Saturday, 23 November 2013

Doctor! Doctor!

Well there is no escaping from the cultural highlight of the weekend. I daresay many people are now wholeheartedly sick of the BBC's Doctor Who love-in. For an entire week we have been bombarded with clips of grainy 1960s film depicting an old man in a daft hat (or if you were watching the JFK coverage, Jackie Kennedy in a daft hat).

Were you ever scared of Doctor Who back in the day? I'm speaking literally. My first encounter with the Time Lord was way back in he mid seventies during Jon Pertwee's tenure. His depiction of the Doctor scared me witless. It must have been the combination of old, slightly gummy man, big cape, mad hair. Forget Cybermen and what-not. It was the Doctor himself who scared me rigid.

I had no problems with Tom Baker though. For me this was the imperial phase of the show. Tom's Doctor could be chilling but was also a bit of a laugh. Once you had navigated yourself past his terrifying 'eyes and teeth' combo, all was well with his universe. Yet our general memory of this era is one of tacky sets and cheap-looking monsters. The Doctor and his assistant, the latter seemingly always a short-skirted hysterical woman, spent entire episodes charging up and down corridors and dashing through up-and-under garage doors sprayed silver. The baddy was inevitably someone of the Beryl Reid ilk, wearing a futuristic polo-necked jumper with a few bit of old hosepipe jammed on her head. She was always an inhabitants of a planet with a name like Tharg. Then the assistants got camper (day-glo jumpsuits, air hostess outfits) and even the poor old Doctor himself was either portrayed as a buffoon or horribly sinister. I switched off.

1996 film aside, the new batch of Doctor stories have been a must for me. They epitomise good drama that works on several levels. For the kids, a chance to be scared my creepy things from other worlds and for mum and dad, a slice of fine storytelling. The calibre of the acting has been wonderful too. We have had three very different Doctors - the northern one in the leather jacket, the toothy one in the suit and the current bow-tied madcap incumbent. For me, Billie Piper as companion Rose was a revelation as was Karen Gillen's Amy Pond. No more screaming down B & Q-standard sets.

Doctor Who has always been about escapism and perhaps it's better not to over-analyse exactly what the show has come to represent over the years. There is no doubting its cultural impact and its successful 21st century renaissance but for me it's just a piece of rather good entertainment.

On the day of it's fiftieth anniversary we find the Doctor in rude health and preparing to head off into an unknown future in the guise of Peter Capaldi. Will you be watching? I will - and hopefully not from behind a sofa.