Doctor Who – a lifebelt to the odd child

(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.

I am back on tour in 2018 – Oslo next, then 40 dates in UK, starting at Chipping Norton, ending at Soho Theatre, Aberdeen, Exeter, Hove, Halifax and all in between. details HERE


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16 Responses to Doctor Who – a lifebelt to the odd child

  1. Nicole W says:

    I was there yesterday with my 7 year old goddaughter, who was just delighted by everything, though her favourite part was meeting Peter Capaldi and getting to call him Basil. He, being the gent that he is, pretended that he hadn’t heard it many times before that day and laughed merrily. Her only disappointment of the day was not getting hold of a paddle during the Q&A to ask whether Timelords sweat (do they, I have no idea…). Bless her confidence, I would have been running away from that paddle as fast as I could at her age!

    We both dressed up. I as Rose, she as the 12th Doctor, and we both loved every second of it. And at one point I was in a lift with a few chaps with clipboards who were discussing between them whether you were coming today or yesterday, and I thought: ‘Ah, he must be taking Archie’. It sounds like you had a lovely time too!

    • robinince says:

      I wonder who that was. I wasn’t on a freebie or anything like that.
      NOW, how would having two hearts affect sweating?

      • Nicole W says:

        One of them was the chap doing the cast interviews on stage, Toby? I assume the rest were production staff. Just a funny coincidence.

        And yes, I thought it was a surprisingly interesting question! They should only get kids up to ask the questions at these things.

  2. Gill Kiernan says:

    I was at the festival yesterday and had pretty much the same discussion in one of the photo queues.
    I’ve met the majority of my long term friends through a mutual love of Dr Who. I was one of those kids that were bullied and teased at school when word got round that I watched it and remember how initially reticent other kids were to admit to watching it too. Those other kids are my oldest and best friends and we’d never of had that mutual support were it not for Who.
    I went to the festival on my own but was never short of company. In every queue for photos or exhibitions I always got talking to someone. One of the security staff was amazed that me and the woman in front didn’t know each other we were chatting and laughing together so much. We both came up with the same explanation to her ” we were the geeks that got bullied at school for watching Who when it wasn’t cool. We stick together. These are my people”.
    On the Meet The Cast panel Michelle Gomez commented that “I’ve never been bathed in such warmth and love” as she has since playing Missy. It came as no surprise to us.
    For me one of the stand out moments was seeing a 5yr old boy literally jumping up and down with joy and excitement and shouting with glee that he was meeting The Doctor when getting his photo with Peter Capaldi. Truly priceless.

  3. Gill Kiernan says:

    I was at the festival on Saturday and had pretty much the same discussion in one of the photo queues.
    I watched and loved Dr Who for as long as I can remember and the majority of my long term friends have been made through a mutual love of Dr Who. I was one of the geeky kids that was bullied and teased at High School when people found out I watched it and I can still remember the initial reticence of two fellow pupils to admit to me that they were fans too. Bitter experience had taught them to be wary. After their initial hesitation these two guys became my oldest and closet friends. We’d never of had the love and support we’ve shared over the years had it not been for Dr Who.
    I went to the festival on my own but never felt alone for a minute. In every queue or seating area I always got talking to fellow fans. One of the convention staff was amazed that me and the woman in front of me in the photo queue didn’t know each other as we’d been chatting and laughing together so much. We both gave her the same answer “we grew up being bullied for watching Dr Who. We stick together. These are my people”. On the Meet the Cast panel Michelle Gomez commented that she’d “never experienced such warmth and love” from fans as when she took on the role of Missy.
    For me one of the best moments was seeing a 5yr old boy literally jumping up and down and shouting with excitement on getting to have his photo taken with Peter Capaldi. The look on his face was priceless and took me back to those Saturday evenings desperate for my parents to get us back home from shopping in time for Tom Baker’s latest episode. That alone was worth the price of the ticket.

  4. David Brain says:

    The notion that it is those of us who choose not to change ourselves in order to fit in with what other people would prefer us to be that are, in fact, the “normal” people (and that it is those who pretend to be something other than they are that are “strange”) has felt increasingly convincing to me over the last few years.
    That’s why I find the Doctor is such a great role-model: because he never changes to suit others, but he always changes to suit himself.

    • Nicole W says:

      Couldn’t agree more! My goddaughter has just moved towns and to a new school, and she says that none of the children there watch Doctor Who*, apart from one boy, who is now her new best friend. I bought her a graphic novel while we were at the festival and she couldn’t wait to share it with him.
      What struck me though is that she didn’t seem at all bothered about all the other kids, she’d found the one she has an affinity with and that’s fine by her.

