Are we returning to a 1970s Doctor Who?

Feature Robert Mclaughlin 4 Mar 2014 - 07:03

Is Doctor Who taking a turn towards 70s era-style horror? Rob thinks so...

Britain in the 1970s conjures up some cheery images. General strikes, NHS glasses and Austin Allegros for a start, and that's before you get to haircuts. Looking back, there's a sense of a sombre air taking hold of the country. But also, this was the decade where British television brought us some really innovative, often quite terrifying shows.

I must admit I got the tail end of the decade, and am left with hazy memories of Chorlton And The Wheelies, Jamie and The Magic Torch and Bagpuss, although the repeats of many of those shows that debuted in the 70s were commonplace in the 1980s schedules.

No matter when you caught up with 70s television however, the line between TV and cinema was blurring a little even then. Makers of television at the time were borrowing heavily from films and novels, and in doing so, they created a selection of programmes that would scare any child out of their block-a-boots and make them spill their arctic roll in terror.  

Which brings is to Doctor Who, which was showcasing so much of the innovation I'm talking about. Boundaries were being pushed and chances taken with the show, which was in top form for a good deal of the 1970s. The old cliche with Doctor Who was that it had people cowering behind the sofa, but revisiting some of the Jon Pertwee/Tom Baker era stories, there's clearly something to it.

Take a look at The Green Death, with its eco-horror slant that mirrors Quatermass. Or the more obvious Hammer overtones evident in The Brain Of Morbius or The Talons Of Weng Chiang. 1970s Doctor Who may not have been outright terrifying to some, but it was really effectively creepy at times, finding interesting, clever ways to get under your skin.

In fact, Tom Baker's last series or two felt like an accumulation of a decade's worth of death, frights, nightmares and haunting images. From the drooling Zygons (which were far slimier than the version seen in The Day Of The Doctor) and the calculating Robots Of Death through to the cactus creatures of Meglos and the first appearance of Davros, Doctor Who worked hard to inject fear, and to unnerve its audience, with plenty of success.

Whilst the show's production team deserve credit for realising so much of it given the limitations they were facing, the writers of Doctor Who at the time were the cornerstone of the creativity. The slate of sinister stories from Who writers such as Chris Boucher, Robert Stewart, and, of course, Terry Nation seemed to take influence from prevalent films of the era, such as Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Omen. That influence followed through on the small screen elsewhere too, with Children Of The Stones, Doomwatch (which itself felt like it had influenced subsequent Who), and the early 80s adaptation of Day Of The Triffids. Each of these, in their own way, gave some of the younger members of their audience a few uncomfortable dreams.

Ben Wheatley, best known for the likes of Kill List and Sightseers, has already directed the first two episodes of the next series of Doctor Who, which will see Peter Capaldi stepping into the TARDIS. And Wheatley, delivering music to the ears of many a Doctor Who fan, has already teased that he feels this next run of Doctor Who will have more of a 1970s flavour to it (Austin Allegros aside). It's a wise era to look to for television as a whole - heck, I've not even touched on Hammer House Of Horror, Sapphire And Steel and Tales Of The Unexpected, each of which had plenty of creepier moments of their own.

Doctor Who's tone would alter, inevitably, as it went into the 1980s, not least with the regeneration from Tom Baker into Peter Davison at the end of Logopolis. Logopolis still had quite a tone to it though, with the TARDIS' cloister bell clanging, the malevolence of The Master and the far more sinister Watcher (who had a tinge of the Thin Man from educational show Look And Read about him - anyone else remember watching that at school?).

If what Wheatley is saying is correct then, and he's far more likely to know than us, then the move back to a darker, edgier Doctor Who isn't really that unexpected (acknowledging that the last decade has had a fair bit of darkness and edge to it in Who already). It was interesting seeing the weary take on the Doctor put across by John Hurt in The Day Of The Doctor, and how that contrasted with the more youthful energy of David Tennant and Matt Smith in that particular episode. With few words and plenty of acting skill, Hurt conveyed an awful lot with a large dose of restraint that's not been required of the Doctor for some time. If Peter Capaldi is going down a different road, as is very likely, then a further tonal shift is inevitable.

Yet it's the ability to reinvent itself, to draw influence and to take chances that has kept Doctor Who fresh and interesting for so long. And thus particularly the younger watchers of the show, who know it only of the 2005 revival onwards, might be in for a few surprises. The ties to Jon Pertwee's costume have already been noted in the pictures of Peter Capaldi in character that we've seen so far. And I can't help but wonder if the return to the 70s style that's being mooted isn't just about Who itself, but the influences of the era in which it found itself.

