70’s UK TV – Part 2 – Star Trek and why I turned off Doctor Who

Star Trek boldly went where no man, woman, child had gone before. Well, actually it didn’t.

Although way before my time, but now one of my favourite movies, Forbidden Planet from 1956 introduced the idea that travelling between the stars in a faster than light ship would be run like a modern day naval vessel, but in space instead of travelling the seas.

The film was set in the 23rd century, the awkwardly named C-57D, a faster than light starship was commanded by Leslie Nielsen’s (of later Airplane and Naked Gun fame) John J Adams. The ships mission was to retrieve Dr. Edward Morbius from planet Altair IV, who was part of an expedition sent to the planet 20 years earlier. The expeditions crew of the Bellerophon, were all killed by “a planetary force” and that were left on the planet are Dr. Morbius, and his daughter Altaira.

The planet contains whats left of the Krell civilization an amazing underground machine complex. They eventually find out that the machine can create things from thought and the Krell were killed off by the “monster from the Id” a creature created from their subconscious minds. Let’s just say we get to see the crew battle this invisible creature and stuff blows up. Oh, and the commander gets the girl.

The visual effects for this film were ahead of it’s time, models and matte paintings of the massive structures dwarf the actors, animations show the invisible creature (created by Disney animator Joshua Meador) and the working machine, and a full scale starship was placed amongst the alien planet set with a huge backdrop representing the distant planetary landscape.

Apart from the sets, costumes, props, visual effects one of my most favourite aspects of the film is Robbie the Robot. Simply saying “Starring The Robot”. An original design mostly created by Robert Kinoshita, and four other members of the team. He also had a hand in creating creating TOBOR from Tobor the Great two years earlier and the later Irwin Allen hired him to create the B9 Robot from the TV series Lost in Space.

The original Robbie the Robot full size costume was sold for $5.3 million (£4.2 million) at New York’s Bonham’s auction house in 1917. If I didn’t have a Dalek I’d love to build one of these, but I would expect I’d get stuck on the Perspex dome.

I had to settle for the classic six inch model instead but I did add some lights for effect, now I just have to get it to talk and make me gallons of whiskey

Prior to Forbidden Planet Sci-fi films at the time were cheaply and not taken as seriously as this one.

The Chief Engineer of the starship, Richard Anderson went on to play Oscar Goldman the OSI boss in charge of Steve Austin mentioned in the previous blog.

Before we head back on to the wagon train to the stars, Star Trek we have to mention the score to Forbidden Planet.

The soundtrack was the first fully electronic music score produced by Bebe and Louis Barron. They created hand built oscillators and unfortunately, couldn’t be credited as musicians for the score due to musician union issues and they were credited as producing the “Electronic Tonalities”. It’s an interesting mix of the music and sound effects and still to this day is a unique score.

So, Gene Roddenberry was quoted in saying he wanted to create Forbidden Planet as a TV series and in 1964 he got his chance with Desilu Studios, headed by Lucille Ball and Herb Solow, director of production with NBC network. The Star Trek pilot episode “The Cage” was rejected as it was “too cerebral” for audiences at that time. But they thought it had potential so the ordered a second pilot keeping only the Spock character and the actress that played Number One. They thought it was good and order a full series for autumn (fall) of 1966 in the US.

Over in the UK we didn’t get to see our first episodes of Star Trek until July 1969 on BBC 1, which was actually five months after the series was cancelled in the states after an epic 79 episodes. At that time I was 16 months old, so I very much doubt I was watching the first episode.

I’m not sure of my first memories of watching Star Trek, but the original first run Wednesday night showings of Trek ran through to 1971, so I might have been in the room when my parents watched it. After that there were multiple showings of Star Trek throughout the 70’s and 80’s.

I do remember one of the channels showing Star Trek from the beginning through to the end of season 3 which was probably the first time I’d seen them in order. This excluded the banned episodes which weren’t shown on British television until 1994 on Sky One.

I did collect some of the original Star Trek VHS tapes, mainly “The Cage”, “Mirror, Mirror”, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and my all time favourite episode “City on the Edge of Forever” around 1988. I seemed to love time travel and alternate reality episodes.

