Posts Tagged With: william hartnell

God is in the detail (10-05)

Space. It’ll kill you if you don’t tread carefully. Lucky you’ve got me on hand, eh? Come with me now, because we’re going to explore the murky and sinister world of ‘Oxygen’ – a tale of corporate greed and sentient workwear, but also replete with IMPORTANT CLUES AND SIGNS that indicate the delights (and the horrors) that still await us.

This week, you’ll find it’s mostly about the First Doctor. Let’s take a look at that skull.

Count the stars. It’s not just the number, it’s the way they’re grouped. Not only does each star refer to a different Doctor, they also refer specifically to regeneration and a number of other things. Don’t believe me? Just watch:

You will note:

– The line that tracks the Second Doctor’s transition to the Third

– The two ‘eyes’ that represent the show in the 1980s and in its post-Y2K revival, and the Eighth Doctor’s uncomfortable positioning between both (but on the left hand side, clearly tying him to the ‘old’ era)

– The placement of the Fourth Doctor at the top of the triangle, or pyramid, signifying ‘Pyramids of Mars’

– The identical placement of the Twelfth Doctor at the top of a similar pyramid, indicating ‘The Pyramid at the End of the World’, in which the Doctor is due to regenerate

– The two tangential lines that lead down below the Tenth Doctor, indicating the split path followed by his metacrisis duplicate

– The six lines across the bottom: this should be obvious

Screens figure big this week, as you’ll see here.

First: note the five figures shown on the monitoring display. This refers to five Doctors, but not the five you were expecting. The Second Doctor is first: We know this because the first figure is directly beneath the word ‘POWER’, which is thus a reference to ‘Power of the Daleks’.

Let’s assume that the subsequent words each correspond to the separate figures. The words ‘CORE’ and ‘COOLANT’ both refer to ‘Inferno’, the Third Doctor story that saw a group of scientists who were endeavouring to drill down to the Earth’s core, which is flooded by coolant in order to abate the disaster. ‘And ‘SYSTEM’ refers to System Wipe, an Eleventh Doctor novella.

If we group these numbers together, including the last one – to which I’ll come in a moment – we get this:

Look at that number. Study it hard. Memorise it if you can. We’ll return to it later.

Let’s get back to that fifth figure for a moment. He doesn’t have a word of his own, but this is the First Doctor. And it is the numbers you really need to examine, if you want to know why – so let’s zoom in. (All right Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.)

Macomb, Illinois, I hear you ask? I have my reasons. You can rearrange them to form ‘Albinic loom sim’, a clear and unambiguous reference to the events of Lungbarrow. And this week’s episode was about breathing. I’m sure your minds are blown, so here’s a GIF of a dancing panda, just to bring you down to normality for a second.

Maps next. Specifically this one.

Note the presence of green brackets – denoting the Zombies’ intended location – around the section marked A6: specifically, the idea of death, represented here by green brackets, surrounding a number 6? Something to do with the words GREEN and DEATH? A SIX-PART STORY, PERCHANCE?

Hmmm. I’ll let you figure that one out.

We can take this further. Because each number refers to a separate story, as denoted by their different parts. Specifically

Section 11 – The Daleks’ Master Plan (twelve parts, minus the disallowed ‘Destruction of Time’
Section 07 – Marco Polo (seven parts)
Section 06 – The Web Planet (six parts)
Section 04 – The Gunslingers (four parts)
Section 03 – Planet of Giants (three parts)

And what do those all have in common, hmm? And what do they have in connection with ‘The Green Death’? I’ll let you figure that out. I’m not doing all your homework for you, you’re quite old enough.

But we should take particular notice of the fact that this is administered by Ganymede systems. Ganymede is the largest of the 67 known moons of Jupiter, taking its name from the Greek mythical hero Ganymede (why hello, transparent reference to ‘The Myth-Makers’, pull up a chair and put the panda on the TARDIS console). It completes a revolution around its mother planet every seven days and three hours, which CLEARLY REFERS to part three of the seventh story in the canon, ‘Hidden Danger’ – also known as episode three of ‘The Sensorites’- because of the Doctor’s blindness, thus hiding the danger from him, at least in a strictly literal sense.

