How to get as many Doctor Who references into a camping holiday as possible

“Take Who with you!” urged Gareth when I said I was going on a two-week camping excursion to the coasts of Pembrokeshire. I’d got in touch to tell him my Big Finish listening would have to go on hold for a fortnight, along with the dips into old stories. As tempted as I was to put ‘The Axis of Insanity’ on the iPod, I really don’t think that two hours of vaguely metaphysical ramblings was really the kind of thing I wanted to inflict on my family, even if Peter Davison was involved.

But there are other ways that you can take a break without taking a break from the show. For example, here’s my reading list.

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The Science of Doctor Who, in particular, is very good, and suitably all-encompassing, published as it was in 2006 with only the Eccleston series to draw upon in any great detail; it thus avoids the post-revival tendency towards revisionism, in which anything that happened between 1963 and 1989 is viewed as an irrelevance. I can’t speak for the scientific validity of the text, but Parsons’ Who-related knowledge is pretty impressive, although he loses points for getting his facts wrong about ‘Doomsday’. Then again, perhaps he – like me – could only bear to watch the episode once without the influence of alcohol, and has flushed it from his memory. (That’s the episode, not the alcohol, which is still sloshing about in my brain somewhere.)

Harvest of Time is still half-read as I go to press, so more on that on another occasion. Earthworld is a fun (and occasionally highly amusing) romp through a futuristic theme park, but it seems a strange choice for the Past Doctor Adventure reissue series, relying heavily as it does on an ongoing backstory. I could just about cope with the fact that the Doctor is suffering from partial amnesia and has forgotten that he’s just blown up Gallifrey (for the first time), and that one of the companions had recently suffered a major loss. But then there was cloning and multiple timelines and Blinovitch-related stuff that’s just confusing if you’re encountering this story arc for the first time, having been unceremoniously plonked in the middle of it. It’s rather like watching the original VHS release of ‘The Invasion’, with Nicholas Courtney’s between-episode summaries, or watching ‘The Time of the Doctor’ with no knowledge of what’s been going on for the past eight years, as a great many people presumably did on Christmas Day last year.

But anyway. We hadn’t been in Pembrokeshire long when we found the box of bricks at the Roch village fete. The Roch fete is a treasure trove of random, but instantly essential items. It has a vaguely Needful Things-esque quality to it. Three years ago we found a tea set that matches our coffee set. I don’t care that we’ve never used it and the dust layer is now three inches deep; it looks fantastic on the sideboard and that’s all that counts. The bricks we bought were mostly generic building blocks, but there was this.

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Which instantly put me in mind of the halfway point of ‘Logopolis’, and the incredible shrinking TARDIS – or the ending of ‘Hunters of the Burning Stone‘, which I’ve recently read (and which reads, by the way, like an on-spec script for one of Moffat’s Doctor Who stories, being thoroughly ridiculous). It wasn’t the first time I’d seen the TARDIS that week; it really does seem to be making an appearance here.

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(Yes, i know it’s a grain silo.)

In any case, there was a creative aspect to this that got my juices buzzing, and it turns out that you can make a Dalek out of just about anything.

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I have absolutely no idea what’s going on with that first photograph of the sand Dalek. It looks warped. I think I had the wrong lens on the camera. The stick figure in the second one, as added by one of our travelling companions, at least adds a bit of perspective.

Back up in the field, my brother-in-law was assembling wood for the campfire. It may have been this that triggered Joshua’s memories of cub camp, and he proceeded to teach the entire family the songs he’d learned, none of which were filthy, unfortunately. Having never attended cub camp myself (I was a Boys’ Brigade man, and even then only for four years and never under canvas) I could remember learning most of them in the course of one evening when the hall in which we held our choir rehearsals experienced a power cut, rendering the reading of sheet music all but impossible. We passed the time singing part songs while we waited for them to fix the lights. There was one song I’d learned that night which Joshua evidently hadn’t, and I taught it to him now:

“To stop the train in cases of emergency
Pull on the chain
Pull on the chain
Penalty for improper use: fifty pounds.”

