Once and Future: The Union

Audio  During the fiftieth anniversary, the lead character in Doctor Who had a convenient number of incarnations for releasing a celebratory story a month.  Across IDW Comics, Puffin and BBC Audio/Big Finish that's exactly what happened with each version of the Doctor celebrated across the first eleven with the twelfth slot given over to some kind overall story resolution were necessary.  August was a big month for us Eighth Doctor completists, even if the audio, Enemy Aliens, was the only decent attempt of the three.

Since then the numbers have become a bit complicated and so licensees have gone for more of a general celebratory approach with Titan Comics largely keeping to participating in the Doom's Day crossover and a Tenth Doctor graphic novel by Dan Slott, BBC Children's Book rolling out three short hard covers featuring revival incarnation in stories set across the past three decades and Big Finish offering this seven parts and a coda, Once and Future.

Multi-Doctor stories are fine and Big Finish has produced some immensely entertaining versions over the years, but they're also aware of the stove hattedness of them so instead have gone for stories which feature a lot of different versions of the Doctor mostly not directly interacting with themselves.  At some point during the Time War, the Time Lord has been hit by a "degeneration" weapon which causes a shift backwards and forwards between different faces.  Who did this and how can it be stopped?

It's been a fun journey.  Some stories have worked better than others, shifting tonally wildly between average romp and curate's egg but it's mostly just been a good excuse to bring together combinations of Doctor, companions and antagonists which might not otherwise meet.  As "degeneration" suggests, this is some future version of the Doctor who happens to sounds like the 4th or 10th Doctor during that adventure with only the memories necessary for the plot.  So we see what happens when Sixth runs into Lady Christina and Jackie Tyler, that sort of thing.

Once and Future: The Union

Its with some trepidation I visited The Union because one of the key mysteries running through the series was in which incarnation the Doctor was originally zapped.  Depending on when it happened, I was either going to have to review the whole lot for the chronology or a few paragraphs to fit in the "Almost, but not quite, entirely unlike the Eighth Doctor ..." section at the bottom and not having to worry about whether the third Doctor suddenly knows who Charley Pollard is.

Big Finish themselves rather gave the game away with their news page on the release with the line, "But which Doctor was shot with it? Was it the War Doctor? The Eighth Doctor? The Fourth?"  Given that the War Doctor isn't on the box art, it's clearly something they wanted to keep secret up until recently so it was clearly going to be him.  Big Finish may love stories but sometimes they're not big on surprises (which is why you should also ignore the cast list for this one until after you've listened to the end).

What we have here is the old "Trill" theory of the Doctor writ large, that there's a core being that calls itself the Doctor which is then hosted by the various incarnations and personalities like a biological desktop theme.  When there's a regeneration that host dies and another emerges who like the Trill in Star Trek is a new individual that is connected to the metaphysical creature whatever and wherever that is, a creature which sometimes communicates with the out shell more directly by choosing a particular face.

In The Union, the Eighth version of the Doctor effectively becomes the spokesperson for the other faces.  He's the one who gets to do the big speeches about how no matter what they look like the core elements of what make the Doctor remain, that he is a good man.  You can tell McGann loves this mythologizing of Doctor Who.  Quite rightly he's inarguably become a relevant and vital part of the franchise despite a shaky beginning in 1996 and being the connoisseur's choice in successive years.

There are some surprises especially in the b-plot which offers some squinty homages to a numerous elements from the history of the franchise.  But this is mostly about explaining mysteries set up earlier in the overall story mostly, it has to be said due to the interventions of River Song who due to the Doctor's condition is more of an active participant, which as you know is fine by me especially hearing this blazing invocation of the revived series interacting with Susan, the one who started it all.

Elsewhere, The Union is a marvellous creation and Maureen O'Brien's performance really sells the batshit insanity locked within her character.  There's also a lovely moment when this version of the Eighth Doctor and Susan finally make amends over the events in To The Death (Cass was recorded at least two years after this) and other cameos have similar notes but they're for other completists to cover (although its implied that no one will remember any of this anyway but they're nice sentiments).

