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 #206)
1976 finished the end of Season 13 of the series, and the start of Season 14. Twenty-two episodes were aired in total, all starring Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, with Philip Hinchcliffe as producer and Robert Holmes as script editor. Elisabeth Sladen co-starred as Sarah Jane Smith, the shows primary companion, in all but the last four episodes.
Things started off on January 3rd with The Brain of Morbius by “Robin Bland”–in reality former script editor Terrance Dicks after he’d asked his name to be removed due to heavy rewrites by Robert Holmes. In spite of Dicks’ misgivings, the four part serial went on to be one of the show’s most celebrated stories. It is also the one which included a sequence which implied the Doctor had incarnations prior to First Doctor William Hartnell, an idea that remained an anomaly until it was recently confirmed with the whole idea of the Timeless Child.
After that, the season ended with the six part story The Seeds of Doom by Robert Banks Stewart. Whilst The Brain of Morbius had inspiration in Frankenstein, this one was reminiscent of The Thing From Another World, with an alien seed pod landing in the Antarctic and growing a menace that threatened the world. This was the last story for some years to feature UNIT, although none of the familiar UNIT faces appeared. The last episode of this story aired on March 6th.
The show started up again on September 4th with The Masque of Mandragora, a four part serial by Louis Marks. This was a pseudo-historical story introduced a bit of the show’s mythology: the idea that the TARDIS helped its occupants understand the different languages that were spoken in its vicinity.
After that was The Hand of Fear, another four part story by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, which is probably best known for being the final story to feature Sarah Jane Smith as a companion traveling with the Doctor. The Doctor leaves her behind on earth after receiving a call to go back home to Gallifrey, a journey he didn’t feel he could bring Sarah Jane on.
This leads into The Deadly Assassin, a four part adventure by Robert Holmes which rounded off the year, in the series’ first ever story that featured the Doctor traveling without a companion.
It was the first of four adventures which were done over the life of the series which took place primarily on Gallifrey, and went a long way to demystifying the Time Lords and expanding on their society. It introduced the recurring character of Borusa and the idea of the historical Time Lord figure, Rassilon, as well as the Time Lord’s 12 regeneration limit (in spite of the fact that this contradicted the brief reference of more incarnations seen in Brain of Morbius earlier that year).
But even more importantly, it reintroduced to the series the Doctor’s arch-enemy, the Master.
Roger Delgado’s death several years earlier had ended the Master’s appearances, but here he is reintroduced as desiccated husk of a man, as played by Peter Pratt. It is vaguely implied at the end that he may be regenerating again, although this would later turn out to be false. The last episode was aired on November 13, which means there a fairly long gap before the season continued in 1977.
The Deadly Assassin was also a bit notorious because of show’s violence, especially the final cliffhanger which ended on a freeze frame of the Doctor being drowned under water. Although it wasn’t fans who objected for the most part, but media watchdog voices, particularly led by Mary Whitehouse.
In the world of comics, the Doctor’s regular feature in TV Comic continued, generally featuring stories where he is accompanied by Sarah Jane Smith, although occasionally on his own. Also, a practice began where Third Doctor stories would be reprinted with the artwork retouched to make it a Fourth Doctor adventure. The first of these was called The Mighty Midget, which had originally been known as Doomcloud. For whatever reason, Sarah Jane Smith was renamed “Joan Brown” in the reprint. In this story only, the Brigadier and UNIT made an appearance, but aside from that no other regular or returning characters showed up that year in TV Comic, except for the Daleks who were a story at the start of the year which was still finishing up from 1975.
In addition to this, there was the usual collection of annuals and special issues that were published through the year, featuring both comics and prose stories. The TV Comic Annual 1976 had a comic story with the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane, and the TV Comics Holiday Special 1976 had a short story with the Doctor, Sarah and the Daleks. Terry Nation’s Dalek Annual 1977 included a few original short stories, some once again featuring the Anti-Dalek-Force and its leader Joel Shaw, and also some repinted comic stories from the Daleks’ feature in TV Century 21. And the Doctor Who and the Daleks Omnibus. This featured two abridged novelizations of television stories (Planet of the Daleks and Genesis of the Daleks), an original comic story/game, and some interesting features which shared the real-life history of the Daleks as well as some fictional details about things like the moons of the Daleks’ planet.
And the Doctor Who Annual 1977 featured the usual collection of short prose and comic stories, starring the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith, often with Harry Sullivan and at least once with the Brigadier.
Also, Target Books continued their regular habit of publishing Doctor Who novelizations. Terrance Dicks was once again the most prolific contributor, with Doctor Who and the Web of Fear, Doctor Who and the Planet of the Daleks, Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks, Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Cybermen, Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster (an adaptation of Terror of the Zyons) and Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars.
Malcolm Hulke wrote two novels: Doctor Who and the Dinosaur Invasion (Invasion of the Dinosaurs) and Doctor Who and the Space War (Frontier in Space). Brian Hayles wrote one: Doctor Who and the Ice Warriors, and Gerry Davis wrote one: Doctor Who and the Tenth Planet.
Terrance Dicks also wrote something called The Doctor Who Dinosaur Book, in which the Fourth Doctor takes readers on an educational voyage about the great reptiles of the past. He also wrote a short story featuring dinosaurs which was published in the New Year’s Eve edition of the Daily Mirror (in the Junior Mirror section), and he largely rewrote The Making of Doctor Who, which was republished that year (after first seeing print in 1972). So, Dicks was a busy guy that year.
In addition too all this “standard” stuff, every year Doctor Who seems to have had explored some new and unusual directions to go in as a franchise. In 1976, this involved breaking out into original audio productions!
First, there was Doctor Who and the Pescatons, an original story released on record, starring Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen, as well as Bill Mitchell as Zor, the leader of the evil Pescatons.
This story was written by Victor Pemberton who had been involved with Doctor Who before, notably as the writer of Fury from the Deep.
Then, on October 4, an episode of the BBC educational radio series called Exploration Earth aired, again featuring Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen, talking about the development of the earth, and dealing with Megron (the “High Lord of Chaos, Chief of Carions and Lords of Chaos”!), who threatens the planet. John Westbrook played Megron, who like in the above the story was the only other actor involved.
Last and possibly least, 1976 saw the debut of Mind Your Step!, a brief message recorded by Tom Baker as the Doctor, reminding people at the ongoing Blackpool exhibition to tell their friends to visit the site, and to watch their step as they move about (followed by an off-camera stumble and fall).
I think I recently saw this on my Ark in Space DVD, and I was super-confused.