However, the parallels run deeper. Episode 3 of series 7 is ‘Cold War’, an UNAMBIGUOUS nod both to the Ice Warriors and also ‘The Tenth Planet’, which was set in Antarctica – get it? A war? In a cold place? A COLD WAR? You see what I did there? But what, I hear you ask, perhaps in slightly worried tones while you try and unpick the ropes that are securing you to that office chair, if it isn’t episode 3 of series 7, but episode 7 of series 3?

Well – that turns out to be ’42’. THE THING IN THE VAULT IS MARTHA JONES’ MUM.

Finally, let’s get back to the beginning of the episode – and that first shot of the oxygen display on the suit gauntlet.

What’s going on here? Well, first consider the presence of nine – only NINE bars on the credit meter. This CLEARLY AND DEFINITIVELY refers to the IMMINENT RETURN of Christopher Eccleston. We know this if we examine the letters at the far right: ‘CF’ refers to ‘Christopher – Finish’, while ‘T2’ refers not to Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but rather Trainspotting 2 – a film centring on Mark Renton, as played by Ewan McGregor, WHO CO-STARRED WITH ECCLESTON IN SHALLOW GRAVE. And if you want to know how long this has been building, consider what the Doctor is doing here.

However, what’s most interesting here is ETO-2 at the bottom, and I’ll admit it took me a while to figure this out – and it wasn’t until I realised that the ‘2’ was a massive red herring that I was able to make progress. But a little creative Googling led me to the Express Tax Office in Queensland. Situated in Lake Street (as in ‘Under The Lake’) in the middle of Cairns City, the ETO processes tax returns for couples, students, sole traders and even non-residents, such as those trying to find a way into Australia – to do, say, a Chemical Engineering job.

Oh look. THERE it is.

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Doctor Who: an overview (part one)

If you were reading this the other day, you’ll recall me talking about the talk I gave to the church group.

What follows is the script I was using. I mostly stuck to it, with the odd add-lib. I make no apologies for the simplification of certain concepts, or the general lack of detail, because it was all done with a particular audience in mind. I think they enjoyed it; I certainly enjoyed doing it.

The thing is so long I have opted to split it up a bit – so here’s part one, which, while not exactly finishing on a cliffhanger, does stop in the middle…

Part two is available here.

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He walks in shadow. He arrives swathed in mystery and leaves without a backward glance. He topples empires, overthrows tyrants and helps the lost and helpless. He’s nattered with Nero, supped with Shakespeare and played chess with Churchill. He is, to use his own terminology, a mad man with a box. He is the Doctor. And he’s been a part of my life, in one way or another, for over thirty years. And this afternoon, I’m going to be telling you all about him.

Now, I’m aware that you’ve probably all got different levels of familiarity. I suspect some of you probably watched the show years ago, and perhaps you got bored and went on to something else. Perhaps you’re familiar with the old days but you have no idea about any of the new Doctors. Perhaps you watch everything you can, rather like me. Or perhaps you’ve never seen the show before and don’t have a clue what it’s about, beyond something about a police box and a thing called a Dalek that looks like a gigantic pepper pot. In any event, whether you’re a diehard fan or whether you think Davros is a Greek dancer on Britain’s Got Talent, I hope you’ll find something of interest today.

But I don’t want to turn this into a forty-five minute chat about the history of Doctor Who, even though I could easily talk about it for twice that length, because it’d bore you silly. Instead this is going to be something of a whistlestop tour through the show, from its 1963 beginnings all the way up to the present. We’ll talk a bit about the Doctor himself and some of the foes he’s faced – on and off-screen. Some of this is probably going to be familiar to at least some of you – some of it’s going to be new. There’s quite a lot of talking from me, but you’ll get to see the Doctor in action as well.

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So come with me on a journey into the past – as we go back. Way back…to 1963. Harold Macmillan is in Downing Street, the first Bond film has just been released, and the Beatles are about to take over the entire world. And the new Head of Drama at the BBC, a man called Sydney Newman, has commissioned a new children’s show about a bunch of time travellers who flit around the universe, meeting important historical figures and generally getting into scrapes. The main characters were to be a dashing young couple, a teenage girl who was good at finding trouble, and an enigmatic middle-aged scientist with a mysterious past. (Is any of this sounding familiar?)

