Festival of Evil: Doctor Who at Glastonbury

~ by PBH, September 2015

The 2015 series of Doctor Who kicked off with our hero making one hell of an entrance: playing a scorching guitar solo while perched on top of a tank. In 12th century Essex.

This scene prompted some jokey comments online about the Doctor headlining Glastonbury next year. But of course he’s already been there, many times. Come with us on a new four-part adventure in space and time, documenting various Doctor-related sightings over the years…

Episode One: The Café of Skulls

Picture the scene. It’s 2002, the sun is out, and Glastonbury festival is in full swing. Wandering somewhere near the Circus field during the afternoon, we turn a corner and there, to the side of a path, is the TARDIS. Well, a crudely painted front part of the TARDIS anyway. It marks the entrance to a café, essentially a makeshift small marquee containing a few soft chairs and sofas, and a tiny television linked up to a video recorder playing VHS tapes of Doctor Who. Oh my.

Bear in mind that these were the wilderness years for the programme. The BBC had long ago stopped making it, and the 2005 revival was as unimaginable as a very unimaginable thing indeed. Videos were all that the fans had. Anyway, as luck would have it, as we arrived the proprietor of the café was just putting a new one into the machine. "The Brain of Morbius”, a bone fide classic from 1976, popped up on the 12-inch screen.

And so it was that we spent a pleasant 2 hours lounging in comfy chairs, swigging beer, enjoying Tom Baker at his finest, until the credits rolled at the end of episode four and we staggered back out into daylight and the real world.

The café wasn’t there the following year (probably crippled by legal action over copyright infringement) and no photos of it seem to exist online. Maybe it was all a dream…

Episode Two: Into Orbit

It’s 2004. Orbital are headlining the Other Stage, playing their last ever gig (or so they said at the time; they’ve since had more comebacks than Status Quo). Towards the end of their set, they play their version of the Doctor Who theme, as can be heard on the Live at Glastonbury 1994-2004 album. Nice.

The set also included You Lot, a track from the then-current album containing a sample of Christopher Eccleston, taken from the TV drama Second Coming, by one Russell T Davies. By this time, June 2004, we knew that Doctor Who was coming back the following year (hooray!) and that Mr Eccleston had been cast as the 9th Doctor (hooray!). The times they were a-changing…

Episode Three: The Guest Star of Doom

Skip forward to the summer of 2010. The revived series is well into its sixth mega-successful year, and Orbital have reformed (told you) and are playing Glastonbury once more. They raise the stakes by persuading the newly regenerated 11th Doctor, Matt Smith, to join them on stage for the Doctor Who theme. Smith twiddles some knobs and presses some buttons, and clearly has a lot of fun.

Watching from a secret underground base somewhere near Salford, the BBC’s Head of Promotion rues the missed opportunities to do similar things at previous festivals. Just imagine: Pertwee on stage with Bowie in 1971, Tom Baker guest-starring with Hawkwind in 1978…

Episode Four: Invasion of the Radiophonic Workshop

Our journey is almost over, as we reach 2014. The Glade stage hosts the Radiophonic Workshop – the musical geniuses behind the iconic theme and most of the incidental music for the classic series, as well as music for hundreds of other BBC programmes.

A recent compilation of electronic music, Electrospective, kicked off with the Radiophonic Workshop’s original Doctor Who theme from 1963, acknowledging its influence on generations of musicians. This was sampling and editing at its crudest but most effective: the theme was literally produced note by note, and sound by sound, by sticking bits of tape together. Legend has it that one of the original staff members quit the workshop in the early 1970s, in protest at the purchase of one of those new-fangled electronic keyboards. It made things too easy, apparently. You’ve got to admire that.

And so to the future – what does it hold? Will Capaldi perhaps reform the Dreamboys, the punk band he formed at art school with Craig Ferguson on drums? Will we see more Doctor-related shenanigans at Glastonbury? Who knows…