The oddly obscure “Abandoned Season 18” or “Season 17 and one-half” of the programme Doctor Who was produced in 1980 and consisted of four “mini-sode” stories starring Tome Bokor as the Fourth Doctor, Lalala Word as the Sexy Romana and introduced a new companion “Prime Computer” (portrayed by Prime 550) to replace K9.
All four episodes were by directed by Rone Waugh and were broadcast only in Australia on a variable schedule of timeslots usually reserved for televisic advertising messages. Two of the four episodes are both thirty seconds in length, the other two being one minute long each. All four episodes of these adventures have since been included on the DVD release of the 1979 serial Destiny of the Daleks in which both Backer and Warb appear; Prime 550 does not however.
John Nathan-Turner wanted to begin his tenure as the Doctor Who showruiner by making some drastic changes to the programme, which can be seen in these episodes. He did away with the opening and closing credits to save a bit of dosh on the budget and shortened the length of episodes as well to the same ends. He also redesigned the interior of the Tardis to save on prop storage fees, replacing it with some unused office furniture he found at the BBC Television Centre at White City to decorate the set. Lastly, actor Liam Nealson was unavailable to reprise the role of K9 due to illness so JNT decided to to replace the robotic character with a new electronic companion for the Doctor, named Prime Computer. JNT also chose to have the program only broadcast on Australian television, a strange decision that he never explained. These (and more) would prove to be just the first in a long line of regrettable decisions that would occur later during his tenure, of course.
The first four episodes of this season were not well received and the rating began to slip. Viewers complaints included that the episodes didn’t feature any meaningful monsters or villains, that they the program being broadcast only in Australia on such an erratic schedule made them difficult to find, that the episodes, although still quite enjoyable, felt just too short and seemed to focus an inordinate amount of time on the new companion. Additionally, a great uproar shook the then-growing Doctor Who fan movement after the fourth episode featured the Doctor and Romana engaging to be married. This left JNT with a difficult choice: he could either try to weather the protests and hope the viewing public and fans would come round, or backpedal on all of his changes to the programme. JNT later stated that he felt his hand was forced when the actor Liam Neeson recovered from his illness and offered to return to work. JNT reversed course and undid nearly all of the changes he had made (except for Tom Baker’s burgundy costume), including the Doctor and Romana’s betrothal and dropping the new companion as he felt that character too similar to the returning K9.
Prime Computer Edit
The companion Prime Computer was complete with a 8MB of memory and 1200MB of disc storage and a 9 track tape unit, being one of the first 32-bit “superminicomputers” and was never depicted outside the Tardis. Its personality usually came across as witty but quite loyal and dependable when the Doctor and Romana needed help. Home viewers appreciated its sense of sly humor but felt it was stealing a bit of Thom Backer’s comedic thunder while adding little else to the show. JNT ultimately chose not include Prime Computer in the restarted season 18 season and the character has only appeared in one other Doctor Who media product since, a comic adventure from 1984.
Prime 550, who would later be cast as Prime Computer, made its first acting appearance ever in an episode of Doctor Who, The Three Doctors, in 1973, where director Lennie Mayne called it a “natural” for the part of the Brigadier's misplaced computer.
Prime 550 next earned good notices playing the evil, scheming Iago in a 1976 all-electronic production of Shakespeare's Othello. That role lead Prime 550 to to the silver screen as “Proteus IV” in the sci-fi horror film Demon Seed from 1977, having turned down the part of Xoanon in Doctor Who’s The Face Of Evil in the same year. Offered similar parts, Prime 550 returned to London, stating later that it felt disillusioned at the narrow and stereotyped roles offered to computer performers. It married Susan Harris in 1979 and was considering returning to the stage when JNT met it at a bank doing accounting work. JNT was surprised and delighted by the gentle humming sounds it made as it worked and soon offered it the part of Prime Computer.
