He’s back (Who’s back?)

[ABC Doctor Who promo]
He’s back…

Is Doctor Who just for kids? It’s something I vehemently denied in my teenage years, when I was an avid viewer. It seemed far too cool to be a kids’ show. But with the venerable time lord about to return to our screens next Monday, and my own kids utterly hooked on the show, it’s worth considering again.

In retrospect it appears that from the very start, the concept of a time traveller and his granddaughter (note: link to young audience) roaming time and space with her two school teachers, was aimed squarely at the family entertainment market. And in fact it’s worth tuning in for thevery first story, as it launches many of the ideas which were to run for the 27 years the series ran on TV. Not to mention why the show has its title, but the main character is not actually called "Doctor Who".

Initially the storylines varied between the historical (semi-educational, the producers hoped) and the sci-fi (monsters!) and eventually the monsters eased the historians out. The Daleks, as featured in thesecond ever story, not only became a household name, but made it intomost dictionaries.

With the monsters (and even without), came excitement, adventure and violence. Life-threatening violence and death, invariably. What passed for family entertainment in the 60s and 70s might not be accepted today, in this politically correct non-violent growing environment our children now enjoy. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing.

But while I sat plonked in front of the telly a couple of decades ago taking it all in, and apparently with no ill effects (insert involuntary twitch here), I am hesitant to let my children watch stories like "Genesis Of The Daleks", a 1975 story featuring the gritty reality of trench warfare (without the blood, but certainly plenty of killing), nuclear war, and themes of racial purity and genocide, and Nazi allusions. I’m not about to take aMary Whitehouse stance, but I’m not sure my five year old is ready for that.

Indeed, over the years the scripts were littered with complex concepts, many of which would have gone right over some kids’ heads. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Looking back now, the writing seems just as multi-layered as The Simpsons or The Goodies, but deeper. "Castrovalva" was named after anEscher painting, and had our heroes facing an Escher-like spatial anomaly. "Planet of the Spiders" contained many (apparently non-superficial) references to Buddhism. "Remembrance Of The Daleks" again looked at issues of race. "The Happiness Patrol" was one story I dismissed as trivial pap when I watched it in my teens. I mean, any story featuring a place called The Kandy Kitchen has to be suspect. But reading
reviews
of it more recently it dawns on me that it was a lot deeper than it appeared at the time, and obviously flew right over my head.

Even purely as entertainment, some episodes contained enough drama to keep an adult on the edge of their seat. The mysterious deaths of the geologists in the first episode of "Earthshock" kept me riveted when I watched it again recently, and the action of the troopers subsequently engaging their enemy was worthy of any adult sci-fi drama. "The Deadly Assassin" introduced an amazing sci-fi device called The Matrix – a virtual-reality where you can get hurt. It’s now a theme adopted, even down to the name, for one of the biggest movie franchises in years.

So was Doctor Who just for kids? No, not just. Kids may have been the original target audience, but it grew as its audience grew. It was multilayered, with concepts (and skimpy costumes – I reckon women wouldn’t really wear mini-skirts and high heels to explore alien planets) to keep the adults interested, and googly-eyed monsters to keep the kids hooked too. As one reviewer put it, it was entertainment for all ages, and it worked because although it was initially targeted at kids, it never talked down to anybody.

The show, alas, eventually got axed, but remains in our memories. As Julia Sawalha’s character said in the charity spoof "The Curse Of Fatal Death":

"He was never cruel and never cowardly, and it will never be safe to be scared again."

I still love it, and I’m ready to be hooked again.

What’s your favourite Doctor Who memory?

If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the RSS feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader.

One thought on “He’s back (Who’s back?)

  1. So it’s worth a look then, eh?

    Dr Who was banned in our house by my mother as too scary for kids when we were growing up, consequently I don’t have a favourite moment.

    It assumed mythically scary status in my own mind so that even now the sound of the theme music still gives me a shiver.

    But maybe it’s time, in my more mature years, to face my demons and watch some more TV!

    missmarita — 11/09/03 09:23

    I was an absolute junkie from age 5 through 15 or 16. It got to the point where I got irritated with writers’ inconsistencies (such as over the Doctors’ age).

