Doctor Who – 1986 – 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 #336)


Doctor Who in 1986 got going on January 9 with the dramatic release of Doctor Who – The Gunfighters, the novelization of the 1966 historical First Doctor story with a decidedly mixed reputation.

Yes, for the first time since 1963, the year did not start with a new Doctor Who episode early on. This was due to the 18 month hiatus that the show had been placed on, meaning that no new episodes would air until September. In the meantime, fans of Doctor Who contented themselves with other things.

The Gunfighters (by Donald Cotton) was followed throughout the year by Doctor Who – The Time Monster (by Terrance Dicks), Doctor Who – The Twin Dilemma (by Eric Saward), Doctor Who – Galaxy Four (William Emms), Doctor Who – Timelash (by Glen McCoy), Doctor Who – The Mark of the Rani (by Pip and Jane Baker), Doctor Who – The King’s Demons (by Terence Dudley), Doctor Who – The Savages (by Ian Stuart Black), Doctor Who – Fury from the Deep (by Victor Pemberton), Doctor Who – The Celestial Toymaker (by Gerry Davis and Alison Bingeman), and Doctor Who – The Seeds of Death (also by Terrance Dicks).

In addition, Eric Saward wrote Doctor Who – Slipback, novelizing his own radio play which had been broadcast the previous year.

The traditional novelizations were not the only books on offer that year. Target also produced the first two books in a new The Companions of Doctor Who range, both original novels. The first was Turlough and the Earthlink Dilemma by Tony Attwood, which came out in May. This was the first original novel-length Doctor Who story ever published.

The second book was Harry Sullivan’s War by Ian Marter (the actor who played Harry Sullivan on TV), which came out in September. I’ve read both of these books and definitely found the Harry Sullivan book more enjoyable. It’s a bit of a James Bond-esque spy thriller which also features Sarah Jane Smith and the Brigadier, and was good fun.

The Turlough book, if I remember properly was more pretentious and never really felt like it was about the same character from TV.

The Companions of Doctor Who only released one more book, which was a novelization of K9 & Company which didn’t come out until the following year.)

All six books of a series called Make Your Own Adventure with Doctor Who were released in 1986. These interactive adventure books featured the Sixth Doctor, and in various books, Peri, Turlough, K9, the Rani and Drax!

The books were Search for the Doctor (David Martin), Crisis in Space (by Michael Holt), The Garden of Evil (David Martin), Race Against Time (Pip and Jane Baker), Mission to Venus (William Emms), and Invasion of the Ormazoids (Philip Martin).

As had been becoming quite common, a number of Doctor Who reference books were published throughout the year as well:

Doctor Who – The Early Years by Jeremy Bentham was an oversized coffee-table book which looked at the creation of the program.

The Doctor Who File by Peter Haining is another similarly-sized volume which featured a variety of articles covering different aspects of the program, including a look at the unproduced film Doctor Who Meets Scratchman that Tom Baker and Ian Marter had written.

The Companions was by producer John Nathan-Turner, a sort of follow-up to his book The TARDIS Inside Out. It featured a look at the various Doctor Who companions via Nathan-Turner’s own personal recollections and perspectives. As such it had a special emphasis on the companions that Nathan-Turner had worked with himself.

The Doctor Who Cookbook got a paperback release, and two American fans named Jean Airey and Laurie Halderman wrote Travel Without the TARDIS, which was sort of a combination of a British travel guide and an exploration of the various locations in Great Britian where Doctor Who had been filmed.

While all this was going on Doctor Who Magazine was publishing issues #109-120, plus the usual Summer and Winter specials. There were a couple of stories included, as part of a short story contest, written by readers. Comic content was written by Grant Morrison, Alan McKenzie, Simon Furman, Jamie Delano, and Mike Collins, and drawn by John Ridgway. The stories featured the Sixth Doctor, Peri, and Frobisher, and included an appearance by the Cybermen.

