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Digital Subscriptions > Doctor Who Magazine > 510 > TAPE HEADS


What did fans do before the days of home video releases? Before DVD, Blu-ray and digital downloads? DWM follows the story of preserving off-air copies of Doctor Who…

So how many times have you watched the latest Doctor Who Christmas Special? Just the once? Twice maybe? Some DWM readers have probably watched The Return of Doctor Mysterio three or four times – or more.

Or maybe you’ve still haven’t got around to watching it at all? Sorry, no. Such people probably do exist, but they won’t be reading this magazine. You’ve either downloaded it on iPlayer, or more likely, you recorded it on Christmas Day, and as I write this, your recording will be sitting on your digital TV planner, starting with a prototype for those truly dreadful new ‘Oneness’ BBC One idents, and followed by a Sherlock trailer.

The one thing I can more or less guarantee, is that you haven’t missed it. Today’s world of digital catch-up is such, that it’s quite difficult to miss a programme you actually want to watch.

But by the time you read this article, your original recording may no longer exist. As I write, the DVD and Blu-ray are due for release today (23 January), so you’ve probably bought one or the other, and if you’ve not yet freed up that hour of space on your TV planner, you soon will.

How many of us, I wonder, will keep our recordings with the BBC One announcer at the start? Not many, I suspect. After all, how many of you still have a recording of The Next Doctor with Wallace and Gromit doing loop-the-loop in the snow beforehand? How many of us still have our Christmas Invasion recording with the announcer talking at the end, ruining the ‘middle eight’ which had just been restored to the closing theme? Indeed, how many of you even remember what the Christmas BBC One ident looked like that year? A few, I’m sure. But not many.

BBC’s ident for the broadcast of The Return of Doctor Mysterio, the Christmas ident from 2005, and the ident from 1979.

For most people, such things are ephemera, and the memories quickly pass. Just as for most people, a DVD collection comprises maybe 20-odd discs, usually including at least one series of Friends. Before that, for most people, a VHS collection meant maybe a dozen sell-thru releases, usually including The Shawshank Redemption, and few recordable tapes that were constantly being reused.

Doctor Who fans, of course, are not most people. We like to watch things more than once. But even for us, every new Doctor Who episode is now available to buy and keep forever, within weeks of transmission, so the off-air recordings which many of us still make are quickly consigned to history’s recycle bin.

But this wasn’t always the case. Let me take you back to a far off time; a time when there was no catch-up TV service, no DVDs, Blu-rays or even home video releases. There was just a TV set, which showed three channels.

Before The Christmas Invasion, the last Doctor Who episode to go out under a BBC1 Christmas banner had been Part One of The Horns of Nimon in 1979. If you missed that episode as a child, it would have been 14 years before there was another chance to see it on Satellite channel UK Gold, and 24 years before the episode was available to buy on VHS cassette. And I’m guessing that most of the kids who missed it in 1979 had probably moved on to other things by 2003.

The only way a Doctor Who fan could watch The Horns of Nimon again, in the intervening years, was via an off-air copy, taped using a video recorder which would have cost around £3,000 in today’s money, on a tape which would have cost an equivalent of well over £50.

There were several video recording formats available by 1979, but Betamax and VHS were beginning to establish themselves as the market leaders. Both formats had been released in the UK the previous year, and my grandfather was one of the first customers. He bought a VHS recorder, and thanks to the BBC Genome Radio Times archive website, I’ve recently been able to establish the precise date of the first recording he ever made. It was King Kong, on BBC2, on 26 August 1978. My sixth birthday, as it turns out. We all lived in the same big house, so I remember the new video recorder quite well. It seemed like a magical machine, and not just because I was six.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

Contents include: A tribute to Sir John Hurt, the man who played the War Doctor, featuring contributions from those whose knew and worked with him, including David Tennant; Richard Curtis is interviewed about his Doctor work, including The Curse of Fatal Death and Vincent and the Doctor; showrunner Steven Moffat answers readers' questions; a look at the history of the home video recording of Doctor Who; the SFX of The Invisible Enemy, the story that took on Star Wars; Sydney Newman's attempts to reinvent Doctor Who in the 1980s is revealed; the Time Team watch Day of the Moon; new comic strip adventure as the Doctor faces the original Master in Doorway to Hell part three; DWM interviews the people behind the fanzine Vworp! Vworp! ; plus official news, reviews, previews, the Wotcha! page, prize-winning competitions and more!