Doctor Who and the Vanishing Plaques

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 9 August 2007

Presumably, at some point during the 1970s, there was a mental tipping point moment for me when, faced with Tom Baker's boggle eyes on my TV screen, I decided that one day I would like to work for the BBC on futuristic computer stuff.

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That's my explanation anyway, and I'm sticking to it.

I still remember the frisson of excitement I got when, during my full-time days at the BBC, I ended up wandering through the labyrinthine prop store behind the studios at BBC Television Centre, and spotted the TARDIS for the first time in real life.

I always believed that the TARDIS props from the 1996 Paul McGann TV Movie stayed in Vancouver where it was filmed, and that the version in the TVC basement must have been from the endgame of the Sylvester McCoy years.

Prior to the TV revival of the show in 2005 it occasionally got wheeled out by the BBC for special events, like an internal BBC conference thing I went to at Earls Court where it was a star attraction, or when U2's road crew shifted it into the TVC car park whilst the band were doing a live spot on the now defunct TOTP.

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Whilst I was in the UK a TARDIS was on display in the entrance lobby to the BBC Television Centre. It was roped off so that you couldn't touch it, and as ever, I was taken aback by how rough, knocked together and badly-painted television props and scenery can look when you are close up to them. I also didn't manage to get very good photos as I was trying not to upset BBC security by taking them - at least the blurry one looks like the TARDIS might be taking off.

TARDIS in TVC reception

TARDIS in TVC reception

My initial assumption was that it must be from the new series, but an information panel next to the prop explained otherwise. It was actually from the original run of the series - a fibreglass version used on-screen by Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. It has also less memorably been used by Eamonn Holmes in a stunt materialisation entrance to whatever Saturday night fluff he was fronting on the day the second series of the revived show started in 2006. I presume this was the one that I always used to see knocking around TVC.

Still, there was another real treat in store for me inside Television Centre though. The main cafe serves as a waiting space for audiences attending filmings or going on tours of Television Centre, and on display there was a full-sized Dalek prop from the new series.

I haven't been able to get to any of the exhibitions associated with the revival of the show, and so it was the first time that I had met one of the new style Dalek's in the flesh.

Well, to be more accurate, in the Dalekanium.

Dalek in TVC cafe

It isn't the first time that Doctor Who has been on display in the Television Centre cafe. In 2002, three blue plaques dedicated to the first three actors to play the role of Doctor Who were unveiled by The Heritage Foundation.

"The Heritage Foundation is holding a special tribute to the cult television programme Doctor Who on Sunday 19 May. Television Heritage blue plaques in honour of the first three actors to play the legendary time traveller – William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee – will be unveiled at BBC Television Centre, Wood Lane, London W12 by family of the actors and cast members of the show.

The service will be attended by William Hartnell's granddaughter Jessica Carney, Jon Pertwee's widow Ingeborg, actor son Sean and his cousin, Dad's Army star Bill.

Many members of the cast of Doctor Who will also be present, including Colin Baker (the sixth Doctor), William Russell and Carole Ann Ford (companions to William Hartnell's Doctor), Deborah Watling, Anneke Wills and Fraser Hines (companions to Patrick Troughton), Elizabeth Sladen (companion to Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker), Nicholas Courtney (The Brigadier) and Richard Franklin (Captain Mike Yates), plus the series' first producer Verity Lambert and longest-serving script editor Terrance Dicks.

Following the ceremony there will be a charity lunch hosted by the Heritage Foundation at The Grosvenor House, Park Lane."

from a BBC Press Release, 16th May 2002

The three actors may still be listed on the Heritage Foundation's roll of honour, but they are no longer on display in Television Centre.

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They were shamefully removed a few years later when the foyer was refurbished, and where they were once situated is now just a place for the BBC's marketing department to put some adverts for BBC output.

TVC cafe

The Heritage Foundation managed to rescue the Doctor Who plaques themselves, and, now that the BBC clearly didn't want them anymore, it auctioned them for charity. The Patrick Troughton plaque subsequently ended up on eBay. Seen here with Frazer Hines, it was obtained by The Who Shop, where it is now on display in East Ham.

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Who’s Who? The Resurrection of the Doctor charts how the Guardian has covered Doctor Who since it was revived in 2005. If features interviews with Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith and the men in charge of the show's fortunes: Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat. It also includes interviews with a host of other Doctor Who actors including Billie Piper, Freema Agyeman, John Barrowman and writers including Neil Gaiman and Mark Gatiss. There are contributions from legendary author Michael Moorcock, Seventh Doctor Sylvester McCoy, and specially commissioned illustrations from Jamie Lenman.
Who’s Who? The Resurrection of the Doctor” - £2.99 for Kindle & iBooks.

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