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Old August 8th, 2012, 10:00 PM
Brainbin Brainbin is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: The British Empire
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Requiem for the Yank Years (1971-75)

And now, for the newest update! But first, two very special notices: this marks my 200th post to this thread, and far more importantly, thank you all for 150,000 views! It warms the cockles of my heart to know that you have bestowed so many views and replies upon my humble thread! But without further delay, we present the thrilling conclusion


The “Yank Years” of Doctor Who are, in retrospect, easy to define – those four seasons during which the show aired on American television: from September 13, 1971, through March 10, 1975. In the UK, these seasons aired early in the year, or started in late December of the year preceding; in the US, as was typical, they would begin in September and carry through to March. Canada, due to simultaneous broadcasting policies enacted in 1972, was forced to follow the US schedule, even though it put them several months behind; Australia, by contrast, took the opportunity to catch up with the UK in the early 1970s, having previously been rather far behind themselves; by the beginning of the 1973 season they were only a few weeks behind, largely the result of physical limitations (tapes having to be shipped halfway across the world proved cumbersome).
[1] The “Yank Years” represented the majority (four seasons out of six) of the tenure of the Third Doctor, Jon Pertwee, who is consequently remembered as the Doctor in the American popular imagination. Though Desilu Productions had acquired the tapes depicting the adventures of the first two Doctors (played by William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton), these had seen only limited success stateside, a state of affairs that would endure until changes in the industry during the late 1970s.

Recurring thematic elements of the Yank Years included the involvement of the Doctor with the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, or UNIT. Though this organization, whose purpose was to combat extraterrestrial threats to Earth and/or humanity, had already been in place prior to the plans to export Doctor Who into foreign markets, it made for an excellent opportunity to enhance the international appeal of the program. Not only Americans, but also Canadians and Australians were frequently said or shown to be involved with UNIT, though the Doctor primarily interacted with agents from the United Kingdom. The organization also supplied many of the
Doctor’s beloved supplementary companions, such as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, the only companion to appear throughout the entirety of the Yank Years (not to mention the entire tenure of the Third Doctor). Restrictions on movement through time and space, imposed by the BBC in the show’s darkest hour (financially speaking), were gradually lifted. The Doctor could travel throughout Earth as of the crossover with Star Trek, and after the show was established as a hit, he and Linda Johnson were able to travel to any time and any place starting in the ninth season. Finally, and most importantly, there was the Master (played by Roger Delgado), who was the equal and opposite to the Doctor.

As part of the broadcasting agreement with NBC and the production agreement with Desilu, both of those American partner companies were given considerable clout over the production of Doctor Who – the BBC and those directly in charge of the show could obviously negotiate with NBC in the event of disputes, but Desilu – which had total control of much of the post-production process, including film editing (handled, in the early years, by none other than the Oscar-nominated Marcia Lucas) and visual effects (by former members of the Star Trek effects team) – music and sound libraries remained the responsibility of the BBC – was able to get its way far more often.

When times – and ratings – were good, the two American partners saw little need to exercise their power, and such was the case for the show’s first American season in 1971-72, which had surpassed all expectations and cracked the Top 30. In the ensuing years, as ratings continued to decline, both NBC and Desilu were inclined to credit Star Trek, which had entered syndication that season and aired on many NBC affiliates at 7:00, for that initial burst of success; given their already established shared history and their very similar genres. On Mondays, Doctor Who followed Star Trek at 8:00 on the primetime network feed. It would remain in that timeslot for the entirety of the Yank Years. Laugh-In would follow until 1973, and then The Bill Cosby Show until 1975, at which point both it and Doctor Who were cancelled.

One of the fiat requirements by Desilu was that every serial, starting midway through the second Pertwee season (and the first broadcast on American network television), be five episodes long (allowing airing on Monday-through-Friday in syndication). Most story arcs had been four to six episodes in the past, so the firm insistence on five – though limiting creative flexibility – was not considered an overwhelming restriction. Indeed, even the British side of the operation could appreciate the appeal, and would find even more reason to do so in the coming years, as it became clear that British audiences, in addition to Americans, greatly enjoyed looking back on the past. [2] Indeed, their experiences likely softened them to the idea of a tenth-anniversary special, which would unite all three incarnations of the Doctor, played by their original actors.

