To mark the 50th anniversary of ‘Doctor Who’ in 2013, author and lecturer, Andy Thomas joined presenter, alex:g to discuss the show’s anti-authoritarian message and socially aware storylines.


How many people in the UK in the late 1980s would’ve guessed that the BBC sci-fi series ’Doctor Who’ would be captivating TV audiences three decades later, and with all the media fanfare and celebration that surrounded it in 2013, its 50th anniversary year?… Not many for sure. After all, the long-running show was brought to a halt in 1989 following reports of falling ratings, and amid accusations it had become irrelevant and almost ridiculous. “There was a pantomime aspect to ’Doctor Who,’” says Andrew Cartmel the programme’s script-editor between 1987-‘89. The low-budget special-effects and studio-sets were also a source of criticism. Michael Grade, who was the BBC’s Director of Programmes in 1986, said in 2002, “I thought it was pathetic, I mean I’d seen ‘Star Wars’ and I’d seen ‘Close Encounters,’ and ‘E.T.’ and then I had to watch these cardboard things… clonking across the floor trying to scare kids, you know, you just sit and laugh at it.” He also admitted, “I actually hate sci-fi to begin with. I’m not a sci-fi fan.” Sylvestor McCoy, the actor who was playing the part of the Doctor when the series was pulled in 1989, said recently, “it was obvious that those upstairs… they wanted rid of it.” With the exception of a TV-movie in 1996, the Time Lord was absent from our screens until the show’s revival in 2005.

First broadcast on November 23rd 1963 on BBC TV (a day after JFK‘s murder incidentally), ‘Doctor Who’ had been devised earlier that same year. One of the show’s principle creators, Sydney Newman reportedly said it “was really the culmination of almost all my interests in life. I wanted to reflect contemporary society; I was curious about the outer-space stuff. Up to the age of forty, I don’t think there was a science fiction book I hadn’t read. I love them because they’re a marvellous way – a safe way – of saying nasty things about our own society.” Another Doctor – but of an Earth-bound variety this time by the name of Matthew Ashton – is the author of the 2012 article, ‘The Politics of Doctor Who.’ He’s also a lecturer at the UK’s Nottingham Trent University specialising in the areas of both British and American politics as well as media politics. Speaking on BBC TV last month, he said the show, “like every good science-fiction book or film… can reflect contemporary issues. And like a lot of good TV, it works on two levels; firstly… a level for the kids to understand – monsters, adventures – but then kind of more jokes, satire, metaphors for the grown-ups watching.” A case in point perhaps: the Daleks. When asked in a 1978 interview who these death-hungry armour-encased genetic mutations were based on, their creator, the writer Terry Nation replied, “I suppose you could say the Nazis. The one recurring dream I have – once or twice a year it comes to me – is that I’m driving a car very quickly and the windscreen is a bit murky. The sun comes onto it and it becomes totally opaque. I’m still hurtling forwards at incredible speed and there’s nothing I can see or do and I can’t stop the car. That’s my recurring nightmare and it’s very simply solved by psychologists who say you’re heading for your future. You don’t know what your future is. However much you plead with somebody to save you from this situation, everybody you turn to turns out to be one of ‘them.’ And there’s nobody left – you are the lone guy. The Daleks are all of ‘them’ and they represent for so many people so many different things, but they all see ‘them’ as government, as officialdom, as that unhearing, unthinking, blanked-out face of authority that will destroy you because it wants to destroy you. I believe in that now.” The anti-authoritarian message in the show itself, suggests researcher, lecturer, and author, Andy Thomas, has been an inspiration for many in the so-dubbed ’Alternative community.’ He says, “the reality is, I think for a lot of people… people who are sort of interested in Truth issues and getting more to what’s going on – I think a lot of people were very inspired by this programme – because growing up, I mean, you had a character here in whatever guise who was trying to uncover the Truth – who was fighting control agendas.” The Doctor, he continues, “always champions humanity.”

THE NEW DOCTOR... Actor, Peter Capaldi took on the role of the 12th Doctor in the Christmas Day 2013 TV special.

THE NEW DOCTOR… Actor, Peter Capaldi took on the role of the 12th Doctor in the Christmas Day 2013 TV special.

You can hear more of Andy’s views about the show in the video below which is taken from his November 2013 guest-spot on ‘Doom Watch,’ the weekly current-affairs programme with an Alternative twist that’s broadcast simultaneously on the local radio-station, ‘Peterborough FM’ and in-vision on the ’UK Column’ website every Friday between 6pm-8pm. It’s hosted by alex:g who’ll be no stranger to those who remember ‘Edge Media TV’ (‘Sky’ channel: 200) where he presented ‘On the Edge’ and ‘Behind the Sofa,’ the DVD/blu-ray review show that was no doubt titled after the expression first used by the mainstream media back in the day to describe the actions of a frightened child watching ‘Doctor Who.’ Actually – judging by his CV – it’s probably safe to assume that he’s partial to a bit of sci-fi (to put it mildly). For example, he’s interviewed a number of the genre’s biggest names including, Gareth Thomas (‘Blake’s 7’), Ed Bishop (‘UFO’), Sylvia Anderson (‘Thunderbirds’), Dirk Benedict (‘Battlestar Galactica’), Claudia Christian (‘Babylon 5’), and William Shatner and Patrick Stewart (’Star Trek‘). He’s also been a regular fixture at the ‘Cult TV Festival’ weekender.

In the specially edited clip below, he makes reference to ’The Green Death,’ ’The Claws of Axos,’ and ’Invasion of the Dinosaurs,’ three stories from the show’s eighth, tenth, and eleventh seasons respectively and broadcast between 1971 and 1974. These imagined a world where then-British Liberal Party leader, Jeremy Thorpe and Labour high-flyer, Shirley Williams were both Prime Minister (a feat neither of them achieved in real life). They all starred Jon Pertwee in the role of the third Doctor who’d been exiled to Earth by the Time Lords and where he grudgingly joined forces with ‘UNIT’ (‘United Nations Intelligence Taskforce’). In the following clip, alex also reads excerpts from Matthew Ashton’s 2012 article – and which you can see for yourself in its entirety here:


Find out more about alex:g (and ‘Doom Watch’) here…

… and Andy Thomas here…

The interview below was first broadcast on November 22nd 2013 – the day before the special 50th anniversary episode of ‘Doctor Who’ was aired…