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Flashbacks in Doctor Who

By Alistair Hughes and Pat Albertson

Before embarking on this look at flashbacks over the years in Doctor Who, it's probably important to establish a couple of directives. Firstly, this article is simply intended as 'a nostalgic meander through Doctor Who history' and although we've tried to be as thorough in our research as possible, we don't have any illusions about establishing this as THE definitive guide to flashbacks in the programme. Many TSV readers will probably recall or discover flashbacks that we've omitted.

Secondly, what constitutes a flashback? To prevent this article becoming as long as a Logopolitan Block Transfer Computation we've established some very loosely adhered to guidelines which omit the customary Doctor Who recap of the previous episode or serial cliffhanger (unless this recap is from the previous season). Specially recorded inserts, such as the reappearance of the Fifth Doctor's companions during Part Four of The Caves of Androzani are also omitted as are the BBC repeats (apart from one notable example). Scenes repeated from within the same episode (as in the case of various time loops and Chronic Hystereses) are also not included, but scenes repeated from a different episode of the same story will qualify for flashbacks.

Having established these vague rules, we'll bend them now by mentioning perhaps the first ever Doctor Who flashback, from An Unearthly Child. The title graphics reappear superimposed over the faces of the TARDIS occupants, as 'the ship' makes its premiere televised journey, and this episode also includes cuts of Susan in class at Coal Hill School, previously occurring, but not previously seen. The title graphics also reappeared in Day of the Daleks Episode Three (along with black and white stills of Troughton and Hartnell) as the Doctor undergoes interrogation by the dreaded mind probe, and in Part Three of The Deadly Assassin when he is transported into the nightmare world of the Matrix. A couple of episodes from the incomplete Shada also featured the opening sequence, in this case representing the space/time vortex, and the 'starfield' opening titles appear within the narrative of The Leisure Hive during the transition shot from Brighton to Argolis.

"No! Not the mind probe!

Subjecting the Doctor to the mind probe almost always seems to result in a flashback sequence, as we have seen most recently in Parts Three and Four of Resurrection of the Daleks. This sequence consists of clips featuring: Turlough (Terminus Part One); Tegan (Logopolis Part One); Nyssa (Black Orchid Part One); Adric (Warriors' Gate Part Two); Romana (Warriors' Gate Part One and The Ribos Operation Part One); K9 (Warriors' Gate Part One); Harry (Terror of the Zygons Part Two); the Fourth Doctor and Sarah (Pyramids of Mars Part One); Jo (The Mutants Episode Three); The Brigadier (The Ambassadors of Death Episode 1); Liz (Spearhead from Space Episode 1); Third Doctor (The Mutants Episode Three); Zoe (The War Games Episode One); Victoria and Jamie (The Enemy of the World Episode 3); the Second Doctor (The War Games Episode One); Ben and Polly (The Tenth Planet Episode 3); Dodo (The War Machines Episode 2); Sara Kingdom (The Daleks' Master Plan: Counter Plot); Katarina (publicity still from The Daleks' Master Plan: Devil's Planet); Steven (The Time Meddler: The Meddling Monk); Vicki (The Rescue: Desperate Measures); Barbara, Ian and Susan (The Daleks: The Escape) and the First Doctor (The Daleks' Master Plan: Escape Switch). These stills were slightly distorted by a wave effect and although very nostalgic, an unforgivable error was made - Leela was forgotten! (I know the fact that she remained on Gallifrey with 'wet Andred' has caused horrendous continuity problems, but the BBC isn't going to make us forget her that easily!).

Episode Three of Frontier in Space featured yet another session with the mind probe, this time displaying scenes from Episode One as the Doctor unsuccessfully attempts to explain exactly how he and Jo came to be on board an earth freighter.

Perhaps the Doctor's most traumatic experience with one of these fiendish devices occurred in The Mind of Evil Episode Three. In this terrifying (certainly for the Doctor) sequence, we see: a Dalek (The Dalek Invasion of Earth); a Cyberman (The Invasion); a Sensorite (The Sensorites); Koquillion (The Rescue); a War Machine (The War Machines); a Zarbi (The Web Planet); Slaar (The Seeds of Death) and a Silurian (Doctor Who and the Silurians). This sequence is also briefly reprised in Episode Four, as the Doctor attempts to contain the machine. Most of the stills were not from the actual episodes however, but clear-cut BBC publicity photographs.

