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That’s not the Doctor!

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2010 by Miche Tagged:

October 29th, 1966 (my fourth birthday, as it happens). The slightly scary old man with the long white hair collapsed on the floor of the Tardis control room and glowed a bit. When the glow died down, he had a different face.

I know that because I’ve seen the clip many times. I don’t actually recall watching it on the day of broadcast. Maybe I was high on icing sugar and orangeade. But I do vividly remember the start of the following week’s episode. There was the familiar Tardis interior. There was Ben, and there was Polly. But who was this new man? He had the black coat and the checked trousers. They were calling him “Doctor.” But…

“That’s not the Doctor!” I wailed.

And my father said something like: “That is the Doctor. It’s the new Doctor. He’s changed into somebody else, but he’s still the Doctor.”

At which point, at the grand old age of four, I realised that grownups were full of shit. How could you change into somebody else and still be you?

Well, I heartily loathed and resented that new Doctor for – oh, it must have been a fortnight, at least. But he beat the Daleks, and the Cybermen. He stood up to Ice Warriors and creepy clockwork soldiers, and had a fight with a bad guy who looked exactly like him (for a whole week I worried that the real Doctor and not the impostor had been hurled into outer space). He wasn’t the new Doctor, he was THE Doctor, and I pretty much forgot about the old one. I was inconsolable when his tenure came to an end. “That was the last in the present series of Doctor Who,” said the announcer. “That’s the end of that,” said my father, “There’ll be no more.” The arrival on BBC TV of an American sci-fi series called Star Trek didn’t really fill the void.

January, 1970. Now a sophisticate of seven and a quarter years, I knew that Doctor Who was a fictional show with actors in it, and that the new bloke was an actor called Jon Pertwee. I wasn’t greatly impressed by his first episode. In the classroom at St Joseph’s Primary School, Ballyhackamore, my schoolmate Laurence Evans agreed, but added: “The first episode with a new Doctor is never very good.” We nodded wisely at each other. We might have lit pipes, if we’d had pipes.

It wasn’t long before Pertwee’s Doctor was THE Doctor. UNIT, Bessie, Time Lords and the Master became part of what defined Doctor Who. When the show celebrated its tenth series [not its tenth anniversary, a pedant adds] with a story that featured the earlier Doctors, I barely recognised them. And when Pertwee left, it took a while to get used to the new bloke.

Of course, Doctor Who didn’t keep going from strength to strength. There’s no natural law that says change always has to be for the better. I have a friend who thinks the sixth Doctor was the best, which is rather like thinking that Kajagoogoo were more musically interesting than the Beatles. But it retained the abilty to surprise from time to time – to reinvent itself. Even at the end of its wasting away, it rallied with some very interesting stories and fine performances.

And then it came back with a bang. Eckythump was grand, but we knew he wasn’t staying long. David Tennant impressed us oldsters, and imprinted himself on a generation of young viewers as THE Doctor.

If you have kids, and they’re bereft at losing David Tennant and resentful of Matt Smith, just be patient for a week or two. Soon they’ll be immersed in the new show and the new characters. But if they’re still whinging after a fortnight, strap them to a chair and make them watch The Twin Dilemma and Time and the Rani, all the while shouting “I lived through this, you ungrateful wee hallions!”

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One Response to “That’s not the Doctor!”

  1. Interesting and well written post. My only memories of Dr Who are of Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, and I’m almost eight months older than you :(

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