It was 1963; it was the first time I heard that unmistakeable sound of space adventure – a pulsating bass. It was a theme composed by Ron Grainger originally on piano, and realised subsequently by using a sine wave generator in the BBC Radio-phonic workshop. It went:
“Doodily dum, doodily dum, doodily dum, do do, do do, doodily dum, doodily dum, doodily dum – Ooo woow Woow”
It’s just about impossible to replicate that sound in text, as it is to remember the images of Doctor Who (transmitted in glorious black and white) on your small screen television. Production values were crude, to say the least, but that didn’t seem to matter. A rather cantankerous William Hartnell first played the Doctor at age 58, and seemed like a very old man in his absurd white wig. The youngest actor to play the Doctor at 26 was Matt Smith, who was the eleventh incarnation at the time of the 50th anniversary. Indeed, it’s rather disconcerting to realise that I’m now 64! So apart from the hiatus between 1989 and 2005 when the full-time series returned (discounting the one-off television film in 2003), I’ve been a fan for 50 years. In fact, it rather parallels my infatuation with the Beatles that dates from the same year and caused me to become a musician. Yes…I admit it publicly: I am an avowed and unapologetically, avid Doctor Who tragic!
Now that’s a bit of a mouthful and to try and explain the fascination with Doctor Who is like trying to fathom the mind of a football fanatic, a cricket aficionado or a religious zealot: it’s impossible! It’s mysterious! I suppose we could say that Doctor Who is the British equivalent of Superman. A strange alien being who has adopted the Earth and defends it against all enemies, from the past, the present and the future; not to mention all permutations in between. His vehicle for space/time travel is an anachronism from 1963 that has now all but disappeared from British life: a police telephone box. Actually, it is only the outside exterior that appears to be a police box. The inside is bigger – infinitely so. An effect known as dimensional transcendentality! The spacecraft is referred to as – the TARDIS standing for ‘Time and Relative Dimension(s) in Space’. Such a useful device to have! But to return to the current dimension…I took myself off recently, in my own TARDIS (my 1998 Mitsubishi Mirage), to see a special screening of ‘Doctor Who – Deep Breath’ at Mount Vic Flicks on the big screen in a feature length episode of the recent changing of the guard.
As all ‘Who’ tragics know, the Doctor ‘regenerates’ when the current actor vacates the part and hands on the baton or ‘sonic screwdriver’ to the next Doctor. The new incumbent – Peter Capaldi, at 55, is a return to the Doctors of old – eccentric, irascible, petulant, testy; in contrast to the recent trendy ‘young Whos’ of Matt Smith and David Tennant. This is not to say their portrayals of the Doctor weren’t enjoyable – they were both really great in the part. But the new Who has a certain air of gravitas about him and it’s pleasing to note that the producers intend to ‘slow’ the pace so as to reintroduce a few more philosophical concepts that used to feature (if only subliminally) through the program and not rely so heavily on action and special effects.
Having said that, it also should be noted that Peter Capaldi, as the Doctor, has a great sense of fun that he brings to the part. He said in recent interviews that playing Doctor Who is the realisation of a dream he had as a child; he just wants to make his version of the Doctor a little darker, edgier, that’s all. Some people seem to be languishing for young Matt Smith, though personally I thought his portrayal bordered on parody at times. I do wish though that there wasn’t quite the interest in social media, to reveal parts of upcoming episodes. It seems that ‘spoilers’ are a fact of life now as far as the electronic arts are concerned. Likewise I’m in two minds with regard to the parallel program – ‘Doctor Who Extra’. I really don’t want to know how a particular effect was achieved or what’s coming next. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a bit like finding out how a stage magician does his illusions: we all know that it’s fake but somehow the ‘magic’ is ruined when you have too much information. I’d rather be left in awe.
That’s rather the bare bones of the character, however when all’s said and done, this is escapism for people from the ages of 9 to 90, and don’t we need it now? When one considers the perilous state of the world at large, it becomes clear that we need a hero of some sort – even a fictional one will do. Peter Capaldi said to Julia Zemiro in a recent interview that the Doctor doesn’t seem to have a rest. “There’s always some fascist or monster or creature that messes up his holiday”, he opined. It seems to me that given the present state of Australian politics, he could have been talking about recent events taking place in Canberra: a parallel dimension where only ‘spin doctors’ and monsters and other creatures stalk its fabled streets. Of course Capaldi is not a stranger to the dark side. He once played the abrasive and foul-mouthed spin doctor Malcolm Tucker in the British series ‘The Thick of It’.
Anyway, I sat in the darkened theatre, also in the thick of it, and thoroughly enjoyed the film. I was surrounded by children of all ages and I delighted in being one of them. Everyone ‘oohed and ahhed’ in all the right places and those in the know laughed at all the ‘in-jokes’ that now form part of the ‘Doctor Who’ legend. There was something for everyone! In fact, I drove home in the light rain feeling mentally refreshed and amazingly…there was a rainbow! I wonder if it’s a sign of good things to come? Probably not. However, later that night I watched ‘Deep Breath’ again on the ABC – I told you I am a tragic! My wife actually watched it as well and was thoroughly confused. She insists that she could dance naked in front of the TV screen, when Doctor Who is on, and I’d simply push her to one side. She is possibly right; fortunately that philosophical position was NOT put to the test. ‘Oh dear – I’m just saying yoo-hoo to the new who!’
Doctor Who gets into your bones and we are richer for the experience. Indeed, director Steven Spielberg who created that other science fiction icon – ‘ET’, has commented that, ‘the world would be a poorer place without Doctor Who’.
Do you love Doctor Who? Do you think the show has parallels to real life? Who has been your favourite Doctor? Share below!