that connection with the original self, the little boy in the barn, by always being the white male of his childhood? The little boy and the 2000+ year old man are still, literally, the same man.

If that’s the case, would the Doctor ever dare to regenerate as a woman? Or would that represent, to him, the last, final break with his childhood, his first body, his self?

And then we go back to meeting the First Doctor. Because it’s not just a question of whether the Capaldi Doctor remembers that long ago self. It’s a question of whether that long-ago self can recognise his incredibly older, much regenerated self – as still himself. The Doctor’s met himself before, of course. But those other meetings were much closer in time.

If the First Doctor recognises the Capaldi Doctor as himself, as ‘Doctor Who’, even after thousands of years and over a dozen regenerations, then those ever-changing personas were just … personas. The core self, the soul, has always remained. The Doctor has always been the Doctor. The Doctor Who of 1966 is still recognisably the Doctor Who of 2017.

But there’s more. Because the Doctor (and Doctor Who) has changed. You can see it in the role of the Companion, you can see it in the way the man who would kill a primitive human now counts humans as friends, you can see it in many, many ways. It is not just a matter of that original self being able to recognise his future self as himself. It’s a matter of the Capaldi Doctor being able to recognise that the changes that have happened weren’t all bad. He is, after all, still scarred from nearly committing genocide. He’s still haunted by the thought that he might not be a good man. He’s scared that his changes might have been for the worse.

So meeting his original self also becomes a matter of recognising that it might not necessarily have been a bad thing to change some aspects of that original self. Some childish things we keep. Others we put away. Sometimes, what we need is to look in the mirror of our old self – and realise that we like the way we’ve changed.

Did the Doctor ‘lose himself’ by becoming the legendary ‘Doctor Who’? Or was the ‘change’ he’s so worried about really ‘growth’? Did becoming the legend make him more truly ‘The Doctor’ – and is ‘The Doctor’ who he truly wants to be? Is the legend something to live up to, rather than to deny?

If his first self recognises his current last self, then the Theseus Boat Paradox has an answer. However many times the body changes, the person within the body is the same person. However many different personas there are, the self remains. His ‘self’ (or soul) is the constant thread that runs through the Doctor’s lives. Regenerations are not a way of losing oneself; they’re the Gallifreyan way of changing and growing. Humans struggle to understand that – but the Doctor isn’t human.

And with that understanding, he can not only choose to regenerate. He can choose to step outside the self imposed limits of the previous regenerations. He no longer has to cling to that little boy by always being a boy; he can recognise that, man or woman, he will always be the same person as that boy.

And recognising that, secure in that core self – he might choose to no longer be a good man – but try to be a good woman, instead. After all, he’s just seen how it appeared to change Missy for the better. Maybe it’s time to try a major change

But she might keep the hoodie. 😉

“Change, my dear… and it seems not a moment too soon.”

JW Who 2

Master: Is the future going to be all girl?

Doctor: We can only hope.

With hindsight it was obvious this regeneration was going to be the one.  The one that brought us a woman Doctor.

We’d seen it established that Time Lord regenerations can involve a change of gender as well as of height, hair colour, apparent age and so on. We’d engaged with the Master/Missy conundrum.


DOCTOR: She was my first friend, always so brilliant, from the first day at the Academy. So fast, so funny. She was my man crush.
BILL: I’m sorry?
DOCTOR: Yeah, I think she was a man back then. I’m fairly sure that I was, too. It was a long time ago, though.
BILL: So, the Time Lords, bit flexible on the whole man-woman thing, then, yeah?
DOCTOR: We’re the most civilised civilisation in the universe. We’re billions of years beyond your petty human obsession with gender and its associated stereotypes.
BILL: But you still call yourselves Time Lords?
DOCTOR: Yeah. Shut up.
BILL: Okay.

With lines like the above, we were being set up to welcome (or not) a woman to the role.  Still, at some level, at least until a couple of days before the announcement, I really thought they might row back from that and say no, not yet, not this time.  I really wasn’t sure they had the bottle to do this.

