Like many people in the UK on Saturday I was looking forward to the start of the new season of Dr Who, except in my case we had friends round so I had to watch it on Sunday. And of course it wasn’t just a new series it was a new Dr, always a bitter sweet moment for any fan of Dr Who, and yes I am a fan.
I am old enough (just) to remember the first episode. I was six and can recall something of what I would now call the ‘hype’ around this new, very different, program going out on a Saturday. At that time remember, there were only two channels and, as a six year old I watched whatever there was on at prime time early evening Saturday even if that was the ‘Billy Cotton Band show. Well you just did.
I don’t remember it being shown twice due to the assassination of President Kennedy. I do remember the shooting of JFK, although I have to admit Dr Who made a bigger impact on my six year old mind. At that age I was interested in cowboys and had my first lego, but the space age was just beginning and ideas of space ships were entering my head. So Dr Who came at the right time. I have been hooked on Dr Who, science and science fiction ever since. I couldn’t say Dr Who is responsible for the other two, but I’m sure it played a big part.
As I said I have a clear memory of watching that first episode and the first series. When they entered the Tardis it was, WOW! We were even introduced to the Daleks in that first series, what more could a six year old want? It didn’t matter that no-one seemed to realise that just running up or down stairs would pose them problems, they were the best monster, like, ever!
I remember being sad when I heard that William Hartnell was to stop being the Dr, I mean surely that was the end of my favourite program? But wait there was to be a new Dr, Patrick Troughton. How did that work? Genius, he was the Dr, but different and it all made sense. And I guess that really is the stroke of genius with Dr Who. You can’t do that with any other character. In any other drama if they change the actor of the lead it seems to lose something. It’s a different person playing the same (much loved) character and doesn’t quite work. But for the Dr, it’s still the Dr, just different and the adventure goes on. I liked Patrick Troughton. I thought Jon Pertwee was great and then came Tom Baker, who for me was the best of those original set of Drs. I admit I did lose a bit of my fervent interest after Tom Baker. It never hit the same heights. Only later do you learn of falling viewing figures and falling budgets. But still I was horrified when I learned it was to be axed. But, in hindsight it was the best thing that could have happened to Dr Who. There was still public interest and when it came back (ignoring the couple of Paul McGann specials) there was a loyal following willing it to be great.
And guess what, for me at least, they got it spot on. They gave it the budget, chose some great writers and picked the right Dr to open with. Gone were the silly eccentricities and in came a new serious Dr for a new age. Just a shame that Christopher Eccleston only did one series, but as a fan I thank him for making the re-invention of Dr Who a success, for laying the ground work for David Tennant and Matt Smith, who have done it their way, with great aplomb.
As for the lasting appeal? Well you can change all the caste, employ new exciting writers (and even guest writers such as Neil Gaiman), it can continually re-invent itself and yet still be Dr Who. It can be totally new yet reassuringly familiar at the same time. It still manages to hold the excitement it did for me as a six year old. Maybe that’s it, its lasting appeal for me is that it keeps me in touch with that six year old, a bit of personal time travel. So now I look forward to what Peter Capaldi can bring to the role in the sure the knowledge that I’m going to enjoy it.
As always views, and in this case, your recollections are welcome.