Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Happy Birthday, Doctor Who!

Morning everyone! And a happy Doctor Who day to you all.

48 years ago today, on a dark November Saturday evening, the best television show in the world broadcast its first episode. It was the day after JFK was shot, so the correct response to 'Where were you when you heard about the assassination" is probably
"I was bouncing up and down with excitement, shouting "Doctor Who is on tomorrow!""

Even though I was not alive yet, I was vey excited, and longed for the day when I had corporeal form and could enjoy the spectacle for myself. If I was a Mormon, and believed that all souls pre-exist their time on earth in some kind of extra dimensional limbo, I would imagine that I spent the late sixties in this limbo, willing myself into existence so I could catch episode three of Terror of the Autons.

48 years is a long time for anything (eating a pie, having a haircut, lots of things) and so the life of Doctor Who is, for me, the life of time itself. I love it with a silliness that most people seem to shed with adolescence; it is all consuming and defining, and at the same time daft and inconsequential. My enjoyment of the show exists in a tension between, on one hand appreciating the programme as a cultural artefact indicative of the time it was made, and on the other, totally believing it is all true and that one day I will meet K9.

Why is it so great? Well apart from the obvious answer (it just is), it's hard to define. But here are my attempts to do so anyway. If you don't like Doctor Who, you may find the following list incomprehensible. But that is because you are wrong about everything. Also your head is asymmetrical.

Why is Doctor Who Ace?

1. It just is! Sorry, I said that already.

2. It has the best theme tune in the world, born in the never-bettered spookiness of 60s sonic experimentation, but still alive in the mad synthesised frenzy of the 80s and the bombastic orchestration of the 21st century. When I was a kid, I used to think the announcer's voice turned into the first notes: "And now on BBC 1, another adventure for Doctor Whooooooo -eeeeeeeeeeee - ooooooooooo..." In retrospect, it didn't.

3. It allows creative people to do huge, mental exciting things in ways that other shows probably don't. Writers must relish the opportunity to bring stone circles to murderous life, or pit Charles Dickens against evil gas-ghost-zombies. Designers get to play with giant ants, killer dolls and spaceships made of human organs. Best of all, actors get to play a man who has lived a dozen lifetimes, with all the contradictions and joy that would bring. Given how wide the possibilities of fiction are, why is this the only show that really goes to town in this way?


4. It is flawed, and fragile, and thus much more beautiful than something perfect and smooth. Doctor Who does not get 7 seasons of 24 episodes, all unified by consistent design and scripted story-arcs. It gets randomly assembled, unevenly structured series, veering wildly in content and tone and written by dozens people with wildly different ideas as to what the series is even about. It gets cancelled, renewed, changed beyond recognition, praised to the heavens and villified as if it has kicked a spaniel. Put two episodes next to one another and you'd often be hard pressed to tell they were part of the same series. Except, no, you wouldn't, because there'd be something about them both that told you otherwise. Some strange, gorgeous vein running through them both, be they about aliens invading earth on a £5 budget, or gods battling demons in the realms of the imagination, or a bunch of friends enjoying each others company in the most absurd domesticity - something that is irrefutably and brilliantly Doctor Who.

5. Ever since I was a weird little kid, with limited social skills and a fear of everything that moved, I've needed Doctor Who. Someone who is an absolute weirdo, never fitting in, always at odds with the way things work. Someone who doesn't tend to fight his way out of situations, but is funny, and clever, and brave. Someone who takes the scary and frustrating things in life and shows them up for what they are: idiots, bullies and fools. I needed it when I was that scared little child, and I need it now, when I am frustrated by the greedy, and stupid, and selfish.

6. I fancy Leela.

7. And Zoe.