Doctor Who – 1981 – 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 #267)


1981 saw the completion of Season 18 of Doctor Who, which was incumbent Doctor Tom Baker’s last year on the program. Because of a change of scheduling, this was the only season of Doctor Who to broadcast in the year, making 1981 the year with the fewest episodes (12 in total) aired since 1963.

The first story was Warriors’ Gate, by Steve Gallagher, which debuted on January 3rd.

It’s a famously (or infamously) confusing story which concluded the “E-Space” trilogy of stories, and saw the departure of both Lalla Ward as Romana and John Leeson as K9 from the program. Both characters remained in the pocket universe of “E-space” at the end of the story, with only Matthew Waterhouse’s Adric continuing on with Tom Baker’s Doctor.

The next story was The Keeper of Traken, by Johnny Byrne. The story brought back the Master for the first time in four seasons. As before, he was portrayed as a desiccated husk, although this time played by Geoffrey Beevers.

But only until the end of the story, when he steals of the body of the unfortunately-named Tremas, turning actor Anthony Ainley into the new ongoing Master.

The Keeper of Traken also introduced Sarah Sutton as Nyssa of Traken, who at this point was simply a guest story (indeed, one of the few guest stars to survive to the end of the tale), but would return in the very next tale, Logopolis, by script editor Christopher H. Bidmead.

Logopolis was the first story to feature Anthony Ainley’s Master in a full-fledged role, and introduced a new companion in the form of Tegan Jovanka, played by Janet Fielding. As mentioned, Nyssa also returned and joined the regular cast (her whole planet being destroyed while she is away), filling in the TARDIS in a way it hadn’t been for a long time.

Of course, most notably, Tom Baker bowed out of the series at the end of the story, regenerating into the form of the youthful Peter Davison, familiar to many as the co-star of All Creatures Great and Small. The end of the season also was the end of Christopher H. Bidmead’s role as Script Editor, although producer John Nathan-Turner remained for many years more.

In the absence of other new Doctor Who episodes, producer John Nathan-Turner organized a special season of repeats called The Five Faces of Doctor Who. An Unearthly Child commenced on November 2. Four episodes ran each week, telling five four-part stories. After An Unearthly Child, they also showed The Krotons, Carnival of Monsters, The Three Doctors, and Logopolis, finishing up on December 3rd.

In the middle of this, on November 14th, the Lord Mayors Show 1981 was aired. I’ve never heard of this event before, but it happens most years and is centered on a parade.

In 1981, this featured Peter Davison in costume as the Doctor for the first time, as well as a bunch of other actors in full make-up and costume as various monsters.

In other Doctor Who news, Target continued to published novelizations of the TV series, but only came out with three new books that year, a sharp decline over previous years. Those books were Doctor Who and the Creature from the Pit by David Fisher, Doctor Who and the Enemy of the World by Ian Marter, and Doctor Who and an Unearthly Child by Terrance Dicks.

They also published, both in hardback and later in paperback, the two volumes of the Doctor Who Programme Guide by Jean-Marc Lofficier, and the Doctor Who Quiz Book by Nigel Robinson.

In August, the Doctor Who Annual 1982 was released. Unusually, it featured both Fourth Doctor and Fifth Doctor stories. The Fourth Doctor was depicted with Adric and K9, and were shown as still in E-Space. The Fifth Doctor was with Adric alone. Neither status quo was ever seen on TV.

Marvel Comics published Marvel Premiere #58 – #60, finishing a four-issue run of Doctor Who stories which started with #57, all of which reprinted stories from the early issues of Doctor Who Weekly.

Doctor WhoA Marvel Monthly continued to be published, running from Issue #49-60, as well as both a Summer and Winter special. Comic content included stories by Steve Moore, Steve Parkhouse, Dave Gibbons and others, featuring the Fourth Doctor either on his own or with K9. The stories include appearances by the Cybermen and introduced a recurring character called Dr. Ivan Asimoff, as well as a group of space pilots called the Freefall Warriors who even appeared in Marvel Comics outside of Doctor Who publications all together.

There were also back-up stories featuring characters and concepts from the Doctor Who universe- Azal from The Daemons, robots from Robots of Death, the Celestial Toymaker, UNIT, the Zygons, the Sontarans, and the Daleks (from stories reprinted from TV Comics in the 1960’s). Alan Moore and David Lloyd also created a couple of stories which followed up on their story from the previous year which dealt with the early days of the Time Lords, included an appearance by the Sontarans, and even introduced the idea of a Time War. There was also a completely different back-up story about another Time Lord called Cargan who stumbles across a problem, but ends up dying in the course of the adventure.

In the world of famous people associated with Doctor Who, 1981 saw the death of Doctor Who theme composer Ron Grainer on February 21st…

and writer Kit Pedler (co-creator of the Cybermen) on May 27th

Finally, closing of the year, December 28th saw the airing of the one and only episode of K9 and Company, entitled A Girl’s Best Friend, starring Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith and John Leeson as the voice of K9.

This first (and for many years, only) attempt at a Doctor Who spin-off didn’t make it to an ongoing series, but single episode that was produced was aired as a holiday season special.


1982 (coming soon)


3 thoughts on “Doctor Who – 1981 – All the Years

  1. 1981, particularly thanks to Warriors’ Gate and Logopolis, felt like so much would atmospherically change for the better in Doctor Who. But the classic series was never quite as appealing since, even though I stayed with it until the very end.

  2. I think the change in tone was needed, and I wonder if there was something about Christopher H. Bidmead’s influence that sets Season 18 apart from Seasons 19-26. Not necessarily better, in my opinion, but different.

  3. There was certainly a most significant and better depth to the drama and characters that had not been seen before in Doctor Who and has not been seen again since. Season 18 was a very rewarding note for Tom Baker’s time to conclude on. Especially the delicately paced tones of Logopolis.

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