Who's On, Wogan?: When Terry And The Doctor Collided...

Wogan, the BBC's flagship early evening chat show, was a regular fixture on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 1982 and 1992. Doctor Who, their occasionally flagship early evening family adventure serial, was a regular fixture on Saturdays between 1963 and 1986. And when Doctor Who finally slipped out of the Saturday evening schedules, the two programmes ran up against each other in an unexpected way.

Having tried to quietly cancel it back in 1985, only to find that 'Doctor Who fans' and 'quietly' are concepts as alien to each other as The Voord, the BBC had been forced against their better judgement to bow to public pressure (and it's always worth pointing out that there was sane, rational and mainstream public pressure as well as all the buffoons picketing Colin Moynighan's house dressed as Vega Nexos or whatever it was) and bring it back. As they hadn't particularly wanted to bring it back, and an initial attempt at recapturing its Saturday Night audience had failed spectacularly and taken Roland Rat with it, there was only one realistic option left open to the BBC - to shove it away where nobody would see it, and it could just sort of fade from view like a badly-rendered mid-seventies Tardis dematerialisation. Hence from its low-key high-profile relaunch in 1987 to its quiet gurgling down a plughole at the very end of the eighties, Doctor Who was scheduled on Monday and/or Wednesday evenings directly against Coronation Street.

Yes, that's Coronation Street, the ratings-conquering ITV soap opera that had not long celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary, and indeed was so popular that plans were afoot to bring in a third weekly instalment. Doctor Who on the other hand had just waded through two messy series featuring its least popular lead actor by some distance, so it wasn't so much not a fair fight as not anything even resembling a fight to begin with. Doctor Who got the polarity of its neutron flow comprehensively reversed by Brian Tilsley and company and there was nothing that anyone could do about it. The fact that even most of its supposed fans were gleefully sticking the boot in didn't exactly help, admittedly, but you can't help wondering how much of the carping about 'pantomime embarrassment' and sneering at Sylvester McCoy fighting a cardboard monster made of a rubber set or something actually came from people who wanted to make sure that they got to watch Coronation Street on the colour TV set.

The average household at that time would more than likely have had a single colour television set and a black and white portable in the 'other room', and a combination of majority rule, passive aggressive occupation of armchairs and argumentative tactics learned from the soaps themselves usually resulted in the more mainstream-orientated members of the family getting their way and getting to watch in colour. The hapless Doctor Who fan would therefore have to fiddle about with that crackle-prone tuning dial thing until they got a decent enough signal to watch the latest exploits of Mr. Ratcliffe and The Kandyman in glorious monochrome. True, it wasn't as unfair as when poor old dad was made to watch the snooker in black and white, but you can hear the massed fumings of injustice reverberate to this day. In the hope of preventing armed revolution in the living room, an uneasy truce was usually arrived at whereby the Doctor Who fan was allowed to video the show instead to watch in colour at some later date, and that's where their practical problems began.

With blank videotapes costing a comparatively fair amount, available recording space at a premium (if you worked it out correctly you could fit seven episodes on an E180, requiring a budget-friendly two tapes per series), and little realistic hope of seeing any of the new episodes again otherwise - the BBC had released approximately two and a half Doctor Who stories on video by that point, and repeats seemed indescribably unlikely - getting the whole episode but nothing more on tape was paramount. And, due to the associated need to flit between two rooms in order to accomplish this - nobody upon nobody had the video hooked up to their 'other' television - a very tricky operation indeed. Thus it was that from about half past seven every Monday and/or Wednesday evening, a nation's hallways were filled with fans nervily listening out for the closing comments and closing music of Wogan, trying to work out the precise moment when they could press record with minimal tape-wasting collateral damage. One shudders to think how many obsolete old tapes there are out there, wrapped in line-drawn 'Tape Library' covers done by a bloke at the Sci-Fi local group, containing late eighties episodes of Doctor Who interspersed with twenty seconds of the closing titles of Wogan. Mind you, you do have to feel for those fans who actually liked both Doctor Who and Coronation Street... but that's another story.

Though you wouldn't know it from the average autopilot cut-and-paste history of the show or indeed grandstanding JNT-bashing forum swear-off, belittled and embattled Doctor Who did actually put up a good and admirable fight against the Cat-heralded behemoth on the other side. Though only those few faithful who actually bothered to stick with it will be able to attest to that. Which, come to think of it, gives me an idea for an article...