Tim Quinn and Dicky Howett continued to produce humorous comic material, including the Doctor Who? gag strip in each issue–mostly featuring the Sixth Doctor and Peri, but also a variety of other characters and monsters. Quinn and Howett also did chapters 2-6 of an 11 part series called The History Tour, featuring the Sixth Doctor and Peri as well as the Daleks, Cybermen, Sea Devils, Sontarans, and various historical figures. The stories were called Early Man: Dalek Invasion of Earth 2150 B.C., The Bit Before the Middle Ages, The Bit After the Lasts Bit, Discoveries, and The Bits We’ve Missed So Far.

In addition, Marvel Comics’ ongoing Doctor Who series, which reprinted early Doctor Who Magazine comic stories, came to an end with #23, in August that year.

And in September, they published Doctor Who Collected Comics, a one-shot which reprinted more recent Sixth Doctor strips.

An interesting event to note in 1986 was the start of the Doctor Who USA Tour began–a traveling event which made its way across the United States featuring Doctor Who props, costumes and memorabilia. It was given a press launch in the UK in March, which Colin Baker, Janet Fielding, and Nicola Bryant all attended in costume.

Another press launch took place when the tour material arrived in May, this time featuring Peter Davison and Michael Grade (ironic, perhaps, as he was BBC-1 Controller who put the show on hiatus in the first place). Colin Baker and Patrick Troughton also attended events with the Tour, later on in 1986.

The latest season of the show finally began on September 6th, with episode one of Trial of a Time Lord, a new season-long story.

The format for the season changed once again, with the episode-length reduced back to 25 minutes, and the number of episodes set at 14–making this by far the shortest season of the show in its history to that point. John Nathan-Turner remained on as producer, as did Eric Saward as script editor, at least to begin with. Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant were also both back as the Sixth Doctor and Peri.

The electronic arrangement of the theme song by Peter Howell that had been in use since John Nathan-Turner started producing the show in Season 18 was discontinued, replaced by a more ethereal rendition arranged by Dominic Glynn. However, the starfield opening title sequence remained the same.

Though the season was all titled as a single story that ran over fourteen episodes, it was in practical terms four related stories, written by four different sets of authors. The first is usually grouped as The Mysterious Planet and was written by Doctor Who stalwart Robert Holmes. It showed the Doctor being brought aboard a space station by Time Lords where he is put on trial for breaking Time Lord rules by interfering.

Evidence is shared with the court via moving images (ie, the show’s main story) provided by the Matrix–the idea being that three events in the Doctor’s life would be shown–one from his past, one from his present, and one from the future. Thus The Mysterious Planet introduced the characters of the Valeyard, played by Michael Jayston–basically the prosecutor arguing against the Doctor–and the Inquisitor, played by Lynda Bellingham–essentially served as the judge.

The “evidence” segments showed the Doctor and Peri visiting a post-apocalyptic world that is revealed to be the earth in big twist that was already at least 18 years old at the time, and which was re-used in Doctor Who another 34 years later with Orphan 55.

These sequences would also attempt to set up the explanation for the season’s overall mystery–why was the Doctor really on trial, what was the Valeyard really up to, and so on. However, because of a variety of problems none of it really came together in a satisfactory way.

The story’s notable guest stars included Tom Chadbon and Joan Sims, as well as Tony Selby as con-man Sabalom Glitz who would go on to reappear in the show a few more times.

The second story segment is known behind-the-scenes as Mindwarp, and was written by Philip Martin. He re-used his character Sil from Vengeance on Varos, again played by Nabil Shaban.

The guest cast also included the well-known Brian Blessed as the warrior king Yrcranos…

…and Young Ones alumni Christopher Ryan as Lord Kiv, Sil’s superior.

The story was meant to be the “present” from which the Doctor was taken for his trial, and the end of the tail revealed that this had to do with altering events to destroy an experiment that would have devastating results for the universe, and which had already caused Peri to have her brain physically replaced with that of Lord Kiv. This interference from the Time Lords apparently resulted in the Peri being killed as well, with Nicola Bryant consequently leaving the series at this point.

The whole presentation of the adventure is mired in some confusion, caused by the fact that for some time the Doctor might be pretending to be villainous in order to pull a double-cross, but also the evidence that is being watched has apparently been edited to make the Doctor look bad. Infamously, Colin Baker was not sure about the veracity of certain scenes he was playing, and when he sought clarity from the production crew, but none of the key players could give him any clarity.

