Monday, November 29, 2010

IT IS MOST UNCOMMON FOR ME TO WRITE ABOUT A SPECIAL FEATURE DOCUMENTARY HERE BUT I FELT COMPELLED TO BRING IT TO YOUR ATTENTION. I recently bought the DOCTOR WHO: REVENGE OF THE CYBERMEN dvd. Now while the Doctor Who adventure itself is fairly mediocre and not one of the best, there is a documentary on there which cannot be missed -- even if one isn't a DOCTOR WHO fan! The half-hour documentary is entitled "CHEQUES, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE" and I only wish some poozer would post it on youtube so I could show it to you. This documentary seems to be getting rave reviews; the dvdactive site going so far as to say "This might well be our favourite extra ever to grace a Doctor Who DVD" and blogtorwho calling it the "highlight" of the dvd. And as for myself, I have to admit that I've watched CHEQUES 4 times in a row! The premise of the doco is bring to life Doctor Who fandom video collecting way back in the deep, dark late 1970's and 1980's. The film features interviews with grown-up fans who were kids back then and really gives a feel for what things were like before VCR's were a common household item and DVDs and the internet didn't exist. CHEQUES opens with a scene from 1983 in which three pre-teen boys are surreptitiously approaching a house on what looks like a drugs buy; they ask each other how much money they've got and discuss the man they're going to see hoping he "has the stuff". The knock on the door and a man appears beckoning them to enter. It is then revealed, as the scene shifts to the boys' home, that they have just purchased a pirate Doctor Who video.
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CHEQUES, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE can be appreciated by everyone of a certain age who grew up in the 60's, 70's or early '80's. And yes, even if you're not a DOCTOR WHO fan because those of us who were also into the horror genre or science fiction or whatever can equally relate to the difficulty we had just FINDING anything concerning our favourite genre. Books on horror films, for example, were very few and far between and fanzines were difficult to get. An issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND or STARLOG on the newstand was pretty much it. Fan conventions were usually distant dreams unattainable. And we had to scan the TV Guide every week to find a rare showing of a beloved horror movie. Because that's the only way we could see it; there was no such thing as home video recording so we were at the mercy of the local TV programmers. VCRs were extremely expensive when they first came out and beyond the reach of most families. The first VCR I ever got was purchased in 1982 and I believe it was something in the neighbourhood of $300 - $400; I had earned the money for it by keeping a ledger of chores such as painting the back porch or backyard fence etc. Each chore was given a "point value" which would then be applied to the price of a VCR. When I had reach the halfway point, my parents sprung for the other half of the price. Also good to remember is that back then a blank videotape was also horribly expensive: a 2 hour tape cost $20 in 1982! So this meant one had to choose long and hard what one would record and what one would tape over because it would be a while before one could save up to buy another blank videotape at those prices.
DOCTOR WHO fans in England had a similar (and possibly more difficult) problem. The BBC never repeated older DOCTOR WHO programmes so once they aired they were gone seemingly forever. CHEQUES, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE does a very good job portraying the angst of kids reading their Target novelizations of past Dr. Who stories and knowing they would never EVER get to see the original programmes. Combine this dilemna with the fact that it became known that the BBC had erased many of the older DOCTOR WHO programmes and they were truly gone forever! The various now-adult interviewees relate their glum resignation to this fate and then their slow inkling in the underground world of DOCTOR WHO fandom that maybe. . .just maybe. . .they could get to see these old shows after all. News began circulating that people were trading videotapes of previously unattainable DOCTOR WHO adventures. Where could they possibly have come from? The BBC certainly weren't rerunning them to be taped off the telly. But no, it was Australia to the rescue; Australian television had been rerunning Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker DOCTOR WHO episodes which had trickled into England among collectors. An hilarious but all-to-familiar example is given as to what a videotape looks like when it has been copied from a copy of a copy sometimes 11 generations or more; the picture shown in CHEQUES is all but unwatchable. And I myself can remember watching videos almost that bad! The documentary further goes on to reveal how some people knew somebody with access to the BBC Archives and then some of the older black & white William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton stories began to venture forth into the pirate video community. Finally, after the Doctor Who 20th anniversary celebration woke the BBC up to the fact that home video might make them some money, they released the first home videotape of DOCTOR WHO -- wouldn't you know it. . .it was REVENGE OF THE CYBERMEN. Auntie Beeb also broke down and finally aired older episodes when they announced the year-end airing of "THE FIVE FACES OF DOCTOR WHO" which would feature a story from each of the (then) five actors who played the Doctor starting with the very first story from 1963 starring William Hartnell. The race to buy home video recorders was then on!
CHEQUES, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE is a wonderful half-hour documentary which really brings alive the spirit and experience of these former childhood DOCTOR WHO nuts and the exquisite pain of searching and waiting for some precious find. The point is made, of course, how easy today's fans have it -- the usual "old folks" grumble -- with the ready availability of practically everything on DVD and the internet. However, these older fans do not begrudge the kids of today and, in fact, assert that they would've much preferred to have the same embarrassment of riches available to them when they were growing up. Of course, they also make the point that there is something to be said for the exquisite yearning and waiting for the publication of the Christmas Doctor Who Annual or the keen anticipation of that underground pirate video arriving through the mail slot. I too would've loved to have today's easy access to all media when I was a kid. But one does feel that perhaps it's now too easy and fans today are missing something which made each find so very, very rare and special. If you have even the slightest interest in DOCTOR WHO, or science fiction, horror or any other fantasy genre then you have just gotta see this documentary on the DOCTOR WHO: REVENGE OF THE CYBERMEN dvd. Put it in your video queue. But not right away. Make yourself wait a little first so you can savour the anticipation!

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Dis Guy said...
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