He's back… and it's about time. The new series of Doctor Who
starts tonight and I am unreasonably excited, as I have been for nearly every new series since about 1981.
My earliest memory of watching Doctor Who
is accidentally stumbling upon Warriors' Gate
in 1981. I must've come in part way through an episode part way through the adventure, but I was instantly and irredeemably hooked. Then, a couple of months later, the Doctor fell from Jodrell Bank and turned into a completely different person. From that moment, I ceased to be hooked and became obsessed.
I think this works the same for all fans of Doctor Who. They enjoy the series until their first regeneration, at which point they become addicted to it. I remained addicted all through Peter Davison's tenure, despite the BBC moving the series to somewhere harder to find in the schedules. I even gave up a club I went to on Monday evenings with my best friend of the time in favour of watching the show.
I stuck with the series through Colin Baker's time, although by this point the series was beginning to flag, even for me. No fault of Colin Baker – a fine actor to this day – but the series was clearly unloved by the BBC and needed a rest and a change of production management. In the BBC of the day, only the pause was possible, and the series disappeared in 1985 for a year and a half, but sadly returned with a smaller budget and the same tired executives in place. I stuck with it.
The Doctor regenerated again, and Sylvester McCoy, a truly great Doctor, appeared. The series was freshened up and really started to catch fire again. So the BBC cancelled it.
Seven years passed and I moved on to other interests – Star Trek: The Next Generation launched and I got obsessed with that instead. The BBC tried again with a one-off backdoor pilot for a new Doctor Who, made in Canada, but it relied on (a) money from Fox that wasn't forthcoming and (b) intimate knowledge of the show's backstory mixed with the ability to ignore the places where they had changed that same story. So that wasn't going to work.
Time passes, and in 2004 the BBC announced that the show was coming back. It didn't sound hopeful: it was to be made in south Wales, of all places, written by a guy best known for comedy and children's TV, and starring a teenypop girly singer known as "Billie". Still, I'll watch it, I thought, if only for the nostalgia.
In the run-up to it going out for the first time, I had actually started to get excited, even while doubting that it could be as good as I remembered (if you go back and watch episodes of stuff you enjoyed as a kid, it is often surprisingly dull). On Saturday 26 March 2005 I popped to my doctor to have a blood test, with plans to nip to Sainsbury's to buy booze and snackfood to consume in front of the TV that night.
At 7pm on that Saturday, I was lying in a hospital bed, having 4 pints of blood put into me. Something had gone terribly wrong. I hurriedly paid for the terrible Patientline service to get BBC-1. I was foiled: during the title sequence, the junior doctor arrived, and having heard me say how I'd been waiting for this moment for 9 years, announced that this was the only time she had available to perform some tests. These tests involved looking up bum, which made watching TV difficult, and it would've been nice if she'd bothered to close the curtain around the bed, but when you're ill, the NHS makes you better in return for your dignity. (I later learnt that the hospital had decided that, since I was bleeding to death internally and would ultimately need a large, murderously-inclined part of my bowel removing, it was obviously my own fault because I was a filthy queer – hence the, er, less-than-caring attitude of the staff. Once I was well, I had to take action against them. I won)
Still, I watched the rest of the series as my life ebbed away. The new series was brilliant. Wales is a great place to make television, it turns out, with some of the most talented production crews in the entire world – that shouldn't surprise a Welshman like me, but there we are. Russell T Davies, that comedy and children's writer, had also written Queer as Folk, the series that directly brought about a change in society's attitudes to homosexuality and relaunched serial drama as a television phenomena. The series was more than safe in his hands: it was in perfect hands. And Billie, teenybopper, was actually Billie Piper, award-winning actress of real talent.
Time passed, I was cured, and I kept watching as the 'new' Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, regenerated into the newer David Tennant (I cried), then through Tennant's years in the role, falling deeply in love with his Doctor. And then he regenerated (I cried for days and still do if I see the regeneration scene) and Matt Smith took over, after – correcting the injustices of the past – a decent break that built expectations and a change in production management that kept the format fresh (and brought another comedy/children's writer to the helm, the equally brilliant Steven Moffat).
Tonight is the second series of Matt Smith's Doctor Who. I'm not in love with the 11th Doctor in the sexually-perverted way I was with the 10th (although I'm nursing a crush that could squash him) but I'm just as excited as I was in 2005, and in 1981. That is effectively forever??in television terms, which shows the true power of a format invented back in 1963 by Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert. For the ball-and-chain, who saw the first ever episode go out the day after JFK was assassinated and was also instantly hooked, the excitement is no different, even almost 50 years later.
So tonight, I'm buying the booze, he's buying the Chinese takeaway and we're sitting down in front of BBC One HD at 6pm.
I have no blood tests planned.