Saturday, 16 June 2012

Living with Dr Who

In our house we have a dalek on top of one of the bookshelves in the living room.  A medium size remote control dalek that has lost its forward motion, and can go only rather confusedly side ways.  But it rarely comes off the shelf; we spend a lot of time pointing at it, for Fluffhead, and saying: ‘What’s that?  What’s that?  What’s its name?  What’s it called?’  This is in an attempt to engage Fluffhead into the realm of the Speaker, rather than the incoherent occasionally specific Babbler.  (He’s a bit late in developing talking; though he understands everything.)  I have a smaller dalek on my windowsill of my book room.  It’s not mine, its Stanley’s (as is the other one), and I keep it forever next to a stuffed toy unicorn that is slightly larger.  To me, this originally random, and now left there deliberately placing, indicates the power in my mind of dreams over science and technology. Though I begin to see this is a false dichotomy.

We have all the Doctor Who’s ever released on DVD, and all the ones that weren’t or haven’t been yet, through one means or other.  We have a drive on the main computer called Dr Who, as it contains all the documentaries, makings of and various other bits and audiovisual pieces that are associated with the programme.  We have rare copies of the Radio Times from ages ago, in plastic covers, with Jon Pertwee velvetly gesturing, having just got out of Bessie. 

I used to think all this was rather cute.  Like Stanley’s other major thing he does in his spare time, collecting and building models (I don’t want to say obsession, as he thinks of loads of other things; yet its way more than a hobby), it’s a thing that takes up a lot of space and time (there’s a Tardis joke there somewhere), but didn’t really concern me.  It was one of those…things your partner does, that you don’t mind, but aren’t really involved in.

Stanley used to write for the old style Marvel Dr Who magazine in the old era (way before the new fangle-isation of the latest and ever younger growing twelve year old Doctors we have now), so not only does he have all the stuff, he knows loads of things about it.  He can nerdily correct anyone about any detail.  Whilst saying to me, as an aside, that he isn’t being nerdy, because he doesn’t subscribe to all that new stuff, specially all that stuff about Bernice, and the endless attempting, by fanboys, to correct continuity problems from the past, or replay and redo over incidents they didn’t like, from their own understanding of them.  To make it all better, and bigger.  He knows it for what it is, he says: A Programme He Likes.  That’s all.  Not a world, not a real universe, not a living breathing thing (which he seems to think you could be forgiven for imagining some of these other fanpersons behave as though it is).

Again, not really of any concern to me, really, I thought.  An interesting distinction, I thought.  I see what you mean.  I suggested, idly, one day a few years ago, that we have a Dr Who marathon (we are a couple of marathonhood when it comes to viewing anything; our twin nerds – and I freely admit Happy Nerd-dom about anything I like – sit peacefully entwined together watching many a boxset in our free time)[1].  This all went well through the early days of William Hartnell.  I used to get a bit annoyed with the bouffant haired whatshername being all teachery and posh.  But I loved the ‘Quite so!’-ness of the whole enterprise at this stage, it being one of my favourite expressions anyway. However, I had no patience with the BBC’s treatment of Patrick Troughton’s era, there being so few un-broken stories remaining to see.  I got all itchy and annoyed and stuck.  I insisted on moving on to the first Doctor of my childhood, Jon Pertwee, who I vaguely remembered loving for his flamboyancy.

I loved him all over again.  I wanted to be a scientist, like Liz Shaw.  I realised I remembered wanting to be Jo Grant, with her brilliant white knee boots, and her not really entirely ditsy but actually quite gutsy portrayal of a companion, when I was quite a small thing[2].  I thought the dinosaurs were brilliant – Stanley thought they were supremely poo and most badly done.  That’s just unkind.  (I come from a history of liking horror films with awful amateurish special effects, so I suspect I have a way greater tolerance of this sort of thing than he does).  I did fall asleep, repeatedly, during the Sea Devils.  But then, that was a very chase around story; not my favourite kind.  I had ecstasies re-watching The Daemons, and remembering I had thought of it as one of the first horror films I had ever seen; my mind somehow mixed it up, for years, with The Devil Rides Out.

