Sunday, 11 December 2016

Doctor Who and the Facts of Inaccuracy

Those of you who know me well must realize that I can be at times a man of the most trivial and petty obsessions, and it's just such a thing that's been exercising me lately. It's a very, very minor and unimportant piece of Doctor Who trivia, but it's been reported incorrectly and now the inaccuracy has spread across numerous sites on the internet.

This story actually starts in 1974, but for me, it goes back to 2005, and it's then I'm going to start this strange tale. BBC Audio released Doctor Who at the BBC Volume 3, and its major selling point was a previously unreleased mini-drama featuring Jon Pertwee and Lis Sladen. Needless to say, I listened to this eagerly to try and ascertain where it might fit into continuity. But the fact is, eleven years later, I still haven't added it to “The Complete Adventures”. Why not? Well, it's made quite clear that this “mini-drama” was actually a series of audio inserts made to accompany a personal appearance Sladen made for a public event at Goodwood – which to my mind, put it in the same category as Hartnell opening that air show in the sixties, or Tom Baker visiting childrens' hospitals in character – I don't try to fit those into continuity either, they're just part of the publicity machine.

And that's probably where I would have left it if two things hadn't happened recently. Firstly, BBC South Today released some clips of their coverage of the event from 1974. It was fun to finally be able to put some images behind the soundtrack, and also to learn that, in addition to the Daleks and Aggedor, one of the Metebelis spiders was present at the event (she wasn't mentioned in the audio inserts.) It also pretty much confirmed my original interpretation of the soundtrack – that it was played over the tannoy to give some context to the live event which was being staged on the day, with Sladen effectively miming to her pre-recorded dialogue.

 The second thing that happened was that a member of my “Complete Adventures” Facebook group asked me why I hadn't included the story. And though my reasons for excluding it probably haven't changed since 2005, I'm prepared to concede that the release of the news clips coupled with the existence of the audio inserts might give it a bit more permanence and legitimacy than other in-character personal appearances might possess. So I might be re-considering some time soon – I've already come up with a theory about how this story might fit into continuity – but that's not what this article is about.

No, what intrigued me was that my correspondent referred to this little piece of ephemera as “the Third Doctor audio drama Glorious Goodwood”. For the reasons I've outlined above, I'd dispute that you could call this an audio drama, but what really leaped out at me was that title. Where had it come from? Glorious Goodwood is the popular name for the annual flat racing festival held at Goodwood Racecourse in late Summer. I hadn't supposed that the Doctor Who event had any connection with the Racecourse, but had taken place at the Goodwood Motor Circuit, a motor racing venue a couple of miles to the South. I mean, pretty obviously, you wouldn't drive the Whomobile around a horse racing track, especially not one of the world's most prestigious. You certainly wouldn't fight Daleks and blow up giant spiders there. The dialogue also makes it pretty clear: Sarah says she's going to take the Whomobile for “another spin around the circuit”, and there are several references to British Leyland (even the Daleks identify them as the organizers of the event!) and Stirling Moss. It's obviously a motor show, and you wouldn't hold a motor show at a racecourse.

So it was a bit surprising to find that the back of the Doctor Who at the BBC CD said the mini-drama was “specially recorded for Glorious Goodwood in 1974”. The track listing meanwhlle calls it “Personal appearance at Goodwood Races”, although the booklet is a bit more vague saying “although it's not clear at which particular event our item was recorded, the reference to 'Glorious Goodwood' suggests that it was part of the famous five-day festival held at the end of July “. Lis Sladen even says in her links that the inserts were for a public appearance at Goodwood Racecourse. So that would seem to settle the matter – you'd think if anyone would know, it would be someone who was actually there.

But I just couldn't reconcile that with my previous observations that the event must have been staged at the Motor Circuit. These pictures from the South Today report are clearly showing a motor track.

I'll be generous and assume that Lis Sladen simply didn't remember the precise details after thirty-odd years, and was happy to go along with what was written in the script for her links – presumably written by the disc producer Michael Stevens, who also seems to have done the blurb in the booklet. And I think he's misunderstood the dialogue and jumped to an erroneous conclusion. Now, it is true that when Sarah phones the Doctor in the audio insert, she says she's calling from “glorious Goodwood” – but she says it with something of a smile in her voice. To me, it's obviously just a jokey reference to the fact that the word glorious often precedes the name Goodwood, not a definitive indicator of where she is.

I did a bit of digging around online, and I found a 2008 post on a motor racing forum, discussing the upcoming Goodwood Festival of Speed, in which the poster casually mentioned that he'd been to Goodwood Circuit previously in 1974 and had fought the Daleks then. Prompted for further information, he'd explained that he was in the Royal Military Police in 1974, and the Commandant had been approached to provide a couple of teams of armed soldiers and vehicles to appear in a Doctor Who production at the circuit. This absolutely confirmed the thing for me. The RMP were stationed in those days at Rousillon Barracks in the North of Chicester, literally a stone's throw from the Goodwood Circuit. (I wouldn't say the poster was 100 percent reliable, since he believed that he'd been taking part in an actual tv episode – and that Tom Baker had been the Doctor at the time and present at the filming – but again, three decades had passed, and memories can get a bit jumbled. He might be recalling the South Today news cameras, and misremembering the rest. But he's unlikely to have forgotten being in the Royal Military Police, and as I say they would absolutely be the nearest unit who could have been called upon by the event organizers.)

