30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.
23. DOCTOR WHO
My favourite show at the moment is Doctor Who
I am a big nerd. And I like being one. I love falling in love with stuff. And the great thing about science fiction (or this terrible word “genre”), is that it provides someone a lot to get into. Star Wars novels, Lost encyclopedias, etc.
(It’s why I love REM as well. So many albums. So many singles to collect. So many special editions. Hooray!)
But there are huge gaps in my nerd-om. Tolkien. For years I thought Tolkien was the name of a character in Lord of the Rings. Battlestar Galactica. By all accounts an amazing show. Just looks cheap and shit to me. Heroes. God what an awful show.
4 years ago, I could say the same thing about Doctor Who. Now, I am obsessed.
What the hell happened?
My pre-season three knowledge of Doctor Who could be summed up thus:
– The Doctorin’ The Tardis song, by KLF, that samples Gary Glitter’s Rock ‘n’ Roll
– The episode of Press Gang (written by future Who showrunner Steven Moffat) called UnXpected – about a Doctor Who-ish character called Colonel X.
– A skit from the Late Show where a bouncer throws some Daleks out of a night club.
– The show had recently seen something of a rebirth, and Billie Piper was now an actor.
– Tim was a big fan. Paul was a fan as well.
And that’s about it.
I know even less about Tolkien.
The home for comics and sci-fi in London is the world famous Forbidden Planet store – and I would wander in around once a week.
Doctor Who is the biggest thing in the UK sci fi world, and it makes sense that almost half their top floor is devoted to Doctor Who. What is this stuff? People seem to love it.
Toys. Posters. Bubble bath. Costumes. Lunch boxes. It’s over whelming. And I knew nothing about Doctor Who. I have to say – I was a little jealous. Someone who loves this show is going to have so much fun.
I felt the same way as a kid, wandering into Utopia Records, Sydney’s biggest and best heavy metal music store. They would have, say, Japanese Blur records, that I would buy. But they had this whole other section of the store – merchandise. Kiss mugs, Megadeth wrist bands, Manowar posters. My little indie bands didn’t make this sort of stuff. It must be so fun to be a metal fan.
When series three started – with Martha Jones replacing Rose Tyler as the companion – it was all over the news. It was front page of every paper. It really just got to the point where they were going to take away my nerd credentials. When science fiction hits the front page of all the papers and I knew nothing about it, something was wrong.
So it’s really simple actually, the story of how I came to Doctor Who. I sat myself on the sofa one Saturday night and watched the episode 42 on BBC1. It was pretty exciting. I liked it.
So the next week rolled along, then the next. This next run of episodes – Human Nature, The Family of Blood and Blink are probably still the best run of episodes the show has ever had. These episodes won a million awards, and my heart. Blink, especially, is regarded as the greatest Doctor Who story of all time. I’m certain a whole generation of English kids will never forget it.
I’ve been watching it ever since.
I love the message of Doctor Who. The positivity. It’s the opposite of Dark Night, and in general dark sci-fi. It’s so damn positive.
And exciting. Boiling the premise and the point of Doctor Who, it’s this – stay curious and love life.
At it’s very best, it makes the everyday come to life. Statues can be amazing monsters. Your shadows could eat you alive. The crack in your wall could lead to another world. Looking up at the night sky, it’s not just pretty stars. It’s possibilities.
It’s what I love best about sci-fi. It fires the imagination. For me, this show that’s new to me, is about the purest form of all that’s good about sci fi.
That halloween I bought an excellent raincoat and went to a party as the Tenth Doctor. The raincoat is so great.
Doctor Who was also my road into British actors. Because it is one of those rare occurences when something that is hugely popular is also critically acclaimed.
I have a Brit Awards drinking game – a drink for every presenter you don’t know. And there are lots. People from old radio breakfast shows or soaps I’ve never seen. But Doctor Who opened me up a lot.
The list is amazing. David Morrisey and John Simm’s work led me back to the excellent State Of Play mini-series. Catherine Tate, who I heard about but never saw her show, was new to me. Peter Capaldi led me to The Thick Of It. Currently I am enjoying Mark Gatiss’s history of horror movies – a man I first heard about on Who.
I guess that touches on the educational aspect of Doctor Who. But it goes beyond the silly dropping of “happy prime numbers” into a plot.
Then there’s Doctor Who Confidential – the hour long behind the scenes of Doctor Who that airs after the episode on BBC3. I’ve been chewing over a career in TV or film, and part of it comes from watching DVD extras, and some from watching Doctor Who Confidential. Every week is a lesson on lighting, or scriptwriting, or stunts, or location scouting.
There was also a kids game show based around Doctor Who called Totally Doctor Who. Primary school kids would get into the science of the show, play games and meet the stars. How amazing – shame they cancelled it.
All this happens because of what I said above – the sweet spot of being popular and critically acclaimed. Doctor Who holds such an unique place in British culture. It can do almost no wrong, and a hell of a lot of good.
And hey, it delights me that cockheads like James Murdoch hates Doctor Who, because the brand is so big, it keeps the BBC alive. In a recent rant, he claimed how unfair it was the BBC use Doctor Who to launch games and services like the iPlayer because it gives them a competitive advantage. Another win.
As of this year, Steven Moffat took over as showrunner for Doctor Who. He was another reason I was drawn to the show. He’s one of those writers I have loved all my life – from Press Gang to Coupling.
I am a Moffat fanatic. And although he’d written some of the most acclaimed episodes of Doctor Who, he was still only getting out an hour of TV a year. Jekyll did ok, but a planned second series never happened. Adam and Eve never got off the ground. His script for the Tintin movie was rewritten and is still nowhere near completion. The worse was the dismal US version of Coupling.
I also discovered along the way that Moffat was a life long Doctor Who fan. I’m not sure how to explain the feeling, but when this man who brought me so many good times, who I never met, got his dream job, I was so happy for him. I went out and got really drunk on his behalf. I didn’t care about the people leaving the show. Just that this guy I never met had something good going for him.
I’ve avoided saying what is great about Doctor Who episodes here – there’s plenty of that online. But the Moffat series, starring Matt Smith, was perfect – the best yet. If you want to start somewhere, start with the first episode of that series – the Eleventh Hour.
It also means I’ll be following this show for a while longer, as I pretty much think I will watch anything Moffat is involved in until one of us dies.
As for the Doctor – who knows. Maybe the next team will be awful. And maybe the team after that will be great. Its impossible to tell. But that’s what I love about it. Anything is possible.
Danny, if you’ve not heard of it, perhaps you should look up the series ‘Takin’ Over The Asylum’. It’s Mr Tennant in his pre-Who days, back when I first fell hopelessly, giddily in love with him. There’s all sorts of faces in there that have gone on to great things, and each episode is named after a Beatles song – which would suit you to a tee, I imagine.
The wonderful thing about Tennant’s tenure as the Doctor was that it was something he’d set his mind on at the age of four. You could feel the culmination of that desire in every episode. Matt Smith is wonderfully good, but I’ll always be most fond of his previous regeneration!