7.17.2007

TV NOSTALGIA #3: DOCTOR WHO

“If they call us mutations ... what must they be like?”
‘The Daleks’, Doctor Who, Episode 2, Season 1 (1963)


At last it is here: the pop culture equivalent to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Imagine, if you will, two of the most enduring pop culture icons of our era joining together for the first time to celebrate that gloriously tacky institution, the Christmas Special. Come December, this miracle will be born in a manger near you.

Yes folks, hold on to your feathers, tassels and sequins, because Doctor Who and Kylie Minogue will be rocking the Tardis this yuletide. I am so excited I’m wriggling like a five-year-old on a road-trip, two hours away from the next toilet stop.

Kylie Minogue is the unchallenged queen of pop schmultz, and I say that with affection that overfloweth, being one of the devastated many who missed out on Ms Minogue’s Sydney concert when she was forced to cancel and face bigger personal challenges last year. And then there’s Doctor Who, the most enduring science-fiction television show on the planet, and the origin of probably one of the most over-used nerd lines in history, “we will exterminate,” (I confess to being guilty of committing this verbal crime).

The two of them together is almost too much pop culture saccharine to bear. Almost. Throw in the fact that this is for none other than a Christmas Special (in any program, almost guaranteed to be the worst – and therefore most fun – episode of the season), and we’ll all be very happy little pop-culture campers indeed.

The story goes that the latest Doctor (David Tennant) is dealing with a bit of a problem: the Titanic has crashed through the Tardis walls. It seems to me that this suggests some fairly crappy sailing even for the doomed Titanic crew, given how small that Tardis is on the outside – they’d only have to swerve a metre or two to miss it. Anyway, lucky for the Doctor, Kylie is on board as Astrid, a purty little waitress, alongside British comedians and actors Geoffrey Palmer, Clive Swift and Gray O’Brien.

But Kylie, sadly, is not a permanent fixture of Doctor Who. So if it’s not the pop princess, what is it about this little sci-fi program that has kept us watching (and humming “oo-OO-ooo” in our heads) for the past 40-plus years? Who is this man, and what is his appeal?

To refresh your memory, the Doctor is an alien Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. He’s a fugitive from his home planet, traversing the universe in a stolen time machine that, due to a malfunction, is stuck in the form of a blue British police box. Being Gallifreyan (or whatever the term may be), the Doctor is able to return from death by ‘regenerating’ himself into a new body, complete with a new personality.

Since materialising on our screens in 1963, the Doctor has taken 10 different forms and enjoyed the company of more than 20 companions, most of them female (cheeky lad). In that time, he has also faced every imaginable (and unimaginable) enemy, from ancient philosophers to evil robots, blobs of slime, and cave men. I guess the combination of time travel, space travel, adventure, wisdom, babes and immortality is a pretty attractive mix.

I came late to the Doctor Who viewer club. My brother, on the other hand, practically emerged from the womb wearing a stripy multi-coloured scarf around his neck. But when I was 11 and my brother was six, I gave him two goldfish for his birthday, with the cutest names I could think of: Bib and Bub. My brother said ‘thanks sis,’ and promptly renamed the fish Buck Rogers and Doctor Who. (Incidentally, this was around the era that my brother also had a Castle Grayskull of his very own for He-Man and She-Ra to gallivant in, as well as a Man-At-Arms figurine, and evil Skeletor’s Snake Mountain, complete with a microphone that would distort your voice into a cross between Darth Vader and the Wicked Witch of the West when you spoke into it. And if you haven’t heard of Masters of the Universe and therefore don’t know what I’m talking about, crawl out from your cave and check them out. They rock!)

But I digress …

Because of the fish, I was inspired to watch Doctor Who. I wanted to see what had impacted my little brother so much that he would name a cute orange fish after an old man who didn’t even have a magic sword or wear speedos. At that time they were playing very early re-runs of Doctor Who, so the first episode I saw was ‘The Daleks’ from the first series. It frightened the hell out of me.

The Daleks, as I’m sure you are well aware, are these freakily-smart, evil, blobby brain-monsters that get around in R2-D2 style robotic machines. To write this story, I read a synopsis on that early episode, and apparently there was also a beautiful, peace-loving race of ‘Thals’ living on the Dalek’s planet. I have no memory of them. What I remember is the relentless evil robot-things rolling around with telescopic shooting arms and throat-cancer voices. Man they were scary. And man were those ‘special effects’ bad, bad, bad. It was like watching a high-school play.

But somehow, the bad effects and cheap sets didn’t matter. I was hooked, and I guess I wasn’t alone. According to the ABC, the Daleks virtually doubled the Doctor Who audience overnight. The scary little robot-aliens immediately spawned the BBC’s first merchandising boom, and today, have their own entry in the Oxford English Dictionary. And here’s a fact you probably didn’t know: the Daleks were actually inspired by ballet, after writer Terry Nation saw a performance by the Georgian State dancers, and was captivated by the gliding motion of the long-skirted ballerinas.

That was back in the 60s, but the Doctor’s popularity has rarely let up since. In Britain last week, the final episode of Season Three (of the new Doctor Who series), ‘Last of the Time Lords’, was watched by 8.61 million British viewers, the 7th-most watched program on UK TV, in a week that included the Concert for Diana.

As for me, I just feel lucky, lucky lucky that Kylie and the Doctor will keep my schmultz-o-meter oiled and my jingle-bells a-ringing this Christmas.

1 comments:

nelle said...

Don't forget that Torchwood is a spin off from Doctor Who.

Torchwood is after all an anagram of Doctor Who