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A History of Dr. Who

Cassette inlays: 'A History of Dr. Who'

Place of Origin:
Hendon, London, U.K.

J. Jeremy Bentham and Gordon Blows

Recording Media:
4-Track 1/4" Open Reel Tape

Distribution Media (Limited Release):
Audio Cassette

Tape Lengths:
#1-2: C90

In Production: 1976-77

Volumes Produced: 2

The idea to do the Doctor Who History Tapes came right at the beginning of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society (DWAS). At that time, the only people that I knew who had tapes of anything significantly pre-Pertwee were Jan Vincent-Rudzki and Richard Landen. Back in those days, with the available technology, making copies was a lengthy, real-time process because it involved physically going to see to see somebody, usually armed with sets of leads, your own tape recorder or, at best, a compact cassette deck - even cassettes were still fairly new in 1976. So it was always a question of when you could get together and for how long to make a copy of this tape or that tape. Geographically, Jan was closer and had a few very early recordings, such as the first episodes of The Daleks - complete with motorbike in the background at one point – but ones we used from The Daleks’ Master Plan onwards were mostly Richard’s. The problem with Richard was that, at the time, he lived down in Warminster in Wiltshire, so going to see him was one of those occasional experiences when you had enough money to pay for a train fare or, from 1977 onwards, the petrol to drive down. A lot of the original DWAS organising committee didn’t have driving licenses when the society first began! The soundtrack clips used for the 1970s sections were generally from my own recordings, which had kicked in by then.

When the Appreciation Society started in May 1976, there were very few ‘source’ recordings from which duplicates had been made. The initial idea of doing the History tapes stemmed from my desire to do something to substantiate the output from the Reference Department, which was my little end of the empire. At that time, the rather bad photocopies of typed two-page, cast list synopses and very few - maybe half a dozen - slightly more substantial plot breakdowns were all that constituted what I could bring to the party. We considered what else we could offer to members of the Society and an idea that emerged between the Publications head, Gordon Blows, and myself was possibly to do an audio ‘potted history’ of the programme that we could duplicate and send out on a C-60 cassette.

Up until mid-1976, membership of the national Appreciation Society wasn’t really much larger than that of the original society at Westfield College, Hampstead, where between thirty and forty students would regularly turn up in the common room and watch Doctor Who on a Saturday. When we were about half way through compiling the History Tapes, the membership levels of the DWAS got significantly boosted when Producer, Philip Hinchcliffe kindly put a reference to the Appreciation Society in the Radio Times feature advertising The Masque of Mandragora. Suddenly, membership numbers began to swell significantly, and with the on-going absorption of membership from Brian Smith’s former Doctor Who International Fan Club, they rose to over four hundred people on the registration lists by the end of September 1976.

Grim realisation steadily dawned that A History of Dr. Who wasn’t going to be feasible to do as a product that we could generally advertise and send out to the membership. The naivety of it all was quoshed by the scale of how long it would take us to do such a large number of duplicates. None of us had any access to any form of sophisticated bulk duplication facilities - we didn’t even know such places existed - and soon realised that it was going to become a real problem to do many copies, because they all had to be done in real-time. So, eventually it was decided to award the History Tapes as a prize in one of the early competitions run in TARDIS, the features 'zine of the Society, though even then we had to state ‘when they’re ready’ as we didn’t finish them until early 1977. The version given in the competition to prize winner, Anne Micklethwaite, was unique in that, at the stage where we came to send it out, I didn’t have a recording from either of the two stories that featured the Ice Warriors for the Troughton section. I had to do a cheat, and lift a track from The Monster of Peladon, just so there was an Ice Warrior example on the tape. Later, after another trip to see Richard Landen, and having come back with a copy of The Ice Warriors, we were able to overdub a more appropriate excerpt over that original recording. If you listen to the Troughton side, there’s almost an audible click where the clip from The Ice Warriors was dropped in, and as we were constrained by the duration of the previous clip already on the master tape, you can hear it terminate suddenly in a place that wasn’t really the best from an artistic point of view to end the sequence.

