Time Lord without peer

Written by Tom Harris MP on 27 November 2013 in Culture
Back in 1963, Dr Who first appeared on our TV screens. Eleven incarnations of the time lord later, and the BBC will mark the show’s extraordinary longevity by screening a 50th anniversary special this month. Labour MP Tom Harris explains his on-going love affair with the programme

I have the same attitude to football that most voters have towards politics: I become slightly more interested in it every four years or so, but in between World Cups, my eyes tend to glaze over.

Yet being interested in kickball – and being seen to be interested in it by tweeting all day long each Saturday – seems these days to be how MPs attempt to convince the public that they’re just ordinary people after all.

But whereas publicly cheering on your favourite team is seen as an entirely acceptable way to spend your spare time, being a science fiction fan is seen as, well, a bit childish, really. Even more so if your geek obsession of choice happens to be the longest-running science fiction TV show in the world, Doctor Who.

The distinction between the two hobbies goes way back. While other boys were running around playing fields shouting at each other and practising their spitting and swearing techniques, I would be huddled over the latest novelisation of a Patrick Troughton TV adventure involving mechanical Yeti. As classmates swapped Panini stickers featuring the faces of men of whom I had genuinely never heard, and who played for teams named after towns I didn’t even know existed, I would be discussing the finer plot points of the latest Tom Baker adventure, perhaps even questioning whether the Key to Time should have provided the story arc for an entire season…

And then the boys swapping football cards – you know, the ones who actually had girlfriends and stuff – would look over at us. And sneer.

The sneering still happens. I’m regularly asked why I’m still a Doctor Who fan (or ‘Whovian’. Seriously) after 49 years and nine months. And to be honest, it’s still a bit of a mystery to me. My first ever TV memory is of a black and white scene in which a monster (later identified as an Ice Warrior) pursued a terrified scientist along a corridor. However terrified he was, it was nothing compared to my own consternation. A year later, the first adventure I ever watched from start to finish, Jon Pertwee’s debut in the title role, confirmed me as an addict.

I mean, what’s not to love? A hero who stands up for the underdog every time, who always triumphs over evil and who never uses a weapon in doing so. I mean, come on!

The key was scariness. Kids love to be scared. Whether it’s having your dad jump out from behind a door and shouting “Boo!” at you (ask my kids) or the dumbstruck horror at seeing a shop window dummy come to life, smash through the glass and start shooting indiscriminately into the crowd, there is a profound joy in being scared in the safety and comfort of your own home.

It’s why later seasons of the so-called “classic” (aka “cheap”) Doctor Who failed and led to cancellation: kids weren’t scared by it any more, they were just embarrassed by it. And it’s why the relaunched programme has been such a hit. I watch my own boys hiding behind cushions as Matt Smith battles sinister statues of angels and suddenly, finally, after all these years, I’m validated. Okay, so I don’t know where “Everton” is, or why anyone would want to dance in the streets of Raith. But I know what the Seal of Rassilon is and God damn it, I’ll make sure future generations of Harrises do too!

Happy 50th birthday, Doctor. Here’s to 50 more!

Behind The Sofa proceeds go to Alzheimer’s Research UK

Tags: Issue 64

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