Then we did Tom Baker.  I was surprised to find I mourned Jon Pertwee for almost the first 3rd of watching Tom – the Actual Doctor of Most of My Childhood.  And Therefore Clearly The Best One, for me.  But the scarf helped.  The hair helped.  The mad eyes helped.  I wanted to be Leela – so loyal, unafraid and clear about so many things.  I wanted to be the second Romana, calm and clever and pixie like in her so often Victorian style clothes.  I was content to watch Shada even though it was broken.  (Still one of my favourites.)  Apparently I made my first nerdy Dr Who comment during this stage of the watching.  Apparently, I watched one story or other, and turned to Stanley, who didn’t like it much at all, and said, ‘Well, it’s no Talons of Weng-Chiang, but it’s alright, isn’t it?’  I had to laugh hearing myself come out with that.  Ehem.  I can never remember the name of my favourite story here – is it Seeds of Doom?  The one where a mad – and completely correct, in my opinion – person wanted to get rid of humanity, so that plants could retake over the Earth, as less of a danger than us.  Terence Stamp, was it, playing the mad person?

Then we got to Peter Davison.  Oh dear.  It was too much of a shock.  Just as in my childhood, I completely baulked at the new Doctor.  I watched the first 3 or so stories, getting ever more grumbly, before I came to a complete stubborn halt.  In childhood, I do believe I just continued growing up, or whatever it was I had been doing (reading the collected works of James Herbert or something).  As an adult, I was nagged a bit about consistency of viewing, and then we moved on to some other marathon (I think we were re-doing Space 1999, at that point).  I just couldn’t get past the low key cricket outfit, the blondey mellowness.  And all that slightly sickly bumbling about at the beginning of the run.  And the way the entire story styles and look of the programme changed.  I was informed by Stanley this was due to the beginning of the John Nathan Turner era.  I made mental faces at this man, for ruining my good buzz.  I mourned Philip Hinchcliffe and all that nice gothic-yness that had been going on for a while with Tom Baker’s Doctor.

Then Fluffhead, started getting nerdy about 6 months ago, the way tiny children can do.  When they want the same story read fifty times (this is how they learn: repetition, the orderliness of the same things appearing at the same time endlessly etc – you have to have the patience of a saint when reading).  We had a lovely run of re-watching Robin of Sherwood (my own personal English nerdfest) quite a few more times than was reasonable.  Then I wondered what else we could watch when indoors, that was in nice small segments.  When Stanley had Fluffhead, he always put Dr Who on, and the titles seemed to calm him, every single time, from any kind of unhappiness or tantrum.  I don’t know if it was the time tunnel effect or just the brilliant music (which I don’t think I will EVER tire of – and woe betide anyone fast forwarding through the titles and making me miss the music).  So I put on some Jon Pertwee, and some Tom Baker.  Fluffhead loved Robot, and Carnival of Monsters.  He would run up to the screen and keep pointing at the Doctor. In every scene, I had to re-identify him.  And the companions.  He seemed to really like Sarah Jane’s smiley face.  But Stanley had all the Dr Who’s in order, in a large bookshelf we had covered and hidden the front of, with weighty poster frames.  Because Fluffhead had loved the whole lot too much in the past and they were in danger of being broken with the stampede of loving little feet and tearing mashed potato fingers.  So one day when he was sleeping, I quickly disassembled the whole defence system, and grabbed a random large handful and rebuilt it back.  This being rather an afterthought, I was annoyed to find I had plucked out loads of Sylvester McCoy.  I had never seen any of those.  No idea who he was at all.  Oh well.  It was out, Fluffhead was up…

So I put Sylvester McCoy on.  And went a bit mad.  

We had previously been watching these in between other things; if Fluffhead sang or burbled at me (as he more or less does, all the time), it didn’t really matter if I missed bits, as these were old stories I was familiar with.  If I missed loads of exposition, or dialogue, again, not a problem, we would likely re-watch it later anyway, or I would just enjoy the colours and running about the countryside (or sewers or tunnels or whatever).

