Or: Talkin’ ‘Bout My (Re)Generation
Today’s little saga is a triple-video bonanza, but there is a point.
When I was almost six years old, I remember watching this:
It upset me. Davison was such a nice, gentle Doctor. Baker II, on the other hand, was not, at least not at first. His first story was a disaster in any case, but even if the Sixth Doctor eventually stabilised and showed his compassionate side, ‘The Twin Dilemma’ was enough to alienate me, and also my parents, who wouldn’t have him in the house. We stopped watching then, at least until McCoy showed up.
Whatever my childhood misgivings about the Sixth Doctor, that regeneration scene is still wonderful, even not-quite-thirty years later, simply because of the swirling heads, and Davison’s grunting. (His final words have become something of a meme in our house, and when some months ago I was ill in bed, and Emily asked me how I was feeling, I managed to croak out “I might regenerate…I don’t know…it feels different this time”. She rolled her eyes and left me to it.) If the Fifth Doctor was the Tenth Doctor’s Doctor, he was also mine: principled and a little stuffy, but the sort of man you’d follow into battle. I couldn’t imagine him ever being any different.
Conversely, I think the Tenth has been Joshua’s Doctor, and however much I may gripe about the stories in which he appeared the two of us have come to love him over the past few months. We started watching Doctor Who together back in April 2011, on Easter Sunday morning, the sun rising over Oxfordshire as I introduced him to a bunch of plastic dummies causing havoc all over London (and also the Autons). We viewed those first episodes in relatively quick succession, despite the fact that I had to have two goes at ‘The Empty Child’ after he found it too upsetting. One season isn’t really long enough to get to know a Doctor, and when Eccleston changed to Tennant, he was interested but not really bothered.
But Eccleston did thirteen episodes to Tennant’s forty-seven, including a number of longer-running Christmas specials. (Admittedly, he’s hardly in ‘Love and Monsters’, ‘Turn Left’, ‘Blink’ or ‘The Christmas Invasion’, but that’s beside the point.) Tennant has permeated our house. He’s on our toilet wall. Joshua dressed up as him at his birthday party. And the truth is that Tennant took far longer to wear out his welcome than Eccleston – who, by the end of his run, was particularly grating. Tennant’s main problem was the gravitas attached to his character in later years, when his Doctor stopped having fun and started getting very serious and intense. He never quite lost his sense of humour, but there were fewer bouts of silliness and far more pregnant pauses and comments about being over nine hundred years old and world-weary (should that be universe-weary? Multiverse-weary?).
Still, Joshua loved him. He guffawed when Tennant wore a gas mask in ‘The Poison Sky’, turned to the UNIT chief and asked “Are you my mummy?”. He cheered at the flying bus in ‘The Dead Planet’. The words “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry” were used constantly. I was rolling my eyes at all the silliness, but only on the inside. And just as the Tenth was on the verge of getting interesting again – specifically at the end of ‘The Waters of Mars’ – they took him out of play. And, frustratingly, Joshua didn’t seem to care.
If you’ve ever made a long car journey with a small child, you will know that one phrase tends to get repeated over and over again. I’m not even going to bother writing it down, because you don’t need me to. The parents among you are nodding in recognition at this point, and even those of you without children can probably guess what I’m talking about. And I can’t help thinking that there’s a reason for that. There’s a desire to get there quickly – the journey is no fun, the destination is the be-all and end-all. When you grow up, that little pocket of solace becomes far more important. The best times I ever have with Emily are when we’re on the road and the boys are all asleep in the back (better than being Dead in the Boot) and there’s nothing for us to do but talk – no trappings, no email, no chores or household tasks, just miles of road. I’m reminded, on these occasions, of Sally Carrera in Cars, bemoaning the death of the old, disused road that “didn’t cut through the land like that interstate. It moved with the land, it rose, it fell, it curved. Cars didn’t drive on it to make great time. They drove on it to have a great time.”
