Monday, April 01, 2013

Who Remembered Hills (1)

There is a very old joke which says that if you ask three different Christians a sensible question about their faith, you will receive four different answers.

The joke is also told about Jews and Psychiatrists.

I am about to claim that I have spotted three different ways in which people write about Doctor Who.

It would be awfully pretentious to describe them as "schools of criticism"; so instead I shall say that they represent three possible ways of enjoying the programme.

The first way, which should and can be ignored, is to regard Doctor Who as a kind of loyalty pledge. Last week's was the greatest Doctor Who episode of all time; in fact, it was the greatest thing ever to appear on TV -- very probably the single greatest piece of drama since man invented the alphabet. And next week's will be even better. If you say differently you are not a true fan. At the very least you should refrain from saying that David Tennant was incredibly irritating when non-fans might be listening, in the same way that it's obvious evangelistic common sense not to debate the precise job of the Virgin Mary or the finer points of the Holy Communion while there are infidels in the room.

This is the voice of the mercifully defunct Doctor Who Confidential, and, to a great extent, of Doctor Who Monthly. It naturally includes a few people who are working on the series, and an awful lot of people who think they ought to be. 

I don't blame them at all. They have their reward. They get to feel that they are part of an in-group; the gnostics, the knowing-ones who are riding the crest of the zeitgeist like the young folks, not stuck in the past like the fogies who are frankly more excited about the animated reconstruction of Reign of Terror than Season 7b. And it is probably perfectly true that Doctor Who fans appearing on Points of View and saying that Time and the Rani was an embarrassment hastened the cancellation of the original show.

But I have never particularly wanted to be on the crest of anything. What I have wanted, ever since I was buying fanzines which referred to Tom Baker as the New Doctor, is to be one of those wise old fans who has seen every episode of Dalek Masterplan and knows what is wrong with every episode of Season Fourteen (OH-WHAT-HAS-HAPPENED-TO-THE-MAGIC-OF-DOCTOR-WHO). If I had found the proverbial bottle containing the proverbial genius, my proverbial wish would have been to have been born exactly ten years earlier than I actually was. Oh, to have seen Unearthly Child on the day it was first transmitted! To have lived through Dalekmania! To have been a teenager in the UNIT era! 

Doctor Who began in 1963: which was rather too late for me. [*]

Had the proverbial granted my wish, I would also have been exactly the right age for the Marvel Age of Comics although on exactly the wrong continent to have enjoyed it; have had an eight year window to write to C.S Lewis; and a seventeen year window to meet J.R.R Tolkien. I would have been exactly the right age for Sgt. Pepper and exactly the wrong age for Star Wars. I wouldn't have had to do National Service, but I would have had to sit the Eleven Plus, had a much smaller chance of going to University and a much greater risk of getting the cane at school. I'm sorry; what was the question again?

If you make Doctor Who a shibboleth in this way, you will find that you are left with very little head-space in which to actually enjoy it. But that kind of fandom never was very much about enjoying the programme. It was always about being the biggest fish in the pub; having your balsa-wood Daleks feted in the art-room; having that reel-to-reel tape that no-one else had, a complete set of Annuals and the Dalek Outer Space Book. (I still don't have the Dalek Outer Space Book.) If some keen fourteen year old had asked one of those Wise Old Fans "Do you actually like Doctor Who?" he would have got the same reaction as if he had asked the Vicar if he actually believed in God.

Hush, child. That's not the sort of question you are supposed to ask.

(*) You've done that one before. -Ed


1 comment:

Andrew Hickey said...

I've been dreading this since you mentioned on Twitter that my own reviewing style would come under discussion here...
Still also looking forward to reading what you have to say, though.