But right from the very first story, Sylvester was different.  He seemed to just fall into the role naturally.  He fitted in with the startling lack of money and sometimes downright daft plots and characterisations with no problem at all.  He was theatrical, funny; he had a very sympathetic face – both angry and compassionate.  I had no problem with Bonnie Langford, as other people seemed to have had.  She was cheerful – hey: I would love to be a cheerful person; I won’t besmirch the Chipper Fairy Woman. 

Suddenly I really cared if Fluffhead did that unerring child thing of yelling JUST when some very important thing is being said very quietly indeed, some important bit of exposition.  I found myself not getting through 2 full length 6 parters in a day (as we could previously if it was raining outside), but barely one story of less episodes.  I would watch it, then go back to where we got lost and just do it again, till I felt I got what was going on.  Whilst attempting potty training (what a lovely mess that still is on the rental carpet, sigh), reading and re-reading Tabby McTat and all the other books of Fluffhead’s, doing the laundry in a different room, and listing and preparing Amazon and ebay sales etc.  The universe was working with a Sylvester McCoy background.  I started dreaming about being Ace.  What a firey girl!  What a lot of possibilities she had!  What lovely character development – and not just in the way they wrote it, but mostly in how she acted it, as she went along.  I give credit to those two, Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, for making the Cybermen and the Daleks bearable and even interesting for me, for the first time.  I generally have terrible trouble with villains that want world domination and demand ‘Destroy Them!’ with regularity.  It’s just boring.  I loved when Sylvester ranted at the daleks and mimicked their tones and wants: ‘Limitless rice pudding!’ he mocked.  I laughed out loud.  Exactly!  I even got past some pretty dodgy misuses of Norse Mythology, my other big obsession this year so far.  I mean – the Gods of Ragnarok????  …Had absolutely no relevance to that circus story, as a myth.  And The Curse of Fenric could’ve used the mythology so much better; but is forgiven for being a very good looking production, and just interesting on other levels. (And the Target novelisation makes it make a lot more sense, too.)

I was very happily confused during Ghostlight; laughed through most of Silver Nemesis, enjoyed the scenery in Delta and the Bannermen, and wanted to be a cheetah person (‘ride, sister, with the blood of your enemies in your mouth…’) in Survival.  I loved the way they ended the whole thing.  I like low key endings (or else endings where there’s a shoot out and everyone, absolutely everyone, dies[3]).  It was good the way he put his arm round Ace, and they just went off back to the Tardis, to …travel about more.  That was nicely done.

And Extremely Annoying.  Ending it just when I had totally fallen in love with the two main characters.  And when it had all gone rather Gothy again here and there, too…maybe John Nathan Turner ended up just where he didn’t want to be, and all those changes he made seemed to lead back to the same sort of darkish shining that he meant to change all those years back…but I was happy with where it had gone, where it finally had ended up.

And leaving me to have to go back to…Peter Davison.  The funny thing was; once I did (and I had to admit hookdom by then), I didn’t find him so bad.  I rather started to enjoy his quieter Doctor.  I realised that I quite liked a lot of his stories: I think Enlightenment is a most interesting idea (and my goodness Lynda Barron is bosomly brilliant in it!); I thought The Visitation was excellent; I really liked The Awakening too, and wished it had been longer (rarely I wish a Dr Who story longer; I usually think they could have mostly been improved by being a bit shorter, like most Stephen King later works).  There are more, loads more.