It was also as this story was aired that the BBC informed Colin Baker that his contract was not being renewed–he was effectively fired from Doctor Who.

The third segment of the story was written by Pip and Jane Baker, and is generally referred to as Terror of the Vervoids. The setting here was a luxury space-liner that becomes overrun with sentient, murderous plants. The story is meant to be in the Doctor’s future and so introduced a new traveling companion who is with the Doctor, but without any explanation. This was Mel, played by Bonnie Langford.

The story was also a murder mystery, and aside from the fact that it is used as evidence in the Doctors trial, has no direct connection to the trial itself. The guest cast included Honor Blackman (of The Avengers and Goldfinger) as Professor Lasky, the scientist who developed the Vervoids.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this story, but my memory is that this was the most fun of the sub-stories, with cool plot, a neat monster, and an engaging guest cast.

Trial of a Time Lord ended with a two part story segment (all the others were four parts long) that has come to be known as The Ultimate Foe, which has one of the most difficult writing processes of any story.

The plan was for it to be written by Robert Holmes, effectively wrapping up the mystery that was set up at the story’s beginning. However, Holmes only wrote Part 13 before he unfortunately died, leaving script editor Eric Saward to write the conclusion. However, when John Nathan-Turner vetoed the ending that Saward (and Holmes, it seems) had put forward–a cliffhanger with the Doctor’s life still in peril–the tension that had been brewing between producer and script editor reached a boiling point, causing Saward to resign and deny the rights to use his script at all. Pip and Jane Baker then were brought in to write the conclusion without any access to Saward’s script at all, and thus ahd to figure a way to wrap things up on their own.

In the end, the final story featured the return of Anthony Ainley as the Master, as well as Tony Selby as Glitz. The Valeyard was revealed to be the season’s “big bad”–a version of the Doctor himself.

Specifically, he was described as an amalgamation of the Doctor’s dark impulses created from somewhere between the Doctor’s 12th and final incarnations. This explanation is of course quite vague and unspecific, and has led to a lot of speculation and confusion from fans ever since.

Much of the story takes place in the Matrix, with the requisite collection of surreal imagery.

And in the end a brief comment reveals that Peri didn’t die after all, but ended up marrying Brian Blessed’s Yrcranos, in a pretty unlikely turn of events.

The story also featured Mel, having joined the Doctor at the trial to help him out, and it ends with the two of them leaving together, even though this she is supposedly someone the present Doctor has not met yet. The last episode aired on December 6th and would turn out to be the last time Colin Baker played the Doctor in the series.

In addition to the regular series, there were a few other Doctor Who oddities that aired on TV that year. One was a skit on a show called Wogan, which featured Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor alongside talk show host Terry Wogan, as well as a Mandrel and a Sea Devil. It aired in August 1986.

In September, Colin Baker also appeared as the Doctor in humorous continuity announcements for Roland Rat: The Series, both before and after the episode which aired on September 20, just before Part 3 of Trial of a Time Lord. You can see it here:

As far as Doctor Who personalities is concerned, 1986 was a notable year for a few key people.

Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald) was born on April 27th.

Dennis Spooner, a writer and script editor during the show’s early years, died on September 20th.

Ian Marter (Harry Sullivan, and writer of numerous Doctor Who novels) died on October 28th. He was only 42, and actually died on his birthday.

And that’s the year! Onward to 1987!


One thought on “Doctor Who – 1986 – All the Years

  1. 1986 seemed like a particular turning point for the future of Doctor Who, certainly for the analogy of The Trial Of A Time Lord for the show itself being on trial. Whovians were motivated by now to visually make their own Doctor Who stories, starting with the Seattle International Films Festival’s series with Barbara Benedetti as the Doctor and Randy Rogel as Carl Evans. We then saw Reeltime Pictures’ Wartime for John Levene’s spinoff reprisal of Benton and BBV’s The Stranger as a notable retribution for both Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant. Quite poetically, the official failings for Doctor Who in the 80s sparked the bravest support from Whovians. The Trial Of A Time Lord proved one point: the most genuine verdict for a favorite show depends on the most loyal fans.

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