Thursday, November 22, 2012

Adventures in Black & White & Colour & Sound

49 Years ago tomorrow Doctor Who was first broadcast on BBC television. That's a long time ago. In a galaxy far...sorry.

Seriously though 49 years. That's older than me and I feel really old.

By the time I was born in 1971 Doctor Who was already doing pretty well longevity wise for a television series. By the time I have my first memories of Doctor Who in 1976 the Doctor had reached his fourth incarnation, Tom Baker.

When I did my O-Levels and A-Levels he'd become Sylvester McCoy. He was still Sylvester McCoy when I went to University but the Doctor slipped off of our television screens to become the star of Virgin's New Adventure novels. Those novels kept the Doctor alive and some of them were astonishing. One of them, Paul Cornell's magnificent 'Love and War', help keep my faith in the Doctor.

I started to go back to the older stories then too. Watching fuzzy video copies of Australian television repeats of Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. Listening to almost inaudible twelfth generation C-90s of Hartnell and Troughton missing episodes. Buying and reading the Target novelisations. Collecting. Gathering. Building up my knowledge of Doctor Who's past and gathering myths.

In 1996 The Doctor was back on television. For one night only. Paul McGann was there and then gone. Still there were still more books and the ever faithful, ever wonderful Doctor Who Magazine whose comic strip is home to some of the Doctor's most interesting adventures.

Then came Big Finish. Their audio ranges breathed life back into the old Doctors: Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. Their reputations (dented by the BBC's lack of faith in the series) restored. Paul McGann, still the current holder of the Doctorship, joined the Big Finish family too.

Until finally in 2005 the BBC took The Doctor back and Christopher Eccleston became the Ninth incarnation and The Doctor was back in his rightful place: Saturday evenings, BBC1. It was still the programme all the family could watch together and love. Now in 2012 we're on the Eleventh Doctor, the wonderful Matt Smith. The Doctor is back and all is right in the world.

I'm nearly 42 years old and my parents still think Doctor Who is something I'm going to grow out of. My friends - the non-Doctor Who ones obviously - can't understand why I spend so much of my time watching, writing and talking about Doctor Who.

I used to get annoyed at people who mocked me for liking a 'children's programme'. Now I don't care. The fact that Doctor Who was always made by the BBC's drama department and not the Children's department is just that, a fact. I like Doctor Who. I think I always will.

It has been a part of my life - to some degree or another - for as long as I can remember. It's there in my cloudy, half-remembered bits first memories and it is still there now. When I'm feeling down, it cheers me up. I know some of this is clearly nostalgia. There's something immensely comforting to me in the pre-season 18 Tom Baker version of the Doctor Who theme tune, even now.

The sad truth is Doctor Who probably made me the man I am today.

Single. (Boom, Boom)

I do think the fundamentals of my belief system - and my overly romantic view of the world - were taken from the Doctor. The fact that I still believe that one person, standing up for what they believe in against ridiculous odds can change the world is as much to do with watching Doctor Who as it is reading about Gandhi and Martin Luther-King. The fact that not everything was to be taken at face value; that might wasn't always right; that wit was a weapon as sharp as any sword and that knowledge mattered. These things I learnt first from the Doctor. Other people - real people - backed this up.

Doctor Who was the gateway drug into other science-fiction, other television series and through contact with other fans into whole different areas of culture: books, music, art and everything. It made me want to write Doctor Who stories, so I wrote and kept writing. Even if most of it was trash it was wanting to be part of Doctor Who that started me writing. (That and trying to impress a rather attractive school teacher but let's not go there).

I've made - and continue to make - great friends through Doctor Who and we can have in-depth conversations about the most esoteric Doctor Who related questions and we make up our own stories and theories. We write and some of my friends Podcast (which isn't as disgusting as it sounds).

As Nick Hornby wrote about Arsenal in Fever Pitch, "Arsenal has come to me too much to me..." Sometimes I think this about Doctor Who. Sometimes I think that I could have spent my time doing 'better' things but these moments pass quickly by.

I will always spend too much time talking about, writing about, watching and listening to Doctor Who. It is almost part of my DNA. It is certainly part of my identity, for good or for bad. But when I look at what I've got from 'just a television programme' in terms of friendships, ideas, entertainment, laughter, silliness, knowledge and happiness I think it has been worth it.

So here's to 49 years and beyond.

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