Not so much as a mind probe as a mind wrestle featured in Part Four of The Brain of Morbius with electronically-treated stills of Pertwee, Troughton and Hartnell reminding us that this scruffy, scarved figure is still the Doctor.

Finally a benign mind device was used by the Doctor to project a repeat of The Evil of the Daleks (a scene from Episode 2) on the TARDIS scanner, for Zoe's benefit at the end of The Wheel in Space. This particular flashback is also referred to in The Dominators, implying that the entire seven-episode Dalek repeat was viewed on the TARDIS screen, making it the longest flashback on record.

"Bless my soul - So you've done it again, Doctor!

Recognition of our favourite Time Lord by old friends and enemies is always a good excuse for a flashback, as in the previously mentioned Day of the Daleks and the beautifully edited, sepia-tinted sequence from Part Two of Mawdryn Undead. During the Brigadier's 'trip down memory lane' we see himself (The Three Doctors Episode Two); a Yeti (The Web of Fear Episode 1); a Cyberman (The Invasion Episode Five); The Second Doctor (The Three Doctors Episode Two); an Axon (The Claws of Axos Episode Four); the Gold Dalek (Day of the Daleks Episode Four); the Third Doctor (Spearhead from Space Episode Three); the First Doctor (The Three Doctors Episode Two); the K1 Robot (Robot Part Two); a Zygon (Terror of the Zygons Part Two); The Fourth Doctor (Terror of the Zygons Part Four) and then back to The Three Doctors shot of the Brigadier before fading seamlessly back to the identically posed, contemporary Lethbridge-Stewart. The choice of the Third Doctor clip for this sequence was not particularly typical or flattering, in fact causing Pertwee to remark "I look as if I'm drunk!"

One of the earliest examples of a flashback sequence in the series was in The Celestial Toymaker: The Celestial Toyroom. When Steven sees himself in the memory window on the chestplate of a giant toy robot, the monitor showed clips of Steven on Kembel from The Daleks' Master Plan: Destruction of Time and in Paris from The Massacre.

The popular Earthshock was made all the more so by the scene in Part Two where the Doctor is identified on the Cyber-scope. Here the Cybermen view the computer graphic TARDIS from Logopolis Part One as well as clips from The Tenth Planet Episode 2, The Wheel in Space Episode 6, and Revenge of the Cybermen Part Three. These clips also featured well-chosen dialogue from the three respective Doctors.

The clips of the First and Second Doctors when they are located by the Time Lords in The Three Doctors are both actually specially filmed inserts (it was previously believed that the clip of the Second Doctor came from The Macra Terror).

The untelevised Shada Part One was to have featured images of the Fourth Doctor, Romana I and II, K9 Mk1 and various characters and creatures from The Androids of Tara, The Power of Kroll, The Creature from the Pit, Destiny of the Daleks, City of Death and The Pirate Planet, viewed by Skagra. While searching the Shada files in Part Five, he also observes the title villains from Destiny to the Daleks, Revenge of the Cybermen and Terror of the Zygons. (With all this viewing, I wonder if Skagra ever held Doctor Who marathons?)

There is a clip of Peri and Yrcanos from Mindwarp used in the last episode of The Trial of a Time Lord.

"Of course... He's bound to look different..."

