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Discovering Who

Confessions of a Doctor Who Fan

By Matthew Pavletich

Sounds like one of those smutty old Robin Asquith films, doesn't it? I grew up with Doctor Who. It was one of the earliest things I remember watching, along with Thunderbirds, Lost In Space, The Invaders and Star Trek, so you could say I was indoctrinated at an early age into science fiction.

Gosh, you're thinking I must be an old geezer. No; actually those shows simply made such a great impression on me at a young age. A legacy that still goes on today. And, I have a confession to make; I was never one of those kids who hid behind the sofa when Doctor Who was on. No, I reserved that privilege for Timeslip and Rod Serling's Night Gallery. I vividly remember one episode of Night Gallery or some similar show that had a child's wooden horse-toy-on-wheels that was possessed and had a life of its own. Consequently, it was a long time before I could go near a rocking horse or horse-toy! Scared the crap out of me...

The weekly dose of Patrick Troughton and company was a welcome relief from the drudgery of being aged 3-6 years old with no toys to speak of. The show just simply never scared me. The Daleks were not scary, just silly dustbins with arms, and the Cybermen looked like strange astronauts. I enjoyed the Daleks and Cybermen, the way they looked and the way they sounded. And I could never figure out how such cool monsters kept getting beaten by the funny, 'Chaplinesque' little man and his cohorts!

Even now I can vividly recall scenes from The Wheel in Space, The Moonbase, The Power of the Daleks, and The Tomb of the Cybermen. Watching The Tomb of the Cybermen for the first time again recently was a strange and nostalgic experience. Funny how on modern, non-flickering TV sets you notice things like the cardboard, plywood and polystyrene sets, or the wire that assists Toberman to lift that Cyberman.

But obviously that doesn't detract too much from the charm and character of the stories. I'm firmly convinced that if remakes of these stories were attempted today they would not work as well as the originals.

I'm not quite old enough to remember watching William Hartnell but I've caught up with some enjoyable video releases of his stories. No, my first juvenile recollections start with Patrick Troughton's witty, flustered and 'shabby' portrayal. My first school years were full of visions of the Yeti and Cybermen. I especially remember the Cybermen breaking out of small steel balls (Is that correct, Ed?) and thinking even then how physically difficult that must have been.

And I couldn't go past one of the old, Red telephone boxes without thinking 'There goes a TARDIS'. Having a black and white TV I didn't know it was supposed to be blue! It was a small surprise when we got our first colour TV in 1975.

When Jon Pertwee commenced work on his version of the Doctor we saw a new level of energy and creativity in the stories, although I do think his Doctor spent rather too long stuck on Earth. Budgetary reasons were a factor, I know. Pertwee was probably my favourite Doctor. He implied to me a sense of your 'favourite uncle' who could and would get up to just about anything. And I just loved it when he would cut some pompous official or obstructive oaf down to size.

As we all well know, Tom Baker was the longest serving and arguably the most popular Doctor. His charm and mischievous energy brightened up a series that had embarrassingly low production values. During the middle of Baker's run, I felt that the series had become formulaic and was in danger of sinking into a 'business as usual' format. Doctor Who had started to repeat itself. The stories had begun to recycle and only the nearly unpronounceable names of the aliens and the planets would change to protect the innocent.

It was around about the beginning of Peter Davison's reign that I had begun to not so much lose interest in Doctor Who, but always seem to be doing something else when it was on. Not only that, we also didn't get a VCR until 1983. Had I 'outgrown' the Doctor by that time? I doubt it, I guess I had simply began to take it for granted. You know; 'It's been on all my life and it always will. It doesn't need me to survive.' The show had become like a comfortable pair of old shoes that I no longer wore, but couldn't bring myself to throw away because somehow I just knew that someday I might need them again.

The Fourth Doctor's death scene at the climax of Logopolis was well played by Tom Baker and was moving without being maudlin. And for me, one of the most poignant scenes ever shown in Doctor Who was during Davison's troubled regeneration when he had unravelled Tom Baker's long and much-loved scarf. I actually uttered an 'Aww, no!' out loud when I saw that. It truly was a symbolic end to Tom Baker's long reign.

The odd Peter Davison story that I did watch showed me a sensitive, almost 'New Age' (one of these days we'll all stop using that dreadful euphemism!) type of guy brimming with the requisite intelligence and curiosity we've come to expect, but with Davison's own unique stamp on the character. He seemed perpetually bemused and possessed of innocence and gentle optimism. Yet, when the going got rough he was capable of being a man of action.

Next came the irascible, abrasive and confident Colin Baker, probably the least favourite of the Doctors. Baker is an excellent actor, but he may never fully escape the stigma and controversy of his time as the Doctor. I confess to having seen only a few of his stories, but in spite of that I applaud him for having tried to do something different.

Purely by word of mouth, during the late 1980s I began to watch the show again and found much to admire. The special effects had improved somewhat, the stories were undergoing a renaissance; there was a spunky young woman nicknamed 'Ace', and a remarkable Scottish actor, name of Sylvester McCoy, was holding our attentions. His character was refreshingly mischievous. He was borderline hyperactive and could be both lovable and infuriating. He was fiercely protective of Ace and if need be he could exhibit a positively mercurial temper. I doubt if Sylvester McCoy would appreciate the analogy, but he always reminded me of a tenacious little Terrier, friendly and intelligent but likely to give a nasty bite if you trod on his tail.

It's rather unfortunate that McCoy never got a longer run as the Professor - er, I mean DOCTOR. His character was only beginning to fulfil his potential. But folks, had the dear Doctor become that comfortable old pair of shoes? To paraphrase Spock from Star Trek (ouch!); 'All things must come to an end, when time demands it.'

But wasn't it also the Doctor himself who said; 'Time is relative, my dear'? Just like Star Trek, I'm sure that someday Doctor Who will rise again, at least in some form. It is an idea that is simply too strong ever to die. Unlike the proverbial Norwegian Blue, the Doctor is not dead, he's just resting. Perhaps if every fan were to send a $1 donation to a trust fund of sorts, before long there'd be enough to fund a new series or motion picture.

The unknown length of his sabbatical gives us all the chance to revisit the legacy. At our leisure we can pause and reflect on what we had and might yet have again. Keep the faith.

After all; 'Nature abhors a vacuum'.

This item appeared in TSV 31 (November 1992).

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