Though NBC was highly reluctant to fund a serial that would co-star two characters largely unknown to American audiences (the Second Doctor, popularly known at the time as “that other Doctor”, had received decent – if erratic – exposure, whilst the First had been almost completely absent from the airwaves stateside), Desilu was enthusiastic, for exactly that same reason. Stations would be far more willing to pay for the Hartnell and Troughton era episodes, the studio reasoned, if they were better acquainted with the actors and their characters. [3] “The Three Doctors”, the serial that featured said doctors, was – much as the crossover between Star Trek and Doctor Who had been – far better received in the United Kingdom, again largely for the same reason: the “unfamiliar” characters were actually not so for British audiences. However, “The Three Doctors” performed well overall, as it represented Connie Booth’s swan song in the role of Linda Johnson; both Desilu and NBC agreed to pay the (much larger) salary that Booth demanded to appear in the arc (having left the program after her two-season contract had expired), which was commensurate with that of Pertwee himself. Booth had only made such an outlandish demand in an attempt to dissuade the BBC from agreeing to it, but (as is often the case) she was obliged to accede when it was met.

The BBC and the producers of Doctor Who had considered the obligation to have an American companion over and done with after Booth’s departure, only to face a rude awakening when NBC insisted on another American to replace her. Given viewer demographics, this was not surprising; Booth had been credited with attracting the interest of males aged 14 to 29 the most desirable of all viewer demographics even as other groups stopped tuning in. The BBC was given “complete” control over the casting decision, provided that the new companion would be a young American woman under age 30. Their eventual choice was Angela Bowie, young wife of the rising rock star David Bowie, known for his breakout hit “Space Oddity”, which had ridden Moonshot Lunacy to the Top 10 on the British charts, and – surprisingly – the Top 40 in the United States, as well, giving him a minor chart hit stateside. [4] At the time of her selection as the new companion, her husband was riding high with the release of what would later become viewed as a seminal rock recording: Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars. Additionally, she and David had a young son, commonly known as Zowie (legally Duncan Jones). The selection of Angela Bowie as the new companion – who was named Claire Barnett (her real-life maiden name) – was considerably more risky than that of Booth, but it also had potential advantages. However, Bowie was neither as talented nor as disciplined as Booth, and her character was far more empty-headed than the competent Linda Johnson. [5] However, she did generate good publicity, and remained as the principal companion for the remainder of the Third Doctor’s tenure.

After the conclusion of the Yank Years, Pertwee, already tiring of his role, agreed to appear for one additional season, which would be his last. He had already arranged this with his good friend Roger Delgado, who was planning to bow out as the Master within the same timeframe. [6] Thus, it appeared that the final confrontation between the Doctor and the Master would be unavailable to American viewers, NBC having cancelled the program in 1975. The BBC proved surprisingly willing to provide a compensatory funding boost, largely due to fan lobbying (Doctor Who fandom was said to reach as high as the Queen herself) [7] though obviously not to the same level as that established by the American network. But Desilu, it turned out, continued to be willing to support Doctor Who, for the very simple reason that additional episodes would pad their syndication package. They continued to provide post-production services free of charge for the final Pertwee season – therefore, all story arcs remained five episodes long.

Pertwee and Delgado both departed at the end of the twelfth season of Doctor Who in 1975, their story arcs having been completed. A new Doctor had to be chosen to appear in the final episode of the last story arc featuring Pertwee, in order to complete the regeneration from the Third Doctor to the Fourth Doctor. From a long list of candidates, the final choice was 39-year-old Jim Dale, over fifteen years the junior of Pertwee. He became the youngest-ever actor cast as the Doctor. Desilu very specifically had nothing to do with his casting; the BBC believed that a youthful Doctor would appeal to the ever-younger audience of the program. [8] Chosen as his principal companion was the first unambiguously British young woman to take the role since Caroline John in 1970: 23-year-old Jane Seymour, as Londoner Alice Evans. [9] Their adventures would be completely funded and produced by the BBC, the post-production facilities devoted to Doctor Who at the Desilu studios instead being redirected to focus on motion pictures.

Meanwhile, in Canada, perhaps as an indication of its growing cultural independence from the United States and strengthening ties with the Commonwealth, Doctor Who remained on the air, having become a genuine success there – more so than in the United States, in fact, as it remained one of the most popular shows on the CBC. It was a vindication, as it washed away any memories of the abortive run in the 1960s. No longer bound to simulcasting with the American airings, they did their best to air them closer to the original British airdate, though with some difficulty (even though the voyage from Southampton to Halifax was a much shorter one than Southampton to Perth). However, and as was the case with syndication in the United States, this asynchronous situation would endure only until technological advances permitted alternatives

In total, the Yank Years comprised 100 episodes, divided into twenty-five arcs averaging five episodes apiece, over four production seasons. Included in this package was the four-episode crossover with Star Trek, entitled “Starship from the Future”. Throughout the Anglosphere, only the Doctor Who version was widely seen following the initial broadcast of the two-part Star Trek version (“Lords of Time and Space”), which aired in 1970 stateside and in 1972 in the UK. Bootleg versions were hot items at conventions. [10] The entire Pertwee run in American syndication was 150 episodes over six seasons (the two non-NBC seasons bookending the four). This allowed Desilu to “strip” the program over a period of 30 weeks; every story arc beyond the initial six was five episodes long, with the first six totalling exactly thirty-five episodes. This allowed a strong sense of week-by-week continuity, which would become a very popular method of storytelling with the rise of direct syndication in later years.