Certainly from comments made both by Wheatley and Mark Gatiss, they are taking direct influence from the more adult tones of the 70s Who, intending to make as terrifying television as feasible (within the parameters afforded by a Saturday teatime slot), harking back to the nightmares and sinister overtones of the stories of the time.

While we may not get such horrific scenes of people being gunned down by Autons or the fascist-like dictatorship of Genesis Of The Daleks, we may be in for some more macabre Saturday nights. Even if we're more likely to sit on the sofa than hide behind it these days...

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Oh, I certainly hope we are. It time for a more take-charge Doctor who doesn't act like a big sook.

I hope so too. Frontier in Space - Horror at Fang Rock, the best run of episodes ever. The time of a Top Shop Doctor is over.

I would be very happy if this would be the case. To me Doctor Who was at its absolute height through the 1970's, because Pertwee's awesome Bondian action-adventure and Tom Baker's anarchic genre-defying and insane adventures made that decade stand out for me and hit all the right buttons. I also found there to be enough similarities in the RTD-era to most of 70's Who that I enjoy both periods of the show's history equally. Because Matt Smith's tenure has unfortunately not been to my taste at all, I'm really hoping for the show to take cues from its past and bring back characteristics of the Classic show in general, but especially the 1970's. Peter Capaldi's casting gives me hope, because he has been a fan for almost his entire life and he has had a great passion for the show and its mythology. It also helps that he has met Pertwee, Dicks and Letts, while his choice of costume evokes the Third Doctor.

Speaking of interesting directors for Capaldi tenure Doctor Who, do you think that they will let Capaldi direct an episode? He is an Oscar winning director after all...

The 70's were the ear I fell in love with Doctor Who, the TV decade that also warped and twisted millions of little minds across Britain. Horror and DW go hand in hand, it's no surprise that Hide was my favoruite of the last run of episodes. I think we only need to look at Capaldi's costume to see the Hammer Horror influence, he looks like a cross between Cushing's 'Van Helsing' and and Lee's 'Dracula' - more so the latter. I'm hoping this new series does move in a new direction, and lets face it, 70's era DW was the best.

Allow me to echo the sentiments of my fellow contributors to date and hope and trust your article is correct. Having watched Doctor Who from its very inception, it was the 70s Doctors that raised the game and took it to its lofty heights and reputation. The stories and acting enabled the viewer to see past the wobbly sets and effects and immerse themselves in both the story and the universe they were set..
Stories like The Daemons, both Peladons, Talons of Weng-Chiang, Horror Of Fang Rock, Brain Of Morbius, Pyramids Of Mars etc all reflective and incocative of the atmosphere created by big screen outings from Hammer, Amicus and the like. A childs imagination could run riot and they did. There was darkness but also light. Scares and humour (not the silly, childish behaviour we have seen of late). They were stories made up of several episodes that dragged people in and kept them coming back for more. Can you imagine that happening today in the same way?
It was a sad day which saw the 70s turn into the 80s as far as this Doctor Who fan was concerned. The stories and the atmosphere generated from them would never be the same again. It is my hope that with Peter Capaldi taking over we shall, once again, see a return to the forgotten qualities that were found in 70s Doctor Who.

Certainly in terms of horror movies, the Seventies was a Golden Age: The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Suspiria, Dawn of the Dead, Jaws, The Wicker Man, The Omen, Halloween, Phantasm, The Brood, The Amityville Horror... and the fact that this reflection in Tom Baker's era is still remembered fondly today is proof that it remains a potent source to fall back on again.

As long as the plots have some vague kind of logic, and things aren't shifted aside to allow for another 5 minutes of running around I'll be much happier this time out.

I don't want to sound like a sad nerd, although I am, Meglos was an 80's monster. God I'm ashamed and I apologise :) x

Is that Mark Lanegan?

I'm glad I'm not the only one that peeped this!

Chorlton and the wheelies *shudder*

Why would you bring the Tall Thin Man into it?! For some reason found a clip from The Boy Who Fell To Earth on youtube a while back and he still creeps me out.

The Pertwee era was genius in the handling of both stories and Doctor/companions. Any return to that will be truly exciting!