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The Doctor was never even intended to be the central character – that’s something that changed as time went on – but the creative team wanted someone with gravitas, so they cast William Hartnell, famous for The Army Game. (My dad says there was only ever one Doctor, and William Hartnell was it.) Hartnell was getting tired of typecasting and he jumped at the chance to play something completely different. But if you go back and watch those old episodes again, what strikes you is how unpleasant the First Doctor is. He’s untrustworthy, crochety and mean. (Perhaps that’s why my Dad likes him. Sorry, that was a joke.)

Here’s where we meet him for the first time.

That was the very first episode, which went out on 23rd November 1963 – the day after….what?

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It’s said that everyone can remember where they were when they heard that Kennedy had been shot. Doctor Who went largely unnoticed, because everyone was watching the news. It didn’t make much of an impact at first, and in many ways that didn’t come as a surprise to the BBC. Doctor Who is about a man who is and always will be an outsider. It was co-created by a Canadian, its first director was an Indian and the first producer, Verity Lambert, was a young woman in a world dominated by men. And none of them were expected to actually succeed. However, a few weeks later, the show was facing an early cancellation. And then this happened.

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I think you all know what that was, don’t you? And thanks to the Daleks, Doctor Who hit the big time, as the Doctor met Marco Polo, smugglers, and giant flies. But William Hartnell was getting ill and couldn’t keep up with the constant filming pressures – twenty-four episodes a year – so it was decided to replace him with a younger actor.

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And in 1966, this happened. After battling the Cybermen, the Doctor collapsed in the TARDIS, and changed into a younger man. Now, in production terms this was a masterstroke. A show that can change its lead actor at any point can go on forever. Every new Doctor’s built on what’s come before while bringing something of themselves to the part. About the only thing that hasn’t changed is the TARDIS – and that, by the way, is only because it’s supposed to be camouflaged, blending in with wherever it happens to be, only it got stuck. (The funny thing is that camouflage changes. A police box was a common occurrence in 1963, but you don’t see them anymore. When my family and I were driving through Shropshire one afternoon, Josh pointed out of the window at a public phone box and shouted “Hey, look! A red TARDIS!”

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The other thing to mention at this point is that regeneration is a bit like giving birth. They used to tell you to do it lying down, but these days there are all sorts of positions. Compare this from 1974 with this from 2008. The Third Doctor’s lying down, but when we watched the Eleventh Doctor turn into the Twelfth, my mother asked why the Doctor was standing up, and I told her it was like medical advice; they keep changing it.

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So. The Second Doctor was younger, sprightlier, sillier, but still ran around the universe, generally saving the day. But eventually Patrick Troughton left the TARDIS and went on to do other things, and in 1970 Doctor Who switched to colour. Things were a bit different – the Doctor was now stuck on Earth, exiled by the Time Lords, and he worked with a military organisation called UNIT, led by Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart. Eventually the exile was lifted, and Jon Pertwee was replaced by Tom Baker, who is probably the best known of all the Doctors, certainly the most visually iconic – as you will see from the way I’m dressed. Apart from that it was business as usual – Daleks and robots and things coming out of the swamp. Now I wanted to show you something that really summed up the way Doctor Who was in the 1970s, and here it is.

(I made that last year, just for the fun of it. I knew it would come in handy eventually.)

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The show had never been more popular, but all good things come to an end, and in the 1980s there was a gradual downward spiral. Stories got sillier, there were some questionable performances, the show lost its Saturday evening slot so nobody watched it, and eventually the new BBC controller had had enough. In 1985 it was suspended, and then it came back, and then it was finally cancelled. Now, it’s fair to say that it wasn’t the best of times, but there were still great moments, like this one.

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Doctor Who was languishing, alone, for years. The fans kept it going, but there was no sign of it on TV. There was an old joke that went “How many Doctor Who fans does it take to change a light bulb? None at all, they just complain and hope it’ll come back on.” Until 1996, when the BBC brought it back with a full-length movie, starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor.