[1] Australia very nearly caught up to the original UK airdates by the early 1970s IOTL, often by airing several episodes a week, before falling behind again. ITTL, given the popularity of the program in North America, Australian broadcasters and viewers want to avoid being left out of the loop (and wind up ahead as a result).

[2] You may note that the mid-1970s were about the time that the BBC stopped wiping tapes IOTL (as did the American networks, with regards to auxiliary programming such as talk shows and game shows). This was a contributory factor ITTL, part of an overall snowball effect.

[3] Hartnell was in slightly better health at this stage ITTL, allowing him to appear in one proper scene with his fellow two Doctors (although his character is constantly shown viewing offscreen monitors or readouts, in order to “disguise” that he is reading cue cards). Sadly, his still-limited presence in the serial wasnt really enough to motivate sales of his tenure into syndication; the Second, on the other hand, would become a syndication mainstay (if not nearly as much as the Third Doctor, let alone Star Trek) as a result of his good reception by American audiences, which is consequently enough for Desilu to rate “The Three Doctors” as a success.

[4] IOTL, “Space Oddity” failed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 on its original release in 1969 (it became a hit single on re-release in 1973).

[5] Angela Bowie was a controversial figure, kept on largely because NBC insisted on an American, and because she was willing to work cheap. Her well-known androgyny was sublimated into a tomboyish persona for the character of Claire. Her husband, who IOTL has dabbled in acting, made cameo appearances but never took a serious role.

[6] The death of Delgado in a car crash in Turkey in 1973 IOTL has been butterflied, allowing both he and Pertwee to depart hand-in-hand.

[7] Yes, apparently Her Majesty is a fan of Doctor Who. The supporting evidence for this IOTL is that Michael Grade, who did his best to destroy that program during his tenure as BBC Controller, is the only person to hold that position who was not knighted by the Queen. And considering just how indiscriminately she hands out knighthoods

[8] Dale was an OTL candidate to replace Pertwee, in fact the youngest on the shortlist. The next-youngest, one year older (and chosen one year earlier, thus making him the same age as Dale ITTL, since Pertwee stayed on for one extra season) was Tom Baker, the OTL choice.

[9] Seymour, of course, was the primary Bond girl in Live and Let Die IOTL, but had no role in Moonraker ITTL, and is therefore largely unknown. She auditions for the role of the new companion reasoning that she could surely do a better job than Bowie, and indeed she does. She then shared her (Greater) London origin with Alice Evans.

[10] Desilu is aware of the bootlegging of “Lords of Time and Space” at Star Trek conventions, and tacitly permits it; they believe that keeping the crossover strictly a part of the Doctor Who syndication package will make it far more desirable (and Star Trek certainly doesnt need any help getting airplay). It also helps that Star Trek has 135 episodes and Doctor Who has 150 episodes under this arrangement, both of which “strip” nicely (as opposed to the clunkier 137 and 146 episodes, respectively).


For the official record, until such time as it can be added to the Wiki (all tenures are reckoned by British airdates):

Doctor Who Actors

First Doctor: William Hartnell (1963-66)
Second Doctor: Patrick Troughton (1966-69)
Third Doctor: Jon Pertwee (1970-75)
Fourth Doctor: Jim Dale (1975-)

Principal Companions

Third Doctor

Caroline John as Liz Shaw (1970)

Connie Booth as Linda Johnson (1971-72)
Angela Bowie as Claire Barnett (1973-75)

Fourth Doctor

Jane Seymour as Alice Evans (1975-)


Thus concludes our look at Doctor Who in the Yank Years! The further adventures of the Fourth Doctor (and all those subsequent), along with his companions, will now be featured as part of the greater focus on British telly. For those who are lamenting the absence of Tom Baker and Lis Sladen in their OTL roles, please bear in mind that they were cast as such IOTL, and I can never take that away from you Thank you all for your patience and understanding!
The Turtledove Award-Winning That Wacky Redhead: Big Dreams Have Big Consequences!

Find out more on the Alternate History Wiki or TV Tropes

Last edited by Brainbin; August 9th, 2012 at 07:30 PM..
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