23 November 2020 2408 Views

Happy Birthday, Doctor Who! 57 years of a Timelord.

by James Murphy

I love this show. Without equivocation or apology.

Here’s why:

  • Same but Different:

How many other brands build constant change into their identity? Speculation as to development as the source of creative excitement. Very few, maybe 007? But Doctor Who went further. Even its fallow periods off air are rich with content and inspiration.

Those Virgin and BBC novels are some of the best writing in the canon. As is Big Finish (Chimes of Midnight!!). Regeneration, both of the lead actor and the tone of the show, are integral to the evolution and survival of the series.

  • Family Show:

Kids are the target audience. But adults can enjoy the ideas and what they represent as moral motifs to all age ranges. Subtly yet surely, there are lessons woven in for the grown ups.

Relationships, parenthood, the passing of time, avoidance and acceptance of responsibility. That stuff never gets old. Neither does Doctor Who. And in part because it demands a mutual imagination.

The images are limited, by the budget, with occasional exception. So it’s on you to make that gravel quarry or mist clad garden lawn into some alien incursion via period drama.

Frightfully English, yet universal. Like Christmas presents: the joy is in the parcel and the wrapping. With a satsuma scent to match. 😉

  • Inclusive and Educational:

The Doctor can drop into any historical era and onto any planet. He will always find an excitement in discovery; meeting people of all species and era. That’s a great way to educate kids and get them interested in further study of history. Madame De Pompadour! Churchill! Even Hitler and Satan himself get a look in and a kind of philosophical exploration from our favourite Timelord.

There is no didactic moralising or preaching. No definition by role, rank, status or gender/sexual identity. Just a joy in discovery and a quest for utility through time and space.

Remember, our hero is himself an alien aristocrat; exiled from a home world on which he was never truly happy. Plus he had to resit his finals. Twice. 😉

  • Everyone has their Favourites!

Love the Daleks? Think them overused? Ditto Cybermen, Yeti, Autons, Sontarans, Master et al? Fine. Just don’t watch the eps where they crop up. The myth about the show is that it depends on the recurrence of one or two villains. Nonsense. Yes, those continuity nods are essential, as much as the odd reference to a companion or UNIT past. But it’s not the essence of the piece.

Something for Everyone is the magic ingredient. You can dip into one episode or enjoy an entire series arc. Variety is consistency.

For my tuppence worth? Verity Lambert was a visionary in helping the whole thing get started. Terrance Dicks and Phillip Holmes harnessed the versatility of the formula. Chris Bidmead and Eric Saward were great on sci-fi plotting. Andrew Cartmel knew how to weaponise mystery. John Nathan Turner kept the show going in the tough 1980s. Graeme Harper is probably the most consistently effective Director, through all series.

I think Russell T Davies is the best writer and showrunner in defining tone, soul and character. He ‘gets’ the chemistry between the asexual timelord and a beautiful assistant or historical luminary. That alone was integral in the salvation of the show’s marketability when it relaunched in 2005.  Murray Gold’s majestic music always helps, too.

Tom Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Matt (love your mom, btw!) Smith are among my favourite Doctors. Katy Manning, Janet Fielding, Sophie Aldred, Billie Piper and Sophia Myles played my favourite companions/ guest stars.

Best stories, for me?

An Unearthly Child. Tomb of the Cybermen. The Green Death. Planet of Spiders. Genesis of the Daleks. Terror of the Zygons. Pyramids of Mars.  The Seeds of Doom. Robots of Death. Earthshock. The Five Doctors. Caves of Androzani. Remembrance of the Daleks. Ghost Light. Curse of Fenric. That 1996 TV Movie. Parting of the Ways. Christmas Invasion. Girl in the Fireplace. Doomsday. Sound of Drums. Journey’s End. Eleventh Hour. Widow and the Wardrobe. I can even enjoy Dimensions in Time and the unmade Dark Dimension. Time-Crash is also nice. 

Moving to the future (which could be the past!)..BBC MUST reinvent format. Especially as the organisation fights for its own relevant survival.

Go the Star Wars/Trek route. Multiple mini-series on Britbox /other platforms. Thereby allowing viewers to dip in and out of the property’s countless worlds.

You can have a run with a former Doctor; an alternative timeline; Torchwood, anything. Teaming up with / buying out Big Finish must also be an option by now? In any event, I welcome the next iteration.

So There! (Fight me)





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