Before that if you wanted to watch the original Star Trek you would have to wait until the BBC or Sky would show them. Not necessarily in the right order. For some reason whenever I saw Star Trek at my grandparents I always remember seeing repeated showings of “The Man Trap” episode featuring the salt monster.

When it came to the merchandising I remember one of my grandparents buying me the Dinky Starship Enterprise. It featured little hard plastic disks which you could load in the top and fire out the front by turn the metal bridge around on the top. The nacelle tips (the engines) might have rotated when you twisted them and it also came with a small shuttle craft which would fit on the underside.

Okay, it wasn’t actually where the shuttle bay was located on the back of the ship but at least the doors opening meant that you could place it on a table without it falling over.

All of the plastic elements were orange except for the round disks.

They did have a Dinky version of the Klingon warship but I never owned one myself but do remember playing with friends that had them buried in the bottom of their toy boxes.

I also remember owning the Star Trek equivalent of the cheapo slide projectors with their cardboard slides, coloured cartoon cells tiny single light bulbs and giant C cells. The memories of the flickering bulb as the batteries faded in a darkened room are many.

I do remember watching Star Trek on our first portable black and white TV on the kitchen counter and how it didn’t matter whether that it was black and white as the technicolour sets and costumes were ingrained in my head.

You know who wears the blue shirts around here

We shall leave the wonderful resurgence of Star Trek The Next Generation for another blog as my memories of those included hiring VHS tapes from the video store and watching dodgy US imported copies of season two in a sweaty crowded convention room at the end of the 80s.

Meanwhile back in the 70s there was another British made Scifi TV series that I loved, got bored with briefly whilst sampling disco American shows and then returned before it was cancelled and then returned in 2005 with a big bang. Doctor Who.

Doctor Who started on the BBC back in 1963 so that was a few years before my eyes could focus and I could understand the concepts involved.

It is a little British show about a man in a blue box travelling around in time and space and just happening to land somewhere where he’s and now she’s needed to solve a problem, rescue a civilisation, destroy a mortal enemy for the last time, again or simply try to have a nice break somewhere and all hell can literally breaks loose.

The original concept was that the man was human and he built the box, but eventually we found out that he is called “The Doctor”, a Timelord from the planet Gallifrey who stole a broken box to seek adventure and have a few laughs.

The box itself was a brilliantly simple idea. The box, a Tardis, is suppose to disguise itself based on its surroundings, but that chameleon circuit broke and it became stuck looking like a 1960s Police Public Call Box. Between Doctor’s there have been subtle changes in size, shape, colour, texture and external details, but essentially it’s a telephone box.

Original Artwork © The Author 1993-2010  http://www.themindrobber.co.uk/tardis-police-box.html

If you want to look at the different versions of the Tardis check out this excellent article from themindrobber.co.uk

The idea for the Tardis being a relatively portable “spaceship” which could be set up just about anywhere inside and out saves all the landing sequences. It also fades in an out when travelling, at least in the early days. Star Trek had a similar simple idea. They couldn’t land the ship and it was expensive to land a prop shuttle every time they wanted to visit a planet so they transported themselves down to the planet. They did occasionally use the shuttle but it was a fairly static prop.

The Tardis was a small prop so how could you fit people inside? Make the inside bigger than the outside of course. Transdimensional engineering makes this possible.

The Doctor has a strange habit that when he is severly injured he can change his entire molecular structure and change his features. Basically giving the chance of one actor to leave and take their place. It’s bacause of this that Doctor Who has been running for over 50 years.

My first Doctor that I remember seeing was Jon Pertwee. I couldn’t name the exact episode, but JP was the Doctor from 1970 to 1974 so would have seen my first regeneration from JP to Tom Baker. JP was in 5 series and 128 episodes in total.

The best villain from Doctor Who was definitely the Daleks. Jon Pertwee had several stories featuring the Daleks, such as Day of the Daleks, Frontier in Space, Planet of the Daleks and Death to the Daleks. I loved them, I don’t remember the specific details of the episodes at the time, but I loved them and the only classic Doctor Who episodes I own on DVD are Dalek related or stories that contain Daleks. Cybermen are a bit Meh… until possibly Peter Davison’s Silver Nemesis era, but at this point in the 70s, Daleks were the only really good villain that I could process at the time.

