For today’s blog, we enter the strange world of 1980s Doctor Who. In the early 1980s, the production team had discovered a concept called ‘continuity’. Not continuity as one might normally understand it – letting the characters learn from their experiences and change and grow, and trying not to contradict what has gone before – but continuity in the sense of including references to stuff that has gone before. Little easter eggs for the fans, and what’s wrong with that?
In particular, during Tom Baker’s last year they started opening each story with a scene which would refer back to the previous adventure. To tie it all together and make each story feel less disparate – a bit like the approach the show took in the early 60s. Nevertheless, it was still a little odd – off the top of my head, I can’t think of any other shows that did it. Episodes of Minder, for instance, didn’t have scenes referring back to Arthur and Terry’s previous nefarious exploit. Even sort-of-soaps like Angels didn’t refer back to the non-serial elements of the previous installment. Science fiction shows like Doctor Who were largely standalone with no back references – usually because they consisted of 45-minute episodes that could be shown in any order. During the 60s and 70s Doctor Who had largely been standalone too, though there were occasional references to preceding adventures, like the Doctor mentioning Skaro in City of Death, but these were the exception. So for Doctor Who to try to make the beginning of every new story tie-in with the one before was – let’s call it ambitious. Yes. It was very ambitious.
Of course, for writers of spin-off adventures, this is a little inconvenient, as it sort-of closes ‘gaps’ between television stories where spin-off adventures could plausibly be set. So you have to choose your ‘gaps’ carefully. On the other hand, when I wrote Psychodrome, I included an opening scene full of references to the preceding television adventure (Castrovalva) as a deliberate authentic touch:
ADRIC: No, but just in case, this can be your room. It’s just down the corridor from the control room, so you shouldn’t be able to get lost.
TEGAN: What are you insinuating?
ADRIC: You did get lost before. There’s still some of your lipstick on the walls.
- and John Dorney ingeniously slotted Iterations of I into the ‘gap’ between Black Orchid and Earthshock. These things are fun, they’re more easter eggs for the fans, and so they have to be done.
But the point of this blog post is, those little back-reference scenes fascinate me. They’re all clearly the work of the script editor rather than the credited writer of that particular serial (unless that serial is credited to the script editor) and have been added fairly late in the process. Also, they only really exist for the sake of the continuity reference, they don’t really have much point, dramatically or plot-wise, and sometimes include quite contorted conversations in order to cover the necessary ground. They are essentially gratuitous. But since they have no call to be there, the art lies in the fact that they are there.
(Of course, sometimes they’re not gratuitous. Sometimes they are very useful, when the closing installment of the previous adventure has over-run, it means you can provide explanation which was omitted. But I’ll come to that later).
But here, for my own amusement more than anything, is a quick guide to these scenes. Quotes taken from the invaluable chakoteya script archive.
The Leisure Hive – no reference to the preceding story (whatever that was), but an inaccurate reference to Horror of Fang Rock:
“This is the second time I've missed the opening of the Brighton Pavilion”
Meglos - no reference to the preceding story.
Full Circle – this adventure has a rather low-key opening as it has to set up the summons to Gallifrey, Romana’s reluctance to return and the whole E-Space thing. Plus it has to explain what happened to the human who was in the TARDIS at the end of Meglos.
DOCTOR: Well, now we've dropped off our Earth friend we can be on our way.
ROMANA: You've made up your mind, then?
DOCTOR: Oh, yes. We can't resist a summons to Gallifrey.
State of Decay – lots of stuff about E-space but no specific reference to the preceding story.
Warriors’ Gate – again, stuff about E-space but no specific reference to the preceding story.
The Keeper of Traken – another very low-key opening for an adventure, some stuff about how we’re in N-space and that the Doctor and Adric are still due to return to Gallifrey (we never do find out what that summons at the end of Meglos was about, do we?) but no specific reference to the preceding story.
Logopolis – more stuff about the return to Gallifrey but no specific reference to the preceding story.
Now Peter Davison takes over – this is where it gets interesting...
Castrovalva – a great reference to the preceding story, it's funny, and has a plot reason to be there!
ADRIC: I thought the whole point of this Pharos Project of yours was to track down alien intelligences. We thought we'd save you the trouble and come to you.
Four To Doomsday – while this story contains references to Uncle Tom Artron Energy and all, it doesn’t refer back to Castrovalva. Even the idea that the Doctor is trying to return Tegan home wasn’t mentioned in Castrovalva. So there’s a gap, one which I exploited in Psychodrome.
Kinda – a reference to the so-what-was-the-point-of-that-then cliffhanger of Four to Doomsday.
ADRIC: She's hopeless in her present state of mind.
NYSSA: Don't exaggerate. I only fainted.
