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Digital Subscriptions > Doctor Who Magazine > 508 > GOLDEN YEARS?


Doctor Who soared in popularity during the 1970s, with thrilling new adventures starring Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. But how did the show reflect the real world in which it was created? DWM investigates…


Delegates from the Galactic Federation consider Peladon’s membership in The Curse of Peladon.
The aftermath of this decision is explored in The Monster of Peladon.

If anything characterises the 1970s, it’s that it has a sort of rough-and-ready flamboyance. Whether you are looking at the fashions of the era, the music or the television, it all has a cheap-and-cheerful quality, whether it is glam rock or punk rock or the British film industry’s output of low-budget horror movies and comedies. It’s all very analogue and gritty, all LPs and orange floral Vymura wallpaper, compared to the compact discs and home computers of the slick, designer 1980s.

And Doctor Who during the 1970s has that rough-and-ready flamboyance. It was made, and looks, like every other BBC drama and comedy of the decade, recorded in the same studios on the same two-inch videotape as everything else. Television Centre was a factory, making shows on a production line, with the studios and departments in constant use to allow for economies of scale. Doctor Who shared staff, sets and costumes with Blake’s 7, Fawlty Towers, Rentaghost and I, Claudius. Every show had a budget which covered blocks of studio recording plus a small amount of film to shoot material on location, at Elstree film studios or stage model work (apart from some prestige, all-film productions and, due to exceptional circumstances, the first Doctor Who story of the decade, 1970’s Spearhead from Space). Every show would have characters walking out of offices (on videotape) into car parks (on film) before driving away (on videotape, with the view through the rear window supplied with Colour Separation Overlay).

And, apart from a rise and fall in budget, the show was made in much the same way at the end of the decade as at the start. Studio recording changed from taping one episode per week to taping whole stories over a series of production blocks, meaning that stories were scheduled to minimise the duplication of sets (1973’s Carnival of Monsters, for instance, had all the scenes on Inter Minor recorded in one block and all the scenes on the SS Bernice and inside in Miniscope recorded two weeks later). There were advances in terms of the introduction and gradual refinement of the CSO process and the use of Outside Broadcast facilities to record location material on videotape. But, on the whole, the evolution of Doctor Who over the decade is down to the different approaches of the different producers, beginning with the adventures for Jon Pertwee’s Doctor produced by Barry Letts.

If Doctor Who has a theme during the Barry Letts era, it’s post-colonialism. It informs nearly

every story – sometimes overtly, sometimes subtly.

Throughout those five years, the show’s writers keep returning to theme of the loss of empire and Britain’s reduced status in the world, reflecting both the popular mood and their own personal experience. The writers were of the generation that either served in World War Two or grew up in its aftermath, and lived through a period where the United Kingdom went from being a global power to being a country that was forced to ask – to ask! – to join the European Economic Community. The country had gone from glorying in the fact that it had an empire to becoming fearful of being colonised by the citizens of its former empire. The country was no longer a major military power after its humiliating capitulation in the Suez Crisis, and its political establishment were no longer held in high regard after the Profumo Affair.

And this is, pretty much, what the Jon Pertwee era is all about. Most obviously, The Curse of Peladon (1972) is an analogy for the UK’s reluctant admission to the EEC, and The Mutants (1972) is inspired by the process of granting independence to the UK’s former dominions, colonies and protectorates; the line “We can’t afford an empire any more. Earth is exhausted, Marshal. Finished. Politically, economically and biologically finished” could be referring to the British Empire. Carnival of Monsters and The Monster of Peladon (1974) both explore the idea of an isolated nation opening up its borders to foreigners, while Doctor Who and the Silurians (1970) cleverly subverts the anti-immigration rhetoric of ‘We were here first’ by introducing a race that has a prior claim to the Earth. 1971’s Colony in Space and the three Dalek stories all feature indigenous races being enslaved by empire-building arrivals, and The Time Warrior (1973-74) even has an alien race staking a claim to the Earth for its own galactic empire.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

1970s special! Contents include: an extensive interview with writer Terrance Dicks; actor and writer Mark Gatiss and Katy Manning (Jo Grant) remember the 70s; Gary Gillatt takes a nostalgic look at everything that was happening in the world of Doctor Who in November 1977; a feature by Jonathan Morris asks whether the 1970s really were the 'golden years' for Doctor Who; a new comic strip adventure for the Twelfth Doctor and Jess – Doorway to Hell part one, by Mark Wright, with art by Staz Johnson; the Fact of Fiction examines 1976's The Brain of Morbius; previews; TV and audio reviews; news; the Watcher's column; prize-winning competitions; PLUS 20 bonus pages, paying homage to the 1970s comic Countdown, and reprinting the Third Doctor adventure *Sub Zero;