So today Doctor Who is fifty years old. Hip hip!
I owe Doctor Who a lot. It is the show that made me love scifi and fantasy. Of course there were other shows that helped instil this love in me, but Doctor Who was the mainstay.
My earliest Doctor Who memories are of Tom Baker’s last two seasons. I remember Scaroth from City of Death being scary to me as a kid, and I remember the Creature from the Pit, whose monster creeped me out. Then there was the next season, where we said goodbye to Romana, met Adric and Nyssa (who to a small child were really great companions; kids!) and saw the Doctor regenerate for the (for me) first time!
I loved the Fifth Doctor too, and when I’m choosing “my” childhood doctor, it’s always a toss up between Baker and Davison, because I started on the cusp. I remember crying at the end of Earthshock, because it was one of the first times I’d seen a tv show do something like kill off one of the major characters. It blew my mind! Suddenly all bets were off. Much of my childhood play consisted of creating Doctor Who episodes (and new stories) with Star Wars action figures (for the record, Luke Skywalker hoth outfit was Davison, Luke Skywalker x-wing helmet was Adric, Princess Leia Empire Strikes Back was Tegan, and Princess Leia Star Wars was Nyssa. I’m pretty sure R2D2 was a dalek). If I think back, that was where I started becoming creative, making my own stories.
When I was a little bit older I bought a foolscap exercise book and wrote my own stories. Mostly these involved copious doctors and monsters; there wasn’t a danger too small for me to bring back all the Doctor’s previous incarnations and most of the companions. I found these a few years back and they were hilariously ghastly efforts, but at least they got me writing!
Terrance Dicks’ novelisations played a big part in turning me into a voracious reader, along with Dr Seuss, Enid Blyton and others, the target books were a major incentive to read, and I eagerly sought them out and devoured them. My earliest bookstore memories are of visiting Brodies in the centre of Ipswich and going downstairs to the section where they kept Doctor Who novels. Meanwhile the ABC showed a lot of repeats of Pertwee stories, but nothing older, and so I realised there were older doctors, and discovered a lot of the Hartnell and Troughton stories through novelisations years before I ever saw them on tv (those that exist). Dicks wasn’t the only writer but he wrote a large proportion of them, and I have to admit that most of my early efforts were shameless Terrance Dicks ripoffs, borrowing his phrases and tone.
I remember the Five Doctors being on tv, and that was probably the high point of my childhood love of Doctor Who. I bought the magazine that came out around that time that listed all the episodes and companions, and I pretty quickly memorised them all. In fact, when I think over the history of Doctor Who, to this day, I still picture the episodes as they were laid out in that guide, even though I haven’t read it in probably twenty years, I could probably still make a pretty good guess at where each page ended. This I guess was the beginning of becoming something more than a casual viewer, of becoming a fan.
I drifted away from Doctor Who in the mid eighties. It’s hard to say, looking back, how much of this drift was the show itself, and how much was due to the fact that I was growing older and becoming interested in other stuff. Certainly, though, the content of the show played a part, with Colin Baker’s abrasive doctor and his companions, Peri and Mel, who irritated me rather than providing a point of relation. ABC scheduling also played a part, as they stopped showing repeats on a daily basis, and moved the show’s timeslot, meaning that the show wasn’t as frequently in view, and more easily forgotten. (This ended what I think of as my golden era of childhood viewing, best summarised by the unbeatable scheduling of 5pm – Monkey, 5:45 – Danger Mouse, 6:00 – The Goodies, 6:30 – Doctor Who).
Whatever the reason, in a few short years my interest in the show waned, although I did rejoin briefly for the McCoy era, but with less enthusiasm. The early McCoy episodes, with the very pantomime-esque Bonnie Langford as companion, came at exactly the wrong time for a kid who was becoming increasingly self-conscious about watching a “kids show”.
Anyway, if nothing else, I would have owed Doctor Who a lot for all the above. The interest in reading, in writing, in creating, the love of scifi and fantasy. All of these things would come to be a big part of who I was, and who I am.
So even if I had drifted away from Doctor Who, as a twelve-ish year old, never to return, I would have fond memories. But Doctor Who and I had a second coming, and then a third. But I’ll talk about that in the next post.