There’s been a lot of rather predictable frothing at the mouth, harrumphing and incipient apoplexy, with claims that this is the BBC surrendering to some mysterious all-powerful Political Correctness lobby (‘Murdered a part of our culture for feminazi political correctness ideology!’  ‘Doctor Who … didn’t die nobly as you might expect.  He was murdered by Political Correctness’).  That’s best ignored, by and large.  I fear that Jodie Whitaker will have to contend with worse than that, and with personalised unpleasantness, but I’m sure she’s well aware and will be ready for the haters.

Not everyone who dislikes the change is of this breed, of course.  There has to be a core of Doctorness with each regeneration, and some feel that maleness is a part of that.  I disagree, but I suspect that many of those people, if they genuinely love the programme, will continue to watch and will be won over.  Another response was that whilst of course boys have far more heroic role models in popular culture to emulate and be inspired by than girls do, the Doctor is different, and valuable because of the ways in which he is different.  I do see the need for boys to have role models who aren’t all about action and fighting (even fighting for Good against Evil), but part of what makes the Doctor different, for me, is that gender roles and stereotypes simply aren’t (or shouldn’t be) relevant.

A plethora of girls and women have regarded the Doctor as a role model, and identified with him, over Doctor Who’s 50 year span, whilst he’s regenerated, repeatedly, as a man. The Doctor is still, no doubt, going to be the Doctor as portrayed by Jodie Whittaker – alien, two hearts, both of gold, funny, witty, snarky, capricious, kind, adventurous. (Juniper Fish, Doctor Who Forum)

The Doctor can and should be a role model for both boys and girls,  in a way that Captain America or Batman can’t quite be – and probably Wonder Woman and Buffy can’t quite be role models for boys either.  So, the Doctor can continue to inspire boys whilst giving girls and women a whole new image of how to be wise, and brave, how to save the world, to do what’s right, to be kind.  Girls need to develop the confidence to take the lead roles,  not to assume that a hero/a protector is by default male.

Who I am is where I stand. Where I stand, is where I fall. Stand with me. These people are terrified. Maybe we can help, a little. Why not, just at the end, just be kind?

Funnily enough, whilst the Outraged/Betrayed/Will Never Watch Again lobby were as loud and silly as one might have expected, overall what I found on Twitter was a mix of sheer delight, excited anticipation – and a different kind of silliness.  See the #TardisFullOfBras hashtag, for example – someone took a hostile Daily Mail comment and turned it around, so that it’s full of fan art and daft jokes (and bras).  That’s the way to go, I think.

There’s little point in trying to engage with someone who throws ‘feminazi’ into the conversation simply because someone gives a job to a woman that has been previously held by a man.  There’s little point in trying to unpack the hotchpotch of false analogies and fake news and mythology that is evoked whenever the term ‘political correctness’ is used.  And if someone believes that ‘social justice warrior’ is an insult, we don’t really have a lot to talk about.

What matters here, to me, is the delight that this news has brought to so many of us.  It’s only a story, but stories are the most powerful things in the world.

Stories can make us fly.

We need stories, and we need heroes.  And if we can’t immediately see around us the heroes we need, we build them.  It seems that we are having a real moment here.

gal gadot 2

When I wrote about Wonder Woman, only a week or so ago, I did not know – though I hoped – that the 13th Doctor would be a woman.   They’re quite different of course, but what is so glorious is that now, right now, there are two more in the pantheon of women who can, women who can stand up, will stand up.  We have a woman (OK,  a demi-god) who uses superhuman physical strength,  courage and a fierce sense of what is right, in the service of humanity, and another (OK, a Gallifreyan Time Lord) who uses the wisdom of centuries and galaxies,  wit and invention and intellect, courage and a fierce sense of what is right, in the service of humanity.

without hope, without reward, without witness

I felt when I was watching Wonder Woman like punching the air and having a bit of a cry at the same time, and when I think about the Doctor’s next regeneration, I feel much the same. Of course it is vital that the stories are well written, that the wit and humour is there, as well as the thrills and chills.  Of course it is vital that the gender thing is dealt with intelligently, that stereotypes are undermined or dismissed with humour and that the Doctor is and remains Doctorly, demonstrating both difference and continuity as each new incumbent has done over the last 50 years.