Placement:  "Almost, but not quite, entirely unlike the Eighth Doctor ..." unless something unusual happens in Coda and I have to rethink all of this again.

A History of the BBC in 100 Blog Posts: 1980.

If you'll excuse me for ignoring such things as regional opt-outs ending (for the most part) on Radio 4, the launch of Children in Need and the first broadcast computer generated clock in the world appearing on BBC Two, Tom Baker announced he was leaving Doctor Who in October 1980, so here's a revised repeat of something originally posted to this blog ten years ago about something which has since become more widely available through the Season 18 BD.
One of the more random pieces of old school merchandise in my collection is the Pickwick Talking Books audio release of a Terrance Dicks novelisation of State of Decay.  It was bought for me at the closing down sale at Blacklers, the department store in Great Charlotte Street where the Wetherspoons is now, along with a First Byte Joystick Interface for my Acorn Electron.

The TARDIS Datacore explains that my copy is the re-release which split the hour long reading across two cassettes. It also explains why some copies I’ve seen are only on one tape.  What it doesn’t tell us is how it happened. Given the history of Doctor Who, choosing the Vampire gothic State of Decay, the central story in the wider E-Space trilogy for this release is surprising.  It's usually Genesis of the Daleks.

Also surprising is that it isn’t some abridgement of the TARGET novelisation. It’s a completely different script from Dicks,  who wouldn’t write the book version for another six months, which simplifies the story and reduces the participation of Adric.  The TARGET version would eventually itself be released unabridged in 2016 read by Geoffrey Beavers.

The theme tune is an absolute banger.  It's not the usual off-brand version Ron Grainer/Delia Derbyshire combo that you often find on this sort of thing, but some kind of bouncy synth music which I can still whistle from start to finish through having listened to this audio book to death as a child.  Young minds are like sponges.  Some youngsters learn French.  I memorised this for all time.

When was it recorded?  There's about a year between the recording block for the television version which began on the 30th April 1980 and the release date of June 1981, so there's a twelve month window.  Tom announced his departure in October and regenerated out in March 1981, so you would assume it was before then.  The TV version began transmission on the 22nd November 1980.

Nevertheless he offers a professional and elegant vocal performance, even when handing Adric’s dialogue, in a format which would become the model for later audio books, its influence clear in the entire BBC range that was to come.  Did Pickwick have a plan to release other stories on audio?  Could the history of Doctor Who merchandise have been somewhat different to it is now?

Essentially, why? Do you know?

The Adventure Game

"Precious few children’s programmes have managed to stamp as much of an indelible impression upon the minds of viewers as The Adventure Game. Although just 22 episodes were made, shown on BBC2 over a span of six years from May 1980 to February 1986, nostalgic recollections of talking aspidistras, green cheese rolls and crossing the vortex continue to resonate across an entire generation. OTT was fortunate to talk to the show’s creators, Patrick Dowling and Ian Oliver, about how they dreamed up such a remarkable endeavour and how they turned it into a memorable reality."
[Off The Telly]

"We take a look at how The Adventure Game revolutionised kid's TV."
[BBC Clips]


"This series of three peak hour programmes fronted by seasoned Current Affairs reporter Bernard Falk asked what the new microprocessor-based technology was all about, how it threatened British industry's competitiveness because of its complacency and then looked at the future - at how society might be profoundly changed by computers - chips - the Silicon Factor."
[BBC Computer Literacy Project Archive]

"From the Civic Hall in Trowbridge, a team of experts invite people to bring along their antiques for examination."
[BBC Rewind]

"A special Easter edition of this religious programme from St John's Church in Glastonbury, Somerset."
[BBC Rewind]

"Writer and broadcaster Kevin Crossley-Holland narrates his own script and reads his poems on the seven Burnham villages of North Norfolk, an area well loved since his childhood."
[BBC Rewind]