I love Daleks so much so that during a Star Wars/ Doctor Who event in about 2008/2009 Idecided I would build a Dalek. One of these blogs will detail the whole building process that went from November 2009 to July 2010.

I named him Dalek Bruce, after the shark in Jaws as I never thought that it would ever work of get finished. It did, it does and he still gets invites to events.

Do you see how I refer to him and he!? Well, I love my acting and voice stuff so when I get it that Dalek, I become Bruce. He has his own Facebook page and YouTube channel with more views than my own. One of his most popular and still seems to get more popular is the ALS ice bucket challenge.

Watch this and give Bruce more views.

Some of my favourite include when Bruce and I, met Peter Davison and Michael Wisher.

Or when he had the opportunity to do a cover of “Happy” from the “Despicable Me” soundtrack and was filmed and recorded at the Royal Quays in North Shields.

I’ll let you in to a secret. Bruce had the words written down on a piece of paper so the Kaled (me) could read it. I forgot my glasses and the light wasn’t brilliant so I had to make up some bits of the song. It was really fun to do.

He’s bumped into celebrities, exterminated Salvation Army folk and raised a lot of money for various charities and on the odd occasion when he is not commenting about peoples beards or dress sense he’s also made people laugh and smile. If only I could do that. 😉

So the Dalek style that Bruce is based on was from my favourite Dalek episode, “Genesis of the Daleks” written by the original Dalek writer and creator Terry Nation. In that episode they explained the origin of the Daleks through unethical experiments on the Kaled race. Near the end Tom Baker’s Doctor was given the decision to end the Daleks by touching two pieces of wire together before they ever came into full existance.

It also featured the first appearance of another classic villain the in story Dalek creator, Davros. As in the classic story trope by the end Davros loses control of his creation and they exterminated them.

He did get better though.

In Genesis of the Daleks, one of the voices for the Daleks in the above clip was the late great, Roy Skelton, who was also the voice of Zippy and George in children’s TV show, Rainbow.

We all love a good exterminate!

At some point during the Tom Baker Doctor Who years, unless there was a Dalek specific episode, I ashamedly got a little bored with Doctor Who. There were prettier things on at the same time on ITV.

In late 1980 a new American show came to our TVs in the UK.

Developed by Glenn Larson of Knight Rider, Battlestar Galactica, Magnum PI and Quincy, starring the unknown Gil Gerrard, it was colourful spectacle, had amazing spaceships, robots, special effects and a fun theme tune. The theme even had lyrics….

The special effects were excellent for TV and I was dazzled by shiny things, my parents loved shiny things and we ended up watching the Saturday teatime Sci-fi show. Buck Rogers a regular astronaut from 1987 was thrown into the far future and had to adjust to all the weird future stuff that still looked like a 70s Disco with the same fashion and values. Wide collars, open shirts and hairy chests that we hadn’t seen since the Six Million Dollar Man. Buck and pals were part of the Federation defending Earth from threats from space.

We probably saw the TV film which was also released in the cinema and then followed the TV series. We enjoyed the first series enough to tune in to the second series which had new producers and had a completely different tone. It introduced new characters and based the series on a spaceship The Searcher, seeking out lost tribes of Earth. Very similar to Larson’s previous show Battlestar Galactica.

After the second series of 11 episodes it was cancelled, so we could get back to watching Doctor Who on BBC 1.

Speaking briefly of Battlestar Galactica, I only remember the TV movies which we released at the cinemas in the UK around 1978. I must admit I wasn’t a big fan but I did end up owning a toy Cylon spaceship, which went alongside my Corgi Buck Rogers Starfighter.

Strangely I do remember at the time, a bit of a controversy with the Battlestar Toys. A child from Atlanta, Georgia fired a rocket from a Viper toy into his mouth and choked to death. The toys were recalled by Mattel and rereleased where the missiles would simply pop out without leaving the rest of the toy. I remember buying it from WHSmiths in Eldon Square Newcastle. Where it is now, I have no idea.

There will be one last jaunt into 70’s TV and then we will head into the 80s.

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