It is perhaps even more vital that the stories are strong because there are those who (even though they may have vowed never to watch it again) will be waiting for it to fail, wanting to say that they told us so, that it could never work, that the Doctor can’t be a woman.  If Jodie kicks it out of the park, as we hope and believe she will, then each regen that follows can be whoever seems right at the time and whoever takes it on will be critiqued for their ability and not for their gender.

Meantime, we’re loving this moment.  Loving it for ourselves  and for our daughters, nieces, granddaughters, all the young women who can now enjoy Doctor Who in a different way, who can take on the lead role in playground games. Not just companions or assistants but The Doctor.

My love for Doctor Who is, I realise, a bit ridiculous but I don’t bloody care because we all need escapism sometimes and, as my often tested loyalty to lost causes show, my love is nothing if not tenacious. At primary school I distinctly remember the humiliation of a school assembly where some of us were asked to share our pictures of what we wanted to be when we grew up. A Timelord was not an appropriate aspiration for a girl apparently and the piss was duly ripped. Not the first, worst or only time youngling (or indeed “grown-up” me) encountered sexism and ridiculous gender stereotypes but, because as a troubled kid my fantasy life was a refuge and a solace, one of the hardest stings. Anyway, fuck that nonsense because anything can happen with a Tardis and hooray for progress and little girls being allowed imaginations. And no, that does not come at the expense of little boys at all, and yes, I am really sorry Capaldi and Bill are gone because when they got the scripts they were brilliant and that, actually, is the heart of what I want. Good writing, please, please, please (and obviously for me to get a ride in there somewhere with them, because what is the Doctor if not an intergalactic anarcho-flaneuse who needs a bit more glitter?)  (Morag Rose)

Doctor Who is a different sort of hero. The Doctor solves problems not by being the strongest, the fastest or the one with the biggest army, but by outthinking everyone else in the room. Far too many female characters are two-dimensional. I’m ready for one that can travel in four. I’m ready to watch a woman save the world again and again by being very, very clever and very, very moral, without having to have a man sort anything out or come and save her. I’m ready for a woman hero who’s older than recorded history and weirder than a three-day bender in the BBC props cupboard. I’m ready for a female super nerd. And so is the rest of the world.  (Laurie Penny, The New Statesman)

JW Who 1


Time Lords: Time Locked, and I’m loving it.

It’s over eight years since Russell T Davies bought back the show. In doing so he consigned the Time Lords to a Time Lock, and then started to tell the viewer how noble and great they were. Then he bought them back just to demonstrate how mad they’d become.

As we approach the 50th, I’m always intrigued when I see the very genuine desire from some on our forum (amongst others) for the Time Lords to return to the show. Also, the 12 regeneration rule seems to be raising its head with SM answering a question or two about it.
Read more…

Ocean in the Sky

1979, London, England, Super8 film format, colour, sound, 75 minutes long.

Ocean in the Sky is the great lost epic fan film.  It’s not the earliest documented fan film – that honour goes to Kevin Davies ‘Doctor Hoo’ a three minute animated short from 1977.  Before that there’s a rumour of  a fan film called ‘Son of Doctor Who’ from the late sixties or early seventies.   But Ocean stands out as a milestone for the sheer level of ambition – 75 minutes, as long as a serial or movie feature, and for the ambition of the production, featuring Daleks, monsters, genuine actors, special effects, and as many as fifty people involved in the production.

So far as we can determine, it was shown in its entirety, only a single time, in 1979.
Ocean in the Sky was the brainchild of Marc Sinclair, then a teenager, whose parents were well off enough to own a high end Super8 millimeter film camera and accessories.   Sinclair appears to have been quite well off, there’s a report of him visiting at Terry Nation’s home and hanging out with his Daleks.  In the early 70’s, he bought a Dalek and a Police Box shell at Elstree Studios and had them refurbished.

Sinclair, a Doctor Who fan, started making Doctor Who fan films with his friends. Early titles included Threat of the Leviathans and the Destructors.  From clips, these seem to be short, rough productions, perhaps a few minutes long, and what you’d expect from kids playing in the basement.   Based in London, Sinclair was at the heart of Doctor Who fandom of the day. These were the glory days of Tom Baker, when Doctor Who was not just a cult item, but a popular success, and Baker an iconic personality. Back then, the series ran six months at a time.

