Everyone has been compiling their love letters to Doctor Who recently, from Mark Gatiss’ excellent An Adventure In Space And Time to Matthew Sweet’s Culture Show special. Moffat’s Night of the Doctor is another reminder that the show is helmed by a fan. Beyond that the auxiliary media – DMW, Big Finish, BBC Books and more have added their contributions. After 50 years it comes as little surprise that so many people have something to say about the show – the feeling that they need to write their own love letters.
Why is it important to us? Why did so many of us find tears rolling down our cheeks when watching David Bradley’s final moments as Hartnell, yelp out load when we saw McGann make a surprise appearance in Night of the Doctor or stay up watching Web Of Fear on a week night until 3am?
I suspect for most of us it’s because Doctor Who is there for us at formative moments of our lives. My Dad read Doctor Who books to me at bedtime from an early age and we always watched it in our house. The early stories that I watched frightened and fascinated me. I was raised on the stuff and never really went away from it. Later as a teenager I would find that the series interested me in different ways: the later seasons with Sylvester McCoy and subsequent New Adventures could have been written for me, with all the awakenings that adolescence brings.
Later the series would become a comfort blanket, a comfy pair of slippers – and even something to be contextualised, taken apart, analysed. Now it’s something that is simply a fact in my life: a beloved, frustrating, comforting, fascinating and exciting presence – like a job, a partner, family. It just is. I will always love Doctor Who.
I’ve pondered for months what form my own love letter should take. Initially, in the somewhat irreverent manner this blog assumes, I thought of a list of Doctor Who’s most ridiculous moments, from Richard Hurndall failing to see a TARDIS a matter of yards from him to Philip Latham’s quixotic pronunciation – Heavy Mentor! – in The Five Doctors. There’s Tom’s infamous “Spack off!” and fellating of Erato. The Vervoids, the plant creatures who resemble vaginas, and the absurd Dragonfire cliffhanger where The Seventh Doctor dangles off the edge of an abyss for no reason whatsoever. Obviously the latter bothers Steven Moffat as he’s since retconned it in The Name Of The Doctor.
But I thought that was too flip. I then moved onto an idea of a mini-series of articles on unsung heroes of Doctor Who. We all know that Verity and Sydney, Pat and Tom, Lis and Billie, Camfield and Harper, Holmes and Whitaker, RTD and Moff get their fair share of plaudits. But there are many more in the Doctor Who tapestry who get less than theirs. Roger Limb, Ian Marter, Tristram Cary, Paul Joyce, Don Houghton, Peter Darvill-Evans, Scott Gray – the list is virtually endless. And those whose contributions are controversial, downplayed or even scorned. Ainley, Cartmel, Philip Martin, Bidmead. But, to be honest, I didn’t have time.
What else? An appreciation of the roles of the actors who have played the part, perhaps. I’m always astonished by how the programme has touched the lives of all those who inhabited the role. The part was transformative in their lives; a role to be envied, coveted and mourned when over. But a part that never left them – even McGann, who has always seemed one of the more diffident Doctors clearly relished the opportunity to round off the character in The Night Of The Doctor, a wonderful surprise executed superbly. And Eccleston, who seems to have removed himself from the show since he left, spoke with great insight into the character and how it fascinated him.
I recently met Colin Baker for the second time during a very brief interview that was supposed to be much more. I have a lot of time for Baker, who has been on the receiving end of a huge amount of unreasonable stick of late. He strikes me as a lovely man with a huge fondness for the show; a witty man, a pleasant man and an excellent Doctor in Big Finish, where he’s finally been given the chance to make something of a role away from poor scripts, terrible production values and an idiotic costume.
On the back of his recent beastings in the press he’s clearly not especially keen on journalists and he didn’t give me much to go on in the interview – he was more keen that the waiting fans got their money’s worth and quite right too. I was going to write it up more fully, but there wasn’t more to say on the subject, apart from what he said when I revealed that he’d flirted with two of my ex-girlfriends.
There’s a thread on a forum I frequent detailing our first – or strongest memories of Doctor Who. For me it’s cold weekday nights, terrified by things on the show that probably weren’t even supposed to be frightening. And Target novels, annuals and magazine, but I went over this a while ago when I acquired an old Radio Times special.
What else then? A tedious textual analysis? As fandom has grown up it seems to have reached a late adolescence. You cant move these days with always-pretentious, usually-wrong and generally-stupid blogs saying ridiculous things about Doctor Who. Not that there aren’t good examples but, by God, there are many bad ones. Either way, they’re not for me.
I’m glad Doctor Who has been celebrated with a proper birthday; the protective fan in me is grateful for mainstream attention and critical acclaim. I hope new fans will watch Marco Polo (I’m reaching a little here), The Web Of Fear, Inferno, Robots of Death, Caves Of Androzani, Revelation of the Daleks and Survival. Tonight people across the world will goto their cinemas to see Moffatt’s love letter.
I don’t have one of my own – not one that I can wrestle into a thousand cohesive words anyway. I guess, in a way, this blog is mine. I’ve seen people on the documentary shows and news reports over the last week asked to sum up the appeal of the show, what has made it so successful. It’s an obvious question to ask but largely unanswerable. Perhaps the answer lies in some dialogue from the show – for many of the reasons above I’ve always found the following 30 seconds from the show’s 50 years more affecting than most.
Like many things in Doctor Who it does not require analysis, context or a harsh light: it’s simply something a little poetic, wondrous, magical, whimsical and optimistic. It was Doctor Who signing off at a time when I enjoyed it most but there was always the promise of a return. It’s comforting to know, whether it’s on television or not, that Doctor Who always exists in the minds of other people – that our cherished actors and admired production team live on – and that it will always win over new fans. And they will create their own love letters. Letters that, through Doctor Who – that amazing gift, that constant companion – will always be reciprocated.