Tag Archives: Doctor Who

Bigger on the Inside: Why I Love Doctor Who

The TARDIS. Iconic!

There are some things that you bring with you from childhood, some things that you just never grow out of. Tantrums, laughing at farts and pulling stupid faces, to name but a few. But for me, and for many of us Brits, there is also Doctor Who. The 50th Anniversary of this very British sci-fi show is fast approaching (okay, it’s still two years away, but when you’re nearly 50 that isn’t very long). With such a lengthy life there are very few these days who didn’t grow up with this unusual, time-travelling alien forming part of their childhood, and for many their adulthood, too.

For those of you who have no idea who or what I’m talking about, allow me to illuminate. The Doctor, as he calls himself, is a member of an old and significantly advanced race known as the Time Lords. Disgruntled and bored with the Time Lords’ policy of observation and non-interference in the affairs of the universe, The Doctor ‘borrows’ a TARDIS (a vessel for travelling through time and space) and roams the cosmos righting wrongs, fighting evil and generally poking his nose in where it doesn’t belong. The TARDIS is bigger on the inside, almost infinite, and is supposed to be able to change appearance to match its surroundings. However, The Doctor’s TARDIS is stuck in the shape of an old police phone box (something that was a common sight on the London streets when the series first aired in 1963). You with me so far? Excellent.

Dalek. Iconic!

When I was a kid, back in the seventies and beyond, Saturday nights were all about the next episode of Doctor Who, of that glorious half-hour spent cowering behind a cushion as the renegade Time Lord faced down Cybermen, Sontarans, Autons, Zygons and, of course, the iconic Daleks. Those must have been more innocent times because my son now finds it incredible that entire generations of children could have found moving pepper-pots with wobbly protuberances scary. But hey, we also though the Atari was the coolest piece of technology known to science. Trust me, when you’re that naive there’s nothing scarier than a wobbly protuberance. Stop sniggering at the back. Anyway, now I’m an adult (probably) and I must confess that, while I no longer find the Daleks scary, Saturday nights are still defined by the next episode of the show. I don’t know why it has endured the way it has. That is the secret formula that TV producers have always been searching for (and if I knew that I’d be watching Doctor Who while cowering behind a huge pile of cash). However, I can tell you what I love about it.

Doctor Who was always a masterclass of writing over production. Perhaps not so much these days, since it has returned with a much increased budget, but back in the day the show consistently overcame its meagre means with razor-sharp scripting, great performances and an abundance of creativity. So what if the sets were often flimsy and some of the monsters looked like they were created for a local school pantomime. It didn’t matter because with the boundless conviction of Tom Baker or Jon Pertwee at the centre of events, delivering superlative dialogue, you believed it completely. Yes, even the Daleks and their wobbly protuberances.

70s Title Sequence. Iconic!

Doctor Who is just a little bit offbeat and there is something quintessentially English about it. The central character is eccentric, well-spoken and, with his peculiar taste in clothes and often quirky features, far removed from the conventional image of a hero. Time Lords have the handy ability to cheat death by regenerating their bodies, resulting in a change of appearance and, to a degree, personality. There are certain traits that always remain the same, however. The Doctor is extremely intelligent, slightly unhinged, scientifically gifted and passionately opposed to violence. He abhors weapons, refusing to pick up a gun and preferring instead to use his brain as his most effective attack. It is an amazing feat that so much action and adventure has been consistently created around a character who is essentially a pacifist.

Anti-authoritarian and rigidly individualistic, here is a champion for misfits everywhere. The Doctor is a rebel with a brain, bringing down tyrannical governments and seemingly invulnerable despots for fun. He is always the smartest man in the room (and the first to point that out) and, let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to be in that position whenever possible?

Perhaps it is these qualities that have made Doctor Who so popular for so long. He is certainly the kind of role model you would want your kids growing up with and I’m forever grateful to have grown up with him myself.

Splendid chap. All of them.

Of the eleven incarnations of The Doctor so far, here are my top five. Are you a fan of the show? If so, who are your top five Doctors?

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5) Patrick Troughton – The 2nd Doctor

1966 – 1969

“Your leader will be angry if you kill me. I’m a genius!”

Scatterbrained, fretful, mercurial and manipulative. When William Hartnell, the 1st Doctor, quit the role the notion of regeneration was introduced into the character to keep the popular show going. Enter Patrick Troughton who, while retaining the character’s core identity, delivered a very different personality. The 2nd Doctor was the classic hidden genius, an inter-galactic Columbo masking his great intelligence beneath the facade of a bumbling fool. It became a defining trait for The Doctor, adopted by many of the subsequent actors.