This was also the time of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, formed in May, 1976. There had been previous fan clubs, but these had been local. This was an ambitious group, lead by an Executive Committee or Board, and publishing a regular fanzine, Tardis. DWAS won recognition or approval from the BBC. With these credentials, membership grew to as many as a thousand, with members as far away as Canada, Australia and the United States.   As the recognized ‘official’ fan club, they organized the first official Doctor Who Convention at Battersea.

On the strength of his  of his previous fan films, his interest in film and live production, and the fact that his family owned a super8 sound equipped movie camera, Marc Sinclair ended up as head of the DWAS Drama Department around 1977. He may well have been the entirety of the department. I’m guessing a bit here.

DWAS minutes suggest that Marc was a bit tumultuous and perhaps hard to get along with. With typical British understatement, there’s a section of the DWAS newsletter that wryly notes that Marc himself was a source of the some of the drama. That seems unkind to me. Fans generally have no shortage of drama. As a whole, we’re a socially inept bunch with thin skins and a deep need for affirmation.

Whatever the case, by 1977, Marc Sinclair and his camera were in DWAS, and DWAS behind him, and both a pool of volunteers and an actual venue of fans, Marc Sinclair, together with Owen Tudor, a regular writer for the Tardis fanzine, conceived a difficult and ambitious project: Ocean in the Sky, an actual feature length, 75 minute long, Doctor Who Fan Film.   How  difficult and ambitious?

Consider that they were working with Super8 film. A Super8 cartridge will give you three minutes of running time. Assuming that they simply shot cartridge after cartridge for a series of two or three minute scenes and spliced them together without edits, Ocean in the Sky would have taken 23 cartridges of Super8.

But there’s evidence that they were considerably more ambitious than that, so I estimate, depending on whether they did multiple takes, how many takes, how much effects work, that they might well have gone through anywhere from 30 to 100 cartridges, minimum. Or hundreds of cartridges, at the upper end of complexity and ambition..

Even exhibiting something like this it would be a challenge – Super8 film reels for longer lengths ran either 15 to 23 minutes. At 75 minutes, there would have to have been at least three changes of reel, perhaps as many as five.  Unless they had two super8 projectors keyed up to run side by side and switch back and forth, at the end of each reel, there would have to be a laborious process of removing the old reel, securing it properly, and threading a new reel, ready to go – perhaps an awkward five or six minute intermission between each reel. This was going to make it very difficult to exhibit.

As I said, this speaks to an astonishing level of ambition and dedication. And for that reason, I give Sinclair a pass. People may have found him difficult, but that’s what it takes.  Basically, you need to be a bit driven and focused and off the beaten path to pull something like this off. There has to be a level of drive and stubbornness that actually gets things done.   Far less ambitious films and fan films fell by the wayside as less driven people wandered off or found more interesting things to do. Film production, any kind of film production is long, hard and complicated, a sisyphean journey of endless steps. Sinclair and his circle of friends persevered across two years, and he got it done.  That is to be respected.

Production began approximately September of 1977. In DWAS Bulletins, it’s mentioned as being roughly concurrent with the shoot for Underworld, which aired in December 1977/January 1978.

The story, what we know of it from personal communication with Marc Sinclair, involved Daleks at a base on Mars, attempting to invade the Earth through a blue portal in space, thus the title ‘Ocean in the Sky.’
A newspaper article posted by Richard Bignell elsewhere refers to multiple ‘blue holes’, and monsters called ‘Ancholi’ and assorted ghouls. Accompanying pictures depict gauze draped ghostly figures attacking or chasing the Doctor. One set of pictures shows the Doctor fleeing a tentacled columnar thing that might have been an Ancholi, or perhaps an Emperor Dalek.

The Dalek Mars base was shown, by using, according to Sinclair,  “a hospital corridor on a model set.” I’m not sure what that means, but I assume it was a miniature.

