Cuddled up on the couch with my children early this morning watching the simulcast Day of the Doctor, the fiftieth-anniversary of Doctor Who, made me feel all tingly and nostalgic. I have not really enjoyed Matt Smith’s incarnation of The Doctor and considering the hype around the event, figured it would likely be anti-climatic. Not so. We totally enjoyed the experience. Thinking about Doctor Who in my own life as well as the incredible, scifi-like changes wrought in our world since my own childhood and youth, was certainly part of that pleasure.
In the 1970s I started watching Doctor Who on ABC TV where it had already screened for over a decade, making it a long-running programme by any standard. Jon Pertwee has always been ‘my Doctor’ and I guess, as it is for most fans, their first experience of the show tends to keep their perspective in a nostalgic timewarp. Everyone else had Tom Baker as their favourite Doctor, as he added a new level of zany energy to the program but Jon Pertwee was my fave. My daughters follow the same pattern, Miss 10 likes David Tennant and Miss 7 prefers Matt Smith (and was a little put out that the latest actor to inherit the mantle, Peter Capaldi, is a little ‘wrinkly’ comparatively but was completely aghast when she thought John Hurt was to play the role).
My childhood friend Anthony was by far the biggest fan of the show I knew. He wrote his own episodes, read everything and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Whoniverse. His copy of The Unfolding Text was the first, what I would loosely call cultural studies text, I’d ever read. I badly wanted to travel to London (anywhere really), which seemed so exciting compared to the village I lived that never was even remotely likely to host a convention or see much in the way of excitement. Anthony, as an adult, actually managed to engineer an interview with Jon Pertwee for the television show, Beyond 2000, that he worked on as reporter and I’m sure he would have done the same for The Goodies, that other British television staple of childhood, if the opportunity presented itself. This has always impressed me greatly and I loved reading about his experience, just months before Pertwee died, in the book he wrote with his partner.
I vividly remember the twentieth-anniversary in the 1980s and how participation, in the celebration, was a very different experience to what has occurred thirty years later. Now, a fan can access information easily and endlessly via Facebook pages and Twitter hashtags and of course, the show was simulcast to about 80 countries live. No waiting for the BBC to ship it off to the colonies any more and I note that it took about two years after broadcast for that anniversary episode to become available on VHS.
Pleasure at information about the show when I was a kid came from a range of sources (albeit at a very pedestrian pace). I was a member of two fan clubs, the Doctor Who Appreciation Society and the Australian version. The cheaply printed zines, Celestial Toyroom and Zerinza, are still under the house in an old suitcase somewhere, along with other paraphernalia and clippings. I wrote many times to the BBC and received autographed photos of Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker and Peter Davison plus other bits and pieces. The book, A Celebration, you see below took six months to arrive in the post. I waited not so patiently fearing it was lost.
I read all the novelisations of the science fiction series in print, often swapping with Anthony and relying on the local library which played an important part in our imaginative lives. I started reading them aged 8 and these books were in some ways more important to me than the television show.
I should give some more context to these ruminations. Where I lived, until my teens, had no sewerage connected and we had an ‘outside toilet’ that needed the mysterious (we never saw him, not once) ‘dunny man’ to collect the waste. We did not have a telephone and the television was black and white at our house until 1980. Mum and Dad got a video player the year after I left home. Doctor Who was an escape to a better place, or more importantly I suspect, in my imagination, a never-ending escape to more interesting places with constant regeneration. He rarely went back to Gallifrey.
My daughters, even though they are very well-travelled and have a range of tech tools that are scifi-like, are enthralled with Doctor Who, as I was. In fact, it seems from all the fuss, as the whole world has been for the last 50 years. They like how the show is both ‘funny’ and ‘serious’. We all liked how this latest anniversary made a clear political comment about the importance of not taking decisions that are evil because they are expedient. We laughed plenty too. We could all do with a little more of that in our world.
Doctor Who has been with us for half a century. What are your favourite memories and reflections?
Featured image: cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Alejandra Ramírez: http://flickr.com/photos/gamgeek/3432582815/