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There’s only one problem with the movie, and that’s that it was rubbish. It was made by people who didn’t understand the show, for people who had never seen the show, and it was once again binned. But not for long! Because some years later, the BBC decided to bring it back, only this time they did it properly. The new Doctor Who was completely updated: it looked fresh, and modern, but it was still the show we knew and loved. Still, this was aimed at winning a new audience, and for many children – including at least one of mine – this was their very first glimpse of the Doctor.

It’s new, but it’s instantly recognisable. The dummies that Rose was running from are the Autons, whom the Third Doctor fought many years ago, and which many parents and grandparents would have remembered. They were trying to win over children, but broadly speaking this was definitely geared towards the family.

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Since then the show’s gone from strength to strength, through four and a half new Doctors (it’s a long story, don’t ask) and all manner of strange new creatures and enemies. But the central idea is still the same: the Doctor and whichever companion he happens to be with turns up in the TARDIS in the middle of a problem, and then solves the problem, just before moving on to the next one. He’s met Charles Dickens and Vincent van Gogh, he’s seen the end of the world and travelled to the end of the universe. Doctor Who turned fifty just a couple of years back, and the Doctor doesn’t show any signs of slowing down just yet.

But it’s funny how we place so much faith in such a mysterious character. It’s there in the title – Doctor Who? So let’s have a quick look at exactly what we do (and don’t) know about the Doctor.

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What is it about the Doctor that makes him so fascinating? Well, he’s famously non-violent (although if you look at the show, this really isn’t the case at all). He’ll give his enemies a chance to surrender and change their ways. He doesn’t suffer fools and he has no respect for empty authority, but he’ll preach about forgiveness. And he overcomes death, and routinely sacrifices himself in order to save humanity. If any of this is sounding a bit familiar, there are lots of arguments about religious interpretations of Doctor Who, although this is something the programme’s creators have always denied. “No,” they said. “We didn’t mean that at all.”

Um. Is it just me…?

The other thing about the Doctor is that he very rarely travels alone; he’ll usually have at least one or two companions along for the ride. And here are just a few of them.

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You will note that most of them are women, and most of them are pretty. I will not deny that this is to give the dads something to look at on a Saturday evening. I will not deny that I am one of those dads.

Please don’t tell my wife.

 

Click here for part two.

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Review: An Adventure in Space and Time

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Warning: contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen ‘An Adventure in Space and Time’ and don’t want to know the score, look away now!

For my father, there has only ever been one Doctor. It’s a conversation we’ve had often, along with interpretations of gospel writings, the ethics of civil service management and the relative merits of The Goon Show. (Do not – I repeat, do not ask me to start doing the characters. We’ll be here all day.) “The best Doctor, bar none,” he insists, in the face of my rebuffs about Baker and Smith, “was William Hartnell”.

I’d imagine that An Adventure in Space and Time was probably tailor-made for someone like Dad. Certainly it wasn’t the no-holds-barred, warts-and-all tour-de-force it could have been. (I tried for a record number of hyphens in that last sentence; can you tell?) This was family viewing in the same way that Doctor Who is family viewing. None of the principals got killed (or had their memories wiped, or got trapped in a parallel universe), there was no sex to speak of and the underdogs who fought against an oppressive regime for what they knew was right were ultimately rewarded. Oh, and there was a bit of time travel.

In a recent interview with Doctor Who Magazine, the looking-astonishingly-good-for-his-age Waris Hussein says (and I’m paraphrasing) that he didn’t believe Mark Gatiss could tell the whole story – “he had to tone it down a bit”. Certainly the hour and a half I sat through last night came across as the Doctor Who Confidential version of events. There was sparring and there was an old boy’s network and casual institutional racism – epitomised in an early scene where a frantic Hussein complains about the heat in the upstairs booth, only for someone on the ground to remark “You’d think he’d be used to it”. Meanwhile, Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine, in good form) is forced to defend her controversial producer’s appointment against a sneering establishment who’d prefer to see her typing letters, rather than getting TARDIS interiors delivered on time. How could this female, it is clearly felt, rise to the occasion?