The ‘stars’ were two Daleks, nicknamed ‘Fred’ and ‘George’. There’s a rumour that these might have been Daleks from one of the Peter Cushing movies. But then again, those movies were more than ten years prior, so I’m skeptical of that provenance, I simply find it hard to believe that any of the Cushing Daleks were still floating around. By that time, they would have either fallen apart, been destroyed or were jealously guarded by collectors.

Part of that rumour may have come from Marc’s own contact with Terry Nation’s Daleks. Nation had four Daleks from the second Cushing movie as his personal trophies. As described in the Dalek props history site: “In the summer of 1974 one lucky fan, Marc Sinclair, who lived locally to Terry Nation, was given a treat when he was invited to tea with his family and Matron from his school at the Nation home in Lynsted. Although Nation was away on business, Marc recalls having tea with his wife Kate and meeting Dalek AARUII 12-9 and Dalek AARUII 9-11. Both were kept in an outhouse in a walled off part of the garden and both were starting to look well worn. Marc was able to play with the Daleks all afternoon and remembers the lights on Dalek AARUII 12-9 were still working.” Despite this contact, it seems unlikely that Nation would have sold or surrendered any of his props to a teenager.

On the other hand, these might possibly have been the Daleks from the Seven Keys to Doomsday stage play from 1974. These were modeled on the Cushing versions, but had key differences. The timing to acquire these certainly works better.  Or they may simply have been builds from  enthusiasts – in November, 1973, the Radio Times had published (inaccurate) Dalek Blueprints, and had spurred a wave of enthusiastic amateurs.

This was the heyday of Toby Chamberlain and Julian Vince, the most knowledgable and capable Dalek enthusiasts and builders of their day. Julian Vince had no connection to the movie, and was pretty disparaging of the Ocean Daleks, so we can rule him out. Julian’s rather brutal put downs of the Ocean Daleks also suggests that they weren’t from either the TV series or the movie, he was pretty much the expert on it so he would know. So this points to either the stage play, or an amateur build, or even a combination.

Looking at the available pictures, it’s very hard to say.  From what we can see, these Daleks look pretty good.  In clips, there is a red one and a black one. In some of the photographs, the black ones silhouette and appearance doesn’t seem right, too narrow around the neck. They look slightly different, as if from different builds. There’s definitely signs of serious wear and tear in some pictures, with collar rings misaligned and the lower skirting along the base of one seems seriously damaged. Who they were, where they came from, we can only guess.

Sinclair mentioned that they had a third unit, an Emperor Dalek. If true, it’s possible that this was an third original build, separate from at least one, possibly both.  Or it may have been cannibalized or adapted from one of their existing Daleks, perhaps just a bit of ‘dressing up’.

As to the ghouls, nothing much stands on them. Steal someone’s gauze curtains, wrap it a round an extra there you go. The Ancholi may have been more ambitious, but we don’t know much about that costume.

At the same time that Sinclair obtained at least one of his Daleks, in the early to mid-seventies, he also acquired a Tardis shell. Again, the rumour is that this was a Cushing box, which I’d be skeptical of. But it may have been from the stage play, or perhaps a local amateur build. It eventually ended up on display in a shop in England.

There was apparently a Tardis interior/control room, was constructed by Reg Spillett, costing about three hundred pounds to construct, which shows the scale and  ambition of the project.

Shooting took place indoors and outdoors. The print article refers to shooting on weekends in Mark’s garage, and at a studio in Whitstable. Surviving clips show outdoors, so there seems to have been some substantial location work, although the locations aren’t particularly distinctive – which is a shame, since England seems to be dripping with terrific locations and visuals.

The Doctor was played by Leo Adams, a local actor with the Manchester Repertory Company, then 69 years of age. There’s some indication that he appeared in films, but he doesn’t seem to show up on the IMDB. According to the newspaper article, he had been an amateur film enthusiast decades earlier, and on the Ocean’s poster, he is one of the people holding director credits. From this, I assume that he brought some competence to the role. He would pass away at the age of 92, having hopefully lived a life as full as it was long.

Diane Woodley was about fourteen or fifteen years old at the time of shooting. She was Sinclair’s best friend, Nigel Woodley’s sister. Nigel Woodley is mentioned as supplying technical expertise.

