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Why Doctor Who isn’t just for kids

Laurence Clark

doctor who 300x201 Why Doctor Who isn’t just for kidsLike many other grown-ups, I’m very excited about the return of Doctor Who to BBC 1 this Saturday (1 September).  Indeed it will be 33 years to the day exactly since I watched my very first episode.  Now there’s commitment for you!  So how come people like me carry on watching when others put away childish things and grow up?

Here’s a photo of me at the age of eight, in the TARDIS with Peter Davison himself.  Doesn’t get much better than that, huh?  Even today I look back on this as one of the high points of my life, though my wife is forever at pains to point out that events such as our wedding day and the birth of our two sons should also feature equally (at the very least) on my list of lifetime achievements.  But I guess there’s something innocent and joyful about the unadulterated glee you can see on my face in the photo that I still hanker after.

Whatever I do in life always seems to come back to Doctor Who. Years ago in my younger, wilder days, an ex-girlfriend dragged me along to an S&M party.  For the first hour or so I felt pretty uncomfortable, surrounded by whips, chains and lots of leather.  I sat next to an older gentleman in a blue, flower pattern dress for a while and struggled to make small talk.  Then someone walked in with a bulging Tesco’s bag, peeking out of the top of which was a video of Inferno with Jon Pertwee.  My relief was palpable, since it then transpired that pretty much everyone there was a Doctor Who fan, so I at least I had something I felt comfortable talking about with them.  By the end of the evening they had even offered me the part of Davros in the homemade S&M version of Genesis of the Daleks they were filming the following weekend, though I politely declined as I’ve never been one for taking stereotypical wheelchair user parts…With hindsight, I don’t think it would have been such a good career move.

In the wilderness years of the late nineties I drifted away from my pet obsession a little.  I even sold most of Doctor Who collection on eBay, managing to get as much as thirty quid for a promotional packet of cheesy Wotsits with Colin Baker’s face on the front.  When I started dating my wife, I hid all of my videos under my bed and then gradually returned them to my bookcases a few at a time as I slowly ‘came out’ to her.  First the Dalek stories, then the Cybermen… I kept the likes of the Sensorites and Krotons back till later on of course.  When the penny finally dropped, I was surprised to discover that I wasn’t the first Doctor Who fan she’d gone out with.  She, in turn was horrified by the prospect that she may well have a ‘type’ and I was it.

When my first son was born, of course I had to name him after the living legend that is Tom Baker.  Friends mockingly suggested the name Sylvester but I wasn’t having any of it.  I managed to slip this past my wife by letting her get used to ‘Tom’ as a name first, only confessing my real motivation after we’d got his birth certificate signed.

Then six months after Tom was born, I was on my way to work at the Soho Actors Centre one morning when a bloke with a highly distinctive walk strode past me.  Instantly recognising from just his walk that this was indeed Tom Baker himself, I instantly gave chase in my wheelchair and finally caught up with him after a couple of minutes.  Desperately groping for something to say to him I blurted out:

“Tom… Tom… I’m such a big fan of your work that I’ve just named my baby son after you… but my wife can’t stand you!”

There was an awkward silence for a few seconds, following by huge, bellowing laughter from Tom Baker.  He was absolutely fascinated by the fact that my wife disliked him so much and insisted on recording a video on my mobile phone, telling her that it seemed like she was pretty much stuck with him, given the man she’d married!

The return of the series in 2005 neatly coincided with me becoming a dad, giving me the perfect opportunity to indoctrinate little Tom right from the start. My wife often jokes that, as a baby, he could recognise the theme tune from when he was in the womb.  Indeed when a BBC1 documentary about me and my family was recently shown, I managed to get my choice of narrator and, as a result, now realise I now want the rest of my life also to be narrated by David Tennant – preferable in real time so that, everywhere I’d go, I’d hear his sweet, lilting Scottish voice in my head describing whatever I did.