I looked at the BBC website and realised I liked more of the stories than I didn’t.  Stanley and I had a fight about The Myrka in Warriors of the Deep. (I think my relationships will ever and always involve arguments about things that make absolutely no sense to waste spittle on, for other people).  He maintained it was the worst pantomime horse monster ever; I maintained it was a charming large sea horsey thing and I wished it would come to tea and menace us, so I could stroke it and offer it a French Fancy or somesuch.  I do this to Fluffhead’s Cyberman toy too – it regularly has breaks in the whole World Domination Plan to have mashed potato, or a nice bit of chocolate; and we wrap him up in a muslin and put him in a shoebox to sleep at night.  As Fry would say, I have completely ‘un-cooled’ the thing.  (A lot of my reactions of this ilk are to do with Fluffhead – can’t have him being constantly scared of ‘monsters’ and aliens – so I call them ‘creatures’, a subtle difference, but its meaningful, you know.  Also – if he grows up with a healthy curiosity for lifeforms that look different to us, instead of a screamy 1960s companion type fear…what a better place the world will be, eh?!  The best way to deal with a scary looking ‘monster’ is to think of it as a cute creature – look at those lovely proboscis of that funny looking thing in The Twin Dilemma – bless its little face!).  Anyway.  We have agreed to disagree about the Myrka.  We have agreed instead, that Ingrid Pitt was not best served by either that makeup or that outfit.  She’s gorgeous and needed a nicer ensemble – I couldn’t even identify her from her voice, in that story, usually so distinctive.

Now I am travelling with Fluffhead through the mists that are Colin Baker’s Doctor.  I am not minding him at all.  He’s grumpy often, and arrogant.  He has very unsuitable clothes; but they are happy looking.  I hope he gets rid of Peri soon as she wheedles and I am thinking she is not really having a good time – people keep trying to kill her.  I shall be glad when the wheels of time move along and we get Bonnie Langford back.  When all this is over, I shall have to go back to Jon Pertwee again…Joy!

I found a way to do the broken (and too annoying to watch) Patrick Troughton stories.  As I have always liked him as an actor, and am muchly irritated that I don’t get to see his turn at the Doctor.  I remembered the Target novelisations.  I remembered I can buy on ebay as well as sell.  I frothed at the mouth when I saw how cheap the first editions still were.  Stanley despairs of the rate at which they are pouring into the house (he sold all his years ago).  I also found missing adventures, and new adventures and audio adventures.  I realised I could not only do all the missing Patrick Troughton, but extra Sylvester McCoys, and I could see how Paul McGann would have worked out, had he got to do more than just the (ehem lets not talk of it) film.  He’s another actor I adore.  So!  Worlds upon worlds opened up!

Stanley and I had another minor argument.  He doesn’t hold with any of the missing adventures unless they were from the season planned for Colin Baker then not broadcast, as well as a couple of others.  I have decided to be broader.  I will hold with stories rejected for any of the Doctors at the time of production and penned later.  And as for Sylvester and Ace…I’ll read and watch anything, and see what I think.  I got called an apologist for fanboys.  Regardless of pedigree.  I’ll make my own mind up.

Quite so!! 

So:  Dr Who world.  Hey!  Welcome the birth of yet another FanGirl.  Do I get a badge or something??

[1] I remember, with a sort of sniggery laugh, that I used to know a wonderful osteopath.  He was a Man of Action, a real world person, not the slightest bit nerdyfied. He would tell me, in surprised and unbelieving tones, of his flatmate.  Flatmate and girlfriend never really went out of an evening.  Flatmate and girlfriend watched Boxsets.  One after the other.  And discussed the ideas wherein.  ‘They never went out for a run, or anything…’, my osteopath would say, in tones of total puzzlement.  I used to try to explain the joy of gorging on many episodes of something, and not waiting for a week till the next bit (I have been known to torture myself through the entire lengthy TV transmission of a season of 24, or somesuch long thing, to wait for the boxset, so I can over do it in 2 or 3 delirious days of wonder.  But anyway.)
[2] Oddly, I always want to be a companion; never ever the Doctor.  I don’t want the responsibility I think.  I like being the person standing next to the person causing the action.  I’m not generally in life, the person causing the action.
[3] By the way, that was what was wrong with the end of Buffy, for me: everyone should have died!  How dark that would have been…That’s where Angel did it better; except they only showed one death and left the others to be imagined – whereas they should have showed all or none.  I.e. not killed only my favourite character and left the others to fight hopelessly in the rain, but unseen…(As you can imagine, one of my favourite Buffy episodes is The Wish.)

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