It was the day after JFK was assassinated in Dallas and the world was in shock. Saturday teatime and the gap between Grandstand and Juke Box Jury was to be filled by a new and experimental family drama designed to keep all viewers tuned into the BBC. A show designed by a focus group, championed by a mad Canadian, made by inexperienced producers and directors, unloved by many in power around the BBC, and fronted by an actor known for being a hard man this was a show doomed from the start.
And here we are on Saturday 23rd November 2013, fifty years after the show first went out and still it finds new fans, breaks new hearts and makes children shout and cheer for the Gallifrean refugee. Every Saturday I sit down with Jake and watch an episode or two and today we watched Army of Ghosts and Doomsday together. When the Doctor and Rose were parted I heard the tell-tale sniff as my little boy turned and hugged me with tears in his eyes saying “Why is it not a happy ending?” There are few programmes that will tie a family together in this way and allow children to experience the world and its emotions in such an entertaining and safe way.
I sat and watched the Doctor on a Saturday night with my parents – my first memory of TV being a strange curly haired man lying down and changing into a young blond man. It was the 21st of March 1981 and I would have been approaching my third birthday. I remember it vividly. My Experience with the fifth and sixth Doctors was sporadic and often I only understood bits of it. The episode I really remember being a big deal was the twentieth anniversary episode “The Five Doctors” where all the incarnations of the character (almost eh Tom!) got together. Even though the first four Doctors were relatively unknown to me I knew this was important and sensed the excitement and importance of the characters returning. I think that was the big stepping off point as a young Whovian. Just as I was getting into the swing of things with the seventh Doctor, Sylvester McCoy, it vanished.
But then if it hadn’t vanished it could never have returned to such success. Twice.
First came the TV Movie in 1996. I watched and then sat amazed at Sylvester McCoy appeared on my screen – brilliant. It was like it had never gone away. McGann was great and then…nothing again. Between 1983’s anniversary celebrations and the series returning in 2005 I had read a lot of the books from the library – the Five Doctors being a huge favourite and I’d read a lot of articles online and in magazines about the show. So when it returned I was cautious – would it be the same show I had grown up loving?
It was even better. While it took me time to get used to the new shorter stories instead of the cliffhangers of my childhood, Chris Ecclestone had gone. Who’s this David Tennant bloke – isn’t he the guy that was in Taking over the Asylum and Blackpool? And I was back in that world. That world that makes us scared, laugh, cry and cheer every Saturday night.
Yes us Whovians are geeks, nerds, boffins and it may have taken us longer to talk to girls than our peers, but you know what – I don’t care. There are few TV shows that I have ever found myself emotionally connected with – West Wing and Friends are probably the other two that “mattered” to me – but the Doctor in all his guises, through all the adventures, writers, actors, directors and narratives will always be an important show for me.
So Happy Birthday Doctor Who and here’s to the next fifty years.