So I guess for me there’s an irreverence and eccentricity about Doctor Who which sets it apart from its peers.  Whilst the likes of Star Trek would get bogged down with irrelevancies like science and facts, Doctor Who would never let such things get in the way of telling a good yarn.  At its best, the programme can also be incredibly funny – I’d maintain that my favourite story (City of Death) is one of the finest pieces of comedy made for British TV.  No wonder then that, as a stand-up comic, so many of the people I work both with and for are also fans.  Sometimes it feels like a bizarre, nerdy version of the masons.

So that’s why, 33 years on I’ll still be watching on Saturday.  I just hope I don’t get a gig that night!

Laurence Clark’s new show Inspired, containing the odd gratuitous Doctor Who joke, is at London’s Bloomsbury Theatre on 7 September. For details see www.laurenceclark.co.uk

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  • adiousir

    there is no such thing as “simple family entertainment” – everything, even Teletubbies, comes with its background of expectations and values.

  • reverend61

    Fair point. But Doctor Who’s already dealt with gender in its old and new incarnations by having strong, empowered female companions (and a bisexual man). You don’t need to over-egg the pudding.

  • adiousir

    oh yes, it would be perfectly acceptable for DW to remain in its safe, British, zone of eccentric-gentleman-defeats horrible-aliens-with-gentle-humour-and-a-screwdriver BUT it would be much more fun if it took a step out and hired, say, Helen Mirren

  • baplant

    The last series was set in/on:

    1. America
    2. A pirate ship
    3. A mysterious asteroid
    4. An unspecified island in the 22nd century
    5. A secret military base in space
    6. WWII Germany
    7. An unspecified block of flats
    8. A time-bending space hospice
    9. A prison spaceship disguised as a hotel
    10. Colchester
    11. Various exotic parts of the universe, and strange, alternative versions of Egypt and, yes, London.

    So things might have changed a bit since you formed your impression of the programme!

  • stonedwolf

    Baplant has already made a good response. Some other things…

    I want you to think about Pertwee’s reign in particular… he was exiled to earth and spent almost all of his time (five full seasons) at UNIT HQ. It was more Torchlight than traditional Who. But still thought of as a classic Doctor, no?

    “Dubious stories / political agendas”. Please PLEASE telling me this isn’t code for “too many gays and blacks” (not least because the last two seasons were the straightest and whitest for years).

    I hated the first two modern Doctors, Ecclestone and Tennant. I didn’t like the Disney Effect, in particular the stand-alone nature of the stories. For me Who was about and entire season doing one story. (The exception is the utterly brilliant “Blink”).

    That’s why I actually like Matt Smith’s Doctor, or rather Moffat’s arc writing. There are lots of stand-alone stories or two-parters, but they’re also heavily arc connected, and even moreso the second season of Smith than his first.

    So yes, the music is louder and the special effects more competent, but you can’t argue with the “bigness” of a series that destroys the universe and a series where the Doctor marries his assassin.

    Moffat/Smith is the best thing to happen to Who since Baker donned the scarf.

  • stonedwolf

    Isn’t that why the Doctor was “killed” in Smith’s second season?

    Yes, not actually dead in the sense we’re all going to have to face but dead but according to the Official Galactic Time Police’s records – so he can once again “slip back into the shadows” and stop being Space Batman?

  • stonedwolf

    I think you have someone attempting to initiating a very specific mating ritual with you.

  • stonedwolf

    Actually I saw some (really rather good) fan-made Who a couple of years ago, they cast a female Doctor (the leads were professional stage actors doing it for free/sandwiches for something to show TV producers). The people making it were proper Who nerds who spent all their spare time making Who props and wanted to do *something* with their sets. And mind-bendingly complicated no-holds-barred uber-difficult sci-fi plot lines didn’t even *begin* to cover it.

    I was horrified… and it turns out it worked really, really well. The Doctor isn’t a man. The Doctor isn’t half-man (8th Doctor be damned).

    The Doctor is a body-morphing alien from Gallifrey.

    You might might well mistake him for a man, but you’re not going to be mistaken for a Gallifreyan…


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