Doctor Who - Documentary s09e04 Episode Script

The UNIT Dating Conundrum

Yes, ma'am.
I moved from 1980.
There's been an accident.
NARRATOR: For some, the UNIT dating question is merely, "Why did Captain Yates "never get to take Jo Grant out on the town?" I'm all dolled up for a night out on the town with Mike Yates when you talk me into a joyride in this thing.
NARRATOR: For others, it's the single most controversial question in the whole history of Doctor Who.
So, when did the UNITstories take place? Is Sarah Jane really from 1980? Is there a definitive answer? Or do we just have to accept that no amount of retrospective temporal juggling can sort out the contradictions? Let's find out.
There had been some ambiguity, I think, as to where the UNI stories take place.
Broadly speaking, it's the present day, depending on who you'd speak to in the production team or the writers, it might be in the present day or a short while in the future.
I think that the UNIT stories were set the day after tomorrow.
You know, and it was a souped-up version of the present reality.
NARRATOR: It would appear that the production team at the time of the first UNITstory had a clear idea of the timings.
In "The Web of Fear"in 1967, the Doctor has a return engagement with the Yeti and the Great Intelligence whom he'd previously met in "The Abominable Snowmen" some months earlier.
Professor Travers was in both stories.
And reference is made to the fact that the earlier story took place in 1935.
And that that was 40 years ago.
So there we are, in 1975.
Definitively.
True, the production team had failed to predict hot pants, platform heels and Showaddywaddy but nonetheless, this was what they thought the mid-'70s was going look like.
How nice to see you again, Doctor.
It's Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart! Uh, Brigadier now, I've gone up in the world.
Of course, the Yetis, we met you in the That's right, McCrimmon, in the Underground, must be four years ago now.
NARRATOR: The first UNITstory proper, was "The Invasion".
And again, no arguments, this was set four years later.
We're in 1979.
The reason "Shada" was cancelled was because everyone was being hypnotised by Cybermen at the time.
When Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks became the custodians of Doctor Who during the Jon Pertwee years, the UNIT dates start to become a little fuzzy.
It's a bit of deliberate vagueness.
The idea was simply that it was some little time in the future.
Not so far in the future that clothes and cars and absolutely everything would change, but far enough so that you could have something like, you know, the expedition to Mars or something.
Or, you know, um, the Mohole Project drilling deep into the Earth's crust.
Things that hadn't happened yet, but might happen in the future.
NARRATOR: There are lots of little futuristic references.
There's a BBC3 in "The Dæmons", presumably showing Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, Please on a loop in between instalments ofThe Passing Parade.
Britain has a space programme.
In "The Sea Devils", we have futuristic video phones.
But then we see the Master watching an episode ofThe Clangers that, as everybody knows, was screened on the 25th of April, 1971.
But maybe they were predicting video cassette recorders.
Or maybe BBC3 was showing episodes ofThe Clangers on a loop in between showing episodes of Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, Please on a loop in between episodes of The Passing Parade.
By and large, the stories were clever enough not to mention the date.
We would deliberately not give dates to it.
"Day of the Daleks" is particularly clever in this regard.
We know exactly which dates of the year the events take place on in September, but we don't know which year it is.
It's tantalisingly just been mentioned by Jo to the controller before we return to their conversation in his room.
Now you've told me the year.
Can you tell me the exact date? That's easy.
It was September the 13th.
NARRATOR: So, it's still confusing.
But the lack of actual onscreen dating means that we can imagine that the UNITstories are taking place about 10 years later.
If we try really hard.
Jon Pertwee and his team leave, a new one arrives.
UNITare still around and in "Terror of the Zygons", the Brigadier accurately predicts the arrival of Margaret Thatcher.
Or so we say, to be fair, it could be any woman who's become Prime Minster.
Shirley Williams, say, or Su Pollard.
Lethbridge-Stewart speaking.
Hi-de-hi, campers.
Oh, absolutely understood, madam.
NARRATOR: And then suddenly, out of the blue, we get a reference to an actual year.
Look, we travel in time, Mr Scarman, I'm really from 1980.
NARRATOR: 1980.
Now, there's a date to hang on to.
1980.
1980, Sarah, if you want to get off.
I really, at the time, grabbed hold of that.
A-ha! So, the UNIT stories are set in 1980.
Right, so that means that we're a decade on, and you know But it doesn't stack up, does it? NARRATOR: So, all the Pertwee UNITstories took place within a year.
Okay, we can live with that.
We're fans.
And in fact, UNITall but disappeared from the show for several years.
And we didn't have to think about it any more.
That was great.
We knew where we stood.
And then, the Brigadier came back.
Now, this was very exciting, we all loved the Brigadier.
We never thought we'd see him again.
But then this happened.
We're in the wrong time zone.
June the 7th, 1977.
Well done, Brigadier, come on.
"The Mawdryn Undead" says it's 1977, I cannot be bothered to fight with it.
It's like, I don't think it's a particularly good solution.
If you'd asked me, you know, "When should we set 'The Mawdryn Undead'?" I wouldn't have said 1977.
There's nothing you can do about it.
You're just stuffed and you just pretend that it's taking place in an alternate universe with really dodgy kind of telly screens.
NARRATOR: The information divulged in "Mawdryn Undead" changed everything.
Try as we might, we couldn't make it work any more.
Oh, there've been all sorts of theories about parallel universes, duplicate Brigadiers, idiotic production teams, but the truth is no matter how much we try, it's now impossible to entirely make sense of it all.
DICKS: I think with a show with, you know, as long a life span as Doctor Who, you can't really do a sort of meticulously accurate continuity.
It's when you pull back and you start looking at the whole thing as one edifice of storytelling, that it just cannot support its own weight.
This doesn't just apply to things like UNIT dating.
It applies to the very believability of the drama of Doctor Who.
It is plausible, I suppose, in one dramatic way that a figure could have a few of the Doctor's adventures.
But I don't think there is any fictional character who's had as many stories told about him as the Doctor.
Sellar and Yeatman, who wrote a history comic book called 1066 And All That, and they said history is what you can remember.
And I always used to say continuity is what I can remember.
It's what I can remember, you know, from my experience with the show.
And then after that, it's what my successor can remember, you know, about what I did.
I think it behooves the production company, the people who are making it, to understand that there is that continuity and to know when they're breaking it.
And if they are breaking it, to break it for a good reason.
Only the keenest of fans would worry about that, you know.
If they're worrying about what year it is when they're watching the show, you haven't really You haven't really got them hooked enough.
NARRATOR: So I suppose the only question left to ponder is does it really matter? And of course, as any sensible, rational, well-balanced Doctor Who fan will tell you of course it matters! I can't believe they've done this to me, it's the most important thing in the universe! It stops me sleeping at night! Goodbye.