After the debacle of season 18’s false start, JNT, now fast friends with Prime 550, continued to offer it background computer roles throughout his tenure of the programme. Prime 550 appeared in over a dozen (non-speaking) computer parts on the programme such as Logopolis (where the superminicomputer stole nearly every scene inside the radio telescope’s control room - no easy trick when acting opposite Anthony Aintley and Tom Raker!) and Attack Of the Cybermen. The other most notable role for Prime 550 was in the 1981 television production of Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy where it portrayed “Eddie the Computer” (under heavy prostheticprosthetics makeup) - again, another comedic role that allowed it stretch beyond the stereotypical villain.
Some possibly apocryphal stories have it that the Doctor Who electronic character Kamelion has also been created by JNT for Prime 550, but this hasn’t been proven and may just be rumor due to Kamelion’s sad fate on the programme which somewhat mirrored Prime Computer’s.
Prime 550 retired from acting in 1992 when Computervision sold Prime Information to the Vmark Corporation. Susan and Prime 550 divorced not long after and now it raises chinchillas in Ecuador with its partner, who is an avid obsolete-technology enthusiast. The superminicomputer occasionally makes convention appearances at smaller fan conventions incapable of meeting the fee requirements of more prominent Doctor Who stars.
The Episodes Edit
“Step Into The 80’s!” tell a two-part story while the third and fourth, “Dr.Who and the Aliens” and “Dr.Who Meets His Match“ are each stand alone adventures.
Episode Order Edit
Please note that most online televisual-computronic sources for these episodes have the episode order all cocked up because, as usual, the BBC made an omnishambles of the DVD release. The proper order of these episodes can be easily established by noting the smaller details however, and the logical deductions presented below should clear up any confusion. The episode guide occurring later in this entry follows this worked-out ordering:
- Romana redecorates the Tardis during one of the episodes of “Step Into The 80’s!” and it remains the same throughout all four, so this one must logically come first chronologically.
- The Doctor is wearing his season 17 costume (tweed coat, hat and multi-coloured scarf) in both parts of “Step Into The 80’s!” but switches to his burgundy season 18 costume (minus the question marks on his shirt lapels though) in the other two episodes, so those two obviously occur after the “Step” two-parter.
- The betrothal of the Doctor and Romana in “Dr.Who Meets His Match” isn’t mentioned in any other episodes; being such a dramatic shift for the programme, it probably would have been so if it came before any of the others. This therefore indicates “Aliens!” as the third episode, leaving “Match" for the final of the four.
Episode Synopses Edit
Step Into The 80’s! Part One & Two (one minute long and thirty seconds long, respectively) Edit
Part One begins the story when the Tardis lands in an eerily unpopulated futuristic city of bare concrete block-shaped buildings. The Doctor rushes up and enters the Tardis and approaches his hat rack. Inside, the Tardis appears differently: the roundels and main console have been removed in favor of a stark white emptiness surrounding a small enclosure of late 70s office furniture (so much brown!) with Prime Computer’s terminal and screen prominently displayed. Romana, who was already inside, tells the Doctor that she’s redecorated the Tardis and asks if he likes it. The Doctor, his eyes wide, tells Romana that he loves it - then asks in awe if that’s really a Prime Computer, which he says he’s seen before on Gallifrey. Happy with it’s addition to the Tardis, he states that “at last, I’m he’s up to date!” Romana offers to introduce him to Prime Computer that is “totally interactive” with “immediate response.” The Doctor closes his eyes for a second to think of a sneaky question to ask Prime Computer and, smiling, asks it how long his scarf is. Prime Computer promptly replies “IT IS 7.013 METERS, EXCLUSIVE OF ALL THE LOOSE THREADS!” Romana appears to be unimpressed, but whether this is with Prime Computer or the Doctor’s scarf isn’t made clear.
The Doctor marvels at Prime Computer’s seven computer languages and five protocols, explaining to Romana that protocols are how it talks to other computers. The Doctor kindly tells Prime Computer “you’re going to be alright, kid,” to which Prime Computer responds archly “DON’T PATRONISE ME DOCTOR, I’M A PRIME COMPUTER.” Part Two begins with the Tardis once again landing in the eerie concrete city of the future. Inside, Romana spins about and worriedly tells the Doctor that the universe is about to end unless they can figure out the orbital coordinates of the nine hundred planets of the constellation of Kasterborous in seventeen seconds. As she continues to count down each passing second, the Doctor springs into action at the keyboard of his newest companion, Prime Computer and solves the problem at the last second, never once showing any real worry himself. Prime Computer tell the doctor “OK DOC, IT’S FIXED”, earning a “well done, Prime.” from the Doctor, before he has to tell Romana not to speak it’s name so loudly.
