November 22, 2013

Doctor Who and the Mechanoids - the adventure on vinyl

A Dalek audio adventure among the worlds of Gerry Anderson

Fifty years since Doctor Who was first shown on TV and my earliest memories of the series are understandably hazy.

For years, I thought I remembered watching William Hartnell episodes on TV, during their original broadcast. I was always very conscious that he was the first Doctor and that Patrick Troughton was the second. But I would have been only 5 years old when 'The Tenth Planet', the last of Hartnell's episodes went out (on October 29th, 1966). Can I really remember that far back? Or was William Hartnell's incarnation so heavily reinforced in books, comics and magazines, that his face was so familiar?

I definitely have vivid memories of several Patrick Troughton episodes, particularly the Cybermats creeping around with the Cybermen, and the two Abominable Snowman stories (which is why the recent rediscovery of four more episodes of Web of Fear is so exciting). These stories went out only a year after Hartnell's departure, so did my visual memory circuits kick in between the two?

My recollections have certainly been heavily skewed by this record (above), just one of a dozens released by Century 21 Productions, mostly made up of Thunderbirds adventures, and marketed as '21 Minutes Of Adventure'. They were crammed onto the two sides of a 7-inch single, by being played at 33 1/3rd r.p.m. to get a longer running time. I'd was only four when this episode was transmitted, but I had clear images of it in my mind...

'The Daleks' was the only Doctor Who record amongst the many StingrayThunderbirds and Captain Scarlet stories. The audio was taken from the last episode of what is known as 'The Chase' storyline, (the onscreen title is 'Planet of Decision'). 

The story blurs into Gerry Anderson territory, not just because it was on sale along with so many Thunderbirds adventures. It's narrated by David Graham, a regular voice artist for Anderson, famously heard as Parker and Brains in Thunderbirds. Graham was perfect for this job having also been one of the earliest voices of the Daleks for the BBC.

It sounds even more like an Anderson episode because of the use of Barry Gray's music, several cues also heard in Thunderbirds 'The End of the Road'. This adds considerably to the dramatic atmosphere.

The Doctor, Ian, Vicki and Barbara enjoying the Mechanoid prison

The eerie voices of the Mechanoids (their early TV21 spelling) are only slightly more welcoming than the Daleks that they're running away from. The ensuing battle and the Earth people's terrifying descent from the roof of the exploding city sound more exciting because of loud explosion sound effects, that also added punch to Anderson's series. Among all of this, hearing Vicki's extended screams as she's lowered 1500 feet from a burning building was, and is, effectively distressing!

The Daleks had met their equals with the Mechanoids, far bigger robots, even less open to reason. Through this record, the Mechanoids were built up for me as a major Doctor Who monster, though this was their only TV appearance.

The story has a particularly pivotal climax in the Hartnell story arc, as the Doctor says goodbye to two of his long-standing companions, Ian and Barbara, who'd been with him since the very first episode. It's also the first episode to feature Peter Purves' regular character, Steven Taylor (above). Rather a busy 21 minutes!

Apart from the many novelisations, this was the only adventure I could vividly enjoy over and over again until the series slowly started being released on VHS in the 1980s, and then shown in its entirety on the BBC cable channel UK Gold.

When I finally saw the events of 'The Daleks' record on VHS, it looked very unfamiliar. Meaning that I must have imagined my own version while listening to it (and my memories of many subsequent dreams), mixed in with a few photographs I'd seen in comics and magazines. Doctor Who articles and adventures appeared in TV Comic, and the Daleks were a regular colour comic strip on the back page of the awesome TV21 comic - a further link with the world of Gerry Anderson. I'd known what all the characters looked like, but I'd imagined the city and how this adventure played out.

The next challenge to my early memories of watching Doctor Who will soon be the recently recovered episodes of 'Web of Fear', the Troughton story where the Yeti roamed the London Underground. An adventure I definitely remember seeing. Honest!

While the '21 Minutes of Adventure' range is still being remastered and released on CD by Fanderson, the Official Gerry Anderson Appreciation Society, the complex copyright issues will probably restrict this unique Doctor Who adventure to vinyl. (And of course, maybe YouTube...)

The release of the other Gerry Anderson Mini-Albums are an ongoing project, the CDs all available from Fanderson Sales once you've become a member.

A recent Dalek and Mechanoid collector's set

Early Doctor Who merchandise at the Moonbase Central blog.

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