Although we probably should have sought BBC approval to produce and issue the tapes, in those days we were very much ‘flying by the seat of the pants’, hurtling into the unknown with very little idea of where we were going and how we were going to get there. Once we began forming stronger links with the likes of Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes, we started picking up on what we were allowed to do and what we weren’t allowed to do. Again, this was part and parcel of scuppering the idea of A History of Dr. Who ever becoming a product that we were even tacitly going to be allowed to do - even if we never intended to make money from it. As it was, when people started asking for copies of these tapes, as they began hearing about them once the news spread, if ever I did a copy for somebody, I always used to send along a little multi-part form, that had to be signed and sent back to me, stating that the recipient agreed these recordings would be used for private research purposes only and not for any form of commercial distribution. This was, more than anything, to cover ourselves against people thinking we were doing it all for profit, and thereby cheating writers, production people and performers out of royalties. Such duplicates were never done with any great knowledge at the time of the intricacies of copyright and all the permissions you’d need to do it even for an amateur product done through a private society.

When we started mapping the audio history project, it became apparent that it wasn’t going to fit onto one nice, little C-60 cassette. We had initially thought of putting Hartnell and Troughton on one side, and Pertwee and Baker on the other, but we quickly realised that even if you included just half a dozen soundtrack clips, you’d almost need one side per Doctor - and more likely one half of a C-90 to do justice to each. So the tapes really evolved as they went along, but we did start with a script. I started out with an A3 sheet of paper and drew a line down the middle of it. On the right-hand side, I annotated the clips we wanted to use: the best bits from the recordings we had access to, with approximate timings, while on the left I added the bits of linking narration that Gordon or myself would do. If there was something else that needed to be covered, like a sound effect or a piece of mood music, or something like that, we scribbled that down the middle of the page, saying something like "bridge fade in to Genesis of the Daleks with cymbal crash from Days of Future Passed (The Moody Blues)".

We were, of course, limited by the soundtrack recordings we had available to use. With the Tom Baker one, we were aware that there wasn’t really much material of his to work from. Genesis of the Daleks became such a big feature of his side because we realised it was one of the key stories that had ever been done for the series. We were looking for topics that were of significance in the development of Doctor Who rather than just ‘another good Cybermen clip’, and this meant that some other stories did not meet our criteria as readily. Additionally, we were a little bit hamstrung by the technical quality of our own recordings. Although I later acquired a DIN lead connected directly to the television, in the early days, many of my contemporaries and I were simply plonking microphones in front of TV loudspeakers, hoping desperately not to get any levels of hum or buzz. You never knew until you played it back afterwards as to whether you had been successful or not!

If I remember rightly, we approached the production process in almost the reverse order, starting with Pertwee because we had the most quality recordings from that period, with the Hartnell and Troughton sides done last, because we were always waiting for an opportunity to see Jan or Richard to blag another couple of episodes from them. I know I wanted to include an extract from The Macra Terror but we literally ran out of time. We’d announced when the competition was going to be drawn, and somebody therefore had a right to expect a prize at the end of it. You were never able to go back and re-insert a track easily - the clip from The Ice Warriors was the exception as Gordon and I agreed the bit from The Monster of Peladon just had to go, so that something authentic to the Troughton years would be there from the point at which we started doing duplicates for the membership.

In terms of script and running order writing, I did most of it, from facts that were known at the time, drawn largely from the background history that Jan and Stephen Payne had researched and written about how the show had come together at the beginning. Then, having blocked it out, I realised I needed another voice-over and Gordon was the one who was up for supplying it. We tried to work out whether we could do the idea of one person looking at it from the narrative history of Doctor Who - the fictional context of the programme and what we had learnt about the Doctor - and the other person doing the technical commentary, the behind the scenes stuff, which is sort of how it panned out. Gordon covered the biographies of the main characters and explained what was happening in television land, while I looked at it from the angle of what we had discovered about the Doctor and other characters since 1963. That seemed like an equitable division of labour, bearing in mind that Gordon was the publications editor of TARDIS and I was the one people would write to at the Reference Department if they wanted to know how many times the Doctor had said, “reverse the polarity” or something similar. That seemed to work as a concept idea, but I’m sure that because we needed to worry about little filler pieces, it wasn’t completely consistent all the way through.

