Saturday, July 24, 2010

Fish Custard [19]

Bob, what are you songs about?
Some of my songs are about four minutes, some are about five minutes, and some, believe it or not, are about eleven or twelve minutes.

I went for a walk.

I listened to my I-Pod.

I realized that Visions of Joanna is the best six minutes of anything ever recorded by anyone ever. In fact, I am pretty sure that the lyrics of Visions of Joanna contain everything there is to be known. 

I used to think that it was the opening bars of Parsifal, but now I'm pretty sure that it's Visions of Joanna.

And while I was walking and listening I saw what it was that I've been trying, and failing, to say about Doctor Who for the past three months.

Years ago, after Sylvester but before Paul, I read a fanzine article about growing up as a Doctor Who fan in the 1970s. Most of the people in DWAS still wrote about growing up as a Doctor Who fan in the 1960s. This one was written by someone my own age. The writer of the article told a lot of embarrassing stories against himself: about stealing another boys underwear during a swimming lesson because he desperately needed some Doctor Who knickers for his collection; about working the Doctor's dialogue into his own conversation. His fellow pupils thought he was a bit of a nerd, and he got the cane when he tried out a choice Tom Baker one-liner on the headmaster. I forget if there was a point to the article.

It would increase my confidence in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things if some forum contributor could step forward and say "I was that soldier" at this point.

This reminded me of a lad in my class in the top juniors (year six in decimal money) who was a serious Doctor Who fan long before I was, and by serious I mean "a fan of the books more than a fan of the series". He had a slightly posh accent and read real books about real science and was on Isaac Asimov when I was still on Blast Off at Woomera.

I remember being slightly perplexed that even after the One With The Spiders he continued religiously to watch Whodunnit on ITV and even wore a sort of frock coat arrangement to the end of term fancy dress party when everybody else was wearing scarves and hats that didn't fit. Whodunnit was a game show in which "celebrities" watched a dramatized murder-mystery, were allowed to interview the survivors "in character", and then had to guess who the murderer was. Hosting it was Jon Pertwee's job in between the Police Box and the Scarecrow. Watching ITV at all was pretty daring in those days.

But, of course, it made perfect sense. My friend wasn't a Doctor Who fan: he was a Third Doctor fan; a Jon Pertwee fan. He liked to spend hours pottering around with his chemistry set, just like Doctor Who liked to potter for endless hours in the TARDIS. To the extent that eleven-year-olds have mannerisms he patterned his mannerisms on Jon Pertwee's. Fortunately for him, the Third Doctor was rather polite and courteous and would never have said "You're a classic example of the inverse relationship between size of mouth and size of brain" to the headmaster.

Bob Dylan fans talk a lot of rubbish. There are 1960s interviews where people ask him what his songs mean, and he says, "Huh, hmm, I can't remember". The daftest are the Dylanologists who think there's a consistent code behind the lyrics, that the one-eye midget shouting the word "Now!" is the same character as the one-eyed undertaker who blew a futile horn, and if only Bob could be persuaded to declare unto them this parable they would thereby know all parables. I myself have been tempted to wonder if "Joanna" is "Marijuana". But anyone who thinks that a code-book, a cypher, a "turn to page 54 for solution" could elucidate see the primitive wall flowers freeze while the jelly-faced women all sneeze and the one with moustache says "Jeeze! I can't find my knees!" will never, ever know what this poem, or any poem means: because they don't understand what poetry is.

And that's what I've been trying to say about Doctor Who.

You remember when John Byrne was about twelve months into his run on the Fantastic Four, after he'd worked out what he was doing, but before he got too up himself – about the time he did an issue that was half Galactus and half Doctor Doom the F.F themselves weren't in? You'd been reading the Fantastic Four for years because it sort of reminded you of the Fantastic Four and suddenly, this new guy was writing it and drawing it and you weren't so much reading it as swimming in it?

That's what I've been trying to say about Doctor Who.

The Tenth Doctor was dramatic and moody and funny, particularly when he went off on one; and the Ninth Doctor was like a tough working man with the Doctor hidden inside him; and the Seventh Doctor was like a jester carrying the whole universe on his shoulders; and the Sixth Doctor was scary and nasty and mad and fascinating; and the Fifth Doctor was played by Peter Davison. And 
I liked watching all of them, even Sylvester.

And that's what's different. Since 1981 there have been a long succession of Doctors who I really, really liked to watch. Matt Smith is the first Doctor since Tom Baker who I have wanted to be.

Christopher Robin came down the forest to the bridge, feeling all sunny and careless, and just as if twice nineteen didn't matter a bit, as it didn't on such a happy afternoon, and he thought that if he stood on the bottom rail of the bridge, and leant over, and watched the river slipping slowly away beneath him, then he would suddenly know everything that there was to be known, and he would be able to tell Pooh, who wasn't quite sure about some of it.

If you have enjoyed this essay, please consider buying a copy of The Viewers Tale or Fish Custard which collects all my writings about Doctor Who to date.

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