BBC's Doctor Who Night

Dateline: December 26, 1999

On November 13th, 1999, BBC-2 celebrated 36 years of Doctor Who, with an entire evening devoted to the longest running science fiction show on TV, even though it has been mostly dormant during the 1990s. Here's a look at what was shown.

The most famous Doctor of them all, Tom Baker (1974-1981), hosted the entire night from the heart of a vast digitally recreated TARDIS, the Doctor's ever-present bigger-on-the-inside-than-the-outside Police Box time machine.

Comedy sketches written and performed by Mark Gatiss (The League of Gentlemen) were interspersed throughout the night, the first of which was set in the office of the controller of the BBC in 1963 where a writer tries to pitch his idea for a new TV series about a mysterious man who travels through time and space. Full of in-jokes, including the supposed origin of the famous Ron Grainer theme tune, this kicked off the evening as well as showing (hopefully) Doctor Who fans can take a joke.

The first documentary of the night was "Adventures In Time And Space," narrated by Peter Jones (The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy), summing up the Doctor's previous 36 years of existence on the telly. This was followed by a factual documentary, "How To Live Forever," a scientific look at physiology and how regeneration might be possible.

The next item was "Carnival of Monsters," not the 1973 Jon Pertwee serial of the same name, but an index of the most famous monsters to appear on the series with plenty of clips. Then, another Mark Gatiss sketch, which no doubt fulfilled a lifelong dream of his, getting to play the Doctor (clearly a fan, Gatiss has also written some Doctor Who novels in his spare time). In this rather brief adventure, he lands on a planet (a quarry, naturally) and has an humorous encounter with the lamest aliens ever (even by Doctor Who standards!).

"How To Build a TARDIS" was another factual documentary, this one showing the scientific aspects behind the fiction. A trailer promoting BBC-2's screening of "Spearhead From Space" later that week was followed by a rare showing of the final episode of "The Daleks" from 1963, as the First Doctor (William Hartnell) seemingly defeats his most famous foes in their first encounter (or so he thought!).

The final Mark Gatiss sketch had two sad Doctor Who fans, having just kidnapped Fifth Doctor Peter Davison, trying to decide what to do with him. Davison was a good sport to participate, particularly when one of his fans decides he wants to kiss him in the end!

BBC-2 also rescreened the 1996 American made Doctor Who TV movie starring Paul McGann in his only (to date) outing as the Doctor. What was significant about this was scenes that were originally edited out for content (the young punks using machine guns was a bit too close to an actual incident in Britain at the time, and the extended agony of Sylvester McCoy's death scene) were restored, making the movie now exactly duplicate what had been run on the FOX network in the United States.

Fans across the world of course are hoping the BBC will begin making Doctor Who again, so that new adventures can be screened and enjoyed, instead of having make due with retrospectives and reruns. Stay tuned!

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