“Copies of copies of copies of….*”

*Copyright Bart Ehrman, 1996

I have to confess, for all my textual criticism geekiness (“Hmm, that’s how many payments at how many dollars  for the Logos Gottingen Septuagint?”), Bart is not the first person I think of when I hear this phrase.

It’s Jon Pertwee and the 1980s.

Yup. Doctor Who. Let me explain.

As detailed lovingly in a special feature “Checks, Lies, and Videotape” on the Revenge of the Cybermen DVD, the 1980s was a time when Doctor Who fandom was greatly multiplying in America due to BBC syndication of the show. Fans, like all fans, couldn’t get enough of the fave, and thus they started begging, borrowing, trading, and yes, even paying outrageous sums for early videotape copies of Whos that were not being shown or sold (because the Beeb hadn’t started selling VHS copies of Who yet, never mind the feature- laden DVDs they’re known for now) in their areas. You could get what the Doctor ordered, there frequently being 24/7 Who rooms at comics and scifi conventions, but you paid a price, even if you didn’t actually pay.

You watched copies. Of copies. Of copies. And so on. Videotape being what it is, that means you sometimes were seeing garbled, faded, hard to hear videos. You could make out that Katy Manning and Wendy Padbury were wearing ridiculously short skirts, but you weren’t entirely sure what they looked like in them, because you were watching copies of copies of copies.  “Men in rubber suits” took on a whole meaning on a high generation VHS copy where the picture regularly turned everyone rubbery. And Dudley Simpson‘s unique mix of micro orchestra and electronics was even more unique after it was warped and warbled by a poor videotape copy.

It really should have driven us fans mad. But no, we loved it. Just to see Whos we only knew through novelizations, and to realize that Terrance Dicks was often still script editing, so to speak, as he wrote the novels from the scripts, was heaven. To discover Hartnell couldn’t remember his lines (due both to the disease that eventually killed him and the technobabble all the Doctor actors complain about), Troughton could swing from Chaplinesque physical humor to grave earnestness in almost the same scene, and Pertwee loved his sonic screwdriver, anything that moved fast, and “reverse the polarity of the neutron flow” was exhilarating.

Now that everything is digital fandom is a different thing. You can see all sorts of Doctor Who clips on Youtube (bootlegging episodes there and elsewhere is common, though real fans will run out and buy the dvd they’ve already seen, you betcha) and the Beeb is marketing just about anything shy of Peter Davison’s celery and a line of Second and Eleventh Doctor bowties (or have I missed something?). It’s great, but it’s not the same.

There are times I miss “copies of copies of copies”….

2 thoughts on ““Copies of copies of copies of….*”

  1. Can’t wait for the newest season to begin! I’ll probably miss it and have to record it just in case I forget to watch when it comes on….I’m always like, “Oh yeah, I was going to watch that show…I’m sure it has nothing to do with the number of years accumulated in my brain!

  2. I’ve only seen a few clips of Matt Smith and company. I’m waiting to buy the first two seasons together, because I’ll blow through twenty-six or so hours of Who really fast.

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