There seems to be nothing that flashbacks enjoy more than a regeneration story. JNT's affinity for them was first seen during the spectacular finale of Logopolis as the following adversaries threaten the Fourth Doctor, hanging helplessly from the radio telescope cable: the Master (The Deadly Assassin), a Dalek (Destiny of the Daleks), the Cyberleader (Revenge of the Cybermen), the Captain (The Pirate Planet), Davros (Genesis of the Daleks), a Sontaran (The Invasion of Time), a Zygon (Terror of the Zygons - a seemingly popular choice for flashback sequences!) and the original Black Guardian (The Armageddon Factor). Upon the impact with the ground the following friends say goodbye: Sarah-Jane (Terror of the Zygons - yet again!), Harry (The Sontaran Experiment), The Brigadier (Invasion of the Dinosaurs), Leela (The Robots of Death), K9 (The Armageddon Factor), Romana I (The Stones of Blood) and Romana II (Full Circle). Not actually the word 'goodbye', what the Fourth Doctor's companions are heard to say is 'Doctor', hence the clip of the Brigadier coming from the a Pertwee serial (no suitable close-up from Baker's stories could be found). The K9 segment from The Armageddon Factor was possibly the only time that the mechanical hound (under the Shadow's influence) addresses his master directly as 'Doctor', however K9's dialogue was dubbed over a different shot. The same was true of the Master clip from The Deadly Assassin.

The Baker/Davison regeneration re-appeared in edited form as a prologue to the following season's Castrovalva (just as the Pertwee/Baker regeneration opened Robot). Castrovalva's flashback was a pre-credits sequence however. The Planet of the Spiders dialogue scene between Sarah and the Brigadier prior to the Doctor's metamorphosis was actually rerecorded sometime afterwards for Robot as the length of Elisabeth Sladen's hair in this version clearly shows. Planet of the Spiders had its own wonderfully unexpected flashback in Part One, as the telepathic Professor Clegg is handed the Doctor's sonic screwdriver and, much to his horror projects images of the spectacular Drashig scene from Episode 3 of Carnival of Monsters.

Carnival of Monsters incidentally, featured specially recorded scenes featuring a Cyberman and an Ogron - not flashbacks as is sometimes supposed. Still on the regeneration-related stories, The Power of the Daleks also featured a brief scene where the newly-recovered Second Doctor surveys his 'new face' in a hand mirror, and momentarily sees Hartnell's features looking back at him.

"I could have sworn I've been here before..."

A popular subject of recurring clips seems to be the TARDIS itself. A well-known instance is the reappearance of the materialisation-at-sea from Fury From The Deep Episode 1 in The War Games Episode Ten as the Doctor attempts to escape the retribution of the Time Lords. This was closely followed in the same episode by a shot of the TARDIS in space from The Web of Fear Episode 1. A clip from The Wheel in Space Episode 1 - an establishing shot of the space station - was also featured in The War Games Episode Ten.

The TARDIS spinning away into space from Frontier in Space Episodes One and Six opened the following story Planet of the Daleks. More recently with The Trial of a Time Lord, the opening 'approach to the Time Lord space station' effects sequence was partially reused through the rest of the serial. 'The story so far' type stills were also used before each episode. (Considering that The Mysterious Planet and Mindwarp were set in the Doctor's past and Terror of the Vervoids in his future, does that make the entire first two stories of this season 'flashbacks' and the third a 'flashforward'?) Another space/time craft also made a return appearance, this time from City of Death as we see the Jagaroth ship's explosive take-off in Part One and at the climax of Part Four.

As we stated at the beginning of this article, there are possibly many other flashback sequences not covered here but we'll conclude with a look at The Five Doctors. This special treated us to previously unused footage from Shada and a still of the Fourth Doctor and Romana (to represent their entrapment in the 'time-eddy'). Of course, we also have the First Doctor's 'farewell speech' to Susan from the last episode of The Dalek Invasion of Earth allowing William Hartnell to appear in the twentieth anniversary of the programme he began. At worst, flashbacks can be self-indulgent interruptions to the flow of a story, but The Five Doctors pre-credits sequence is an example of one of the very best. Setting the mood for the anniversary story from the onset, it was unexpected, relevant and, as possibly one of Hartnell's best performances - poignant (even when viewed out of its original context). To work effectively a flashback should always be appropriate to the situation it appears in, but also serve as a link with the rich and valuable history of the programme - the magic of Doctor Who.

[Third Doctor's Nightmares]

This item appeared in TSV 16 (December 1989).
NOTE: This is a slightly revised version of this article, correcting previous inaccuracies and adding further information.

Reprinted in: The Best of TSV 1-20, TSV: The Best of Issues 1-20