Some people’s earliest memory is of holidays, or maybe some traumatic event, such as the first day of school.
My first memory of life on this planet is as follows. Harry Sullivan opens a door and the (although we don’t know it until next Saturday) dead Wirrn queen falls out of the storage cupboard on top of him.
Cue screaming cliff-hanger sting and end titles*. Probably cue screaming little boy behind the wooden folding chair I used to hide behind (there being no room behind the sofa).
Fast forward a few years and I am sitting in English class, first year of senior school at Newcastle Royal Grammar. The late Mr Thomas (whose reading of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in class had to be heard to be believed, but that is a later memory) commends me for my voracious reading list.
‘But could you please read something other than Doctor Who novelizations?’ he went on to bemoan.
Happily I was able to at least briefly branch out with my all time favourite book, Richard Adams’ Watership Down the next week – but the literary giant that is Terrence Dicks – and all who fans over a certain age know I am being sarcastic here –continued to rule my reading for some years to come.
Sadly I am fairly sure that pupil teacher relationship wise Mr Thomas never forgave me the time when I misunderstood the homework instruction when we were doing poetry and I proudly handed in a single Haiku as my contribution. They were a good three lines I recall, something about a field mouse being hunted by an owl, but it turned out he was (perhaps not unreasonably) expecting several examples.
I digress. Anyway with the next Doctor Who now announced – and a choice I fully agree with, too – and it being the fiftieth anniversary year I do feel it is time for me to have a bit of a moan.
What happened to my Doctor Who?
Because it used to be mine you see. It was just mine and a handful of other diehard geeks who kept the flame of hope alive during the Dark Time. We bought the “New Adventures” books, even the terrible ones that completely misunderstood what the show was about; we visited the Doctor Who exhibition in the Dapol factory in Llangollen after the Longleat and Blackpool official ones had closed. We took positive pride as the Doctor Who magazine actually increased its circulation after the show went off air (which is very weird). At all times we kept the faith. In our heads the good Doctor was still fighting evil, running down corridors and drinking tea. We just couldn’t see it on TV any more thanks to the true evil one Michael Grade (who was clearly an incarnation of The Master).
In the old days the new Doctor would be introduced by a simple “and finally” at the end of the then nine O’clock news (or better, on Blue Peter). Now we have Zoe Ball (should have been her dad really, that would have been more fun) announcing it on prime time TV in a style more reminiscent of the X Factor or Strictly than a prime time BBC drama.
Poor John Nathan-Turner, the producer at the time of the original series cancellation will be turning in his grave. Often condemned by fans at the time for turning the show into light entertainment (a little unfair, but no smoke without fire) JNT would have been revelling in this kind of circus.
I’m being a bit silly of course as in reality I love the fact that so many people – especially kids – now enjoy a show that is essentially the same one that I’ve loved since pre-school. The quality of the actual show remains pretty high, last season was patchy but then there is nothing new in that every season has had its low points. It still remains unique on TV. The production team continues to be dominated by diehard fans of the show around my age, which means they have a pretty good idea of how far they can push things one way or another so for now at least the dread history of decline is unlikely to repeat itself (although I was disappointed that the mysterious Mr Sweet in the last series was not actually The Kandyman from 1988s The Happiness Patrol. ‘Revenge, Doctor, is sweet! Moooohahhhahah!’ Just as well I am not in charge, I guess.)
But I would prefer a little less of the showmanship around the behind production as it could detract from what will actually be remembered which is the on screen drama. I also need reassurance that show continues because of artistic reasons and not just so the BBC can license the franchise onto any possible item you could possibly ever think of (I’m very needy, you see). For example, I am willing to bet the sonic screwdriver gets yet another toy friendly makeover with the new Doctor (there is never a pragmatic Terileptal around when you need one to get rid of a now frankly annoying plot device. If I was K9 I would be sitting back with my little whirring ears and complaining despite the accusations that he was never used quite so lazily).
But I cannot wait for the anniversary specials; Peter Capaldi will be excellent; and if I do feel a bit grumpy again I can always closet myself away with my Big Finish audio CDs and pretend I am still a torch bearer in the Dark Time.
*The Ark in Space, Part 1 25th January 1975, for the uninitiated.