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 #242)
In looking the year, one immediately notices the relative paucity of Doctor Who-related releases from 1978. There’s all the standard stuff, like TV episodes, comics, novels…but nothing really unusual or new in terms of the types of items.
On TV, 1978 saw the conclusion of the 15th season of the program, and the start of the 16th. The first episode of Underworld aired on January 7th, once again starring Tom Baker as the Doctor, Louise Jameson as Leela and John Leeson as the voice of K9.
The four-part story was written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, and apparently had a budget so low that the story was almost cancelled.
After that, the season concluded with The Invasion of Time, a six part serial by the then-current producer / script editor team of Graham Williams and Anthony Read, under the pseudonym David Agnew. The story brought the action back to Gallifrey and returned the Sontarans to the show for the third time. It also brought back the Time Lord character Borusa, who had debuted in The Deadly Assassin (from Season 14), although original actor Angus MacKay was unavailable, so John Arnatt took over the role.
The Invasion of Time featured the departure of Leela, in a plot point that is widely considered to be poorly developed: Leela basically goes off to get married to some guy she’s barely interacted with in the course of the story. K9 also stays behind with Leela, but is immediately replaced by the nearly-identical K9 Mark II. I think maybe nobody was really all that happy with that ending, including actress Louise Jameson. Her final episode aired on March 11th.
The show restarted for its 16th season on September 2nd, and aired another 18 episodes before the year was over. Tom Baker was still there as the Doctor, as was John Leeson as K9, but now joined by Mary Tamm as the new lead companion, Romana–an intelligent but inexperienced Time Lord who was assigned to work with the Doctor in a new mission: recover the Key to Time.
The Key to Time was devised as a story plot that would run through the whole season, with each of the six serials involving the search for a different segment of this powerful device. The Doctor is given the mission by a newly introduced figure called the White Guardian (played by Cyril Luckham), who would return to the screen years later. There was also reference to the Black Guardian, who would debut at the end of the season (and thus in the following year).
The first story for the season was The Ribos Operation by Robert Holmes, which did the work of introducing Romana and the whole Key to time concept, before telling a fun story about a con artist attempting to scam a power mad royal, and the problems that ensue.
This was followed by The Pirate Planet by Douglas Adams.
Adams sold this script around the same time that his successful Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy story took off on radio. This was Adams’ first contribution to the series–he would later become its script editor. His story included a killer robotic parrot, which I think is kind of awesome.
After that was a third four part story, The Stones of Blood, by David Fisher.
This turned out to be the 100th story that the show ever produced, and was at one point going to include a scene where the Doctor receives a birthday cake from his companions before producer Graham Williams vetoed the idea.
The year continued with The Androids of Tara, once again written by David Fisher. This four part story was a sort-of science fiction version of The Prisoner of Zenda, with Mary Tamm in the dual role of Romana and the local Princess Strella.
Furthermore, she also played android duplicates of both women, making four characters all together!
Finally, the year ended with the first two episodes (out of four) of The Power of Kroll, by Robert Holmes. The story featured, by instruction of the producer, the largest monster the show had included up to that point. Because of the show’s swamp location, K9 wasn’t included, but actor John Leeson ended up filling in for someone else at the last minute, playing Dugeen.
It is Leeson’s only on-camera performance on the show.
1978 also saw the release of a handful of Doctor Who novelizations, with all but two written by Terrance Dicks. Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment was written by Ian Marter, and Doctor Who and the Tomb of the Cybermen by Gerry Davis. Dicks, on the other hand, wrote Doctor Who and the Face of Evil, Doctor Who and the Horror of Fang Rock, Doctor Who and the Time Warrior, Doctor Who – Death to the Daleks, and Doctor Who and the Android Invasion.
It seems like this year was also the year in which an American publisher, Aeonian Press, got the rights to start distributing some of the Target novelizations in America. Apparently, early examples of this were Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks and Doctor Who and the Giant Robot, both also by Dicks.
Target also released two more of their education books featuring the Fourth Doctor, Doctor Who Discovers: the Conquerors and Doctor Who Discovers: Strange and Mysterious Creatures.
The year also saw the release of some of those regular, annual publications, such as the 1978 TV Comic Annual, including a short story featuring the Fourth Doctor, as well as the Doctor Who Annual 1979 released in September. The Annual included a handful of comic and short stories featuring the the Fourth Doctor and Leela.
Also in September, there was the Terry Nation’s Dalek Annual 1979, which featured the ongoing exploits of Joel Shaw, Mark Seven and the Anti-Dalek-Force. This would turn out to be the final of this series of annuals, and oddly left Shaw and his team on a cliffhanger.
Finally, over in the world of TV Comics, the Doctor Who comic strip continued through the year. The first story (which had mostly come out the previous year) featured Leela along with the Fourth Doctor, but after that, the Doctor had his adventures alone.
On July 1, the last part of a comic story called The Image Makers was published, marking the final original comic story published by TV Comics. After that, the magazine published reprints of older stories, but with the Doctor redrawn to be the Fourth Doctor, as opposed to the Second or (more commonly) the Third. In these stories, the Doctor also traveled without a companion (although he one of them, he fought one of his familiar foes, the Quarks).
I don’t know if anyone has done a story which includes some rationale for why the Fourth Doctor seemed to relive his old adventures…but if not, somebody should. Maybe it has something to do with the Curator.
Turning our attention to births and deaths (an area of these posts I’ve only started including), we see that 1978 is the year that Eve Myles was born.
She appeared in The Unquiet Dead with the Ninth Doctor in 2005, but became better known for starring in the spin-off series Torchwood, as Gwen Cooper. Her birthday is 26 July.
On October 30, writer Brian Hayles died. He is best known as the creator of the Ice Warriors, having written all four of their appearances on classic Doctor Who: The Ice Warriors, The Seeds of Death, The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon.
He also wrote The Celestial Toymaker and The Smugglers for the First Doctor.
3 thoughts on “Doctor Who – 1978 – All the Years”
I have vaguely dissatisfied memories of “Underworld,” as a mostly chromakeyed episode with a generally incomprehensible plot. Of course at the time, our local PBS station was airing the show at around midnight and the reception was spotty so the image was usually sub-par, so maybe that influenced my opinion of it. I’ve sometimes wondered if it’s worth going back and seeing if it’s really as bad as memory suggests.
My memories are almost exactly the same, except while I saw it broadcast clearly, I’m pretty sure I didn’t see all four episodes. Anyway, your memory and the story’s reputation line up pretty clearly. I’d gladly watch it again though as I don’t think I’ve seen any amount of it since the mid-late 1980’s–it’d almost be like watching a brand new story for me.
I didn’t mind seeing through the obvious CSO in Doctor Who when I was a kid and in some ways, maybe I still don’t. It may be the enjoyment for how well the actors can work through it all that makes the suspension of disbelief especially fun.