(written on train from Doctor Who Festival, apologies for any errors)
Doctor Who still fulfills its most vital role, it gives succour to those that have been deemed weird.
The schoolyard oddball finds security in Saturday night eccentricity.
I have spent Sunday in a voluminous conference hall, surrounded by amateur Silurians, Colin Baker frock coats, tinfoil K-9 headed humans, and heated conversations about social media contretemps concerning the possible holes in scientific logic in episode three, series 4 (or similar). Fez sales in the UK have clearly skyrocketed of late.
I wasn’t there for myself, I was merely accompanying my seven year old, a celebration of his first full year of Who watching. There was an embargo until he was sixish. Peter Capaldi is his Tom Baker (whenever he sees a doll or poster or woollen that reflects Tom Baker, he’ll say, “look dad, it’s your doctor”.). Easy accessibility due to Netflix also means that Matt Smith is his Doctor too. I delight in Smith’s boffinish performance, a hairsbreadth from appearing to be the real doctor, Ben Goldacre.
I learned a delightful word this weekend, anticippointment. This was coined to cover the reaction of the die hard Whovians. Those who eagerly wait for each new story so they can delight in its disappointments and spend the rest of Sunday night destroying the thing they loved once again.
I watch Doctor Who when my son does, so that is quite a lot nowadays. It is certainly the most I have seen it since 1981. I have no critical claws. He loves it. I like him loving it. We often have conversations about what it all meant afterwards. This series has had at least three good, proper wide-eyed, jump moments. There isn’t much room to hide behind the sofa, so we just have a cushion to be placed over one non-peeking eye if necessary.
I was reminded of what Doctor Who meant to me as I wondered around the halls and stared out an eyeless rubber Davros. I met a few monsters, some only half dressed to grotesque, and they seemed delighted and delightful as the latex swamped their limbs.
Michelle Gomez cameoed on the production village stage, sneaking through the curtains and invisible for a second or so before the sense of the audience suddenly awoke and thought, “blimey, it’s Missy”. There was an energy at each stall and exhibit, and it didn’t just seem to be the energy of commerce. There was no trampling for photo opportunities around the LEGO, people waited patiently without the aid of a rope or queue or guide. There was respect for each other, for each person knew, they were gathered by a common love of Doctor Who.
Doctor Who is mainstream, yet it is still very special for the outside, child or adult.
Star Wars is for jocks, Doctor Who is for those with ink on their fingers and nebulae on their mind.
When I was boxed and transported to a boarding school, I thought it would be fine as long as one or two other boys were fans of Tom Baker and liked comic book adaptations of Hammer horror films.
But there were none (later, I would find one, and we remain friends to this day).
The importance of the worlds and ideas Doctor Who continues to take people into remains. Doctor Who still knits a thick security blanket of imagined possibilities.
These include the possibilities of who you might one day be allowed to be and that the world you are in, where you may currently be the outsider or oddball, is not the only place.
At the Doctor Who festival, the writers panel of Steven Moffat, Toby Whithouse and Jamie Mathieson spoke of the necessity of saying out aloud ideas that may seem too preposterous or silly, even for Doctor Who. Many live a life where you try to put your oddest thoughts to the back of your mind, here is a place where you can release your oddest thoughts and even be celebrated for them.
This is why so many of my generation of peculiar boys and girls adored horror stories and films. We were brought up on creatures and situations beyond our reality, not just madmen bludgeoning. A writer and performer like Mark Gatiss, a very entertaining guest on the first monster panel of the day, offers a role model to many. Don’t just sulk or hide, be creative. Rejection by the mob at an early age can be turned into a career advantage.
The Doctor is not just literally other-worldly, he is one of the great eccentric characters, a gregarious loner. He is an encouragement to everyone who is left behind as the pack howl and run.
Just as in the seventies, I am still told of children who find Doctor Who gives them armour. If the kids who bully don’t understand Doctor Who, then are they worth being bothered about. Who would want to change themselves to fit in with those no marks?
Today, I remembered what I got from Doctor Who and why I would jump up and down with glee when the theme tune began. Why time never traveled faster than those 25 minutes. Why I wasted my pocket money on not one, but two copies of Doctor Who weekly every week. And how this magazine introduced me to Alan Moore and Steve Moore and all those fecund minds. Sure, I liked The Professionals too, but I never had a scrapbook of that. I didn’t covere my blank pieces of paper with car chases and African dictators. I never made useless sound effects tapes of tyres squealing in the way I made awful recordings that attempted to sound like eye sucking aliens.
Doctor Who, a lifebelt to the odd child for 52 years.
Thank you to Toby Hadoke, who introduced me to a plethora of fine monsters in the hotel bar on Saturday night and then helmed the actors’ panel with aplomb.
Josie Long and I return with our Shambles podcast, latest episode with Mark Gatiss is HERE (plus episodes w/ Stewart Lee, Sara Pascoe, Salena Godden, Chris Hadfield and on and on)