My earliest memories of Doctor Who

Published on 23 November 2023 in , , ,

Doctor Who logo

Warning.  There may be spoilers about TV episodes broadcast forty years ago.  Proceed at your own risk.

Television programmes don’t tend to last long enough for you to have watched it as a child, and still be watching it decades later.  But then most television programmes aren’t Doctor Who.

In case you haven’t noticed, 2023 is the year we get to celebrate 60 years of Doctor Who.  Especially 23 November, the exact day of the very first episode.

Whilst Doctor Who has not been on continuously over those years, it’s still been a big part of my life in television. 

To celebrate, the BBC recently unleashed a whole host of Doctor Who content on iPlayer.  For the first time, scores of Classic Doctor Who was made available on the service.   Along with spin-offs like the Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood, Class and, of course, K-9 and Company. 

And, of course, I’ll be watching some of it.  I have been watching some of it. Especially Classic Doctor Who.  But where to jump in?  Probably some of the earliest episodes I remember watching when I was young.  Ones I haven’t seen since I watched them all those years ago.

This got me thinking.  What were those episodes?  Just what were my earliest Doctor Who memories?  And how old was I at the time?

I have vague recollections of Peter Davison era episodes.  Seeing the Fifth Doctor in his odd Edwardian cricketer outfit.  But did I actually watch them at the time, or am I remembering them from some later repeat?  I simply don’t know.

However there are two very vivid Doctor Who memories I have from my childhood.  Ones from specific stories, that allow me to be far more confident on what I watched.

Davros's head in a glass tube in Doctor Who serial, the Revelation of the Daleks
It’s Davros! In a glass tube!

Two are Dalek related.  Possibly my first encounter with the Daleks.  It’s of Davros’s disembodied head in a glass tube.  Turning round to look at things.  I wouldn’t have known of Davros at the time.  But there was something rather sinister about it.  Especially when it was revealed that the head was simply a clone of Davros, not the real one. 

A head in a glass Dalek frame
There’s a head in that Dalek!

And then, there was a disembodied head, being integrated into the shell of a glass Dalek frame.  A head that spoke.  It looked so creepy.  Still does, to me.

Both these memories came from Revelation of the Daleks.  Davros has set himself up on the Planet Necros as ‘The Great Healer’, in a funeral home called Tranquil Repose.  The galaxy is in famine, and Davros is busy secretly converting humans into food, or into new Daleks.

Close up of a head in a Dalek frame from Revelation of the Daleks
Not only is there a head there, but it speaks…

Some years ago I got Revelation of the Daleks on DVD, I think as a gift.  I remember watching it afresh, not really remembering the episode.  And then suddenly getting the flashbacks to those two memories.  At that point, I’d rather assumed those episodes were Peter Davison era, but actually they’re from the end of Series 22 with Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor.

The first episode of Revelation of the Daleks was broadcast on BBC One Saturday 23 March 1985.  At 5:20 in the evening.  The second, a week later.   I would have been 7½ at the time.

According to BBC Genome (a website that includes Radio Times listings up to 2009), the two 45 minute episodes were later split into four 25 minute episodes, and broadcast again in 1993 on BBC Two on Friday evenings in March

The obvious question is, which did I watch?  It’s quite possible I watched both.  But So vivid is the memory that I’m pretty sure I watched the 1985 edition.  I doubt it would have had the same impact when I was 15.  But I can’t be sure from this alone.

However, the third Doctor Who memory, well that helps determine it even more.

Two Cybermen, and a human being converted into a Cyberman, from Doctor Who serial, Attack of the Cybermen
You will become a Cyberman!

This is from a Cyberman episode.  There’s a point when the Cybermen are in some ship or control room or something.  And in the background, on the walls, are human beings in the process of being converted into Cybermen. 

Hmm.  I sense a theme.

Unlike Revelation of the Daleks, this wasn’t a story I knew much about.  Nor had I thought much about it since.  At least not until recently.  But poking around in iPlayer, I found it.  Attack of the Cybermen.  A story where the Cybermen are holed up plotting things in the sewers of London.  And other complicated stuff that simply reading Wikipedia’s description, doesn’t really help understanding of.

The first episode of Attack of the Cybermen hit BBC One at 5:20 on 5 January 1985.  And according to BBC Genome, never got a repeat.  Nope, not once. Assuming Genome is correct, there’s only one point in my life I can ever have seen that episode.  In January 1985 when I was aged 7¼.

I was THAT young?  I think to my own children.  As I type, the youngest is almost 7½.  Would I want her watching the forthcoming 60th anniversary Doctor Who specials, at her age?  The age I was when I definitely watched Doctor Who.

And that’s where it was. Except that it wasn’t. Because I wrote this and left it unpublished for a short while, due to wanting to get some screenshots. Which I promptly failed to get.

It was during this time I realised there was an even earlier memory. One of regeneration.

Peter Davison as the Doctor, lying on the ground, whilst faces of his companions spin round his head.
Don’t die Doctor!

Of the Doctor lying on the floor. Of heads spinning round him telling him not to die. Don’t die Doctor. Don’t die.

And then another face appears. That of the Master. Saying Die Doctor, Die.

The Master appears overlaid above the Doctor.
Die Doctor, Die, Mwhahahahahahahaha!

Again I didn’t know which episode it was from until now. I couldn’t even remember the Doctor involved. It was only when I re-watched the regeneration from Colin Baker to Sylvester McCoy that I realised I’d remembered the Fifth Doctor’s demise. (And yes I know it was McCoy in a wig.)

Part four of The Caves of Androzani was broadcast on Friday 16 March 1984.

It was repeated in 1993, as well. But again, given the impact it had, and the fact I remember Peter Davison, I’m pretty sure it would have been the original I would have remembered. When I was six and a half.

It’s a strange thought. Yet, of course, we all know that the foundation of Doctor Who is as a family show, watched by many, many eight year olds. And often, some much, much younger. Just as it always has been.

One thing I never did though was hide behind the sofa. That never happened in our house. I do know that absolutely for sure. Why? Because it wasn’t a huge living room, and as such, the sofa (or settee as it was always referred to) was always right up against the wall…