by Shannon Lush
Throughout its 50 years, 'Doctor Who' has mined hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pre-existing songs, films, books, oral and written traditions, and established world history for source material. From the 'historical', stories of the First Doctor's era that would see the TARDIS crew encounter well-known figures from history such as Emperor Nero and King Richard the Lionheart, to the Jason and the Argonauts-parallels to the Fourth Doctor story 'Underworld', the adventures of The Doctor have in some way or other been inspired by outside elements.
Due to its nature as a British series, it is therefore natural that 'Doctor Who', chiefly the product of British writers, actors, directors, and producers, has explored subject matter to which these folks consider important and reflective of British history and culture. Script editor Robert Holmes peppered his Season 15 story 'The Sun Makers' with numerous satirical references to the British tax system, for example. British history spans thousands of years, but what subject could be more alluring to 20th century Whovians than that of the world-recognized, tragic tale of the British liner 'Titanic'? Of all possible topics for 'Doctor Who' to tackle, this would seem to be a natural fit; the subject matter is so well known to modern audiences that many can recount 'some' detail that has been embedded in pop culture by this point. The ship's port of call, her intended final destination in New York City, her Captain's name, the relevant date of April 15th, 1912...
Yet, for the most part and with rare exception, the 'Titanic' has rarely played a role within the televised 'Doctor Who' universe. Most notably, a space ship named after her featured prominently in the Tenth Doctor's era, during the events of the Christmas Special entitled 'Voyage Of The Damned'. The plot in its basic form featured the Doctor preventing this namesake ship from crashing and suffering the same fate, symbolically, as the original. In 50 years of 'Doctor Who' stories broadcasted on television, this is the only time that the 'Titanic' played a major role, and even then it was not truly the ship herself, merely a futuristic spaceship with the same name. It is perhaps testament to the residual scarring of the national British psyche that occurred after the original tragedy that, during post-production of this story, producers were obliged to 'spoil' the ending by revealing that this 'Titanic' does not 'sink'.
However, the 'Doctor Who' connection to 'Titanic' did not begin there. Earlier, the Fourth Doctor offered a downbeat, and somewhat morbid, comment during the events of the story 'Robot'. He stated he didn't care for the word 'unsinkable', and when his companion Harry Sullivan questioned this belief, The Doctor reinforced it by remarking 'Said the iceberg to the Titanic, gloop, gloop, gloop, gloop'. Much later still, she is invoked to demonstrate the shadowy nature of The Doctor. The character Clive in the story 'Rose', the debut episode of the 'New Series' begun in 2005, shows Rose a photograph of the Ninth Doctor standing before 'Titanic' herself prior to her maiden voyage. Clive remarks that as the story goes, The Doctor had convinced a family not to sail on her. The implication is The Doctor therefore saved their lives as they escaped the fate that nobody at the time was aware would befall the ship..nobody, of course, except the time-travelling Doctor.
Other than these incidents and in-story mentions, 'Titanic' did not play a part in televised 'Doctor Who', perhaps chiefly due to the sensitivity involved in locating a story aboard a ship that must, by worldwide historical knowledge, sink. The Doctor saves lives, after all, and in this situation, he simply cannot, otherwise the bounds of credibility that allow such a series to skirt the edges of known historical records would collapse. The preferred term used on-screen to limit the Doctor's involvement in affecting lasting and meaningful change in historical events is 'time locked'; in the case of 'Titanic', given how it is such a well-known part of British history yet has not been afforded even one story set partially or fully aboard her in 50 years of 'Doctor Who', the term seems to encompass the writing and production teams of the past, as well. Whether or not any have ever considered a story featuring 'Titanic', none have been willing to produce such a story.
This is, however, not the end of the 'Titanic' connection to 'Doctor Who'. Despite the lack of on-screen adventures, there are notable examples of both Expanded Whoniverse work as well as material featuring 'Doctor Who' performers who also have worked on material documenting 'Titanic'. While this is not an exhaustive list, (as Expanded Universe material is continuously being produced and therefore future releases may indeed delve into the subject matter more thoroughly), some of the more notable material includes, perhaps, among the best.
'A Night To Remember', the 1958 British film adaptation of the 1955 nonfiction bestselling book of the same name by Walter Lord, is widely considered, like the book it is based upon, as the definitive account of the 'Titanic' tragedy in its medium. Walter Lord himself as a young child in England had witnessed 'Titanic' leaving port. The awe it filled him with would years later inspire him to seek out survivors and produce a fact-filled book of high journalistic integrity and investigative material. The book stands today as the definitive account in the eyes of 'Titanic' historians, of both the armchair as well as professional variety. The 'Doctor Who' connections to the several media adaptations of Lord's book are numerous.