Rise to the occasion she does, although it’s not without a little buoyancy from floating aid Brian Cox, who inhabits Sydney Newman with just about enough pomposity to keep from turning the Canadian hotshot into a complete caricature. Well-dressed, bombastic and with a cigar permanently glued to his lips, Newman saves Lambert from a disgruntled Hartnell early in the narrative, only to privately rebuke her with the words “Be a producer”. Verity turns from lamb to lion and marches into a previously dismissive designer’s office, taking a seat opposite him and refusing to budge until he’s started work on the TARDIS set – which he then constructs, Blue Peter style, from a cotton reel and bits of card in thirty seconds flat, in its final form.

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Herein lies one of the problems faced by Adventure – it’s got four years of narrative to condense into ninety minutes, and as a result many things are glossed over. Delia Derbyshire’s wonderful tape loops, for example, get only the briefest of mentions, in the midst of a dramatic irony-laden monologue in which Verity and Waris assure a reluctant Hartnell that everything’s going to plan, while budgets go through the roof and scripts are thrown in the bin. Or as Gareth put it, “It made me twitch a little at times at how ‘neatly’ everything happened. ‘We need to do X’, followed immediately by exactly how X famously turned out’.”

Gareth has a similar hangup with ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, a story that we both agree is wonderful, with one notable disappointment: the Daleks that Davros designs are identical in all respects to the classic Raymond Cusick design that we know and love. Budgetary constraints probably made this unavoidable, of course, but it might have been nice to see a different, more rudimentary model. It’s the same here – with the notable exception of the botched pilot (which is transcribed to screen very well) there’s an inevitable lack of detail. Nation’s name is mentioned once – although in a clever piece of juxtaposition Newman’s verbal delivery of ‘The Survivors’ is played over the assassination of Kennedy, which occurred the day before ‘An Unearthly Child’ was broadcast – fifty years ago today, as it happens. Cusick doesn’t even get a look in. And all this is cannily dismissed in the space of one line, as delivered by Lambert to Hartnell over lunch – “So many people have been at the birth of the thing, we’d be here all day”.

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The paring down works, as it happens, because it allows the characters to live and breathe – and one thing that becomes apparent from the very beginning is that this is Hartnell’s story. Played to perfection by David Bradley, Hartnell is a grumpy bugger who is bored with typecasting and who shouts at his granddaughter. Sceptical and irascible to a fault, it is his transformation that forms the story’s principal arc. Despite a shaky first episode, Doctor Who turns out to be something of a fountain of youth for the man, as epitomised by a scene where a rejuvenated Hartnell leads a group of starry-eyed schoolchildren on an impromptu expedition through woodland, before doing a reasonable impersonation of a Dalek.

Such scenes are twee and in all likelihood apocryphal, but they grant Hartnell’s inevitable decline a keen emotional resonance that echoes long after the closing credits have rolled. There are many ways to chart an illness onscreen – Gatiss does it here with a series of Television Centre publicity shots showing an increasingly frail and confused Hartnell, and a dark and almost frightening studio breakdown where his mind seems to go totally blank. This follows an earlier scene where Hartnell’s wife implores Verity to scale back the BBC’s demands on him – emotional and overwrought dialogue that is somewhat undermined (purposely so, one expects) by the appearance of several costumed bees from ‘The Web Planet’. (It’s the sort of intervention that could have greatly improved the breakup scene in Spider-Man 3.) In either event, the outcome is clear: here is a character actor who finds that playing an old man gives him a key to connecting to and relating with the young. Russell T Davies really should take note.

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It doesn’t all work. The dialogue seldom ventures above second rate, and the expository summaries for the benefit of a young audience occasionally made me wince. Gatiss has clearly put himself on a tight leash but he still can’t resist dropping in the odd in-joke – Verity’s reassuring “Brave heart, darling” to a worried Hussein, Newman’s use of the word ‘regeneration’ years before it was used on the show proper, and the continual reference to the now famous Bug-Eyed Monsters. Even Bradley isn’t immune, weeping over his fireplace and copying David Tennant’s last words, as he confesses to his wife that “I don’t want to go”. Despite glossy production (the last programme to be filmed, as it turned out, at the now decommissioned Television Centre) and a decent score you do wonder what Aaron Sorkin would have been able to do with it.

