Hands off my Doctor

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.

Scenes from a Roman Taverna: Watching

Calgacus looked up the hill at the house of Miletus and wondered if Vita was in there, and how to get her out in one piece if she was.
His job was to watch the house but he had not seen her go in or out since he had taken up the position here on the street of metal workers.
It had seemed a good position to him initially as it was extremely busy. From the shouts and snatches of conversation from the people around him, Calgacus gathered that the Iceni had been spotted, and they had begun to attack and burn the outlying areas of the town outside the city wall.
The palls of black smoke and the distant noise of screams and the clash of weapons confirmed this in the most ominous way possible.
Soldiers came and went past him as he watched, some to have their weapons sharpened. One or two were already carrying injuries. The smiths were working like slaves of Vulcan to keep the supply of pilae flowing, the soldiers sweating as they ran from the forges with armfuls of the light javelins.
Calgacus looked back towards the house.
Suddenly he noticed a man dressed in a white tunic accompanied by two soldiers walking up towards the house.
This trio were leading a smaller figure by the hand, and although her face was hidden by a cloak Calgacus knew it must be Vita. He looked around. The nearest shop had a number of swords lying on the counter, ready, presumably for a customer to buy for their own defence.
Calgacus had other uses in mind then defending the city when he picked up the nearest of the weapons, and took a deep breath. There were only three of them after all, and he had surprise on his side.
‘Good man,’ said a voice, as armoured fist took Calgacus’ shoulder in a crushing grip,’ we need every man armed and at the West Gate now, or they will break through!’
Calgacus mentally cursed the gods and reluctantly turned to face the huge Centurion who had grabbed him and who now pointed him down the hill away from the house. In the distance, Calgacus could just see the top of the town gate that faced the road to Londinium.
‘But I need to be here,’ Calgacus thought quickly, ‘to help with the forges! I was just taking a break.’
‘Don’t lie to me lad,’ the Centurion barked,’ you’re not remotely sweaty or dirty enough to be a forge worker, and,’ the Centurion looked at Calgacus with a practised glare made out of granite,’ I haven’t got to my position without being able to tell when my men are lying. Now get on to that gate like I told you.’
The builder hesitated again, gripping the sword and looking past the increasingly agitated armoured man in front of him. He could see that Vita and her escort being met by a slave at the entrance to the House. A moment later they had vanished into the building. He was too late. He felt his head droop in despair.
The Centurion gestured meaningfully with his sword in front of Calgacus’ nose. The sword was already blood stained.
No translation was needed. Go and fight or I’ll kill you here where you stand.
Calgacus swore and turned ran through the town towards the gate. If he was going to help Vita now, maybe keeping the Iceni out had to come first and then later he could try again. That was if either of them could stay alive that long.