Trademarks: Playing the recorder, the woolly coat, ‘Oh, my giddy aunt’.

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4) Sylvester McCoy – The 7th Doctor

1987 – 1996

“Anybody remotely interesting is mad in some way.”

Enigmatic, dark, brooding and something of a clown. Sylvester McCoy brought an air of mystery back to the character, with his story arc often hinting at untold secrets in The Doctor’s past. You could say he put ‘who’ back into Doctor Who, while contrasting the gloom with sudden outbursts of circus trickery. McCoy got a raw deal when the show was cancelled in 1989, only to make a brief appearance when it returned for a one-off movie in 1996, and he was regenerated into Paul McGann. A shame because there were still depths to mine.

Trademarks: Question marks everywhere, rolling R’s, juggling and magic tricks.

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3) Jon Pertwee - The 3rd Doctor

1970 – 1974

“What’s wrong with being childish? I like being childish.”

Suave, avuncular, petulant, haughty and dependable. The show’s first Doctor to be seen in colour was the one that you would probably choose to travel with. You would always feel safe with Jon Pertwee, who delivered the character at his most heroic and dynamic. Swordplay and Venusian Aikido ranked among the many skills in this Doctor’s repertoire and no other incarnation was quite this dashing. Pertwee was the Time Lord as a perfect gentleman, impeccably attired and mannered but with a razor-sharp tongue for those who earned his ire.

Trademarks: The cloak, frilly shirts, various gadgets and his car, Bessie.

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2) Matt Smith - The 11th Doctor

2010 – Present

“I am a mad man with a box.”

Gangly, energetic, childish, bewildered but confident. The current Doctor has brought the character back to his outlandish best. At 26, Smith is the youngest actor to take on the role but has all the natural personality quirks to portray the Time Lord the way he should be. After years of David Tennant’s often overplayed and forced eccentricities, Smith makes it all look so easy and is the most assured and funniest Doctor to come along for years. Some actors are just a natural fit for the character, getting it right from episode one. So it is with Matt Smith.

Trademarks: Bow ties (are cool), Jammie Dodgers and a Fez.

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1) Tom Baker – The 4th Doctor

1974-1981

“First things first, but not necessarily in that order.”

Slightly insane, irritable, stubborn, unpredictable and hilarious.  For almost everyone of my generation Tom Baker is the quintessential Doctor. His unhinged, effortless and often improvised portrayal of the Time Lord was helped in no small part by the fact that Baker is just as eccentric in reality, perhaps even more so. Baker set the standard by which all other incarnations are measured, with ‘not as good as Tom Baker’ an overused judgement of subsequent actors. Who else has ever disarmed their enemies by offering them Jelly Babies?

Trademarks: Long scarf, Jelly Babies, K-9 and that toothy grin.

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Summer Movie Blog-a-thon: 1984

I was born in the year 1970, which means I was an active human presence on this planet through that entire decade. However, other than Star Wars, the better episodes of Doctor Who and a few fashion traumas, there isn’t a great deal I remember about the Seventies. So, when nostalgia comes calling for me, it comes bearing the stamp of the 1980s. And when my nostalgia turns to movies, one year stands out above the other nine: 1984.

What a year for the summer movie that was. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins, Beverly Hills Cop, Star Trek III, The Terminator. Oh boy, oh boy, it was a feast of flavoursome seasonal celluloid. And the icing on the summer cake turned out to be a tasty confection called Ghostbusters. It was one of those mysterious and elusive creatures, the Sleeper Hit™, coming out of nowhere and stealing the summer.

I seem to remember spending the best part of the summer of ’84 standing outside the local 3-screen cinema. I was 14 years old, and beginning to gain more traction in that tug of war for more freedom with my parents, and going to the cinema was the activity of choice for a lot of us. Sure, you could hang out at the park, but the cinema was better. Well, it was to me, anyway. Come on, the cinema had movies. The park had grass and a fountain. It was a no-brainer. Yes, I was one of those peculiar teenage guys that sat in the darkened cinema, girlfriend at my side, with every intention of actually watching the movie. I did not go there to snog and cop a feel. That’s what the park was for. Okay, I may have made an exception with Out of Africa, but it was long and boring as a dog’s ass.

Spengler, Stantz, Venkman and Zeddemore - love those surnames.

