Bigger On The Inside – Why I’m Really Looking Forward To The New Doctor Who
The new series of Dr Who starts soon. Here’s a post I wrote subject for the programme’s 50th anniversary.
Fifty years ago tonight, a momentous event in the history of mankind occurred. It went largely unnoticed though, due to John F Kennedy being assassinated the day before. Aldous Huxley and CS Lewis also died that day, but the passing of these great men also went largely unnoticed due to the Presidential assassination. The momentous event I am referring to was, of course, the airing of the first episode of Doctor Who.
It comes as a surprise to many Americans, and indeed to some Brits, that Doctor Who has been going this long and that Chris Eccleston was not in fact the first actor to play The Doctor. In fact the list of such actors goes like this : William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, John Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Chris Eccleston, David Tennant, Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi. Twelve Doctors in total.
Yes, yes, I know Peter Cushing also played The Doctor but that was at the movies and the character he played wasn’t a Timelord, just an eccentric Earth scientist. Plus the two films he was in were comedies. Not sure if they were meant to be funny, but if you cast Peter Cushing alongside Roy Castle and Bernard Cribbins, then I think hilarity is pretty much inevitable. It’s a bit like David Niven not being counted as a proper James Bond even though he played James Bond in “Casino Royale”. Maybe that one doesn’t count because Woody Allen played the bad guy.
Tonight, the BBC broadcasts the 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who. This means that we need to add John Hurt to the pantheon of actors who have played The Doctor. He will be introduced tonight as “The War Doctor”, whatever that might be. Presumably he’s the one that fought in the Time War. That makes thirteen Doctors. This will then be hotly followed by a new Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi.
Now, as a life-long Dr Who fan, I had rather hoped that the powers that be at the BBC might have persuaded John Simm to play The Doctor. The idea of our favourite Timelord looking in the mirror after regeneration and seeing the face of The Master staring back at him has always been rather appealing. “You have got to be joking” he would say. Particularly if the make-up department had seen fit to dye his hair ginger.
That said, I can’t say I was disappointed when Peter Capaldi was named as the new Doctor because Peter Capaldi’s fucking awesome. In case you can’t put a face to the name, Peter Capaldi’s the man who played sweary Scotsman Malcolm Tucker in “The Thick Of It”. It’s a bit of a shame that Doctor Who is technically a kids’ TV show so we won’t see any of that salty, Tucker-esque behaviour. Maybe they should do a late night, adults only version. Like they did with Hollyoaks, except not totally shit. I can just see Peter Capaldi facing down some alien nutcase who’s invented a Doomsday Machine and saying :
“Doomsday machine you say? Really? I’m going to shove it so far up your arse you’ll be able to push that big red button just by sticking your fingers down your throat.”
Sadly, that’s never going to happen. Still, whatever does happen, Peter Capaldi becoming The Doctor does leave the writers of the show with a bit of a problem. Timelords only get twelve regenerations. That’s 13 Doctors and then it’s game over. If John Hurt is counted as a real Doctor, then that makes Peter Capaldi the 13th incarnation. How are the writers going to get around that when Mr Capaldi eventually goes the way of all the actors who have played The Doctor?
Well, all they have to do is look at episodes past. Lots of things you think you are seeing for the first time in the 21st Century Doctor Who have been done before in the previous century. Did you gasp when Chris Eccleston and Billie Piper encountered flying Daleks? Well you shouldn’t have, because Sylvester McCoy had already fought flying Daleks way back in the 1980s. So it should come as no surprise that there has already been a Timelord who has had more than twelve regenerations. The Master. He ran out of regenerations in The Seventies, but that doesn’t seem to have slowed him down much.
Besides, all the debate is missing a point. The “Twelve Regenerations” rule was first stated in “The Deadly Assassin” (1976) and that rule says that a Timelord can only have “Twelve regenerations per cycle”. How many cycles a Timelord can have is never made clear, but we do know that extra ones can be granted by the Gallifreyan Council. So all they’ll have to do is resurrect The Timelords for one series and Bob’s your uncle. Twelve more regenerations.
However they decide to resolve this, it’s good to know that Doctor Who is still grabbing the attention of new generations of fans 50 years on. I watched it as a kid. It gave me a lifelong love of Science Fiction. The fact that skimpily clad female assistants like Leela and Perry were there for me at important points in my physical development was a happy bonus.
There’s a group of youngsters who have only ever known Matt Smith as The Doctor. They will shortly know the weird and bitter sweet emotion of not being sure if they like the new Doctor or not. It’s a strange thing to watch in a person. My missus was born in 1983 and Dr Who was cancelled in 1989, so she didn’t remember it. When it came back in 2005, she loved it. Then came the moment when Chris Eccleston morphed into David Tennant and she was overwhelmed by that ambivalent mixture of excitement and “who the fuck’s this imposter?” It really warmed the cockles of my heart.
Universal as Dr Who’s themes are, some if it doesn’t translate when it is syndicated abroad. You may well be aware that James Bond is called “Me Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” in Japan. The Chinese have a similar thing with Daleks. There is a popular fried noodle street snack in China called “Da Lek”. So to make Dr Who more culturally appropriate to them, Daleks are called “Greggs’ Cheese And Onion Pasties” over there. Truly terrifying. And that’s a true fact. True as I’m sitting writing this in my Tardis.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2013