The big talking point of the week has been Doctor Who. Will he or won’t he? But, as with anything where the dear Doctor is concerned, it was never going to be as straight forward as that. At the end ofthe penultimate episode in the latest series, the Doctor (David Tennent), was zapped by the ray gun of a marauding Dalek. It looked as if it was all up with the present locum. He began blazing away out of every suit orifice and resembled a self-destructive effigy on Guy Fawkes night.
Anyone familiar with the long running series will know that this is usually the sign that the present wielder of the Sonic Screwdriver is about to metamorphose into someone physically, sartorially and mentally different from the previous incumbent. The last week hasn’t been easy as we awaited the New Doctor.
Those who know about these things came up with a number of theories about the outcome of the expected remix of the Doctor. One was that the present series was really just an aberration and did not exist and one of the old Doctors would materialise. That didn’t throw up a whole TARDIS of suitors and I never did understand it. Hot favourite was the idea of a female saviour of the Universe. Catherine Tate (Donna Noble), his non-standard present assistant, was touted as the most likely to be generated with his true love Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) an outside bet.
The idea did have some credence taking into account the post feminist yen to put women in suits. In my opinion that would have jettisoned the Doctor to a parallel Universe far, far beyond Gallifrey. How about TWO Time Lords? Both played by nerve jangled Tennent? That was touted strongly in some quarters. Couldn’t work out how that would work myself. Just think of the extra confusion. Since the series has been revived I have had enough problem keeping up with what is going on and the thought of trying to follow the antics of the spatially peripatetic Doctor with two personalities to cope with made me feel like retiring to a dark room and studying the inside of my eyelids.
The BBC, naturally, loved all the speculation whirling around and kept a hermetically sealed airlock on what was about to happen. All along way from the days when the Doctor wheezed his way onto our 10inch, black and white screens, way back in the mists of a time warp identified as November 1963. The year started off with the country locked in more snow and ice than is usually found on some of the more desolate outer planets, which lasted for nearly six weeks. The Liverpool quartet, soon to become internationally famous as The Beatles, released Please, Please Me onto an unprepared world and Sean Connery announced the opening gambit for the long running 007franchise with “Bond, James Bond” in Dr. No, and refused to be either shaken or stirred by anything thrown his way.
In America, President John F Kennedy announced the end of official racial segregation by promulgating the Civil Rights Bill and in darkest Buckinghamshire the crime of the century, known as the Great Train Robbery, took place. Parliament was rocked by the Perfume scandal and Profumo’s professional squeeze, prostitute Christine Keeler, was handed down a six month sentence for perjury. John F Kennedy was shot dead by Lee Oswald in Dallas and kick-started the Conspiracy Theory industry.
And Russell T Davies was born.
Since the grumpy, silver haired Doctor – played by William Hartnell – first struggled out of the TARDIS, where it had landed in a junkyard, the story has come a long way. Originally it was supposed to be educational. Interesting tid-bits were interjected into the script so that the black clad Doctor could wax wise and point up the answers.
The reason the TARDIS was in the shape of a police box was that there was a chameleon default aboard which was supposed to take on a shape which would blend into its surroundings. Unfortunately something went wrong and the spaceship got stuck in its present configuration. Doctor Who became so popular with the kids, young and old, that when Verity Lambert, the original producer of the series left, the strained relations between Hartnell and her successors became so bad that he bowed out. Leaving the Beeb with a popular show but no leading man.
When James Bond faces this problem the new incumbent just looks at the screen and says, “Bond, James Bond.” That wasn’t good enough for the Who lot, and they came up with one of the great pieces of business of all time. The in situ Doctor just throws a hissy fit and emerges as his successor. A marvellous gimmick which has stood the test of time.
The Doctors who followed all added to the legend. Hartnell’s replacement, Patrick Troughton, still retained some of the irascible original’s characteristics but brought some whimsy to the font. I never worked with Patrick but often played golf with him. Which fed me into the new Doctor’s world when Jon Pertwee arrived on the scene. Guesting on Doctor Who had, by this time, become a bit of an honour and when I was asked if I would like to play Galliea, Queen of Atlantis in The Time Warriors, I jumped at the chance. Jon was great fun to work with and we got on so well that when he was cast in The House That Dripped Blood he suggested to the casting agent that I should play the marauding vampire, Carla.
One of the most popular Doctors, Pertwee was followed by the longest living – Tom Baker. Tom brought an extra frenzy to the part as well as an enormous, free floating scarf and was regenerated as the mild-mannered, Edwardian costumed, Peter Davison. I was having a little wobbly, standing in the shambles of my kitchen, which was being remodelled, when a neighbour, Pennant Roberts, Doctor Who director, dropped by for a cup of tea. He decided to take me away from all that chaos and offered me a job on his upcoming series, Warriors of the Deep.
Unfortunately the only role uncast at that moment was that of a male scientist called Dr. Solow. In true Who fashion he ignored that inconvenient fact and cast me anyway. Which turned out to have more substance than the part demanded. When Michael Grade, Controller of the BBC, was asked on Room 101 why he had canned the franchise, he showed an episode of Warriors where I fight a Myrka as the reason he thought that Doctor Who had had its day. But before that there was the affable Doctor in the guise of Colin Baker and then it was back to quirkiness with Sylvester McCoy.
The news came as a bit of a blow to everyone who thrilled to the wobbly sets, sometimes excruciating dialogue and fantasy plot lines. I had just been commissioned to write a two part script called The Macro Men. The first draft had been turned in and I was waiting for a production date when I heard the bad news. I did offer to write it up as a book but when I received a 20 page leaflet of do’s and don’t’s I decided that my artistic integrity was being invaded and opted out.
When the new Doctor was announced a couple of years ago, I looked out the old script in the hope that I might smuggle it in somewhere but when I saw the first episode by the new doctor, Christopher Ecclestone, I realised we weren’t in the same Universe never mind the Galaxy. Regardless of my disappointment I did the sporting thing and watched the newly anointed Doctor settle in. I thought the new take on the doctor was great. But not quite Doctor Who. Back to my old phobia, I guess, too much CGI.
Before I had really become au fait with the workings of the newly regenerated TARDIS it was all change and David Tennent bounced, gurning, onto the screen. And there was a Love Interest. I could ignore the demise of the shaky sets, intergalactic space hopping; I welcomed the more mature and informed dialogue and the costumes which weren’t straight off the counter of Marks and Spencers – but the Doctor on heat – ugh!
So when the Doctor went into spasm at the end of the penultimate episode of the recently jettisoned series, I was hopeful that we might return to a more detached Doctor, one more intent on keeping the Aliens in order than getting up close and fervent with his latest companion. But it was not to be. The rumours which had circulated while the Fundament decided what was to happen to the fizzing Doctor, all came true -more or less. The Doctor did a bit of wiping of memories, so, technically the previous series didn’t exist, for an instant it seemed that his Number One, Donna Noble, was going to take over the bridge and finally two Doctors did emerge. Difference was that one of them only had one heart although they were both in love with Rose Tyler and knew things beyond the ken of us inadequate humans. What to-do with Two Doctors? This was resolved by Rose snagging the Doc with only one heart in a parallel universe while the well endowed, doublekardiac Doctor, alone and lonely, sets off on another search for adventure in the TARDIS.
It was ever thus!
Ingrid writes every week at Den Of Geek. Check out Ingrid’s column from last week.
Also see the new and ever growing Doctor Who page at DoG, where we are marshalling all the Who content at the site, including interviews, DVD and episode reviews, lists, opinions and articles on our favourite time traveller.