I started watching in '82, but we only had the Tom Baker episodes for a while in the U.S. Then we got the Pertwee era, then Davison. So I was weaned on the 70's era, and would be thrilled to see a return to that!
Peter Davison, in one of "The Doctors: Revisited" specials talks about the time when Douglas Adams told him "We've got to get the tone right: Make it scary enough for the kids, but not TOO scary for the adults." LOVE that!

Not so sure that Terry Nation got his ideas from standard Hollywood material. Most of the plots were influenced by Hammer or Quartermass in the 70s. Hell, The Daemons was taken almost directly from Quartermass. But as someone else noted, all of the horror and 70s influences in the world aren't going to help if the writing is as awful as it has been for the past season and a half.

Good luck. 70's Who was entirely based on running around. And getting captured. And escaping. And getting captured again. And more running around.

Plots were optional.

Is...was.. Tiswas... Who remembers Tiswas? The Seventies!! Space Hoppers.. Sweets they don't make any more... erm...uh.


Doh! you made me remember "look and Read" ......The Boy from space, the Kings dragon......Now I feel REALLY Old....Thanks!.... >.<

boy i sure hope so!!! it would be a shame if they DIDNT

My recollection is that there was very little running around. The Doctor tended to stroll a lot and converse with the locals. After all, he usually had 4, 6 or even more episodes to experience the adventure, so why hurry?

As long as we get far from the "Ant & Dec, Saturday afternoon light family entertainment host" that was the David Tennant era...

If anything, I think we're going to moving away from the horror elements of Who (they can't completly, monsters are essentinal to the show) and more into science fiction adventure, given that there's been particular emphasis on horror during Eleven's time.

C'mon here, buddy. *Hugs* Your amongst friends.

The singer... its the fab four now.

Wow, I can't imagine it getting more horrific than it already has...look at The Almost People and its sequel which I've forgotten the name of for instance. That one will haunt me forever. If it does turn completely into horror I will have to stop watching.

The Double Deckers. Mary, Mungo and Midge, Pipkins. Does anyone remember a cop show called Holmes & Yo-Yo ?

Saw Mark Lanegan at Leeds festival a few years back, he was great. Still confused as to why he's popped up on here though :\ x

Aw... *hugs back*. Glad to know my pedantry is welcome somewhere x

Mark Lanegan would be an interesting doctor. Tom Waits an even better doctor.

You said it so I didnt have to! Nice one! :)

The Dark Tower and boy from space gave me nightmares as a kid... Forced to watch them at school in tears lol

yeah the running around in 70's who (at least the good one) is a little exaggerated....

That all sounds well and good, but, problem one, Moffat, and problem two, the Beeb are axing BBC3, so clearly they are facing budget cuts. Perhaps when they say Who will return to a 70s vibe, what they actually mean is, the polystyrene monsters are coming back out!. Oh dear....

Don't you mean the Matt Smith era? Pregnancy plot points, and all.

The 80s was way better for horror. Way better.

Steben Moffat is still showrunner :(

"Hail Gunslingers, to me"

Spot the reference :)

Indeed. Although it was only a short film, that modest bit of footage has won the largest of all prizes. I guess that makes him (potentially) the greatest director at their disposal.

There were certainly many great horror movies in the Eighties - but what made the Seventies better, for me at least, was the level of established talent involved, in front of and behind the camera. The Seventies was the era when major studios were willing to produce decent horror, not just independent studios.

Yes! Great series about a robot cop. Shown on Monday nights in 1978 on BBC1.

Good article. Any examination of seventies Who isn't complete without reference to the great Robert Holmes. Responsible for Spearhead From Space, Terror of the Autons, Carnival of Monsters and The Time Warrior in the Pertwee era. Creating the Autons, Drashigs and Sontarans and naming Gallifrey. Then he was arguably the finest script editor the series ever had, overseeing arguably the finest run of stories from The Ark in Space to The Sun Makers. He wrote the initial story of the Key to Time season: The Ribos Operation and then was brought back in the Davison era by Eric Saward to pen the peerless Caves of Androzani. Terry Nation was, without doubt, a great influence on the series in the sixties but in truth it was Robert Holmes' script editing of Genesis of the Daleks together with David Maloney's superb atmospheric direction that made it the classic it is. Not to mention the acting skills of Tom Baker and Michael Wisher. Nation, by this stage, was too busy with Survivors and later the scripting of the entire first run of Blake's 7.

Daemons is more influenced by Denis Wheatley tbh.

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