      * the only school that had space for her is an overtly religious one, which she is not at all. It’s the sort of school where until recently (it only changed after protests from her mother) they didn’t even allow Roald Dahl’s ‘The Witches’ in school, because according to them it promotes witchcraft! I imagine Doctor Who is probably frowned upon by many parents for similar reasons. The sooner we can get her a place at a normal school, the better, quite frankly…

  5. Melissa says:

    Thank you for this post. Tom Baker was/is my Doctor, and Hammer my House of choice. Tough going for an odd girl then (before Nerd- and Vampire-chic). Now I am 50, listening to you, and reading you, here in the States. Inspired to to take a MOOC on the Higgs Boson and now one on Gravity and the Big Bang. Introducing my daughter to the 10th Doctor (and some of the 4th) and the first Star Wars (now the IV) and “Cat People” (’42) and “The Tingler” (she is not quite ready for the color of Hammer’s blood). It will be less tough for her (post Manic Pixie and adorkable, hopefully). Thank you for writing out loud. I know there are lots of us, but you say it the way I hear it in my head — only better. A lifebelt indeed.

  6. RachelHamiltonBooks says:

    Lovely post. Thank you. My son (11) and I have been (w)hoovering up all the new episodes over the last couple of months, speeding through Eccleston (my favourite), Tenant, Smith (his favourite) and Capaldi and we are huge fans. I agree about the lifebelt. It offered one to me as a child and gives the option of one to him (more weird but less worried about it than I was!).

  7. Thanks for an excellent article on the Who Festival. I agree with everything you said. Tom Baker is my Doctor too. His persona captivated my childhood imagination, as did Robert Hardy’s in “All Creatures Great and Small” and I think it’s no surprise that I’ve ended up as a mercurial fellow in his mid-40s, channelling a prickly mash-up of Tom Baker and Robert Hardy. The modern Doctors have been superb and Peter Capaldi is terrific in the role, in my humble opinion. I heard a rumour, probably wildly inaccurate, that it was Capaldi who described the BBC3 programme as being like “The Word” meets “Pebble Mill at One”! My old school pals, who pulled my leg about the dodginess of BBC special effects during the Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy years, tell me that they’ve gone off the show since Capaldi started playing the part and wish that Matt Smith was still there. I suspect they are trying too hard to fit in with the mob 😉

  8. Phil says:

    I took my 13 year old daughter along on Sunday, we both really enjoyed it.

    The writers and Mark Gatiss were fascinating, even if Stephen Moffat is a bit of a grump.

    I think the world would be a better place if everyone was a fan of Doctor Who .

  9. Lindsay says:

    Great piece. We were there on Friday with our 3 year old who is a mega DW fan after stumbling across the episode with the Orient Express just after his second birthday (he was obsessed with trains prior to finding Doctor Who!). We’ve wrestled with ourselves many times on the rights and wrongs of letting him watch it but it’s been brilliant for him. He had speech delay, at the time of finding Doctor Who he had no words and very little sounds, he could ‘sing’ the theme tune before he could talk (albetit badly, an X Factor potential he isn’t!) and a lot of his first words were DW related. He has every series from the 9th Doctor onwards on DVD plus various classic episodes on DVD and knows exactly which episodes on are on disc, he can identify an episode from the first few seconds and given half a chance would watch Doctor Who day and night. He spends hours reenacting scenes and creating new ones, it’s opened up a creative side to him that is amazing. At nursery the other children now call him “Doctor”, they are Daleks apparently, I bet the other parents just love us! He is wearing his 12th Doctor outfit today for the 4th day in a row – we can’t leave the house with sonic screwdrivers, sonic glasses and his phone – so that he can call Clara… It’s madness, just like the reaction he got from so many lovely people on Friday – taking his photo and stopping to talk to him. I’d never heard of ‘cosplay’ before, he was dressed up for the photo opp, but after being approached and asked to enter him into the competition he won best dressed under 10 – he is very impressed! Everybody from Capaldi and his assistant, to staff at the event and fellow fans were so wonderful with him, in particular the team on the Real SFX stand. We’ve never been to any kind of ‘fan event’ before but can’t wait for the next one.

  10. Iona says:

    Yes! I couldn’t agree with this article more! I started watching Doctor Who when I was about seven. It didn’t take me long after that to begin counting down the days until My first episode was David Tennant’s debut, where a thermos of tea saves the day (of course)
    I always loved the way Doctor Who managed to connect with these odd children without ever fostering bitterness. Because, let’s face it, it’s very easy to feel a bit hateful to the world when you’re a bit lonely you feel like you’re living in a world where, while most people are on the dancefloor, you seem to be perpetually stuck in the awkward kitchen. In Doctor Who it’s fine to be weird -in fact it often saves the day- but it’s never okay to be hateful.
    I also love the ethical questions the show routinely brings up, but my love for that spans at least three paragraphs so I’m going to stop writing now.

  11. Mark Tabone says:

    How odd. As an adult in my mid fifties you crystallised so many unvoiced incohate thoughts and feelings with this article. Thank you. I follow you in a few podcasts and your twitter feed. I often glimpse the inner man peaking out from behind the facade. A truly warm and engaging man of depth despite all the shallowness that goes on around us. Thanks for sharing with your appreciative audience.

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