Doctor Who – 1971 – All the Years

Doctor Who – All The Years is a quick examination of what was happening in the world of Doctor Who over all its years of existence. I’m not attempting to create a thorough history–just brief look back at the real-life timeline of my favorite TV show. Go back to the beginning and read about 1963 here.

(Daily Doctor Who #73)


1971 seems to have been similar to 1970 in terms of how prolific Doctor Who was (or was not) in popular culture. The TV show ran it’s 8th season, airing (once again) 25 episodes over the first 25 weeks of the year, an installment of a Doctor Who comic strip came out nearly every week…and that was almost it. There doesn’t even seem to have been an Annual that year.

The season kicked off on January 2nd with the first of its five stories for the season–part 1 of Terror of the Autons by Robert Holmes, writing for the series for the fourth year in a row, and contributing the second straight season opener. Terror of the Autons brought back Holmes’ own creations, the Nestene Consciousness and their living plastic Auton servants. More than that, the four part story established a new status quo for the show which basically continued for the next three seasons. The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) is still exiled to earth working with UNIT to protect the planet from alien and unusual threats, with a sometimes contention-filled relationship with its head, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney).

But now he’s assisted by the young, enthusiastic but decidedly unscientific Jo Grant (Katy Manning), his previous year’s assistant Liz Shaw having apparently become tired of playing second fiddle to the Doctor and left between seasons. And then along with the returning Sgt. Benton (John Levene), the Doctor also worked regularly with Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin).

Yates was a dashing young officer who helps to round out the whole UNIT family concept (and gives the Brigadier someone more plausible than a Sergeant to act as a confidante).

Most significantly, Holmes introduced the Master, played by Roger Delgado. Other Time Lords had shown up from time to time as antagonists for the Doctor through the years, but the Master was the first character who was deliberately constructed as an equal-but-opposite nemesis: a renegade Time Lord with a brilliant intellect, a hunger for chaos and power, and a complete ruthlessness of manner. Roger Delgado’s performance immediately impressed, and the Master was featured in every story of the season (though not quite in every episode).

This status quo–the Doctor paired with Jo Grant, spending a lot of his time on earth with the three UNIT officers, and occasionally confronting the Master, remained for several seasons. This was reflected by an unprecedented stability in the production team, as for the first time since the first season neither the Producer nor the Scrip Editor changed over the year. In fact Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks remained in their roles until the end of the Third Doctor’s era–three more years after this one.

The second serial of the year was the six-episode called The Mind of Evil by Don Houghton (who had written Inferno the previous year). The story featured the Master secretly introducing a machine designed to reduce criminal’s aberrant impulses, but could also be used to kill people by subjecting them to their greatest fears. The machine had an alien parasite within it, and of course the Master is an alien, but otherwise the whole thing had a more earthbound feel to it.

UNIT acted as a security force for a peace conference, and a general James Bond-ian kind of vibe hung over the whole story. Apparently it went badly over budget which led to the director, Timothy Combe, not working with the series again.

This was followed by The Claws of Axos, a four-part story by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, both prolific writers for Doctor Who making their debut here. The Master is at it again here, helping (albeit against his will) the supposedly friendly but really evil alien Axons find earth. It features the first of a recurring trope where the Master’s evil gets him into trouble and he must team up with the Doctor against a greater threat.

Colony in Space came next. The 6-part story was written by Malcolme Hulke (co-creator of the Time Lords in 1969 and creator of the Silurians in 1970), and featured the Doctor’s first visit off earth since The War Games at the end of Season 6–although it kept in place the Doctor’s exile as a general part of the status quo. It’s the only story of the season to feature neither Yates nor Benton, and only had the Brigadier in brief cameos in Episodes 1 & 6. Even the Master was absent for the first three episodes–other than Episode 1 of The Mind of Evil, it was the only episodes this year that he didn’t appear in.

Apparently, there is also a three page comic adaptation of the opening of this story that was published in the Radio Times, and illustrated by regular Radio Times artist Frank Bellamy.

Colony in Space also happens to be the first Doctor Who story that I watched from beginning to end, edited together in a giant omnibus format and playing on a PBS station on a Saturday night that I had to tune into gingerly with a UHF antenna (shout out to WNJN on Channel 50!) So it’s more accurate to say that I watched it through a field of hazy snow.

The last story of the year was The Dæmons, which was a five part story by “Guy Leopold”, which is really a pseudonym for Robert Sloman and producer Barry Letts. The story was once again present-day earth-based and featured the Master trying to summon an apparently demonic creature to threaten the world. Of course, it all turns out to be aliens and science fiction, but there is a bit of a debate between the Doctor and a “benevolent witch” about the nature of magic. The story and the season conclude with the Master finally captured and incarcerated, and with everyone dancing around a maypole. The final episode came out on June 19th.

Over in the world of Doctor Who comics, the series’ run in TV Comic came to an end (for the time being) with the last six parts of the 8-part story The Kingdom Builders in which the Doctor traveled to the future by means of a time machine other than the TARDIS.

After a couple of week the series then shifted over to another magazine published by the same company, originally called Countdown.

In the early stories, he was still exiled to earth, and had adventures without any companions which at least once still involved time travel, and in another one involved teleporting to Australia.

However, starting in a story called Backtime which kicked off in October, the Doctor seems to no longer be exiled and traveling freely to the 1860’s, both to Victorian England to Gettysburg during the Civil War. The final story of the year, The Eternal Present, features the Doctor meeting a guy who is implied to be the unnamed time traveler from H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. Countdown also produced a Holiday Special that year, which had a Third Doctor prose short story, called The Thing From Outer Space.

Finally, an illustrated short story called Doctor Who Fights Masterplan “Q” was released in 15 parts of a promotion with Nestlé on the back of its chocolate wrappers. It featured the Third Doctor, Jo Grant and the Master.

See you next time…in 1972!

One thought on “Doctor Who – 1971 – All the Years

  1. It’s interesting to learn more about stories for a Doctor’s era outside of what was known via TV at a time long before Big Finish and most mainstream novels could improve on all that. Thanks, Ben.

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