People sometimes talk about what their first memory is. For some it may be an experience or event, maybe the first day at school or something that sticks in the mind due to something positive or negative. I know my first memory quite clearly and can date it precisely to Saturday afternoon, January 25th 1975; I was a few weeks away from my 4th birthday.
I was watching Doctor Who.
Specifically, I remember the cliff hanger at the end of episode 1 of ‘The Ark in Space’ where one of the Doctors companions, the hapless Harry Sullivan, opens a cupboard door, to have this huge insect like alien fall upon him. Cue screaming sting into theme music, credits and the painfully long wait until next Saturday (spoiler alert – the Wirrn queen is already dead, and Harry is in no danger – yet – but you don’t find that out until episode 2. Just in case you were worried).
Some people may find it rather sad that my first memory is of a science fiction show and not something ‘real’, but I do not at all. In fact, I’m rather proud of it and it says a lot about me that I’m perfectly happy to be said. I’ve obviously been a diehard fan ever since then and I have never been ashamed of it (this may seem strange to younger readers, as the rebooted show has a much broader appeal than the ‘classic’ series ever did – although not in ratings – but for a lot of my younger life to be a Doctor Who fan was to invite ridicule). We did not care. We had our show, and even after it was cancelled in 1989 I was one of those that persevered through the Dark Time, until the Second (well, third, if you count the 1996 TV movie, which you should, if only so you claim Paul McGann) Coming. Many happy years were spent as a child on Saturday nights getting terribly excited and waiting impatiently for Basil Brush to end so I could take my position behind the folding chair in front of the TV in the middle of the living room (the sofa was up against the wall so not available for cover). It was especially fun when my Nana was staying, as she hated the programme and her tuts of disapproval at how silly it was added to the enjoyment, and as I got older it became a mutual running joke. The show influenced me in many ways, mostly positive (as, at its best, it always is). It fuelled my reading (although my English teacher did despair that my reading record contained mostly Target book novelizations of past episodes. At least, he did concede, I was reading a lot. On a slightly more negative side the show made me somewhat ambivalent to firework displays, which I link directly to November 1978 where, for some reason I could never understand, my parents decided that going to a firework display with my cousins was a better idea than watching episode 2 of ‘The Stones of Blood’. This, at a time when there were no repeats, no DVDs no iPlayer – no chance of ever seeing it. The episode was starting as we left the house. I do not think I was very good company (they never made the same mistake again). My time in the scouts was curtailed when the BBC, in an act of stupidity, moved the programme to the same night. There was never any choice of who was going to lose out, and the woggle was never worn again.
It is some satisfaction that when the show came back, the driving forces behind it were fans like me, of much the same age (although obviously hugely more talented). I still look forward to it, although watching now is not usually the visceral experience it was a child. But it is part of me.
And just in case anyone is wondering what I think of a female Doctor – bring it on. I’m interested to see what they do with it, and the show has a flexible enough format to adapt to the world as it is now. My only problem? It’s fiction. I think the world could do with the Doctor now. But we need to sort out our own mess.