The Visitation – This is where it gets serious. Two whole scenes are dedicated, pretty much, to the characters discussing the events of the previous story purely for the sake of continuity. Firstly:
DOCTOR: How many times have I told you, Adric, not to interfere with things that you don't understand.
ADRIC: I was trying to escape.
DOCTOR: In the TSS? You were lucky you didn't destroy the whole Kinda tribe.
ADRIC: I didn't realise it would be that difficult to control.
DOCTOR: That isn't the point. You should never have got into that unit.
ADRIC: Well, as it turned out no one was hurt.
DOCTOR: Apart from Aris.
ADRIC: A flesh wound.
And this classic scene – I particularly enjoy Tegan’s line beginning “But while you...”
NYSSA: What's the matter?
TEGAN: It's only sunk in properly, what happened to me on Deva Loka.
NYSSA: What? The Doctor said nothing eventful had occurred.
TEGAN: He would. But while you were enjoying forty eight hours peaceful sleep in the delta wave augmenter, my mind was occupied. Taken over.
NYSSA: By whom?
TEGAN: More a what. Something called a Mara. It makes me shiver to think of it.
NYSSA: You weren't hurt?
TEGAN: No. No, but that's not the point.
Black Orchid – this story’s reference rather spoils the gag at the end of the previous story, that the Doctor has accidentally started the Great Fire of London and just tells his companions “I’ll explain someday”.
NYSSA: You think that wise, considering what we've just done to London?
DOCTOR: Oh, that would have happened if we'd been there or not. All part of Earth's history.
Earthshock – What I like about this reference is Adric’s final comment, which is wonderfully meta.
DOCTOR: You must read this, Adric. The Black Orchid.
DOCTOR: It's fascinating. Such scholarship.
ADRIC: Why should that interest me?
Time-Flight – given Adric’s demise in the previous story, it’s entirely right that this one should begin with the characters reacting to that. What I particularly enjoy though, is the incredibly crunching gear-change as we have to shift from genuine character stuff to a story where everyone is behaving as though nothing has happened. The Doctor literally goes from mourning Adric to checking the cricket scores.
What’s also fun is that with the line “Cyber fleet dispersed” Nyssa deals with the fact that the previous story ended with a massive great plot point unresolved!
DOCTOR: Crew of the freighter safely returned to their own time.
NYSSA: Cyber fleet dispersed.
TEGAN: Oh, great. You make it sound like a shopping list, ticking off things as you go. Aren't you forgetting something rather important? Adric is dead.
NYSSA: Tegan, please.
DOCTOR: We feel his loss as well.
TEGAN: Well, you could do more than grieve. You could go back.
NYSSA: Could you?
NYSSA: But surely the Tardis is quite capable of -
TEGAN: We can change what happened if we materialise before Adric was killed.
DOCTOR: And change your own history?
TEGAN: Look, the freighter could still crash into Earth. That doesn't have to be changed. Only Adric doesn't have to be on board.
DOCTOR: Now listen to me, both of you. There are some rules that cannot be broken even with the Tardis. Don't ever ask me to do anything like that again. You must accept that Adric is dead. His life wasn't wasted. He died trying to save others, just like his brother, Varsh. You know, Adric had a choice. This is the way he wanted it.
TEGAN: We used to fight a lot. I'll miss him.
NYSSA: So will I.
DOCTOR: And me. But he wouldn't want us to mourn unnecessarily.
(MASSIVE CRUNCHING OF GEARS)
NYSSA: Where are we going?
DOCTOR: Special treat to cheer us all up.
Arc of Infinity – Oh, this story has a couple of doozies. Two wonderfully pointless scenes that – although they don’t refer back to Time-Flight – exist purely to address complaints from the Doctor Who Monthly letters page. The Doctor and Nyssa might as well turn to the camera and say “We’ve had lots of letters.”
First there’s this scene, which explains why there was no sound on the scanner in Earthshock (yes, that was a glaring mistake that leapt out at me too).
DOCTOR: And such a simple repair job.
NYSSA: Why didn't you do it sooner?
DOCTOR: Well, you know how it is. You put things off for a day, next thing you know it's a hundred years later.
NYSSA: It'll make quite a difference to have audio link-up on the scanner again.
DOCTOR: Mmm. Let's see if it works.
Seriously, that’s a scene! And then we have this one, which exists – and this delights me so much – purely to explain why a scene in Earthshock contradicted a line from The Hand of Fear broadcast five years earlier.
When did the Doctor tell Nyssa about the state of temporal grace? No idea.
NYSSA: We have an audio system, but nothing to listen to.
DOCTOR: And now we have nothing to look at. Couldn't be better. Peace and quiet is just what the doctor ordered.
NYSSA: Doctor? There are many other repairs to do.
DOCTOR: Well, there's nothing urgent, is there?
NYSSA: The navigational system? That must be faulty. We never seem to arrive where we intend.