So, yeah, Ghostbusters. Sorry, may have drifted from the point there. Nostalgia will do that to you. I remember the summer of ’84 was the summer of Ray Parker Jr. asking you who you were gonna call. And then telling you. Incessantly. I confess to you here and now and with no sense of shame…well, maybe a little, that I bought that damn record. Oh, give me a break, it was catchy. A lot of people bought it. And like a lot of people, Ghostbusters blew me away on that first viewing.  It was witty, original, the special effects were fantastic and I think even my girlfriend stopped wondering why I wasn’t trying to put a clumsy arm around her. Maybe we went to the park afterwards, I can’t remember.

With most movies which you saw for the first time all those years ago, you don’t really recall the event. You just know you saw them at the cinema. However, I can remember vividly watching Ghostbusters. We were sitting on the right hand side, near the back (but not right at the back, which was reserved for couples who should have been at the park). I remember the opening scene, the appearance of Slimer, and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man all from that particular angle. Isn’t that strange? I don’t recall what I was wearing but, this being 1984, that’s probably for the best.

So much better than watching a fountain in the park.

One more thing that I will always remember, with absolute fondness, is the Ghostbusters novelisation, by Larry Milne. I read a lot of novelisations back then, but this one was by far the best. It was written in the present tense, which was rare for that kind of book, and somehow this made it even funnier than the movie itself. It had such a dry humour to it. It could have been written by Bill Murray. I must have read that book three times, at least. When my girlfriend wasn’t around, of course.

Some films travel with you through time, always remaining in step with you, never triggering feelings of nostalgia. Ghostbusters will always be like an old song to me; a song that takes you back to your youth, and the summer you spent exploring new freedoms and discovering movies that you would love for life.

George Orwell was right about a lot of things, but for me 1984 was a great year.


Free Inside! (via Blah!)

Free Inside! Today was my weekly grocery shopping expedition. I use the word expedition because that’s what it sometimes feels like when you don’t drive. Lugging three bags of groceries home is good exercise. Fascinating stuff, right? Don’t worry, I am working toward my topic. It was while I was standing there in Aisle 2, perusing the boxes of cereal, that I realised something astounding; not one brand of cereal was giving away free gifts inside the boxes. Wh … Read More

via Blah!


Doctor Who Made Me Cry

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with writer Richard Curtis for many years now. I mean this quite literally, by the way. I either love what he writes or I hate it. I grew up with Blackadder and love the show unconditionally. I am aware, however, that the first series, written by Curtis alone, was nowhere near as good as the subsequent three series, during which he collaborated with Ben Elton. On the other hand, I actively hate Curtis’s movies, with Love Actually representing the epitome of all that irritates me about him; boring, predictable, emotion-by-numbers, with an almost cartoon vision of Britain designed to appeal to American preconceptions. Blah!

So, when I discovered that Curtis had written this week’s episode of Doctor Who, I was eye-rollingly under whelmed. I expected a brief and vexing hiccup in what has been, for me, the best season since the show returned in 2005. After David Tennant and producer Russell T. Davis had exhausted my patience to the point where I had all but given up on a show I’ve been watching since I was born, along came Matt Smith and Steven Moffat to bring me back into the fold. I was sure I could endure a dose of Curtis candy just this once. As it turns out, that candy will come in useful. I can sprinkle it on the humble pie I’m about to eat. Vincent and The Doctor was, if memory serves, the first Doctor Who episode that made me weep like a child.

The Doctor and Amy are visiting the Van Gogh paintings in the Musée d’Orsay, when the Doctor notices a strange face in the window of a church, in a painting Van Gogh did during the last year of his life. They travel back to 1890 Provence to meet him and discover the identity of the strange face. They find Van Gogh an outcast in the town; broke, eccentric, unappreciated, tormented by his depression, and the only person in the town who is able to see the monster which is killing the inhabitants. Tony Curran does a great job of portraying the energy and mood swings of the mentally ill painter, and the episode handles the topic itself with a lot of respect. The monster itself is a bit lame, but it doesn’t matter because, for once, it isn’t about the monster at all, but the man. The monster is defeated, there is a great little scene where we see the night sky as Van Gogh does, but it is the final scene that really did me in. The Doctor takes the artist to the Musée d’Orsay in 2010, to show him what his work will mean for generations to come, and as Van Gogh broke down in tears, I couldn’t help but join in. Beautiful.

Now, I don’t know how much of this was down to the writing of Richard Curtis, the performance of Tony Curran, or simply the themes that resonated in me because I am me. But at least, if I make it and someday meet Richard Curtis, I won’t have to tell him that the last thing he wrote that I loved was screened in 1989.

Amy, The Doctor and Vincent Van Gogh about twenty minutes before I start blubbing.