I think the original was ‘five pounds’, but our choirmaster was allowing for inflation.

It wasn’t long before we were adapting this:

“To stop the TARDIS in cases of emergency
Pull on the brake
Pull on the brake
Penalty for improper use: THE ENTIRE OBLITERATION OF THE UNIVERSE.”

One of my in-laws’ favourite family songs is called ‘Goodbye Horse’ (nothing to do with the Q Lazarus song), which goes “Goodbye horse / Goodbye horse / I was saying goodbye to my horse / And as I was saying goodbye to my horse, I was saying goodbye to my horse”. You then repeat the song in all manner of silly voices, including (on this occasion, and entirely for my benefit) an agitated Dalek. I then discovered that you can actually sing ‘Goodbye Horse’ to the Doctor Who theme. Go on, try it. What do you mean you’re reading this at work?

Having a campfire is all well and good when the weather’s fine, but when the wind comes in over Newgale it blows the tent quite fiercely, at least in that upper field – it’s the price we pay for the view. As the rain set in and Emily rushed round outside securing the guy ropes (which she usually does herself, not so much out of choice, but more because I’m really not very good at it) I was left inside with Edward, who was watching the tent billow and flap with wide eyes. Rain inside a tent is loud, and you sometimes have to shout to be heard. The more musically astute amongst you will recall the scene in The Sound of Music where Julie Andrews comforts the Von Trapp children during a particularly nasty thunderstorm by singing about brown paper packages and apple strudels. But if you’re going to sing ‘My Favourite Things’ on a camping trip three weeks before a new Doctor is set to take off in the TARDIS, you probably ought to change the words.

“Autons and Zygons and Drashigs and Mara
Zoe and Leela and Peri and Clara
Bubblewrap aliens tied up with strings
These are a few of my favourite things

Cliffhanger endings with crap resolutions
Violence and carnage and phallic protrusions
Not-dead companions married to kings
These are a few of my favourite things

Comic Sontarans, bisexual Harkness
Peter is taking us off into darkness
That sense of doom when the cloister bell rings
These are a few of my favourite things

When the Beeb strikes, when the fans whinge
When the scripts are bad
I simply remember my favourite things
And then I don’t feel so sad!”

Artistic license, of course – I really don’t like Strax, and I daresay lots of people don’t like the ending of ‘The Ultimate Foe’, but at least it scans, just about.

The whole thing is very silly, but it’s become something of a family joke. I’m relatively easy to buy gifts for: if you stick a Doctor Who logo on it, I’ll be happy. And yes, it is an obsession these days, and chances are if you wandered in here not knowing much about the show, having Googled for the ‘My Favourite Things’ lyrics, you’ll probably wonder what on earth my wife thinks about all this. The answer is she tolerates it, because she loves me, and because it’s the one thing I can actually profess to know a fair bit about without having to bluff. I’ve spent years as a jack of many trades and master of none, and if my writing topics these days have streamlined quite a bit, I do at least get to write about something I enjoy and can actually deconstruct without inadvertently toppling the tower and getting in a complete muddle. And if you can avoid keeping everything in-universe, you stay healthy. Doctor Who is often at its best when it’s an allegory for something, and it’s always fun to see how it relates to the real world, which sometimes isn’t so different.

I was reflecting on all this one evening, and called to mind a passage in Earthworld, which I’d just finished.

‘Even sky-blue pink?’ Anji asked. The Doctor looked quizzical. ‘It’s a sort of joke. A thing kids say. A mythical colour, because it can’t exist. If something’s pink, it can’t be sky-blue.’

The Doctor smiled. ‘But sometimes the blue sky can be flushed with pink. It can be quite beautiful. Maybe that’s what it means. Not everything’s black and white, you know. Although the sky can be black or white, of course.’

And of course, it can.

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