Wednesday 26 December 2012

184. Dr. Who: Massive New Set From Royal Mail.

William Hartnell (1963 - 66)
In a remarkable display of co-operation between 2 great British institutions, Royal Mail and the BBC have announced that a massive set of 11 1st class postage stamps and a miniature sheet containing a further 5 different stamps will be released on 26 March to celebrate a third great British institution - the television programme Dr. Who which was first broadcast on the BBC 50 years ago on 23 November 1963, the evening after the assassination of President John Kennedy of The United States, the launch of the programme being slightly delayed by news coverage of that traumatic event. The set of 11 stamps will depict each actor who has played Dr. Who - more properly known as "The Doctor" - starting with the late William Hartnell who played the role from 1963 to 1966. The designs show each actor in costume as "The Doctor" and depicting them against a background taken from the different opening sequences of the programme over the years, some of them from the 1960's and 1970's rather psychedelic in effect as can be seen from the accompanying illustrations. William Hartnell was born in 1908 and prior to establishing himself as Dr. Who had appeared on television in various comedy roles as well as in cinema. He died in April 1975, having appeared in the 10th anniversary episode of the programme in 1973 alongside the next 2 Doctors, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee.
Patrick Troughton (1966 - 69)

Patrick Troughton, born in 1920, played Dr Who from 1966 to 1969 and was able to succeed William Hartnell because the producers of the series came up with the ingenious idea that when The Doctor was at the point of death, being an alien he could regenerate into a new body and possess a new personality. This conceit has served the programme very well ever since and has enabled it to continue for 50 years with the viewing public accepting a new Doctor when the previous one wishes to give up the role. Patrick Troughton died in 1987 whilst appearing at a convention for Dr Who enthusiasts in The United States.

Jon Pertwee (1970 - 1974)
The introduction of Jon Pertwee (1919 - 1996) as the Third Doctor coincided with the introduction of colour television in The United Kingdom which is why the first 2 designs of the set are black and white and the rest are more colourful. He played the role until 1974 when he was succeeded by Tom Baker, the oldest surviving Dr Who and the actor who played the role for the longest time, until 1981.

Tom Baker (1974 - 81)
Peter Davison became the youngest actor to play the role when he became the Fifth Doctor in an episode broadcast on 4 January 1982. He was already well known among the British television-viewing public for a role he had played in another BBC television series, the then very popular, "All Creatures Great And Small".
Pater Davison (1982 - 1984).
Peter Davison was succeeded by Colin Baker in  March 1984 but by then the programme had fallen out of favour with important officials at the BBC and especially Michael Grade, the Head of Broadcasting, who loathed the programme. In consequence it suffered from receiving a very low production budget and production standards became so poor that Grade was able to take Dr. Who off the television for 18 months. Grade was not impressed with the new series and only allowed it to continue in production on the condition that another new leading actor be chosen. Thus Colin Baker's period as The Doctor was relatively short - until 1986.
Colin Baker (1984 - 86)
Sylvester McCoy became the first Scotsman to play The Doctor in 1987 and was the incumbent when the series celebrated its silver jubilee in 1988. But budgets remained too low for the sort of production standards that were necessary for science fiction productions of the early 1990's and the BBC finally cancelled Dr. Who in 1989.
Sylvester McCoy (1987 - 1996)
Despite its absence from television screens, Dr Who retained a loyal band of followers and eventually an attempt was made to restore it to television schedules when the BBC allowed a television movie to be made in The United States and this introduced the Eighth Doctor, played by Paul McGann:-
Paul McGann (1996)
While this was popular in Great Britain, it was not a success in The United States and a subsequent series was not made and so Paul McGann became the only actor to play the role in the series for just one episode (unless he appears in a celebratory 50th anniversary special programme in November this year). Eventually the generation who had watched Dr. Who as children grew up and some became writers and television executives themselves and their remarkable abilities coupled with their love for the television series put them in a position to reintroduce Dr Who to a new generation of television viewers. Thus, in 2005, Dr Who returned to British television screens with an actor, Christopher Eccleston, playing the Ninth Doctor:-
Christopher Eccleston (2005)
He played the role for just one season and was succeeded by David Tennant, the second Scotsman to play the character, and he established both himself and the programme once more as being immensely popular with the British public as well as with viewers further afield. David Tennant, in the role of Hamlet, has already appeared on a British stamp - the !st value of the set of 6 issued on 12 April 2011 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Royal Shakespeare Company.
David Tennant (2006 - 2010)
Matt Smith became the 11th Doctor in 2010 and will therefore be The Doctor at the time of the 50th anniversary which will precisely be 23 November 2013 (expect lots of special commemorative postmarks and covers to be produced for that date; no doubt, as I write, cover-producing companies are pursuing actors associated with the programme to sign them up to autograph covers to be bought by a clamouring public). Royal Mail, as well as the BBC, clearly plan to use this popular anniversary as an enormous opportunity - the Royal Mail website now has a section in which anyone wanting to buy all the products they will produce during the year can register with them and receive early news of what I expect will be numerous items. Plans seem to be going along the lines of my spoof Royal Mail new issue programme in a blog of November 2011 in which I predicted that Royal Mail would have a "Dr. Who Year" which is precisely what they seem to be doing. For Dr. Who philatelists this could all turn out to be rather expensive (shades of the 2012 Olympics stamps?)
Matt Smith
What will be the biggest ever British commemorative set (a total of 16 stamps) is completed by the miniature sheet with 5 different designs - 4 featuring The Doctor's enemies - some marvelous monsters in the form of a Dalek, an Ood, the Weeping Angels and a Cyberman. The 5th stamp depicts the Tardis, Dr. Who's machine which travels through time and space and which is the means by which he is able to travel to the various places on earth and in space where he and his companions experience their adventures which have entertained the British public for a half-century and have established the character as a modern-day British icon.

One final thought, a little bit of time travel you might say, in 1963, when Doctor Who's adventures started, the British Post Office issued just 12 commemorative stamps during the whole of the year (4 less than will be issued in this single set). The total face value was 9 shillings and 1 and a half pennies - about 40 and a half pence; the total cost of the Dr. Who set and sheet will be £9.70p. O dear! - what would William Hartnell's First Doctor have to say about that?

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