It's Time I Faced Up to My Doctor Who Addiction
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I was brought up a Catholic, and as such I spent much of my early life reading the Bible and learning about the life of Jesus. The fact that I am no longer a believer doesn’t mean that Iwouldn’t be first to the bookshop if Pope Francis announced the release of the long-awaited sequel to the New Testament.
In a nutshell, that’s my relationship with Doctor Who. When on this topic I usually do one of two things: play down my enthusiasm for the show, pretending it doesn’t really matter that much to me, like Saint Peter denying his friendship with Christ; or, like Saint Lawrence, refusing to recant my faith in the resurrecting figure who came to earth to sow peace and understanding.
But it’s time to celebrate my slightly embarrassing obsession. I’m 34 for goodness sake, time to accept myself for who I am.
It all started before I can remember. But my earliest recollection is excitedly waiting for an episode to come on, and then running up to my bedroom to hide behind a curtain because I thought the Daleks might be on it. Their monstrous figures terrified me more than anything, apart from the Pink Panther. (Come on, that panther was a sentient killing machine, walking around with this pink fur out for all to see, and standing - judging by the height of that little man whose life he kept on wrecking - at around 10 foot tall.)
As I grew up, Saturday evenings were a focal point for the week. I went to see Jon Pertwee fight Daleks and Cybermen in a live stage show which had lasers and a smoke machine and everything. I used to write to the BBC about how much I liked it, and got back signed photos from all the actors.
Later, in 1995, I discovered internet chat rooms, where my 14 year old self found that of the other 20 people using the net at the time, 95 per cent were also Whovians. I set up an online fanzine with some friends called UNIT News, which, in an early attempt at interactive digital content, was available either as a text file or through a DOS programme that fit neatly onto a floppy disk. I nearly failed my GCSEs due to staying up til 4am to watch repeats of old Doctor Who episodes - but I passed them alright in the end, because I was such a nerd. I even went to see a few recent episodes in the cinema, alongside adults dressed up as aliens and children waving the official plastic merchandise that spins the money for BBC Worldwide.
(And I don’t care if it’s really a kids’ show. As Tom Baker’s Doctor once put it, “There’s no pointin being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes.” See? I even had a quote lined up from an episode that aired in 1974.)
So in a way I still avidly follow the show because it has such an important relationship with my own history. Like when I desperately tried to get my hands on the VHS of the show’s ill-fated and really rather awful US remake in 1996 (WHAT DO YOU MEAN HE’S HALF HUMAN? WHEN ARE THEY EVER GOING TO CORRECT THIS INCONSISTENCY? I’M STILL WAITING!). It’s a story with (often clumsy) story arcs that stretch back more than 50 years, with enough in-jokes to keep a geek rapt while engaging a new generation of enthusiasts. I’ve never got into soap operas, but it’s the same sort of draw. I need to know what the writers are doing with the canon. I even get goosebumps, which I usually blame on the show’s inevitable autumn scheduling.
Perhaps it’s the weirdness of it I enjoy. I used to like Star Trek, but never obsessively, and I couldn’t really care less about the new movies. It’s just so… predictable. People going round in spaceships with lasers is nothing compared to an an eccentric British guy with weird clothes travelling time and space in a police box, saving the world using a sonic screwdriver and a bag of jelly babies. Incidentally, introducing the programme to a noob is one of the most complicated things anyone can do, for just this reason. TV executives would be too scared to try something as wacky as Doctor Who these days, but it’s so random it works.
It’s also an interesting sociological study. Part of the success of the show has been its ability to adapt to prominent ideas of the time. There was an anti-war vibe to it in the mid-2000s, a return to family values in the more recent era of the Tories, and it even featured its first lesbian kiss last year. Going back much further, the Daleks themselves were based on the Nazis, a warning about what hate, militarism and eradication of anything different can lead to. There’s a chance I might be over analysing things here. But that’s the sort of grip the show has on me, in much the same was as I am prone to enter a Wiki hole when I start reading about the history of Christian writings. It’s fascinating.
These days I’m not into the whole Whovian movement, who take to the comments section of the Guardian’s reviews every week to explain why the latest episode was so disappointing. It’s always disappointing. Like smoking a cigarette or eating a Big Mac, it rarely lives up to expectation. But I’m cool with that.
Could it be possible, in thousands of years, after climate change and nuclear war has turned us all Mad Max, the legend of the reincarnating Doctor will pick up an actual religious following through enduring myths and scraps of comic books found buried in ancient landfills? That would be pretty daft, but quite fitting for such a daft show.