How Doctor Who Saved My Summer Holiday
It’s the summer of belief. The summer of hope.
No, thanks. I can’t believe in the born-again left – but then I don’t believe in much. I stopped believing in God a long time ago. Political solutions are only ever partial, temporary, and if they try to be final they become dangerous. The worst problems in the world are caused by people who think they have all the answers.
But I do believe in one thing. I believe in the Doctor.
If going on a pilgrimage is a sign of true belief, I really must be a Dr Who zealot. This summer, for my holiday, I went to Cardiff Bay in driving, lashing rain to visit the Dr Who Experience. Was it worth it?
Do Zygons change their shape?
I mean, they actually have the original Bessie, the third Doctor’s bright yellow vintage car. The souped-up roadster he drove in clashes with the original Master, Roger Delgado, and encounters with giant maggots on Welsh slagheaps.The new season … the current Doctor Who (Peter Capaldi) and assistant Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) Photograph: David Venni/BBC
I have been a Dr Who nerd since I was about eight. It was always an obsession. I started watching just at the end of John Pertwee’s reign. “My” Doctor was the great Tom Baker. But I was fascinated by the full story of the Time Lord and the only way to know more of that, in a pre-video world, was by reading the excellent Target novelisations that were published in the 1970s. Some of my most intense Dr Who experiences involved reading, not watching. When I have since watched DVDs or downloads of classic adventures such as The Green Death, it’s strange to compare the actual programme with my own visualisations of the books.
But then disappointment is built into Dr Who fandom. It can never be quite as great as your dream of it – for there is a whole imaginative world with a history going back to 1963 (or indeed, the early days of the universe) that new episodes have to live up to.
For me, the Master was always as important as the Doctor in this imaginary universe. Good must fight evil. The Master is truly satanic and has even summoned demons or at least the Daemons. The first Dr Who serial I ever saw featured Roger Delgado collaborating with an ancient reptile civilisation and ever since, I’ve wanted the Master to be in every episode of Dr Who.
Yes, it’s unhealthy, but luckily the current writers of Dr Who are as obsessed as I am. They too seem concerned with recreating the programme’s history, in creative, playful ways that don’t turn it into some self-reverent relic. The reincarnation of the Master as Missy is the best reinvention of the Doctor’s mortal enemy since Delgado’s death. It looks like Michelle Gomez’s evil Mary Poppins figure will have a satisfyingly significant presence in the new series that starts in September.
Like the architecture of its history echoing down the decades, exhibitions are another way Dr Who invites you into its world. In Cardiff, you can walk about inside David Tennant’s Tardis and look Weeping Angels in the eye. Don’t blink.
When the Daleks come to life in the “live” part of the Experience, spines tingle. Why is this fiction such an endless and satisfying delight? Wandering among its props is engrossing and somehow very moving.
That is because the Doctor is a hero for a world without heroes. Not a killer or a zealot but a true humanist, which is all the more impressive, given that he’s an alien.