But this is a show about nostalgia – about doing difficult things with limited resources – and while it’s all a little neat and self-congratulatory, it’s hard not to watch with a smile on your face. The final five minutes, in particular, are arresting in their depiction of Hartnell’s regeneration scene – once you’ve got over the image of Reece Shearsmith as the least convincing Patrick Troughton ever, they set up the cameras to roll, and Bradley / Hartnell looks up, and this is what he sees.

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I suspect this will have some fans applauding in their seats, and others up in arms. By this point the fourth wall is reduced to rubble, and certainly the presence of Matt Smith undermines the dramatic narrative. But it also doesn’t. It’s a chance for Hartnell to see the effects of his legacy – something the Doctor’s done before, and something you feel the actor deserves, however supernaturally ridiculous the premise. You may be gone, Gatiss seems to be saying, but the show has lasted this long because of the seeds you’ve sown and the sweat and the tears. There will never be another Doctor like Hartnell, simply because no actor will have the opportunity to make his mark on the character the way Hartnell did. As a tribute, there may be none finer – and on this matter, at least, I have a feeling my father would agree.

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1982

We start here:

Because that’s where I started. Sort of. There’s a reason memory doesn’t begin at birth. The trauma, I’d imagine, is too much. There’s this sensation of floating, perhaps a little cramped, perhaps with the muffled thrum of the outside world poking through, but still warm, safe. Foetal. Then there’s the sense of movement, and then a wall – a wall you must pass through, somehow, against all odds. Perhaps it’s like trying to get a really tight jumper over your head. They talk about the pain of childbirth, and having seen it first hand on three occasions I’m personally rather glad it’s something I will never have to go through myself – but I suspect it’s no picnic for the baby either. Then, once the pushing and squeezing is done, there’s the sense of breathing, really breathing, great big lungfuls of something that’s no longer liquid, but gaseous, and cold, and the overwhelming instinct to draw as much air as you can into those tiny, newborn lungs before expelling it out with the loudest noise you can make.

But perhaps life’s a little like that. You begin with the safety reins and then learn to walk the tightrope. And sometimes you fall, and perhaps knowing you might is as much a reason to keep going as it is to stay on the ground. Still, perhaps we block out these early encounters because it’s easier than having to remember what they were actually like.

It must be said that the death of a companion is a hell of an introduction to a classic series, but perhaps (paradoxically, given what I’ve just written) that’s the reason I remember it. Because I’m sure that it wouldn’t have been the first story I watched; it’s just the first one I remember. Love him or hate him (and a great many did), the departure of Adric was my first real brush with death – more real, and more tangible, somehow, than the untimely death of my beloved but barely remembered grandmother just a few months earlier. Adric’s death was solidified, visible – that broken badge still haunts my sleep – and more to the point, they never tried to bring him back. (And no, ‘The Boy That Time Forgot’ doesn’t count.)

Perhaps the reason I can still remember this now, just shy of thirty years after the fact, is significant. Perhaps we latch on to one death in particular – the first time it means something – and that’s the death that stays with us. It would explain why, when reading The Hobbit to my eldest son (who figures quite a lot in this narrative), he burst into tears after I’d recounted the Battle of Five Armies. It’s not as if he’s never seen death before. I was expecting trauma after The Lion King, which he survived without a single sniffle (unlike his father, who was in tears). When he was two we took him to see our beloved cat put down – it’s not as if it was a family excursion, but we thought it was for the best, some sort of closure. For years he’s been comfortable – I thought – with death. Then I read him the account of Thorin’s passing and his grief was tangible and thus as upsetting to me as it evidently was to him. This happened to him because over the weeks we’d spent reading the book I’d had time to build up a portrait of Thorin that you seldom get in the space of an hour or so of screen time. So it was effective – but for a while there, I felt like the worst father in the world.

