Doctor Who and me

The Eighth Doctor's "appearance" in ...

Today’s festival of fiftieth anniversaries concerns topics about which I know quite a lot, a perfect storm of specialisms. I bow to few in my knowledge of The Beatles, and their second album, 50 years young, is in many ways more significant than their first. But it’s not my favourite, so.

I grew up saturated in Kennedy lore and a particular view of him. And probably the best chapter of my PhD was focused on Delillo’s novel Libra. I nailed that thing, but I’m bored with it by now, so.

I was just short of my first birthday when Doctor Who began. I don’t think I really remember the Hartnell era. If I do, it’s probably in the same way that people “remember” watching the Kennedy assassination on television. I do have distinct memories of Patrick Troughton, though. Cybermen, Daleks, and Yeti in the London Underground. I was old enough to remember and young enough to be scared.

By the time I was old enough not to be scared, it was the Pertwee era, and if we were to play the “my Doctor” game, mine would be him. Looking back at clips, it’s all very naff, but that was when I was a big fan. I then resented Tom Baker at first. He was in post long enough for me to both warm to him and then go off him again as I grew too old for the programme.

Sex comes into it. I had vague sexual feelings for Elisabeth Sladen, then grew too cool for Doctor Who until Peter Davidson was in role and I could full-on fancy Janet Fielding as Tegan, notwithstanding the terrible 80s fashions. Then it was phwoar for Peri and after that I lost interest again.

I always thought the appointment of Colin Baker was a huge error. To cast another curly haired actor with the surname Baker just seemed like a cosmic joke. By this time, it was clear that the Daleks in charge of the BBC hated the show. It was in need of love and budget and it got contempt and budget cuts. It was not so much “not invented here” as it was “not invented by us”. Nobody felt they owned it, and apart from anything else, Baker C’s costume sucked.

I stopped watching then and entirely missed the McCoy era. He was the final insult for me, because I of course knew him from the kids’ TV show Vision On, which was the mainstream show for deaf kids and arty kids.

As the Culture Show tonight pointed out, a show like this maybe needs a period in the wilderness, to allow the fans to take it over. I’m not a big fan of, er, fan culture. Tends to irritate everyone else. But it was fan culture that led to Star Trek TNG and the movies. On the other hand, fan culture gave us those terrible Lord of the Rings films. The one-off Eighth Doctor was a mistake, and should not be considered canon, in the same way that the Peter Cushing films aren’t.

Fan culture gave us New Who. I’ve enjoyed watching it with my kids, and I wonder if they’ll go through a period, as I did, of disregarding it completely. I agree with Stephen Fry: our culture is juvenile, and people probably should grow out of things. However, uniquely, Doctor Who probably has more adult fans than young fans, so the BBC should probably just accept that it transcends generations.

What do I think of New Who? When it is good, it is very very good, but mostly it is silly, juvenile, and a bit dull. The clockwork androids. The first weeping angels, but not the sequels. The Van Gogh one. The Doctor’s Wife. These are the ones that match up to Buffy episodes like Hush, or The Body.

The rest of it is so much running around and too much overblown music. The music tries to make up for the past of there being no budget for music. I especially resent New Who’s bastardisation of the theme music.

Still, I’m looking forward to Peter Capaldi in the role. He is the same age that Hartnell was. Hartnell at 55 looked 75. Capaldi looks 40-ish. That’s interesting, isn’t it? And that’s a social change wrought by the last 50 years of improved health and education, and the youth cult introduced by Kennedy and The Beatles.

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