I can’t help thinking that children are naturally impatient, partly because they learn from their parents. It’s the price you pay for instant culture: downloads, mobile communication (how many times have you hung up in frustration and said “His phone’s off? WHY IS HIS PHONE OFF?”) fast train journeys, TV-on-demand, leaked films, spoilers…and we try and teach our children the value of patience, while bemoaning the late arrival of the Amazon courier, or the slow broadband speed, or the fact that it’s been a whole six minutes since we posted that witty Facebook comment and it hasn’t generated a single ‘like’ yet. I tell my children that they must wait for Christmas, but they don’t have to wait for much else. Why should Yuletide be any different?
All the same, it’s been somewhat frustrating to hear – consistently during the time we’ve spent exploring the Tenth Doctor’s run and with increased frequency over the past couple of months – endless cries of “Is the Doctor going to regenerate yet? Is he going to regenerate in this one? When is it going to happen?”. I wouldn’t mind if these questions were coming from someone who was anxious for it not to happen. That would, at least, be rather sweet. It reminds me of the child who wrote to J.K. Rowling after the release of Order of the Phoenix and pleaded “Dear J.K. Rowling, please don’t ever kill Dumbledore, Harry, Ron or Hermione”. (Well, three out of four isn’t bad.) Perhaps, looking back now, that may have been a part of it: the ambivalence of letting go, the desire to see the next Doctor and satisfy your curiosity, but not actually meet him properly, not yet.
But Josh, I always sensed, was keen to move on, perhaps to get to the episodes he knew we were watching and discussing, cryptically so as not to give anything away (referring instead to The Twist or The Revelation when we wanted to talk about Amy’s sudden disappearance at the end of ‘The Almost People’, or the news that River Song was actually…well, you know where I’m going with that). Perhaps he just wanted to catch up. I’ve tried to pace things, striking the balance between satisfying the demands of a whingy child who’s desperate for the next part of the story and taking our time because we must. I’ve tried to eke out the episodes we’ve watched, restricting them to one or occasionally two a week. He’s had to wait for cliffhanger resolution, because once upon a time the whole joy of Doctor Who was in the tension generated by its multi-episode stories, and when they arrive these days they are to be savoured and treated with reverence, like rare delicacies.
So last night we watched the second part of ‘The End of Time’. I kept the news of the regeneration hidden – Russell T Davies teases us on various occasions throughout the previous episodes, so that Joshua kept expecting it and then raising his eyebrows in surprise when the Doctor escaped from the Flood, or survived the crash into the Naismith mansion, or managed to direct his spare regenerative energy into a McGuffin. And when it happens, when he looks up from the floor and hears Wilfred knocking on the wall of the chamber, it’s actually quite upsetting. (The subsequent fifteen minutes, in which he embarks on a needless farewell tour, are a disaster, but let’s not talk about that.) Anyway, eventually we got to this.
Josh sat next to me. Thomas was lying on the armchair, splayed out, watching almost upside down, but interested. I was glad: it will mean I don’t have to explain it to him when he next catches an episode. Tennant disappears, Smith shows up and admires his legs and bemoans the fact that he’s still not ginger, therefore launching a flurry of complaints in what is a simple misunderstanding. Shouts of “Geromino!”. Roll credits. And the first thing I hear from Josh is “Oh, there’s no next time bit!”.
“No, there isn’t,” I said, seething in exasperation. “Anyway. Farewell Tenth Doctor.”
“But I wanted to see a next time bit!”
“They don’t usually run them between series, Josh.”
“Ohhh…” [stomps of disappointment]
“I think,” I said, “it’s because they knew people would be a bit upset about the Tenth Doctor leaving and wanted to concentrate on that. They might have had something afterwards when it was on TV; I honestly can’t remember. But it’s not on the DVD.”
“But I wanted to see what happens next!”
“Tell you what,” I said, caving. “I’ll find one on YouTube.”
So we did. And they both enjoyed it. And then I thought ‘Hang on, bugger this. I won’t have him moving on quite so swiftly’.
“You know what?” I said. “I think what we should do is watch a video I made last year, which has some of my favourite bits from the episodes we’ve been watching. Just as a way of saying goodbye.”
Somewhat vainglorious to include it, I suppose, but here it is.
So we watched that, and at the end, I turned to Josh and said “That’s the end. Will you miss the Tenth Doctor?”
Then he cried.
I am such a bad father.