It is only fitting that heroic and historic figures be given a special day to mark their achievements… but who knew there was a Doctor Who Day?
Not that I’m quibbling, of course. If anyone needs to be celebrated, it’s the Time Lord. He’s been in my life since before I can remember and I’m still a massive fan. I’m drinking tea out of a Doctor Who mug as I write this. I just hadn’t realised that Monday past was a big thing in the calendar.
It was on November 23 1963 that the Tardis first materialised on to our TV screens, courtesy of the BBC. Not that I remember it, of course, I was only two years old. Which, on reflection, makes me older than the Doctor. Not bad given the old Gallifreyan is knocking on 1,000 years old, or 4.5 billion years if you count the time trapped in his confession dial (threw that bit in for the geeks).
Worst fears confirmed
I don’t actually remember the William Hartnell years at all. And I’m fairly hazy on Patrick Troughton’s time in the blue box, too. Although I do remember a couple of things. Jamie the Highland companion, the Daleks (naturally) and the Cybermen.
The latter had particular resonances for a wee boy on an Edinburgh council estate. We called drains in the street “syvers”. And I thought the silver monsters were “Syver-men”. So, in one Doctor Who episode where a Cyberman climbs out of a manhole cover, my worst fears were confirmed.
Not that I ended up with a phobia of drains, thankfully. But I do have a lifelong phobia of dolls, courtesy of Jon Pertwee, who was “my” Doctor. It’s a little known fact you can guess someone’s age by which Time Lord they grew up with.
Daleks weren’t scary
Anyway, there was an episode involving the Master, when he was the brilliant Roger Delgado, in which a doll comes to life and kills people. Cue my inability to sleep in the same room as a doll. Even my Action Men had to be put outside the room of a night.
Pertwee’s was the era of giant spiders from Mars, of green sludge with maggots in it from parallel Earths. All of which was designed to leave sensitive and imaginative children with nightmares. That’ll be me then. Although I never found the Daleks scary. Masters of the universe that can be outwitted by a flight of stairs? Nah. (Still not happy that later iterations saw them fly).
But it wasn’t all chills and thrills and cliffhangers… in the 70s, children’s telly wasn’t prepared to expose young minds to big ideas. In one episode, his companion Katie asks if in all his travels he ever discovered the meaning of life.
He tells her a story of being on a bleak and barren wasteland of a mountain, yet seeing a daisy that was “simply glowing with life, like a perfectly cut jewel, and the colours… the colours were deeper and richer than anything you could possibly imagine.” And there, ladies and gentleman, is a bit of Zen philosophy for your average nine-year-old.
Fantastic Tom Baker
And then Pertwee regenerated in that zizzy way Time Lords do to make way for the utterly fantastic Tom Baker. He might not have been “my” Doctor but he was legendary, with stories that still count as fan favourites today. And, again, big themes, such as the Doctor being given the chance to stop the Daleks from ever existing and questioning whether he has the right to do it. Heavy stuff… until the explosions started and cheerio Daleks. For now.
As well as giving us great stories, Tom Baker also gave me one of the highlights of my career as a journalist. Several years ago, I was invited on to the set of Monarch Of The Glen. He was one of the cast I was to interview. Another was a rising young actor called Martin Compston. Wonder what happened to him?
I tried so hard not come across as a complete fan boy when I was first introduced to Tom. I failed miserably. Ever the professional, I did stay on topic for my allotted 15 minutes and kept the chat to Monarch. But I did have to let him know I was a huge Doctor Who fan (I think he had guessed) and that he was my wife’s “Doctor.”
Quick as a flash, he said “really” and hit me with that huge grin and we started yakking. When the PR came up to say: “You’re wanted on set, Tom” (code for “finish up now”) he said: “What? No. Tell them I’m busy… I’m talking to Scott”). My turn to have a big grin.
Eyes lit up
At the end he said to leave my missus’s name and our address with the PR quine. Two weeks later my other half received a hand-written envelope and inside was a collector’s item postcard with the original designs for Tom’s costume as the Doctor. On it was a note to her including the memorable phrase “I only heard your name a few moments ago, my how his eyes lit up. May his eyes light up forever”.
Like I said, career highlight. There was a Doctor Who lowlight, too. Many years ago, I was driving along a long stretch of boring road and my brain went on idle, to the point where I didn’t notice a sharp bend and almost ended up in a ditch in a screeching of brakes. My shocked passenger said: “Oh my God, what happened there.” Apparently the answer: “Sorry, I was thinking about Doctor Who” wasn’t acceptable.
After Tom we had diminishing returns on Doctor Who… Peter Davison was a bit milquetoast, Colin Baker was just awful as the whole series descended into pantomime (including guest “stars” who had actually escaped from the nearest panto). Sylvester McCoy made a decent fist of getting us back to classic Who, but was too late to stop the axe falling on a series that had run its course. In the fallow years there was all sorts of speculation about the Time Lord regenerating again… including some talk of maybe even a Doric Doctor in the Tardis, with Aberdeen-born actor Michael Sheard in the mix for one possible project.
Well, for a while, until Chris Eccleston brought back a mean and magnificent Doctor in 2005. Even though I was a grown-up (on the outside at least) that series took me back to my childhood and, if anything, reinforced my Who addiction.
Golden age of Who
I was gutted when Eccleston left after a single series, and thought David Tennant was a poor substitute when he first stepped into the Tardis. How wrong was I. His years were the Golden Age of Doctor Who, unsurpassed before or since, the right edge of humour, menace, and a building sense of legend around him with great, big, passionate stories. Never mind favourite Doctor Who episodes, he brought favourite moments in television, full stop.
I liked Matt Smith, but never quite warmed to him. Loved Peter Capaldi, but he wasn’t served by the best of scripts.
Now we have Jodi Whittaker who started to really find her feet as the Doctor in the last series. Can’t wait for the Christmas special. In fact, if I had a Tardis I might pop ahead five weeks to watch it.
However, the only working time machine I have is a calendar. In which I will now mark November 23, so I can enjoy Doctor Who Day properly next year.