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We vworp back to explore a single month in Doctor Who history – to discover what was bringing delight, dismay and distraction to the show’s many fans…

Time Capsule

Doctor Who is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think the wider canon of Western literature is big – but that’s just peanuts to Doctor Who.

We’re misquoting the great Douglas Adams – from the second episode of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – but there’s a truth to the joke. Over the decades, Doctor Who has been researched and written about in incredible and ever-increasing detail; to such a degree that, as Doctor Who grows and as we move in ever closer, we perhaps lose sight of the big picture: of the whole wild, whirling insanity of it all.

So, rather than looking at one single aspect of Doctor Who – the fact, the fiction, the production of a single story, the work of a particular actor or director – this feature is instead designed to take us on trip through time. We’re travelling to a single month in the life of the series, to review everything that was happening, all at once, in the universe of Doctor Who.

Our first destination was chosen by our randomiser (asking someone in the office to name a month, then a year, off the top of their head) – but it’s a cracker. It’s a month where the Doctor and Leela battle Fendahl, Sontarans, Vrakons, Cycrans, Terry Wogan and the trade unions. It’s a month where the Liberator lands instead of the TARDIS, Sarah Jane Smith loses her parents, and an anti-Dalek agent helps us to save money on cigarettes. Meanwhile, the Doctor meets Julius Caesar, sells baked beans and his sonic screwdriver, and renegotiates his salary. He avoids losing his head in Yorkshire, while holding on to something very precious in Los Angeles.

Welcome to our Time Capsule – and 30 crazy days in November 1977.

Toys Nine-and-a-half inches of pure pleasure

For the children of Britain in November 1977, their most thrill-packed, voraciously devoured book was not some adventure novel – a Blyton or a Dahl – but the Autumn/Winter edition of the Great Universal Home Shopping Catalogue. Its 1,006 richly coloured pages left you half-dazed with the stink of ink, and possessed a power more spellbinding than any silly old story. The book crackled with possibility and promise. Of course, the opening 932 pages – of ‘continental style’ polyester blouses, terylene net curtains and Schreiber double-divans – were mere prologue. The real magic began on page 933, with the toys and games.

If you leaf through that catalogue today, you’re not only looking back through time, but directly into the dreams of the youngsters of Britain in November 1977. It’s a glimpse of every fantasy of Christmas morning, a sneak peek at every letter to Santa. Here’s Evel Knievel’s stunt motorbike. The Bionic Woman (‘with mission purse’). Meccano. Jaws. Chemistry Set 3. Microscope Lab 2. And, grinning out from page 941, in hat and scarf, holding his sonic screwdriver like he’s about to sign an autograph for your Auntie Mabel, is a toy Doctor Who: ‘Intrepid explorer of the galaxies!’ (£3.70, or 19p for 20 weeks.)

But this is not just any toy Doctor Who, this is the first toy Doctor Who.

In the 1960s, vast battalions of toy Daleks conquered the country – pursued by a few plucky Mechonoids – but Doctor Who would be 14 years old before the children of Britain could take the show’s hero on adventures of their own. And what adventures! This Doctor was small enough to hold in one hand, but big enough to fill the world.

The 91/2-inch Doctor doll comes with fabric clothes, a plastic hat and plastic shoes. He accessorises with a ribbon of purple necktie and a matchstick sonic screwdriver. (The first item to be lost or broken by his enthusiastic owners.) The doll is also possessed of an irresistible smile. It’s a grin so wide, so white – so sincere – it can only belong to Tom Baker. Well, you’d think… But thereby hangs a tale.

It has been suggested that this first toy of the Doctor is, in fact, nothing of the sort. This isn’t Tom Baker, it has been claimed, but some smirking imposter.

Denys Fisher’s toy Dalek.
The Giant Robot! Or ‘Super Robot’, if you’re Italian.

The book Doctor Who: The Seventies (Howe, Stammers & Walker, 1993) reported: ‘The head was of The New Avengers star Gareth Hunt. Between the prototypes being produced and the go-ahead by the BBC, the die [mould] for the Tom Baker head had been lost or damaged. Rather than go to the expense of creating a new one, the company went with what they had, namely Gareth Hunt.’ We’ll return to this allegation in due course.

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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;