I asked on Gallifreybase if anyone could confirm or deny my conclusions, and the ever-knowledgeable Richard Bignell came to my rescue. He even provided me with an advertising poster that confirmed the event was at the Goodwood Motor Circuit, and was indeed a British Leyland Test Day – and it would seem that the legendary driver Stirling Moss was also present, which explains Sarah's throwaway reference to him. It even confirms the date of the event as 18th May 1974, the same day Planet of the Spiders part three was broadcast, and a good couple of months before the Glorious Goodwood festival.

So all this seems pretty conclusive. I still couldn't work out how this thing had somehow acquired the title Glorious Goodwood, so I did some more googling, and found several references. There's an entry for the thing on the DiscContinuity Guide website, which covers audio adventures. There are several reviews and blog entries about it, all of them calling it Glorious Goodwood and describing it as an audio adventure or a radio story. And pretty much all of them assert that the events take place at Goodwood Racecourse, some even suggesting the date of July. I think eventually I traced this back to its source when I found the article for the story on the Tardis Wiki. On the article's “Talk” section, the page's creator explains that “the mini-episode was untitled so I've created an article under the title of the programme, as I did with Tonight's the Night.” OK then, I can understand what he did there. The trouble is, of course, that the audio inserts were not broadcast as part of a programme (either radio or tv) called Glorious Goodwood. I think he's taken the CD liner notes assertion that it was “specially recorded for Glorious Goodwood in 1974” a bit too literally. The other websites I've mentioned have just picked up this retronym, and so it propagates itself across the web. Since we now know what event this production was mounted for, if anything, it ought to be titled “Hares Goodwood British Leyland Test Day”, which doesn't exactly fly off the tongue.

The body of the article tells us that:
Glorious Goodwood was a BBC Radio Story.”
“The episode was created in conjunction with an appearance at Goodwood Racecourse in West Sussex and was apparently to have been played at the venue itself.”
“The untitled mini-episode was never broadcast.”

...all of which we can now disprove. (It's not a radio story, it was at Goodwood Motor Circuit, and it was indeed broadcast exactly as intended – by being played over the tannoy at the event – you can even hear it in the background during the South Today footage .)

The wiki article includes a plot synopsis, which repeats that it takes place at Goodwood Racecourse. And also asserts that “the US Cavalry arrives to help defeat the Daleks”. Which is a surprise. Again, I think this is an over-literal interpretation of Sarah's line where she's waiting for help to arrive, and calls out desperately: “Come on, the US Cavalry, wherever you are!” Again, like the initial “glorious Goodwood” comment, I read it as a jokey reference, in this case to the tropes of Westerns, where the Cavalry sweep in to save the day. The RMP officers playing the soldiers I would suggest are more likely to be playing British or even UNIT troops. (In the South Today interview, Lis and the reporter only refer to the army arriving in the nick of time.) Still, I deal with the minutiae of Doctor Who continuity all the time, and one of the things I'm constantly banging my head against is fans taking everything ever said in the series literally, every line of dialogue as a statement of absolute fact.

Well, armed with all this information, I wondered what should I do? I thought I could go and edit the page on the Tardis Wiki, but as soon as I looked at it, I realized that “Goodwood Racecourse” was a clickable link that opened its own article, stating that Sarah Jane encountered the Daleks there and defeated them with the help of the US Cavalry. And “US Cavalry” lead to another article about them, which only stated that they helped Sarah defeat the Daleks at Goodwood Racecourse. And so on. And of course, the events are described again in the article on Sarah Jane Smith, and probably on the one for the Daleks. (I'd stopped looking by then.) Even on this one fan wiki, the inaccurate information has started to spread itself into several articles, all backing each other up. You'd have to edit, delete, retitle, move several articles – and even then, would you catch it all? And was it really worth the effort for eight minutes of audio nonsense that most fans probably will never listen to?

Of course it wasn't. And anyway, even if I did all that, I couldn't change all the other websites out there that are already quoting the wrong information. It's too late, the genie's out of the bottle. Even the actual Wikipedia contains the following note at the end of its article on Goodwood Racecourse: “See Also: Doctor Who at the BBC, a series of Doctor Who releases, which included an audio adventure entitled Glorious Goodwood, set at a Goodwood race, featuring Elisabeth Sladen and Jon Pertwee”. Which is both inaccurate, and really not very relevant to an article on a famous racecourse.

So why am I so wound up about all this? I'm not blaming someone for having originally made a mistake. I'm just annoyed that the mistake has been taken up and repeated across the internet when some basic checking could have laid it to rest. With a few simple and verifiable assumptions, some logical deductions, and about thirty minutes of research, I was able to get at the truth of the matter. If I could do it, then so could (and should) everyone else. Does it really matter in the scheme of things? Probably not, but if this exceptionally insignificant error can be perpetuated across numerous web sources, what guarantee do we have that actual important news and information is being quoted and reported truthfully? And that's the worry.

Small update: January 2018
I see the Tardis wiki page was eventually updated based on my research here, by someone who clearly had more patience than me.  Well done!  It's just a pity that the title can't be changed too -  or the mass conglomeration of misinformation everywhere else on the Web.  Meanwhile, the event is now listed in The Complete Adventures under its proper name!

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