Quite early on, I wrote to Stuart Glazebrook up in Atherton, Manchester, about covers for these cassettes. As well as being a talented illustrator, Stuart was ideally placed to run the DWAS Art Department because he had the good fortune to work for a design and print company. Via a combination of his own skills and some ‘Letraset’ rub-down lettering, he fashioned the two cover art templates and sent them to me as heavy-weight paper galley proofs. Anne Micklethwaite’s cassettes were sent to her with carefully sliced up galley proof covers. For everyone else it was more expedient to photocopy the other galley sheets and slice the covers to shape with a scalpel and cutting board.

The recording sessions were simply a case of cross-taping the elements in sequential order and working out some sort of rough time schedule, which was accomplished largely by me pacing up and down with a stopwatch, reading the text at my delivery speed and tailoring the script accordingly if something seemed too short or too long - all with the abiding thought that you can’t get much more than forty-five minutes onto one side of a cassette. It was all very unsophisticated!

We captured the master recordings onto a Ferguson 3248 Auto-recorder, a four track, stereo open reel tape recorder that was capable of running at two speeds - 1⅞ or 3¾ inches per second - and you’d try to record at as high a speed as you could, to get the best quality. We’d eventually dump the recordings down to a slower speed when we were trying to squeeze everything on to an 1800 foot reel. Occasionally I’d use a cassette recorder to real-time feed in underlying sound effects or music tracks via a very basic mixing box-type thing. For example, with Track A largely reserved for clips, and Track B largely reserved for narration, anything else had to be merged in during the compilation of a Track A or B master recording. We’d try to do these tricks as seamlessly as possible in one take, but if something went wrong, we had to virtually knock out that entire recording and start the whole track again, working out the fade segues - the point where we’d, say, fade from Track A into Track B before going back to Track A again. That’s why it took so long. By today’s standards, it was incredibly crude.

As mentioned above, one aspect where we found ourselves experimenting was in the use of music and effects to try and instill a sense of awe throughout the whole production. Doctor Who had, after all, been on air for thirteen years, so it was worthy of some kind of reverential treatment. We tried several different ways of doing audio effects as I’d long been a fan of BBC radio dramas and had often thought, “Wow! That’s spooky the way they’ve used eerie background music or subtle vocal treatments to create a sense of atmosphere”. We simply tried to emulate some of that within the technical constraints of what we had to hand at the time. We ended up using music from bands like Pink Floyd - interestingly before one identical track appeared in an early dub of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I employed a variety of very basic techniques, including putting microphones into baths to give us some sense of reverberation and creating odd effects by parallel recording the same speeches onto two tracks; one track would be captured at regular speed and the second captured with a weight on one of the spools, just to cause a slight artificial slowing down of that second track. That way you could either bring the track up to sync to fade out the echo or introduce it when you wanted to put it back on. We also created a Cybermen voice for the Troughton history by placing the microphone in, I think, some sort of metal cannister resting on a metal surface to give the voice a tinnier edge. I recall it was done with the intention of trying to impersonate Christopher Robbie’s voice from Revenge of the Cybermen. I would also have tweaked the treble and the bass controls on the recorder to boost the effect, but there was never anything sophisticated enough even to try and do any form of basic ring modulation. I just didn’t know how to do it!

A History of Dr. Who covered the period from the first Doctor Who story, An Unearthly Child, up to the final story of Tom Baker’s second season as the Doctor, The Seeds of Doom. We did consider adding updated tracks for seasons that went beyond that. Some thought was also given to possibly producing a supplemental tape, but by late 1977, the Appreciation Society was getting to be a very demanding aspect of all our lives and any free time to do it was becoming very constrained. So, the will to continue was there, but never the mechanics or the resources to actually realise it. Brian Hodgson was just never free when you really wanted him!

J. Jeremy Bentham, October 2007

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