On the 25th November 1984 Bob Geldof gathered a group of pop's elite superstars of the day to help raise awareness about the famine in Africa. Together with Midge Ure he crafted one of the finest pop songs from the 1980s, featuring; Wham, Boy George, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, U2, Sting, et all. They called themselves Band Aid and released the multi-million selling Do They Know It's Christmas?
Selling records. Saving lives. Simple, but genius.
Although they were not the first, Band Aid began something of a trend for charity pop records. There was; USA For Africa, Artists United Against Apartheid, Sport Aid, Farm Aid, Ferry Aid, and countless Comic Relief singles, all of them gathering groups of high profile, popular recording artists in a show of support against terrible situations or injustices. It could be famine, poverty, child abuse, or AIDS.
Or Michael Grade.
On February 25th 1985, just weeks after Band Aid topped the charts, the news broke that Doctor Who had been cancelled. The BBC likely hoped it would fade away with little outcry but it made the national news and the press jumped upon the situation and filled many column inches. British tabloid The Sun claimed it was a "plot by the BBC" and people who had likely not watched the show in years came out in support of this national treasure.
However, it's unlikely that many people were thinking, "What will the pop stars of the nation do to support the Doctor?", but that didn't stop former Doctor Who annual illustrator turned record company executive, Paul Mark Tams, from answering the question. He had an idea, and together with record producer, unofficial continuity advisor and all round long term Doctor Who fan Ian Levine, set about trying to right this injustice.
Levine and his partner Fiachra Trench had previously collaborated on the theme music for the TV pilot K-9 and Company, and we all know how good that was...
...now, with Levine producing, the pair were to pen the lyrics to a new charity single hoping to save Doctor Who. Bob Geldof and Midge Ure were most likely shitting themselves.
When news of the single was announced in early March 1985 there were reports that a supergroup of pop stars would come together for the cause. Names like Holly Johnson, self-confessed Doctor Who fan Elton John, and The Village People were all rumoured to be taking part in the recording.
By the time of the recording session on Thursday March 7th, Doctor Who's current status had gone from cancelled to hiatus. The BBC had done a u-turn and now said the show was just "resting" and coming back in the Autumn of 1986 instead of the usual New Year start. Updated lyrics were written for the proposed single, Doctor In Distress, to reflect the change.
Eighteen months is too long to wait,And so on.
Bring back the Doctor don't hesitate.
It was a cold wet night in November
Twenty-two years ago,
There was a police box in a junkyard
We didn't know where it would go,
An old man took two teachers
Into time and space,
It started off a legend
That no other could replace.
Doctor in distress,
Let's all answer his S.O.S.,
Doctor in distress,
Bring him back now, we won't take less.
But who was to sing this masterpiece? Turns out it was an eclectic mix of 'celebrities' that gathered. And I use the word celebrity in the loosest Big-Brother-contestant-level abuse of the term. Instead of Elton John there was Bobby G from Bucks Fizz, instead of The Village People there was Time UK (nope, no idea either). To be fair, Holly Johnson would've been there but he was delayed in Brixton. He wasn't the only one who was held up by the pesky UK transport system as A-listers Black Lace found themselves stuck in Bradford. And further afield Helen Terry (nope, no idea either) missed a connecting flight. Gary Glitter was also down to perform but he dislocated his shoulder, so small blessings.
Amongst the rest of the ensemble of Who Cares? was comedian Faith Brown, the drummer from Ultravox (still pissed that Midge had not called him back in November and looking for revenge, possibly?), Justin Hayward from The Moody Blues, some people who were in Starlight Express at the time, Hazell Dean, Jona Lewie, Sally Thomsett (the sexy one from Man About The House), and a young Hans Zimmer (yes that Hans Zimmer) on keyboards.
Then there was the Doctor himself, Colin Baker, alongside Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), Nicholas Courtney ( Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart) and Anthony Ainley (the Master). This was the result of their combined efforts...
As the Tenth Doctor was fond of saying, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.
Clearly everyone had the best intentions, but it more likely hindered Doctor Who than helped it. In fact, many years later, Levine told The Guardian:
"It was an absolute balls-up fiasco. It was pathetic and bad and stupid. It tried to tell the Doctor Who history in an awful high-energy song. It almost ruined me."As for Colin Baker, he cites his participation in the recording as his "one regret" of his time in Doctor Who.
Let's just think about that for a minute shall we? Not the coat, not The Twin Dilemma, not unknowingly signing off with "Carrot juice, carrot juice, carrot juice", no! Colin Baker's one regret of his time in Doctor Who was taking part in the recording of Doctor in Distress.
The single was released on Friday March 15th 1985. A week or so later I went out to buy it but my local record shop didn't have a copy. Not because they'd sold out or anything, oh no. They didn't have it because there was simply just no demand whatsoever and I was the first person who had even asked them for it.
The BBC refused to broadcast the song on its radio stations on the grounds of
Before we finish it would be wrong of me to not point out that even though the idea of the single was to raise awareness of Doctor Who's cancellation, any proceeds from sales were to go to the charity Cancer Relief.
Let's just say there wasn't much relief that year.
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