Image Credit: Twitch Interactive, Inc. (Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons)
Image Description: The Twitch Logo
By Adam Kendrick
On Tuesday 22nd May, Doctor Who fans worldwide received a surprise which would define their summer of 2018. Following on from hosting previous marathons for cult TV shows such as The Joy of Painting, Power Rangers, and Yu-Gi-Oh!, the live-streaming website Twitch announced that they would be broadcasting more than 125 classic Doctor Who serials over the course of June and July. Starting every weekday from 19:00 GMT, a block of between two to five serials would be streamed non-stop and repeated three times in a row. For UK viewers, catching everything would require staying up ridiculously late and/or waking up early to catch the morning repeat. The inability to pause or rewind, as well as the requirement to tune in at specific times, reminded me of having to tune into UKTV Gold for the omnibus editions of serials, long before the technology for on-demand platforms such as Netflix or iPlayer had been developed.
While it would have been unfeasible to have expected every single serial of Doctor Who from 1963 to 1989, some omissions from the schedule were curious to say the least. Nearly every story unfortunate to have missing episodes was skipped over, which meant not only was William Hartnell’s regeneration in The Tenth Planet not shown, but frustratingly neither was Patrick Troughton’s introduction in Power of the Daleks. The exception to this rule was The Web of Fear, which led to rumours that the misplaced Episode 3 had finally been retrieved and would be broadcast once again for the first time in five decades (it hadn’t). I believe that Twitch had directly negotiated a licensing deal with BBC Worldwide, who are responsible for selling the programme overseas, and ultimately felt that both telesnaps and animated reconstructions were unsuitable for syndication. This theory is substantiated by how some serials differed from the original broadcasts which are freely available on DVD. For example, Mary Whitehouse would be pleased that the infamous “drowning” cliffhanger from The Deadly Assassin had been reedited, while most of Series 22 was broken up into 25 minute episodes, resulting in the credits suddenly rolling mid-conversation or immediately after the Doctor leaving the room.
Strangely, The Ice Warriors was originally scheduled between Tomb of the Cybermen and The Enemy of the World, but was quietly dropped once somebody realised that it wouldn’t be otherwise possible to fit three run-throughs of The Seeds Of Death and The War Games into 24 hours. More inexplicable were the absences of Planet of Fire (at least until it was quickly added to the schedule one week beforehand) and all Dalek appearances not written by Terry Nation, including The Five Doctors. Presumably, permission to stream these serials had not been obtained from the Nation estate, robbing us of classics like Remembrance of the Daleks. Finally, and most confusingly, Logopolis was immediately followed with the pilot for the unsuccessful spin-off, K9 and Company.
Due to the fast-paced and immediate nature of any Twitch chat with thousands of viewers, any attempts at having detailed discussions about the show quickly became futile. Still, I did notice a few reheated arguments over which Doctor was the best, while other viewers patiently explained to newer fans why certain serials wouldn’t be shown during the marathon. For the most part, the vast majority spent their efforts repeating amusing dialogue, cracking in-jokes and references, spamming emotes, and laughing and cheering as each episode proceeded. The result was a communal viewing experience with audience participation, somewhat similar to public viewings of The Room. Fortunately, I was able to embed the stream on my own personal Twitch channel with its own chat room, which other members of the society could use if they wanted a quieter environment to discuss the action.
Every single episode was interspersed with a 60 second promotional trailer of seemingly-randomly picked clips of the current Doctor, to help viewers understand what to expect from each era. The Fourth Doctor was fortunate enough to receive two different trailers, possibly because of the length of Tom Baker’s tenure, but also because the first trailer was arguably rubbish. This prompted the commissioning of a replacement by Pip Madeley, who would also produce the trailers for the Sixth and Seventh Doctors. Bizarrely, the same trailer was typically run twice or more in a row, when it would have made more sense to simply increase the total length to two minutes. These previews quickly became notorious for their heavy repetition, a factor which was only compounded by the First Doctor’s trailer in which Ian insisted thathow “time doesn’t go round and round in circles”. One particular quip which fans quickly latched onto was taken from the final episode of The Chase, in which Ian excitedly exclaims, “Barbara, we made it! London 1965!”, having departed the TARDIS for home. Within hours, it had become a catchphrase amongst viewers and would be constantly referenced in the chat for the rest of the marathon, alongside countless other one-liners from these trailers. The anticipation grew for days until The Chase finally reached its conclusion, resulting in an explosion of delight and emotes within the chat.
Occasionally, the viewers would be shown some trivia questions before the aforementioned trailers. Embarrassingly, some of these questions contained fundamental errors, such as The Time Meddler being referred to as a “Second Doctor story” – perhaps whoever wrote this was thinking of The Mind Robber? Another question claimed that ‘I’m Gonna Spend My Christmas with a Dalek’ by The Go-Go’s was released in the 1980s, a minimum of sixteen years too late. I’m not entirely sure how these mistakes could have been made in the age of Wikipedia, or why they weren’t corrected as soon as they had been spotted. I can only assume they were added intentionally to provoke fan ire, or to give the chat another go-to one-liner – “Another mistake, Styre.”
The marathon was not without technical problems either. After just four days without any incidents, a technical fault resulted in the first half of An Unearthly Child being restreamed instead of The Web Planet, leading to much panic, confusion, and bemusement amongst viewers, including some joking that the serial was now missing. We were then treated to repeats of Planet of Giants and The Dalek Invasion of Earth while Twitch scrambled to “fix the playlist”, a process which somehow took three hours and forty-five minutes to complete. As such, I doubt that there has been, or will ever again be, as much demand for The Web Planet as there had been that evening. As the summer progressed, the problems continued to accumulate; the first five minutes of The Mind Robber were skipped over due to the stream starting late, while Episode 3 of Planet of the Daleks was omitted and shown the following day in place of Episode 1 of Invasion of the Dinosaurs. This was compounded when Invasion of the Dinosaurs was shown in full on the Saturday, but now with the black-and-white Episode 1. Later in the marathon, Part 2 of Attack of the Cyberman apparently used the subtitles from Part 1, something which I’m sure would only have enhanced the experience of watching 80s era Doctor Who. Finally, and most controversial of all, the final episode of Survival was followed by one last montage featuring all the Doctors – except for Colin Baker, to the indignation and outrage of his supporters.
Despite the numerous technical blunders, baffling decisions by management, and a serious lack of communication from the channel (at the time of writing, the official TwitchPresents Twitter account has lain dormant for over a year), this marathon was nevertheless a successful celebration of this long-running, British science fiction show. Fans were able to discover stories which they might not have seen before, alongside the all-time favourites, and were brought together to discuss their favourite moments on social media. Indeed, the popularity of the stream exceeded 20,000 viewers during the start of the Fourth Doctor era. This arguably led to Torchwood being marathoned in late July as well, despite containing mature content which would normally result in most Twitch channels getting suspended. Despite its current availability on iPlayer, I’d be surprised if Twitch doesn’t eventually arrange a New Who marathon in the future. Being able to see the joyful reactions to The Brigadier’s first appearance, the crying emotes as Adric and Peri were written out of the show, and the celebrations as Ian and Barbara finally arrived in London, 1965 will be moments that I will always treasure.
Tides 42 is, at time of publication, available to buy through this link