FIONA LOONEY

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - CONTENTS -

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.

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