The film was primarily shot in Pinegrove Studios, slightly over five years before those very studios would become home to 'Doctor Who'. It features a large number of actors who would go on to play memorable characters in 'Doctor Who'. Billed as the film's co-star was Ronald Allen, who appeared first as Rago in the Second Doctor's story 'The
Dominators', then as Professor Cornish in the Third Doctor's 'The Ambassadors Of Death'. Honor Blackman would go on to match wits with the Sixth Doctor as Professor Lasky in 'Terror Of The Vervoids', part of the 'Trial Of A Timelord' that comprised the entirety of Season 23. The afore-mentioned 'The Sunmakers' is represented, with the actor Richard Leech appearing in this film as well as there, as the character Hade. Ralph Michael would later appear as Balaton in another Fourth Doctor story, 'The Pirate Planet', written by script editor Douglas Adams.
Harold Goldblatt portrayed Professor Dale in the Third Doctor story 'Frontier In Space', a store widely considered a 'prequel' to the story that followed, 'Planet Of The Daleks'. Philip Ray played Eldred in 'The Seeds Of Death', from the Second Doctor's era. An uncreditted young actor by the name of Jeremy Bulloch, decades before the role of Boba Fett in 'Star Wars' would transform his life, also appears briefly. He would go on to feature in two 'Doctor Who' stories, 'The Space Museum' as Tor during the First Doctor's era, and 'The Time Warrior' as Hal during the Third Doctor's time.
The greatest connection between the film and the production universe of 'Doctor Who', however, is the appearance of two actors who performed extremely admirably in the former and boast quite interesting accolades in the latter. Jack Watling, a well-regarded actor often in demand in the British film and television industry of the 1950's and 1960's, played Professor Travers in the Second Doctor classic story 'The Abominable Snowmen', as well as its sequel-of-sorts, 'The Web Of Fear'. The latter story has just recently been re-discovered after a near-fifty year absence as one of the 'lost' stories, and was reviewed in depth in the companion podcast series to this blog. Its special status as a lost story regained and re-released during the 50th Anniversary celebrations of 'Doctor Who' was instantly assured as it climbed the iTunes charts within minutes of being made available for purchase on that platform. Jack Watling, in addition to his distinguished acting career, also of course was the father of the actress Deborah Watling, who portrayed the companion character Victoria Waterfield during the Second Doctor's era, and twice during that period acted alongside her father in these stories featuring 'The Great Intelligence'.
Geoffrey Balydon, who appeared in both 'A Night To Remember' as well as the Fourth Doctor story 'The Creature From The Pit' as the character Organan, remains notable simply for the unique 'alternate Doctor' factors that dominate his career. In addition to being seriously considered for the role of the Fourth Doctor prior to the casting of Tom Baker, he went on to play an alternate Doctor in the 'Doctor Who Unbound' series of audio plays from Big Finish Productions, the central theme of which concerned untold tales drawn from a myriad of possible or potential outcomes to established 'Doctor Who' canon. In Balydon's stories he portrayed not an alternate Fourth Doctor, but instead a very different First Doctor.
The 'Night To Remember/Doctor Who' connections do not end with the film version of the story, however. As with most creative products, the book spawned not merely a film comprised of numerous future 'Doctor Who' actors, but an audio book as well. In this instance, the abridged story was narrated by an actor familiar to Whovians for several guest star appearances. Martin Jarvis began his association with 'Doctor Who' as the character Hilio in 'The Web Planet' during the second season of the series, and returned to play Butler in the dreadful 'Invasion Of The Dinosaurs' during Jon Pertwee's tenure. It is as the Governor, however, in the Sixth Doctor's era in 'Vengeance On Varos', that many longtime fans will recall him, due to that character being, arguably, the hero of the piece. Bound by duty, conflicted by feelings of mercy and ultimately redeemed by the climax of the tale, Jarvis brought the Governor to life in a highly-memorable manner, and that story ranks among the best of Colin Baker's all-too-short era.
Jarvis brings authoritarian tones, dignified bearing, and ability to embody the various real-life people he is called upon to mimic to the audiobook version. His work stands as an excellent companion piece both to the book upon which it is based as well as the film. Clearly, the reluctance to tackle the subject matter of such a tragic event in British history on-screen only extends that far; behind the scenes, the long list of actors who transitioned from portraying ill-fated passengers and crew of 'Titanic' to nomads, military officers, professors, futuristic villains and monsters in 'Doctor Who' cements the connection to two iconic British topics.
To this point, 'Titanic' has featured prominently in the Expanded Whoniverse on only one occasion, the 'New Adventures' novel 'The Left-Handed Hummingbird', by Kate Orman. It remains the only example of the fictionalizing of the world-known event, and the only novel to locate the majority of events aboard the great ship. And so, 'Titanic' and 'Doctor Who' remain linked in these ways, thanks to the excellent work of the many creative people who graced both topics with their luminous work.