As to the rest of cast and crew – perhaps fifty people were involved with the production, at various points and in various ways. Adams and Woodley were the only credited cast members known. Owen Tudor had script credit, but there’s also a reference to Tom Marshall having worked on the script. Direction is credited to four people – Marc Sinclair, Tom Marshall, Leo Adams and Nick Kelley, a credit that Sinclair was prepared to defer to.

The project attracted Mark Ayres, then studying music at Cambridge, for Music. Ayres would ‘go pro’ in the late 1980’s providing musical scoring for serials during the Sylvester McCoy era.

Kevin Davies participated, and seems to have formed a separate second unit/special effects unit who operated on their own, together with David Beasley, Jon Saville and Peter Cox. Davies apparently did high speed photography, explosions, and model work with both a spaceship and miniature Tardis. Some of the props and models may have been borrowed from the BBC. Davies would go on to direct Shakedown, two episodes of Space Island One, as well as Dalekmania, 30 Years in the Tardis, and numerous Doctor Who themed documentary shorts.

Marc Sinclair went on to be a noted actor and casting agent himself. The IMDB lists him as having an uncredited role as a Cyberman in the actual series.

Owen Tudor, the writer, appears to have been a prolific contributor to Doctor Who fanzines, but I’m not sure where he ended up. He was stuying at Oxford during the filming.

There’s a reference in a DWAS Bulletin suggesting that it was going to be shown in 1978 at that year’s Panopticon. But it’s not clear that ever happened.

Ocean in the Sky, so far as we can verify, was publicly shown in its entirety only a single time, on Saturday, September 18, 1979, at Panopticon in London, England. Sinclair believes that there was only the single showing.

Reviews were mixed at best, as I’ve said. Julian Vince, a stern perfectionist, and Paul Tams, already an industry professional, were openly disparaging. In fact, they cited it as an inspiration for their Mission of Doom project. Marc Sinclair in the Wartime dvd extra refers to it as ‘Puddles on the Ceiling.’ Even now, he’s fairly dismissive, commenting only that it kept them out of trouble, and perhaps that it’s not worth the effort. Reports in DWAS publications mentioned ‘mixed reviews.’

The closest we have to an independent assessment is from Bruce Barnes, an Australian fan who attended Panopticon. “Another production in 8mm was Ocean in the Sky. We were told at the beginning, ‘Don’t expect too much, This is a Doctor Who story but it is strictly an amateur production.’  And they weren’t kidding.”

There are a number of reasons that may come into play for poor reception, beyond the film itself. 75 minutes is a substantial length for a Super8 film, perhaps an exhausting length. Due to the simple size of the film stock, and the automatic processing, Super8 images tend to be grainy and oversaturated, which can be difficult for an extended period. It’s a long time to be asking people to sit quietly in uncomfortable chairs, to stare at a mid-sized projection screen.   The need for intermissions for reel changes, may well have killed dramatic momentum and taken people out of it. The story was continuous, not broken into episodes like the classic series, so there was no opportunity to structure it into cliff hangers which might have worked with the reel changes.

And as a continuous story, it might have felt different in structure and flow, from Classic Doctor Who, in a jarring fashion. Doctor Who’s serial format gave it a very distinctive feel, and a continuous, non-serial story might not have had that.

It may also have been genuinely ahead of its time. The audience, though fans, had no culture and no experience with fan films as a genre. Instead, they would have measured it against the stringent measures of professional productions, and in particular, of Tom Baker’s 70’s era Doctor Who, a professional production at the top of its game.

It reminds me a bit of Paragon’s Paragon, the 1974, feature length, Super8 mm, Star Trek film shot by John Cosentino in the United States. That film, like Ocean, is now largely lost. But some fragments of it have survived to upload to Youtube. I recommend looking them up, it may give you some insight into the visual aspects of Ocean – what Super8 would have looked like.

