Doctor Who is timeless entertainment for the family

ZYGON: Unlikely to slip in the bath

When I was a very young child, I knew the back of the family settee rather well.

The settee in question originally had brown cushions, which were later supplemented by a weirdly orange/gold coloured set of covers. It wasn’t the most comfortable of settees and was later to be donated to someone I knew who was setting up home down the road from my parents. I suspect the settee never gave its new owner much comfort, but I’m not unhappy about that.

Anyway, this intimate knowledge of the rear of the seat was not anything to do with a weird disciplinary regime operated by my parents, nor was it an early interest in furniture.

It was to do with Doctor Who.

In common with most others, it was from behind the settee that I first really experienced the Time Lord’s adventures. I’d know the dialogue quite well, but would spend an awful lot of the time not daring to look at the creatures the eponymous hero was fighting.

My first memory of scary monsters is the Zygons, odd looking brown things with arms and heads covered with what appeared to be the suction cups you would normally find underneath a bathmat.

They occupied my thoughts quite a lot as a seven/eight year olds, replacing the scary picture from my Ladybird book of the Wolf and the Seven Young Kids as the thing to try to block out of my mind before going to sleep.

I’d heard of the Daleks, but hadn’t seen them at this stage. They were an enemy I’d been told about from my brothers, along with the tales of Davros.

They weren’t quite an anti-climax, but they hadn’t worked out stairs by the first time I saw them in action. And the music that accompanied their appearances was not as scary as that which came with the Cybermen, thanks to the wonders of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

Tom Baker was my first Doctor, and he was very good. That scarf was fantastic and I used to get very excited if and when his hat made an appearance.

But I also, as a child, had a very soft spot for his successor, Peter Davison. The reason for this was twofold.

Firstly, I’d come to Doctor Who midway through Tom Baker’s definitive rein, so Peter Davison was the first regeneration I got to experience.

Secondly, I already knew the actor, from the part of Tristan in All Creatures Great and Small.

When it later turned out he would be a cricket-playing Doctor, it was hard to imagine things could possibly get any better.

The subsequent successors of Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy did not quite match the magic, for sure. I suspect that part of that was down to the BBC’s dwindling interest in the series and the increasingly disappointing storylines that precipitated its apparent demise in 1989.

But, like all good Time Lords, the Doctor just wouldn’t go away. He firstly returned in an Americanised version that wasn’t as bad as feared and then made a proper BBC comeback, in 2005, in the guise of Christopher Eccleston.

Of course, news of the return brought about a sense of trepidation. The Doctor had already had many guises since his first initial appearance in 1963 when played by William Hartnell, but would the BBC mess with a happy formula in a ham-fisted and disrespectful manner, rather like a brewery trying to update a much-loved public house?

Fortunately, the answer was no. The Beeb realised that some entertainment is timeless and doesn’t need much tinkering.

When the BBC finally brought the show back, and in the correct place on a Saturday evening, there was no need for me to hide behind the settee any more. But there was a requirement, I recall, to run back from an afternoon in the pub watching the football to get myself in front of the television in time for its return.

From the moment the theme tune began, I was transported back to childhood.

Any fears of being let down, or the magic of my formative days being destroyed were soon allayed.

There was a spell a couple of years ago when there was a danger that Russell T Davies would turn the programme in on itself in a bid to include too many issues and restrict the universe to the metropolitan precincts of Cardiff. The Torchwood spin-off series was a welcome move in that I didn’t have to watch it and there was a new outlet for the overacting John Barrowman as Captain Jack, whom the writers were in danger of setting against David Tennant in an ‘who can be the most eccentrically enlightened’ contest.

And, occasionally, the celebrity cameos can still grate. I mean, I think Peter Kay is hilarious, but his blue faced offering was painful.

But the moments of brilliance continue to outshine any morsels of naffness. The episode Blink, with the statues creeping up on you the moment your eyelids dropped, was better than most so-called scary movies in recent years. (It may explain that while I will always love Doctor Who, I’m much more of a fan of horror than sci-fi).

And the storyline in which the world united to speak the Doctor’s name to start the fightback against The Master (played with brilliant mania by John Simm) had the hairs on my arms rising up.