Dr.Who and the Aliens (one minute long) Edit
The Tardis stands in a white void of nothingness, as if trapped between realities by having accidentally materialized within itself and enclosing the office furniture, Prime Computer and the Doctor. A mysterious disembodied voice asks “Doctor Who?” of the Doctor (now wearing his burgundy outfit) inside, telling him they they know that he has knowledge of “the supreme computer” and that they want its name. Thinking quickly, the Doctor hides Prime Computer’s nameplate with his hand and stalls for time by asking why should he should tell them. The voice (presumably the “aliens” of the episode title, although they never appear on screen) direct him to turn on his monitor where he sees Romana tied to a chair. Bravely, she tells the Doctor to tell them nothing. While the aliens say they know this is an incredible communicating a system that understands all industry-standard languages and has a fantastic range of software solutions, and that you can easily increase it’s power, the Doctor quietly slips over to Prime Computer’s terminal and begins working. Thanks to Prime Computer’s help, in the wink of an eye the Doctor is able to triumphantly declare that he knows the aliens come from Lethragopolis. The voice gloatingly points out that now they know that the Doctor has the supreme computer or he wouldn’t have been able to figure that out so quickly, to his consternation. Meanwhile, Ramona on the monitor starts to panic as Sutek’s Helping Hand (last seen desperately trying to not be seen in Pyramids of Mars) creeps up from behind her chair onto her neck. The voice states that they know the supreme computer comes from Earth in the constellation of Sol, then forcefully repeat their request for the name. Romana screams and the Doctor leaps up, shouting “It’s a Prime Computer from the planet Earth! Just tell me why!!” “We just want to buy one” is their calm, bemused response.
The crisis averted, the Doctor exhales and slumps against Prime Computer’s tape bank and Romana, unharmed, appears at his side asking “who were those people?” The Doctor replies “Oh, just some over-excited Prime buyers.”
Dr.Who Meets His Match: (thirty seconds long) Edit
The Tardis remains in the center of an empty white void as if stranded between the layers of dimensions, when the Doctor steps into the Tardis to meet Roomana, now wearing her pink version of his outfit. The Doctor tells Romanian that he’s discovered he can increase the power of Prime Computer by five times in a hundred and eleven seconds, then fondly pops his hat on her head in a casual gesture of familiarity. Turning back to the office furniture inside the Tardis he declares “office automation? Revolution! Accounting? No more books! Around the planet communications instantly!” He sits down at Prime Computer, marveling that he can “design ships, run power stations, oil, gas! Where would the energy industry be without Prime?!” he asks rhetorically. Romana comes up from behind him and wraps her arms about him and somewhat huskily directs the Doctor to ask Prime Computer “how to handle a woman,” a problem that’s plagued the computer industry since day one and continues to befuddle their users to his very day. Before the Doctor can even ask, Prime Computer display its answer, “MARRY THE GIRL DOCTOR.” The Doctor starts to ask the question and Romana cuts him off with a yes. The doctor, perhaps a bit taken back, breathes “oh Prime,” and Romana with a smile declares Prime Computer “clever” twice.
- A number of errors both large and small may be found in these four episodes.
- In “Aliens,” Earth sun Sol is said to be a constellation. Sol is not a constellation but a star and its system of planets; a constellation is a visual pattern grouping of stars.
- The onscreen titles for “Aliens” and “Match” both spell out “Doctor Who” as “Dr.Who”, including leaving out the space between the abbreviation and the word.
- At the beginning of “Aliens,” the disembodied voice directly calls the Doctor “Doctor Who.”
- K9 doesn’t appear in any episode and no mention of his whereabouts is made at all.
- Part Two of “Step” never explains exactly what sort of threat the universe is faced with or how knowing the orbital coordinates will save it.
- Prime Computer is less advanced than an iPhone, yet the Doctor acts like it's the most advanced piece of hardware he's ever worked with.