The Five Faces of Doctor Who


It’s a little staggering to realise that The Five Faces of Doctor Who repeat season began airing in early November 1981.  Thirty five years, where has the time gone?

Back then, the eighteen year old An Unearthly Child and even The Krotons (a mere thirteen years old) seemed like relics from a different age.  The flickery black and white telerecordings had a lot to do with that of course, the lack of colour made them appear much older than they actually were.  But it’s still more than a little strange that Survival seems like a much more current story today than An Unearthly Child did then, despite the fact that Survival is a whopping twenty seven years old.  Funny thing time …..

If you weren’t there, it’s difficult to describe just how important The Five Faces of Doctor Who was.  Old Doctor Who didn’t get repeated and the first commercially available story wouldn’t hit the shelves until 1983.  So if you wanted to get a feel for pre-Baker Doctor Who then your options were rather limited – Target novelisations were your best bet, although there were also the World Distributors annuals (even if their vision of the Doctor Who universe was idiosyncratic, to put it kindly).

Factual information could be gleaned from Doctor Who Weekly and Doctor Who Monthly, whilst a small handful of books – The Making of Doctor Who, The Doctor Who Monster Book – also offered tantalising glimpses of these “lost” stories.  After all, back then we weren’t concerned about the stories which were actually missing from the archives, everything from the past was as good as lost to us.

And then in early November 1981 we had the chance to see how it all started.  I’ve written here about how I view An Unearthly Child today, rewinding thirty five years I’m pretty sure I was just as taken with it then.  Three episodes of caveman antics might not be to everyone’s tastes, but the grime and despair of those episodes fitted perfectly with the dark winter evenings in 1981 (just as they would have done in 1963).  I loved it then and I love it now and I know I always will.

The Krotons had a bit of a bumpier ride.  My ten-year-old self found the story a little thin, but Troughton (like Hartnell) impressed right from the start.  It’s a story I’ve grown to appreciate a little more over the years, as it’s perfect undemanding fare.  And the lovely Wendy Padbury wears a very short skirt, which is nice.

If the internet had existed in 1981 then no doubt it would have gone into meltdown after Carnival of Monsters and The Three Doctors were broadcast the wrong way round.  Carnival, thanks to Vorg and Shirna, looked a little odd back then, and it would take a few more watches before the cleverness of Robert Holmes’ script became clear to me.  The Three Doctors is good fun, nothing more, nothing less.  It was nice to see the Brig in action for the first time though, even if I’d later realise we weren’t really seeing him at his best here.

Logopolis was an obvious choice, as Castrovalva was less than a month away from broadcast (and since it featured Davison’s sole appearance to date, if they hadn’t shown this one then the Five Faces tag wouldn’t have worked).  Since it was a current story it rather lacked the “wow” feeling of the others, but in the pre-VHS age, “another chance to see” was always welcome and following this broadcast I wouldn’t see it again for nearly a decade (a pirate copy came my way in the late eighties).

I’m off to recreate those winter evenings from 1981 with a rewatch over the next few weeks of those five serials – splendid stories, all of them.

6 thoughts on “The Five Faces of Doctor Who

  1. I remember the massive buzz from the anticipation of this series of repeats! As you say, it’s hard to describe the feeling unless you were there, but just HUGE excitement! Those two black and white stories seemed so mysterious…creepy and strange. Especially the first one. I’ve had a soft spot for the Krotons ever since, purely because of this repeat season, so I can’t look at it’s quality objectively! I remember being really impressed with Troughton, and fell in love with Zoe instantly. I look forward to reaching this bit of Doctor Who in my own, more linear version of time travelling television watching!

    The colour stories were equally exciting to me as Pertwee had been my first Doctor (I just caught the tail end – the last season and a half). And of course I knew those two stories from their Target Books novelisations. I clearly remember a dark night in November, in the back of our family car, urging my Dad to race home from shopping, with the panic of knowing I was about to miss the beginning of an episode of Carnival Of Monsters! Those stories seemed so colourful after the previous two. I seem to remember that us fans were aware they were showing the Pertwees round the wrong way so they could repeat the The Three Doctors on the anniversary week. It didn’t bother me too much, and I could replay my audio recordings in the correct order as often as I liked!

    Now Logopolis is one of my all time favourite Doctor Who stories. It’s a wonderful wonderful story. However I do recall extreme disappointment at the time that we weren’t going to get something like The Ark In Space or Pyramids of Mars. Still, I can see the logic of showing it.

    I remember repeats of Grange Hill and The Adventure Game were on immediately afterwards, and the fourth series of Blake’s 7 on BBC1 later in the evening on Mondays. And I have to admit that, like you I have recreated these five weeks myself…


  2. Great reminisces, thanks for that! Although VHS recorders were starting to make an impact in 1981, I think most of us were still pre-VHS. As per your comment on Carnival, this made the Five Faces repeats even more precious – miss it and maybe you’d never see it again.

    My parents wouldn’t get their first VHS until 1986, but as soon as they did I made a byline for the nearest video rental shop. They had Day of the Daleks and Robots of Death on their shelves, which was a seminal moment for me – being able to stop, rewind and rewatch seems like second nature now, but back then it was amazing ….


  3. Agreed, an amazingly exciting series of repeats at the time. Also my first off air recordings (on Beta) which still look good today. I might just dig them out in a week or so and give them another viewing….

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This was the best Doctor Who retrospective because it did what it said on the tin.

    In 1992 we were supposed to have a season of repeats of Doctor Who featuring all seven Doctors, but they took it off after Jon Pertwee, and we had to wait a year for the rest of the repeats.

    The BBC did an archive season in 1976 called Festival 40, and did a similar season ten years later for BBC Television’s 50th anniversary, but their best archive season was Festival 77 which showed one programme from each year of the Queen’s reign. And likewise the best Doctor Who archive season was The Five Faces of Doctor Who.


  5. The difference between An Unearthly Child and Survival is that the former was first broadcast before we were born, but we saw the latter when it was first broadcast.

    People who saw the very first episode of Doctor Who will have a different perception of An Unearthly Child to us, and fans of the current series who weren’t born in 1989 will have a different view of Survival.


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