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A MetebElis Christmas

The tradition of Doctor Who Christmas Specials began long before the series’ 21st-century revival. Former producer Philip Hinchcliffe takes us back to the time of Moon Boots, star jumpers and glitter guns to reveal how the 1970s’ feature-length programmes were created.
Scenes from the 1974 story Planet of the Spiders.
Producer Philip Hinchcliffe, producer of Doctor Who from 1975 to 1977.

Christmas 1974 was almost unbearably exciting for young Doctor Who fans. After five years as the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee had bowed out at the end of the previous series in June and, as the seasonal double-issue of Radio Times revealed, the new ‘Dr Who’, Tom Baker, would be making his debut in Part One of Robot during Christmas week.

But for many, the highlight of the season was a special feature-length episode broadcast on the afternoon of Friday 27 December 1974, the day before Robot was due to begin. This was a chance to see the Third Doctor’s final story again, this time as ‘a complete adventure in one programme’ (as Radio Times described it), serving as a timely reminder of his epic struggle against the giant spiders of Metebelis III and the circumstances that led to his regeneration. And an epic it certainly was: with a running time of just over 105 minutes, this specially edited omnibus presentation of Planet of the Spiders remains the longest single instalment of Doctor Who ever broadcast by BBC Television.

Philip Hinchcliffe was the producer of 16 Doctor Who serials from The Ark in Space (1975) to The Talons of Weng-Chiang (1977).

He was overseeing the completion of The Ark in Space while preparing for recording on Revenge of the Cybermen (1975) when he received notice about the 1974 Doctor Who Christmas omnibus from the BBC Head of Drama Series, Ronnie Marsh. “There seemed to be a tradition of doing an omnibus edition at Christmas which had been established during Barry Letts’ time as producer,” Philip tells DWM. “It was basically a scheduling choice and it would have originated with the BBC1 Controller, who was Bryan Cowgill when I came onto the show. The word would have come down to me via the Head of Series that they wanted an omnibus for Christmas and I think it was pretty much left to me to suggest which one we did.”

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About Doctor Who Magazine

This festive edition of Doctor Who Magazine includes an exclusive preview of this year's Christmas Special, Twice Upon a Time, plus there are exclusive interviews with Christmas Special stars Pearl Mackie (Bill Potts) and Mark Gatiss (the Captain). Doctor Who Magazine 520 also includes: • A in-depth look at the making of BBC Worldwide's new version of Douglas Adams' 'lost' 1979 Doctor Who story Shada • Actor Daniel Hill and production assistant Olivia Bazalgette chat to DWM about how they met on Shada... and how they later went on to marry • Rare and previously unseen photographs from the Cambridge location filming of Shada in October 1979 • DWM's first ever interview with 100-year-old Earl Cameron, who played the doomed astronaut Glyn Williams in the 1966 story The Tenth Planet • A tribute to Paddy Russell, Doctor Who's first female director and a television pioneer • We look back on Doctor Who’s first Christmas specials – the feature-length omnibus repeats that were specially created at Christmas time • Part two of The Phantom Piper, our new comic strip adventure featuring the Doctor and Bill • A festive Fact of Fiction explores the 2011 Christmas Special The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe • Previews, book and audio reviews, news, the DWM Christmas Quiz, The Blogs of Doom, prize-winning competitions and much, much more!