My encounters with Doctor Who began round about here. I cut my teeth on Davison. When he eventually regenerated, my parents were less likely to have it on in the evenings, as neither of them were keen on Colin Baker – despite his possession of the same sort of blustering arrogance that my father so admired in Hartnell, his own favourite. When Baker became McCoy I jumped back into the swing of things and devoured every story, despite the fact that many of the early ones were dreadful. Then it was cancelled. A few years later they brought it back, in the form of a television movie that we don’t talk about in the circles I inhabit. There was much to admire about McGann, but the rest of it merely sullied fond memories.

By the time Doctor Who was resurrected some six years ago, I was married and about to become a father. Watching the show now has taken on a curious duality, as I’m able to view it from the perspective of the critical adult viewer who laments that its occasional childishness is symptomatic of a show that’s past its best, and simultaneously the child who is entering the Whoniverse for the first time and experiencing the wonders of the groaning TARDIS with fresh eyes. Joshua grew up knowing the characters from infancy (at the age of three he could pick out Dalek Sec in a lineup) but it wasn’t until Easter this year that I first introduced him to the television series. We started with Eccleston, which is as good an introduction to the show as I can think of for someone his age (at least until I get round to buying the Beginning box set) and as I write this we’re working our way through Tennant’s run with Piper (two episodes away from ‘Doomsday’).

I hadn’t intended to turn this into an autobiography, so this might be a wise place to stop: I simply wanted to give you some context for this blog, which is something I really should have started a while ago. I’m not – and have never been – an obsessive fan of the show; my experiences are confined to the TV series and the occasional comic story, and I do not own a single novel or Big Finish production. (A friend of mine has been trying to get me to listen to ‘Spare Parts’ for the past couple of years, and one of these days I swear I’ll get around to it.)

I tend to view Doctor Who from a writer’s perspective – I look at the structure, I look at the narrative, I look at the characterisation. I blanched in horror when the Doctor abandoned the TARDIS in ‘Curse of the Black Spot’ – it seemed such a pointless, out-of-character thing to do for the sake of confining him to the ship (even though it could have been justified with one simple change to the narrative). At the other end of the spectrum, I thought ‘Blink’ was the best forty-three minutes of television I saw in 2007, and some four years later I’ve yet to see the show do anything that surpasses it.

Away from the new episodes, my other half and I have been trawling through the archives and discovering Tom Baker, of whom I was always aware without really knowing him. We may therefore divide this blog into three main categories – thoughts on the classic series; retrospectives on the post-2005 episodes as I watch them with Josh; and anything else, including all the new stuff. It won’t be this clean-cut; the ambiguities and crossovers are as big a part of my writing style and approach as they are to the show in general. But that’s sort of how it’s going to work. My guess is that you’ve Googled for something else and just stumbled in here – in which case, welcome, and pull up a chair. Sorry I’ve eaten all the biscuits.

This will be part information dump, part pretentious meandering – inconsistent, schizophrenic, perhaps with an inflated sense of its own importance, much like Doctor Who itself. That isn’t intentional; it’s just me. The simple truth is that it’s been a big part of my life, on and off, for some thirty years – and if I spend much of my time (like many fans) simultaneously loving and hating it, it’s taught me a lot about a lot of things, and it’s rich with analogy and goodness, even within the confines of a prime time family show. It is when it is at its darkest and most unpleasant that the beauty of the show is at its most luminous: we spend our lives behind the sofa but we cannot resist peeping out because that’s when the best, most interesting stuff is happening. You have to pass through the darkness to reach the sun coming up, and sometimes bathing in the darkness is the only way to grow. And it’s curious, perhaps, that as a closing thought I should turn to the words of Elton Pope – protagonist of ‘Love and Monsters’, one of the worst New Who stories in the canon – who nonetheless, in this oft-quoted monologue, had one interesting thing to say:

“I’ve had the most terrible things happen, and the most brilliant. Sometimes, well, I can’t tell the difference. They’re all the same thing. Stephen King, he once said, ‘Salvation and damnation are the same thing.’ And I never knew what he meant. But I do now. ‘Cause the Doctor might be wonderful, but thinking back, I had this great thing going that was destroyed. And that’s not his fault. But maybe…that’s what happens when you touch the Doctor. Even for a second. When you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all…grow up. Get a job. Get married. Get a house. Have a kid, and that’s it. But the truth is the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.

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