For me, this past few days have been like Christmas. Only better, because Christmas happens every year and you can never guarantee whether the telly’s going to be any good, whereas this weekend we had The Day of The Doctor – the 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who.
I have been a fan of all things sci fi since I was tiny. Some of my earliest TV memories are of watching The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy and Sylvester McCoy fighting daleks. I clearly remember being asked at age 7 what I wanted to be when I grew up and my answer was ‘Ace’. Although to be fair I also wanted to be Long Distance Clara the lorry driver from Pigeon Street so I was nothing if not fickle.
My childhood Doctor Who memories begin and end with the Seventh Doctor, as of course the series was plunged into hiatus until 1996, by which time I was well into my career as a teenage geek and watched with passionate interest, wearing my Red Dwarf t-shirts, while Paul McGann pitted against an eye-rollingly camped up Eric Roberts as the Master. I was immediately smitten. I knew hardly anyone else who had watched it and had no real frame of reference but it rekindled my vague, Davros-tinted memories and by the time the series was properly rebooted in 2005 I was an ardent lover of all things Whovian. Like any relationship, we've been through our good times and bad times - I loathed and detested the Ponds but continued watching anyway because you don't walk out of a 50 year relationship just because it gets a bit rocky. "I'm watching out of loyalty", I said at the time, something that baffled my non-fan friends.
In 1996 when I watched Paul McGann in the first Doctor/companion clinch, it was still pretty uncool to be a Doctor Who fan. On Saturday, 10 million people watched the special (not counting repeat viewings and timeshifting), and it was simulcast to over 90 countries. 3D cinema screenings all over the UK sold out within hours, and social networks have been buzzing with excitement for months – not just the niche forums, either. It's mainstream now, and that's just wonderful.
It is a glorious time to be a nerd. And I truly believe that the rise and rise of Doctor Who is a Good Thing for everyone. It’s not just a TV programme. It’s more special than that. So without further ado:
My Top Five Reasons Why Doctor Who Makes The World A Better Place
1. It’s made by fans, for fans
When Russell T Davies brought Doctor Who back in 2005, he ended a 16 year hiatus since the last ‘proper’ series. But the Doctor hadn’t been idle in that time; he was saving worlds and battling bad guys in audio adventures, books, magazines, and – importantly – in the hearts and minds of one of the most loyal fandoms of any show, ever. Many of those fans now work on the series. David Tennant was famously inspired to act by watching Doctor Who as a nipper, Steven Moffat relishes writing for a show that he has grown up with, and the incoming Doctor, Peter Capaldi once wrote to the Radio Times in praise of an episode in 1974. You only have to look at the number of ex-stars who turn up for conventions and wax lyrical about their time on the show to see how fondly it is remembered. "It's the best job in the world" is a quote that can be attributed to several actors lucky enough to pilot the TARDIS. Tom Baker once said that he loved playing the Doctor more than he loved being himself. The affection and humour with which this 'little show that could' is made transcends cheap props, dodgy effects and quarries in Wales and shines through the screen.
2. The Doctor Makes People Better
While that other great British stalwart, James Bond, shoots and kicks his way to victory, the good Doctor will always strive to show his enemies the error of their ways rather than destroy them. Granted, occasionally he’ll whip out some Venusian Akido but that was really just to make that velvet coat whoosh around in a satisfying manner.
He’s been given the chance to wipe out the Daleks more than once but ultimately stays his hand.
|"But if I kill, wipe out a whole intelligent life form, then I'd become like them. I'd be no better than the Daleks."|
He always finds the best in his human companions, too. Donna Noble might be ‘just a temp’ and Rose Tyler may be 'just a shop assistant', but to The Doctor they are brilliant; he looks below their mere workaday definitions of success and sees their cleverness and compassion, their bravery and determination. Nobody is ‘just’ anything to the Doctor.
3. Because SCIENCE, bitches!
The Doctor is clever. I mean really clever. Properly clever. And he just loves exercising that grey matter. He’s a scientist, a professor, an historian, an engineer. He wears glasses. Forget hipsters, the Doctor has been rocking geek chic since before most of Shoreditch was born. Here is a role model for swots everywhere – you don’t have to be good at sport (except, arguably, cricket) and you don’t have to hide your books on astronomy from the cool kids, because The Doctor makes it cool to know things! Way back in the 60’s, a generation of schoolchildren were checking books out of the library on Roman Centurions because they wanted to know more about where the Doctor had been. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London saw a surge in visitor numbers when an episode was set there in 2007. A role model who encourages kids to learn about the world rather than shoot chunks out of it with Uzis – that’s a powerful and glorious thing.
Some incarnations have even been rather fanciable – imagine that! A sex symbol that can calculate quantum mechanics! Beat you to it, Professor Brian Cox.
|Because licking things is also Science.|
4. It’s just so damn BRITISH.
There’s something beautifully British about Doctor Who. Yes, there’s the police box, the Brigadier, the eccentric clothing, but what makes it so completely recognisable as coming from these rainy islands is its sense of humour. Moments of pomposity are punctured with self-deprecation – in the 50th anniversary episode a spectacular Reservoir Dogs –style entrance of the three Doctors is deflated by a ‘sorry for the showing off’ put down. The Doctor can laugh at himself – sometimes literally, as in John Hurt’s relentless piss-taking of his successors in the same episode ("They’re not sand shoes!") .This is a character who can save the world in his pyjamas, with a satsuma, while quoting from the Lion King. After being revived from near-death by a cup of tea. A programme that will devote a chunk of precious airtime to putting Tom Baker in a Pythonesque Viking costume just to get a laugh before sending him back into the TARDIS to change. A show that can include the line “Don’t say that, that’s like saying ‘this is going to be the best Christmas Walford’s ever had’” without worrying about whether it will translate on BBC America.
The omission of Doctor Who from the opening ceremony of the London Olympics caused ructions that could be measured on the Richter scale, because it’s as much a part of our national identity as James Bond, tea and scones or the Last Night Of The Proms. And I love it for that.
|Very Arthur Dent.|
5. Bernard Cribbins.
I'm just leaving that one there.
|No explanation necessary.|
And, if you're still unconvinced, here's bonus number six:
6. Because any show that can inspire this sort of shenanigans at a wrap party is one that deserves to last another 50 years.
Happy 50th Birthday, Doctor. We love you, no matter what face you wear.