    However, the most fun I had in years was a 22nd birthday present of the “Doctor Who Discontinuity Guide” – which pointed out the various flaws in individual shows, as well as “macro” inconsistencies in the Doctor Who mythos – and then attempted to come up with theories to reconcile them!

    Yes, the show did have some big ideas – but we should not forget that it also had some shockingly silly ones, as well as the odd monster with a hide that looked like latex cast in baking molds, dodgy special effects and endless alien planets that all looked like the gravel pit owned by the BBC outside London.

    But those “defects” are, on adult viewing, an essential part of the charm.

    On “The Happiness Patrol” – I always thought Sylvester McCoy was under-rated as a Doctor.

    Doug — 11/09/03 11:20

    I am soooo cheesed off. My TV and video will be in a removalists van at 6pm this monday :’(

    Favourite memories?

    Jo Grant and the Doctor punting through maggots in green toxic waste.

    Thee face falling off the fake Sarah-Jane Smith to reveal rolling robot eyes. (it scared me at the time)

    Leela in Victorian London being taught polite manners:
    Victorian gent (on tea) :They will ask you ‘one lump or two’. The answer is ‘one’
    Leela: What if I want two?
    Gent: One lump for ladies

    Tegan bursting into the control room with “I demand to see the captain of this craft”

    Silence as the credits rolled after Adric sacrificed his life

    Worst memory? Seeing the face of the actor through the tacky cellophane cover of a Sylvester McCoy robot monster.

    I feel like an old man with his memories. sigh

    ps. My dad remembers as a teenager(?) going to the *pictures* every saturday to see the Daleks. That’s how they got the best stuff in the Fiji bush way back when.

    LesC — 12/09/03 10:51

    Oh yeah. Some great cliffhangers I remember:

    - the Sarah Jane android falling over and its face falling off (as Les mentioned)

    - the real Sarah Jane falling from a gantry in the Kaled (or was it the Thals’?) city

    - the 3rd doctor on the alternative Earth at the Inferno project, facing the lava as it flows towards him

    - Peri and the 5th doctor, apparently executed on Androzani

    Lamest cliffhanger:

    - 7th Doctor manages to climb over a ledge and ends up hanging by his umbrella

    But the cliffhanger that really had me surprised and wondering what would happen next:

    - A Dalek floats up the stairs, after the 7th Doctor, who is facing a locked door at the top.

    Daniel — 12/09/03 13:32

    PS. Doug, the Discontinuity Guide material is all up on the BBC’s web site. Makes for some very amusing reading.

    Daniel — 12/09/03 13:39

    Watched it from episode 1 in the sixties. Top of The Pops started round about the same time. And Z cars. (And they say there wasn’t a golden age…)

    Peter — 13/09/03 18:36

    I actually came to the good Doctor via the books. 6.30pm was dinner time in the Malloy household which meant no television, no matter how much I pleaded/sulked/grumped/begged. What I made up for in viewing I made up for in reading – at one stage I owned every Dr Who book in the Target range and was on first name basis with the owner of Shepparton’s Angus and Robertson (Hi David). They would automatically put away any new releases so I’d just walk in ask if there was anything under the counter for me. This is why it will be my first time watching many of the first three Doctors adventures.

    As for my favourite Dr Who memory – it would be the hot summers day a large envelope arrived in the mail. It was from the BBC and was a reply to a long winded letter I had written them asking for, basically, everything they had on Dr Who. Some poor work experience person in London probably spent half a morning mimeogrpahing yellow and pink paper before setting off for the mail room. Whoever you are anonymous person, thankyou – you made a young boy’s year.

    Tony — 13/09/03 21:40

    I liked “Trial of a Time Lord” the best. I’ve never seen most of the older pre-Tom Baker episodes. Colin was my fave Doctor.

    My fave memory was when I pledged some of my allowance at 12 years old to my local PBS station so I could get a Doctor Who book. The book had a cut-out model of the Tardis. I loved that little model.

    Jennifer — 15/09/03 02:06

    Oh there are NEW EPISODES coming out soon. March 2005.

    Fingers Crossed.

    Shaido — 08/02/05 05:45

Comments are closed.