Like Alpha Centauri. Ziggy Stardust was a camp alien androgyne
from Doctor Who Magazine
As I write, one of my acquaintances is putting the finishing touches to a reference book about that ever-fascinating icon David Bowie. I daresay it's the first time that someone with a deep and silly knowledge of Doctor Who has delved quite so profoundly into the world of David Bowie and, knowing that I'm always on the lookout for obscure by-ways down which to steer the combine harvester of my monthly column, my friend has been saving up all manner of bizarre crossover trivia for me to share with you. So now, ladies and gentlemen, take your protein pills and put your helmet on - or, at the very least, put on your red shoes and dance the blues - as we embark on a strange and wonderful journey. You'd be surprised by quite how many connections there are - and I'm not just talking about the fact that Season Five has got 'scary monsters' in it, or that The Daemons concludes with what could only be described as a 'Letts dance'. No - there's more.
You may recall that Mr Bowie has already featured in this page's Final Test, by virtue of his sharing a sleeve illustrator with The Doctor Who Dinosaur Book. But did you know (and I'm prepared to forgive you if you didn't) that on 19 November 1967 the then-unknown Bowie played at a charity ball at London's Dorchester Hotel, and found himself seated for the gala dinner beside none other than Frazer Hines (who, I'm informed by DYM oracle Andrew Pixiey, had recorded the fifth instalment of The Ice Warriors the previous day). And how about this: the sound engineer at Bowie's BBC radio session on 25 March 1970 was one Paddy Kingsland. Bowie was just beginning work on his seminal album The Man Who Sold the World; did his prog-rock experiments influence the future composer of the Mawdryn Undead soundtrack? I think we all know the answer to that one.
But pish. These are just ships that pass in the night. There are other, altogether weirder connections. Bowie was always a sci-fi fan; one of his early bands used to perform a feedback-heavy rendition of Holst's Mars, the Bringer of War, in deference to the boy David's favourite TV hero Quatermass. His first hit, Space Oddity, was inspired by a drug-addled trip to see Stanley Kubrick'S 2001. In 1971 he coined the phrase 'homo superior' for a race of super-powered youths a full two years before The Tomorrow People hit the airwaves. He's forever quoting Blade Runner in his lyrics. There's even a line in a Tin Machine song about being "married to a Klingon" (at the time he hadn't even met his future missus Iman, later to play an alien in Star Trek VI). And what do we find on the rear sleeve of his most famous album of all, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Metebelis - sorry, Mars? Why, we find the glittering alien rock star himself, newly fallen to Earth and gazing at us coyly from inside a London telephone box. Coincidence? I think not.
You want more proof? All righty. The last-minute publicity for Ziggy Stardust's debut concert on 29 January 1972 promised that the stage would be bathed in "Alpha Centauri lights. I needn't tell you which Doctor Who story was advertised in that week's Radio Times - nor need I remind you that Alpha Centauri, like Mr Stardust himself, was an outrageous alien androgyne.
And this is where it gets really good. In 1973 Bowie explained to Rolling Stone magazine the story behind a new Ziggy Stardust stage spectacular then in preparation (it never happened). Here's what he said: "The end comes when the infinites arrive ... they are black-hole jumpers they take bits of Ziggy to make themselves real because in their original state they are anti-matter and cannot exist in our world." Black holes? Anti-matter? Cannot exist in our world? I must inform you that Bowie was in the UK (recording Aladdin Sane, as it happens) for the duration of The Three Doctors.
You know, of course, that Barry Letts based some of his stories on Buddhist teachings. You may also know that around the time of the Frazer Hines dinner-date, Bowie was going through a major Buddhist phase. What you may not know- and I promise you I'm not making this up - is that the refugee lama who befriended Bowie, and whose rural meditation centre he visited, was Chimi Youngdong Rimpoche, the self-same leading light of Britain's Tibet Society who furnished Letts with the philosophy - and the name - of one of the central characters in Planet of the Spiders. Or to put it another way, Bowie's early song Karma Man is about Kanpo Rimpoche. Fact!
The spooky regeneration-story connections don't end there. How odd that Bowie's first UK Number one, the re-released Space Oddity, should top the chart in 1975 just as our very own MajorTom had really made the grade - while his second, Ashes to Ashes, should immolate the same character just as Tom Baker announced his departure in autumn 1980. Fact!
It's on record that Bowie was offered the chance to participate in Peter Davison's regeneration story, although his 'Serious Moonlight' touring commitments put paid to any real possibility that he might play Sharaz,lek. But did you know that in the very month that the Seventh Doctor's name was announced, Bowie's new album appeared with a song called '87 and Cry, which included the line: "now you're ready for the real McCoy"? Fact!
But then, when you think about it, these two giants of popular culture have undergone remarkably similar journeys, haven't they? Hungry and naive in the 1960s, trying very hard and occasionally coming up trumps. Definitive and unbeatable in the 1970s, defining their respective territories and setting the pace for others to follow - gloriously glitzy and spectacular at the start of the decade, seriously scary in the middle, and maturing into something of genuine artistic merit (but oh, so under-rated at the time) towards the end. Starting the 1980s with a burst of avant-garde brilliance before losing the plot big-time and going a bit stodgy on us, as international marketing overtook the creative muse. But then, as the 1990s quietly unwound, both were gradually reshaping into an elusive multi-media creature, restlessly inventive, shockingly prolific, and once again fabulously capable of surprising and delighting us with flashes of genius.
DR WHO MAGAZINE
August 23, 2000