I’d like to be ten again. I think it was when I watched Dalek in the first series that I first thought that. Watching that final scene where the mutant inside the machine realises the bigness of life and that it would have to stop being a Dalek to cope with it. But it realised that this conflicted with its prime motive in life: to be a soldier to advance the Dalek race. Big stuff done big.
In my first post on this blog I looked back at what Doctor Who had meant for me as a kid. So what’s it mean to me now? What makes it stand out as must see telly?
Its uniqueness is always going to be its biggest selling point. A quirky, unpredictable traveller in a time-space machine that looks like a phone box who never carries weapons and has an unshakable moral backbone faces a limitless diversity of situations and sets out to right wrongs. You can’t beat that for an idea. It’s incongruous, enchanting. It makes you think and it’s entertaining. Gotta love it.
I like my telly to be challenging. You can be challenged by all sorts of telly but Doctor Who does it in a way that embraces and salutes life. It doesn’t dwell on negatives. It takes the challenges of life and reflects them in ways that bring them to the fore in fresh and sparkling ways. The Lazarus Experiment’s discussion of immortality, The Last of the Time Lords on political power and the untapped power of the masses, Girl in the Fireplace, Human Nature and The Family of Blood on unrequited love and self sacrifice. Gridlock as brilliant satire and an exploration of community and, oh all sorts of things (I could watch it over and over), Utopia on the potential of the very wicked (Derek Jacobi’s take on the dim awareness that Yana was more than he thought was amazing), Fathers Day on self sacrifice and parenthood. Ha! Take that Eastenders! Ya boo!
It’s thanks to Russell T Davies, the head honcho of the series, that it’s been so good, been written and made in such a full blown gutsy, hard hitting, clever, provoking and rigorous way. And the production team. What a team. RTD’s bold and un-dentable enthusiasm and self assurance in what he wants to achieve is a huge inspiration. He just knows what he wants to achieve and does it. Each episode of the series shines with this commitment and assurance and it’s a rare thing. Fourteen episodes a year of rigorously written creative television that is really, really different each week is not a mean feat. It’s always fascinating and challenging, whether it’s the Doctor’s insistence on giving any villain a chance to change their ways or the uncomfortable way that he has sometimes dealt with them – it has created splendid debate in my office and, I hope, in the playground too. The depth of life experience too. The horror of and the choices in war, the reality of relying on people, the Doctor and Rose’s friendship – the most platonic relationship ever portrayed. The madness of the Master. Donna’s desire for betterment. The acceptance of the diversity of life. What a smorgasbord.
My personal favourites are each of the stories written by soon-to-be head writer Steven Moffatt. He hits a deeper resonance than RTD, who I think underwrites. (I thought RTD’s Midnight didn’t quite make it as a truly extraordinary exploration of human fear but was close). With the Moff you get the full whack every time, his plots are so intricate and his themes so solid. And his dialogue must make actors melt with delight. Who can forget the exploration of the Doctor’s relationship with Rose in the exchange, Rose: ‘Don’t tell me the Universe implodes or something if the Doctor dances. Go on then, show us show us your moves.’ The Doctor: (flustered) ‘Rose…. I’m trying to resonate concrete.’ And in Blink, the extraordinary reflection on Sally and Billy’s relationship that never was summed up when Old Billy shows up in the present: Billy: ‘It was raining when we met’ Sally: ‘It’s the same rain’. And Miss Evangelista’s final words: ‘I… I …. Ice Cream’. Or was it ‘I scream’? Goodness. Brrr. I wonder how the Moff gets away with such unveiled full-on drama in a family show. Whether referring to sex as dancing or the Doctor’s yearning for a normal, mortal life in the Girl in the Fireplace he breaks all sorts of assumed Who rules and no one complains. The mark of a great writer. Obviously the deeper and more adult stuff goes right over the kids heads and that’s fine. I hope he has the same overall creative vision as RTD cos if so we are in for a few more years yet of this remarkable show reaching the heights that I have almost started to take for granted.
I’d like to be ten again so I could be inspired by all this great telly at the right age. Doctor Who was doing all this in the 1980s but today it’s just better. Telly is produced better these days. There are less restrictions. Doctor Who is so richly written and made with such assurance and shining team work. It speaks of the reality of life in a way that is always realistic, inclusive and optimistic and mostly outstandingly moral. What’s not to like? Darn, the series will be over soon!