"An outside broadcast from Beverley in North Humberside presented by Ken Cooper."
[BBC Rewind]

"Together with wildlife artist Gordon Beningfield whose paintings recall a more traditional English countryside, Angela Rippon visits the Cotswold Farm Park where Joe Henson has brought together his colourful collection of rare and unusual breeds of farm animals."
[BBC Rewind]

"A programme exploring the sound of the natural environment with musicians in a Bristol scrapyard.  They perform a piece called 'Tuba Mirum'."
[BBC Rewind]

"A genteel and picturesque look at parish life in the villages and countryside of the sparsely populated Lincolnshire Wolds. It follows Church of England Rector, Peter Fluck, whose parish in Lincolnshire is the largest in the country."
[BBC Rewind]


"A look at the work of Mat Irvine, a visual effects designer on Doctor Who, Blake's 7, Tomorrow's World, Moonbase 3 and Rentaghost."
[BBC Archive]

"Acclaimed Broadcaster Andy Peebles interviewed John Lennon & Yoko Ono in New York on the 6th December 1980, little did they know that it would be John Lennon's last ever interview."
[The Stortfordian Foundation]


"This section covers Pebble Mill, Bristol, Manchester, Newcastle, Southampton and Norwich."
[TV Studio History]

A collection of candid photos of the cast and crew at the holiday camp where the outdoor scenes were filmed, Warner's in the seaside town of Dovercourt in Essex.


"In 1978, the Poetry Society and the BBC launched the National Poetry Competition. Several of the poets featured in this section were winners in the years that followed: Tony Harrison in 1980, Carol Ann Duffy in 1983 and Ruth Padel in 1986. But poetry is hardly a competitive activity, and the poems featured in this section show the variety of voices at play in a changing Britain.  "
[The Poetry Archive]

"The BBC television series Antiques Roadshow is filming in Aberystwyth and reporter Sulwyn Thomas went along to take a look behind the scenes."
[BBC Rewind]

"o do justice to a series that has been so lauded, referenced and recontextualised since its first transmission (1982) should not be a trivial task. It involves disentangling substance from reputation, to simultaneously acknowledge the impact of influence and historical countenance but also judging it on its own terms in an effort to evaluate and commemorate it all over again."
[Off The Telly]

"This second edition features Angus Deayton and Michael Knowles looking at radio comedy in the early 1980s."
[BBC Sounds]

"Tina Heath speaks to John Mitchell, a BBC engineer who has invented a new system that enables television to display an array of different live video and graphic effects. He gives a demonstration using Simon and Goldie."
[BBC Archive]

"The 1980 Pride and Prejudice made-for-tv miniseries is a solid, well-respected BBC adaptation–so respected that it almost kept the 1995 version from being made. It has a reputation for being quite faithful to the original dialogue and story lines, which is half deserved."
[Modern Mrs Darcy]

"Evolution of Newsnight intros by the BBC from 1980 until today."
[Intro Collector]

"When discussing the origins of Yes Minister, one story seems to loom above all: a nervous BBC delaying the series until after the 1979 election. The following version of this tale, told by writer Jonathan Lynn, seems a good a place to start as any."
[Dirty Feed]


"Five BBC orchestras were to be axed in 1980, a decision that was to have major knock on effects for BBC Proms 1980. The season opened without an orchestra, and visually powerful strikes."
[BBC Clips]

"Picket at BBC Broadcasting House in Belfast. The Northern Ireland Orchestra on strike over axing of five Orchestras. Interview with James Galway."
[BBC Rewind]

"Interview with James Hawthorne (Controller, BBC Northern Ireland) regarding accusations of BBC bias."
[BBC Rewind]

"I am writing my first foreword to a BBC Handbook in a year during which the Corporation has been driven to make major economies in order to live within the income provided hr an inadequate licence fee."
[World Radio History]