ike a lot of people of my generation, I used to hide behind the sofa when Doctor Who came on. Or did I? I have vivid childhood memories of taking refuge between the scorching radiator and our orange couch when the Doctor came to call, but I and my older siblings have an equally clear memory, from roughly the same period, of seeing a disembodied white hand creep around my parents’ bedroom door while we were playing inside. Since logic and science emphatically suggest that couldn’t actually have happened, I have long believed myself to be the happy (if slightly spooked) victim of false-memory syndrome. And since there’s no point in having a syndrome unless you have it in spades, I suspect that most of the people who recall hiding behind the sofa during Doctor Who never did any such thing. On the basis that if you build it, they will come, I think that two generations of BBC continuity announcers asserting that it was time to hide behind the sofa simply planted the memory in the minds of millions of viewers. And if that doesn’t sound like a Doctor Who plot, then I don’t know what does.
What I do know for a fact is that Doctor Who played an integral part in my childhood, and now, to my great delight, it holds a massively important role in my own children’s lives as well. Since the Doctor was rebooted in 2005, our Saturday evenings have been structured around the show, with the obligatory spaghetti bolognese served up either immediately before or straight afterwards depending on scheduling. Once, when it was clear we would have to eat during the show itself, we turned the kitchen table around and all sat on one side of it; a sort of sci-fi Last Supper, while the Doctor du Jour sacrificed himself (again) for humanity.
Of course, if it was on every week, we probably wouldn’t make such a ritualistic song and dance over Doctor Who, but its clever producers scatter it sparingly into the schedules, so that you can go a whole year without seeing a Doctor and then, like last weekend, three or four show up at once. If you didn’t see it, or if you were wedged behind your sofa, then you probably heard about Day Of The Doctor — a brilliantly realised slice of far-fetched fantasy that gave the wonderful John Hurt a chance to be a Doctor for a day, and dragged a couple of Time Lords past back for good measure.
Much of the detail of Day Of The Doctor had been judiciously leaked in advance, but the appearance of Tom Baker was a genuine surprise and prompted slightly misty phone calls between myself and The Brother — my fellow sofa-jumper — afterwards. Anyway, it also prompted a new version of the age-old debate on ‘Who is Your Doctor Who?’. Jon Pertwee was my first Doctor and the one who sent me to the wrong side of the sofa, but it was during Baker’s tenure that I began to appreciate the textures of the performances and the accidental genius of a TV format that relies on replacing its lead actor on a regular basis. Then, of course, there were a few ropey Doctors with even holier budgets before the whole franchise was pushed, wheezing, into touch.
And there it might have stayed and my children might have only heard about Doctor Who through the boring prism of their parents’ memories, if it hadn’t been for the genius of writer Russell T Davies, a fan of the franchise as a child who believed it merited another regeneration. And so Christopher Eccleston (my thirdfavourite Doctor) was cast as a decidedly North of England Doctor and the whole caper kicked off again, but this time with CGI and scripts that have occasionally strayed into genius.
These days I love it because it’s probably the only programme we all watch together. I love it because it keeps The Teenager at the dinner table for an hour longer, and I love it because the time when it was very bad and then not there at all — a period of about 20 years — coincided with my being a young adult with no interest in science fiction and, crucially, no children.
So, finally, to my favourite Doctor: in runnerup position, Tom Baker, for coating my childhood Saturday evenings in edgy magic; and in pole position, David Tennant, for enabling me to create a whole new set of shared memories, based on a man in a telephone box flying around the universe. But that’s just me: the view from behind your sofa is probably quite different.