It was a standout moment rather like the unforgettable time that mathematics know-all and poorly dressed assistant Adric (played by Matthew Waterhouse) was blown up. I was only young at that time, but I was inconsolable after that incident. The fact that his death was intrinsically linked to the extinction of dinosaurs was not much comfort.

If the writers can refrain from trying to be too clever (the underlying storyline of the last series when the Matt Smith incarnation was shot hurt the head too much, for instance) and stick to well-written entertainment concentrating on good against and bad, then all will continue to work out well.

Smith was a good choice as a Doctor – suitably odd. And Karen Gillan, as Amy Pond, has turned into a great assistant, arguably eclipsing Billie Piper’s Rose.

It was a masterstroke to have her as a kissagram girl. Innocent enough for the children and just enough suggestion for the parents to wonder how that career might have progressed if she hadn’t turned out to have been of rather a lot of interest to the Doctor.

A tradition of feisty female companions shows Doctor Who isn’t a misogynistic affair, though.

Most aficionados will probably argue as strongly over who made the best assistant as who made the best Doctor.

Sarah-Jane, played by the late, lamented Elisabeth Sladen, was the first that I remember.

But I belong to an era I am of an era where Lalla Ward (who played the second incarnation of Romana) brings a smile always. She certainly brought the same for her Doctor, Tom Baker, who married her. They later parted and she is now married to Richard Dawkins, a man who spends most of his time winding up the Church.

Tom Baker was once a Roman Catholic monk. It’s all fittingly bizarre.

Ward also featured in what, for me, was the scariest moment of Dr Who; if it actually happened, as I’ve tried to track down the relevant episode and can’t work out where it came from.

Suffice to say lovely Lalla was fighting off some unpleasantly large ants/spiders and picked up what she thought was a rock, only for it to turn out to be an egg, from which hatched a leggy attacker. Cue the screaming end titles and a sleepless night for me.

That one came back to haunt me more times than the Zygons and Cybermen combined. I rather hope the scene was not a figment of my imagination, so anyone who can tell me the episode, I’d be grateful.

With a new series set to start in a week’s time, I am looking forward to Saturday evening entertainment worth watching once more, without the need for the fast forward button that is vital to make the X Factor tolerable.

In a few years, my son will be old enough to watch Doctor Who too.

I’ll be clearing a space behind the sofa.

Follow on Twitter: @Norbertsdad

Let me know your favourite Doctor and your favourite assistant in the comments section (below).




About Paul Speller

Writer, journalist, husband, dad.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Fiction, Parenthood and children, Television and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Doctor Who is timeless entertainment for the family

  1. alisonwells says:

    Hi Paul, yes my Doctor Who days started behind the sofa (which we called settee then) too and trying to imitate the voice of the daleks. Tom Baker was also the Doctor of my youth. So far with the new series David Tennant has been my favourite. We’ve also indoctrinated our four kids who are between the ages of 11 and 4. When he was 3, the littlest guy got confused when we were making the dinner one day and thought he was having ‘Dalek’ bread. There has been great excitement and anticipation of the new series in our house and we’re going to have a Dr. Who evening with party snacks on Saturday!

  2. Paul Speller says:

    Might try to think of a Doctor Who themed take-away choice for Saturday. Suggestions welcome.

  3. markspeller says:

    ..Yes I remember it well , having my little brother hide behind the settee (before we knew it should be called a sofa !) doubled the entertainment value. Alas that you were too young to remember Jon Pertwee, the “Green Death” where miners were attacked by a luminous slime stands out in my mind as the scariest. I would concur with your choice of Sarah-Jane as the loveliest assistant thoug.

  4. Paul Speller says:

    I once met the actor who played Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) to do an interview for the paper, at a Dr Who themed event. The organisers decided I should conduct it in front of all the Who fans. It was almost as scary as the Zygons. But at least there weren’t two older brothers there trying to scare me even more.

  5. Pingback: Dora the Explorer’s demise as an early years feminist icon…(and the horror of Lalaloopsy) | Paul Speller

  6. The Hand of Fear says:

    Nice post! The episode you recall is Full Circle, by the way.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s