I suspect that it also suffered from the sound quality.  That’s an Achilles heel for a lot of productions.  It appears that they were using a high end camera equipped with sound microphones, and they were using actual Super8 editing equipment for the serious hobbyist.  But the microphones were always pretty inferior, and often omnidirectional, so the sound could be pretty harsh, particularly outdoors.  Another fan film, the 25 minute (single reel) Image Makers, by Paul Tams and Julian Vince also appeared at that Panopticon, as a silent film, and got a much better reception.
It should be remembered that this was a time before the female Doctor of Seattle International, or before the Federation, or Planet/Ad-Lib, or Beeblebrox, or Mini-Unit Minstrels. From about 1984 through 1991, there was an explosion of Fan Films, shot on a variety of formats from 16mm film to VHS camcorder, ranging from episode to feature length with varying levels of professionalism. People were used to the fan film genre, they were exposed to a variety of styles and formats, they had learned to accept and appreciate it. But in 1979, there was almost nothing – certainly nothing on the sheer level of ambition of Ocean in the Sky.

1984-1991, was also the era of VHS tape trading, as fans built up their bootleg collections of actual Who episodes. This created a distribution network for fan films, where they could be copied and recopied, circulated and traded. Fan films were exhibited at conventions, sometimes with rooms or tracks devoted to them. They were even shown on cable access channels in the United States.

The fan films from 1984 through the 90’s, also had the advantage of emerging during or beyond the troubled period of the show itself. There was the disastrous 18 month hiatus, the awkward seasons floundering of Trial of a Time Lord and McCoy’s first season when the series had arguably lost its footing, and the period beyond the cancellation of 1989, all meant that fans were experiencing huge gaps in the show – you weren’t up against Tom Baker in his glory, you were dealing with a fan community hungry for more, and a series which was troubled and limping badly, when it was there. In that environment, fan films were likely to get a more welcome reception.

None of this existed in 1979. The show was live, omnipresent, regular and at the top of its game. The technology to easily make or trade copies simply wasn’t there. The ease of access of simply loading it into a VCR and pressing play didn’t exist. What it amounted to was a single copy, which could only be played in limited forums and only with difficulty, to an audience which simply didn’t have the tools or experience to deal with it.

All of which means I take the rather lukewarm reception with a grain of salt. It’s entirely possible that had it made it onto VHS and some form of wider distribution, it might be much more appreciatively remembered today.

Is it a lost masterpiece? I hesitate to go that far. Hard work and enthusiasm are not entirely complete substitutes for skill and training. But then again, there were some talented people involved with this, people who would go on to prove their chops later on, and people who, at the time, had actually had theatre experience, some experience making smaller films and technical experience.

At the very least, I can say that the ambition, and some aspects of the production, aimed at the levels of the series themselves.  Those were good looking Daleks, they had a real actor in the role of the Doctor, they had a police box, a tardis interior, monsters, actual effects.  Even if it fell down in some areas, it was still impressive.

From what I can gather, the major complaint seemed to be that it dragged on, which is a common sin for fan film makers, afflicting many productions, even the otherwise brilliant Fire and Ice.

So, while it probably wasn’t a lost masterpiece, I think we can assume it was considerably better than viewers at the time thought. In terms of the ambition on display, and the level of commitment, I really think it deserves a look. Had it managed to circulate in America during the late eighties…  it might be legendary now.  As it is, it must be added to the lore of lost history.

Hard to say, the only publicly available material on it are a few photographs and clippings, a poster, some references in DWAS literature, and a few clips on one of the DVD extras of Wartime (1999) and K9 Unleashed (2000).

The original film would thirty-eight years old now, which means it’s probably gone. The actual film stock, super8 is quite durable. Assuming it was stored properly, the film itself might be fine. But the edits and splices, joined by more volatile glues, have probably fallen apart.  There’s a chance it might have been recorded to videotape at some point. We do know that enough of it existed in 1999 and 2000 to provide clips for the documentaries. Marc Sinclair has mentioned the possibility that a friend of his might actually have a copy. Is it worth tracking down?

For now, it’s lost….

Faces of the Doctor: Peter Capaldi – the quixotic, unknowable anti-authority figure?

AS we finally approach the beginning of Series 10 and with the end of the 12th Doctor’s era now hard upon us, I thought now be a good time might be too reflect what he’s brought to the role, what he might give us for his final year as the Doc and where he leaves the show. Read more…