We start here:
Because that’s where I started. Sort of. There’s a reason memory doesn’t begin at birth. The trauma, I’d imagine, is too much. There’s this sensation of floating, perhaps a little cramped, perhaps with the muffled thrum of the outside world poking through, but still warm, safe. Foetal. Then there’s the sense of movement, and then a wall – a wall you must pass through, somehow, against all odds. Perhaps it’s like trying to get a really tight jumper over your head. They talk about the pain of childbirth, and having seen it first hand on three occasions I’m personally rather glad it’s something I will never have to go through myself – but I suspect it’s no picnic for the baby either. Then, once the pushing and squeezing is done, there’s the sense of breathing, really breathing, great big lungfuls of something that’s no longer liquid, but gaseous, and cold, and the overwhelming instinct to draw as much air as you can into those tiny, newborn lungs before expelling it out with the loudest noise you can make.
But perhaps life’s a little like that. You begin with the safety reins and then learn to walk the tightrope. And sometimes you fall, and perhaps knowing you might is as much a reason to keep going as it is to stay on the ground. Still, perhaps we block out these early encounters because it’s easier than having to remember what they were actually like.
It must be said that the death of a companion is a hell of an introduction to a classic series, but perhaps (paradoxically, given what I’ve just written) that’s the reason I remember it. Because I’m sure that it wouldn’t have been the first story I watched; it’s just the first one I remember. Love him or hate him (and a great many did), the departure of Adric was my first real brush with death – more real, and more tangible, somehow, than the untimely death of my beloved but barely remembered grandmother just a few months earlier. Adric’s death was solidified, visible – that broken badge still haunts my sleep – and more to the point, they never tried to bring him back. (And no, ‘The Boy That Time Forgot’ doesn’t count.)
Perhaps the reason I can still remember this now, just shy of thirty years after the fact, is significant. Perhaps we latch on to one death in particular – the first time it means something – and that’s the death that stays with us. It would explain why, when reading The Hobbit to my eldest son (who figures quite a lot in this narrative), he burst into tears after I’d recounted the Battle of Five Armies. It’s not as if he’s never seen death before. I was expecting trauma after The Lion King, which he survived without a single sniffle (unlike his father, who was in tears). When he was two we took him to see our beloved cat put down – it’s not as if it was a family excursion, but we thought it was for the best, some sort of closure. For years he’s been comfortable – I thought – with death. Then I read him the account of Thorin’s passing and his grief was tangible and thus as upsetting to me as it evidently was to him. This happened to him because over the weeks we’d spent reading the book I’d had time to build up a portrait of Thorin that you seldom get in the space of an hour or so of screen time. So it was effective – but for a while there, I felt like the worst father in the world.
My encounters with Doctor Who began round about here. I cut my teeth on Davison. When he eventually regenerated, my parents were less likely to have it on in the evenings, as neither of them were keen on Colin Baker – despite his possession of the same sort of blustering arrogance that my father so admired in Hartnell, his own favourite. When Baker became McCoy I jumped back into the swing of things and devoured every story, despite the fact that many of the early ones were dreadful. Then it was cancelled. A few years later they brought it back, in the form of a television movie that we don’t talk about in the circles I inhabit. There was much to admire about McGann, but the rest of it merely sullied fond memories.
By the time Doctor Who was resurrected some six years ago, I was married and about to become a father. Watching the show now has taken on a curious duality, as I’m able to view it from the perspective of the critical adult viewer who laments that its occasional childishness is symptomatic of a show that’s past its best, and simultaneously the child who is entering the Whoniverse for the first time and experiencing the wonders of the groaning TARDIS with fresh eyes. Joshua grew up knowing the characters from infancy (at the age of three he could pick out Dalek Sec in a lineup) but it wasn’t until Easter this year that I first introduced him to the television series. We started with Eccleston, which is as good an introduction to the show as I can think of for someone his age (at least until I get round to buying the Beginning box set) and as I write this we’re working our way through Tennant’s run with Piper (two episodes away from ‘Doomsday’).
I hadn’t intended to turn this into an autobiography, so this might be a wise place to stop: I simply wanted to give you some context for this blog, which is something I really should have started a while ago. I’m not – and have never been – an obsessive fan of the show; my experiences are confined to the TV series and the occasional comic story, and I do not own a single novel or Big Finish production. (A friend of mine has been trying to get me to listen to ‘Spare Parts’ for the past couple of years, and one of these days I swear I’ll get around to it.)
I tend to view Doctor Who from a writer’s perspective – I look at the structure, I look at the narrative, I look at the characterisation. I blanched in horror when the Doctor abandoned the TARDIS in ‘Curse of the Black Spot’ – it seemed such a pointless, out-of-character thing to do for the sake of confining him to the ship (even though it could have been justified with one simple change to the narrative). At the other end of the spectrum, I thought ‘Blink’ was the best forty-three minutes of television I saw in 2007, and some four years later I’ve yet to see the show do anything that surpasses it.
Away from the new episodes, my other half and I have been trawling through the archives and discovering Tom Baker, of whom I was always aware without really knowing him. We may therefore divide this blog into three main categories – thoughts on the classic series; retrospectives on the post-2005 episodes as I watch them with Josh; and anything else, including all the new stuff. It won’t be this clean-cut; the ambiguities and crossovers are as big a part of my writing style and approach as they are to the show in general. But that’s sort of how it’s going to work. My guess is that you’ve Googled for something else and just stumbled in here – in which case, welcome, and pull up a chair. Sorry I’ve eaten all the biscuits.
This will be part information dump, part pretentious meandering – inconsistent, schizophrenic, perhaps with an inflated sense of its own importance, much like Doctor Who itself. That isn’t intentional; it’s just me. The simple truth is that it’s been a big part of my life, on and off, for some thirty years – and if I spend much of my time (like many fans) simultaneously loving and hating it, it’s taught me a lot about a lot of things, and it’s rich with analogy and goodness, even within the confines of a prime time family show. It is when it is at its darkest and most unpleasant that the beauty of the show is at its most luminous: we spend our lives behind the sofa but we cannot resist peeping out because that’s when the best, most interesting stuff is happening. You have to pass through the darkness to reach the sun coming up, and sometimes bathing in the darkness is the only way to grow. And it’s curious, perhaps, that as a closing thought I should turn to the words of Elton Pope – protagonist of ‘Love and Monsters’, one of the worst New Who stories in the canon – who nonetheless, in this oft-quoted monologue, had one interesting thing to say:
“I’ve had the most terrible things happen, and the most brilliant. Sometimes, well, I can’t tell the difference. They’re all the same thing. Stephen King, he once said, ‘Salvation and damnation are the same thing.’ And I never knew what he meant. But I do now. ‘Cause the Doctor might be wonderful, but thinking back, I had this great thing going that was destroyed. And that’s not his fault. But maybe…that’s what happens when you touch the Doctor. Even for a second. When you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all…grow up. Get a job. Get married. Get a house. Have a kid, and that’s it. But the truth is the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.”