DOCTOR: No. Well, you see, ever since the Cybermen damaged the console -
NYSSA: And that's another thing. The Tardis used to be in a state of temporal grace, you said. Guns couldn't be fired.
DOCTOR: Yes. Well, nobody's perfect.
God, what a scene. Full marks, though, to Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton in trying to find some dramatic point in playing it.
It’s not a reference to the preceding story but I do love this moment where, in a moment of crisis, the Doctor invites the fan viewers to check their Doctor Who Programme Guides.
DOCTOR: High Council of Time Lords. We're being taken back to Gallifrey.
DOCTOR: I don't know. It must be urgent. Only twice before in our history has the recall circuit been used.
Well, there was that summons in Meglos, and The Hand of Fear of course, and The War Games, and The Invasion of Time possibly, but would the Doctor remember that? And what about when the Doctor nicked the TARDIS to begin with, did they not try using it then? But, hang on, wait, is he saying that only twice before in the entire history of the Time Lords have they ever had cause to recall a TARDIS? That this circuit which is presumably in every TARDIS has only ever been used twice before – both times with him? It’s kind of amazing that they bothered installing it, to be honest, given that they get so little use out of it. What a strange, strange line – which only serves to undermine the drama of the moment ("The Doctor has been recalled to Gallifrey!" "Oh no, that sounds terrible!" "But don’t worry – it’s happened twice before." "Oh, that’s okay, I’m not so worried now")
Snakedance – Another classic. It turns out that the fact that there are ‘traces of anti-matter’ is a complete red herring, it has nothing to do with the story, it is never mentioned again. It’s only there so they can talk about Omega.
DOCTOR: We're not where we're supposed to be.
NYSSA: Where are we?
DOCTOR: I don't know. There are traces of anti-matter.
DOCTOR: Oh, highly unlikely he's still alive.
Mawdryn Undead – It turns out that the final episode of Snakedance was over-running, so some of the exposition had to be cut. So instead, here it is at the beginning of the next episode, a complete debriefing session for the end of Snakedance. I particularly like Tegan calling Dojjen “that Dojjen person”.
TEGAN: Doctor? I am free of the Mara, aren't I?
DOCTOR: Tegan, Tegan, Tegan.
TEGAN: I'm scared.
DOCTOR: There isn't any need to be.
TEGAN: I'm still having terrible dreams.
DOCTOR: It's your mind's way of coping with the experience. You've suffered a great deal.
TEGAN: That could have been prevented if that Dojjen person had destroyed the Great Crystal.
DOCTOR: No, he couldn't. The Mara could only be destroyed during the process of its becoming. It had to be trapped between modes of its being.
TEGAN: The feelings of hate. Doctor, I couldn't go through it again.
DOCTOR: Well, you're completely free of it now, Tegan. For you, the Mara is dead forever.
NYSSA: For all of us, I hope.
Terminus – Another low-key opening, as it’s mostly Tegan discovering that Turlough has been interfering with a roundel. Turlough mentions his school but there’s no specific reference to the preceding story.
Enlightenment – No specific reference to the preceding story. And no mention of Nyssa, they’ve completely forgotten about her already!
The King’s Demons – Ah, I love this one. Back when we were discussing setting some Big Finish adventures in the gap between Enlightenment and The King’s Demons Alan Barnes and I thought it might be fun to begin each adventure with Tegan suspecting it was a Black Guardian trap. Unfortunately we came to our senses and didn’t do it (though I included a line in Cobwebs, my first story set in that gap, as well as an authentically continuity-laden opening scene).
Anyway, here’s The King’s Demons creating an atmosphere of mystery and suspense:
TURLOUGH: Planet Earth.
DOCTOR: So it seems.
TURLOUGH: You didn't set the coordinates for here by any chance?
TEGAN: When is it?
DOCTOR: March the fourth, 1215.
TEGAN: Is it England?
DOCTOR: Yes, it is.
TEGAN: Could this be a Black Guardian trap?
DOCTOR: I don't think so, but something certainly isn't right.
The Five Doctors – Oh, this is glorious. This story opens with the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough visiting the Eye of Orion, just as they said they would at the end of the previous adventure. So far, so good. But – and this is amazing – they’ve lost a companion! At the end of The King’s Demons, the ever-languid Kamelion had joined the TARDIS team. And now he’s vanished. He’s not even mentioned. So we have gone from stories painstakingly going out of their way to refer to the previous adventure to a complete absence of basic continuity. I don’t think Terrance Dicks had even been told about Kamelion.
And after that, I think the production team (wisely) gave up on these sort of back-references as more trouble than they were worth. Yes, there’s a line in The Caves of Androzani that refers to Planet of Fire, but generally the days of “Let’s spend a scene talking about what happened last time” were over. It was the end of an era. From now on, it was back to standalones - until the Sylvester McCoy era, but that's another story...