Dr Who, his part in my downfall – by Dave Norman

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Dr Who- his part in my downfall by Dave Norman

Last night I dreamt I went to Gallifrey again. It seemed to me I stood by the high galleries leading to the Panopticon and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. No worries, with my sonic screwdriver, I was through there in no time.

And there was Gallifrey, my Gallifrey, secretive and silent as it had always been, the Citadel itself still shining in the moonlight of my dream, the mullioned windows undisturbed by wind or storm. Neither Time, nor any Time War, could ever wreck the perfect symmetry of these walls, a jewel in the hollow of a hand. And there, his tail a-thump when he heard his master’s footsteps, K-9, dear K-9, with his stupid annoying. Ok, it wasn’t all good”¦

It’s because we can’t get to sleep. Not with all the noise coming through the walls. And not just through the walls. She broadcasts to the street by opening her windows wide and so we have to hear it through our windows too. ”˜Next Door’, love her, has not been well again and that means everybody else must suffer. Our windows will rattle, our walls will resound. She can’t get to sleep so nor can we.

So we lie here listening to Coldplay. I hate bastard Coldplay. Next up is Joni Mitchell, whinging and whining. Then The Waterboys. I used to even (quite) like The Waterboys.

Everybody knows. The police know. There isn’t anything that they can do. The housing know. There isn’t anything that they can do either, not tonight at any rate and not for days and weeks to come. The health team know. They ought to know, it’s as much their fault as anyone’s. They won’t give her the care she needs because they say they can’t afford to look after everyone that needs their care. They told her to go home and do something she liked. Be nice to herself. Listen to her favourite songs.

So, one thing is for sure: everybody on our street knows. Ringing on her doorbell won’t make the blindest bit of difference. We are all in this for the long haul.

So we have to try and escape. In order to not to have to hear what we can’t help but hear. Enya, Dido or Pink fucking Floyd’s sodding Wall shite. Try and block it out and get away, find somewhere to go. Only we haven’t got anywhere else to go; this is our home, this is where we go.

We can’t watch telly in our own living room because we can’t hear it. We could try and read but we’ll have to give that up because we can’t even hear ourselves think. I could try blasting back at her with Flux of Pink Indians or Half Japanese but when we’re the ones who need to get to sleep, when we’re the one who need to get up in the morning, then that’s pretty counter-productive.

Besides, I don’t think my landlady would approve. She doesn’t share my taste in music. She doesn’t like Crass or The Stooges. Worse still, she doesn’t even know anything about Doctor Who. I sometimes wonder why I put up with her. Then I look across at her beside me in the bed and see she’s just about managed to get off despite it all, teeth still gritted, a well-thumbed copy of Rebecca in her hand, and I remember why.

So all I can do to try and numb this abusive noise is think about somewhere, anywhere, else.

And escape.

And in the end, I always go to Gallifrey. Or Wenley Moor (where the reptile people have awaken from their centuries old slumber to reclaim the world from the ugly ape creatures that have arisen while they slept.) Or Devils End (where the village priest turns out in fact to be the most evil man in the galaxy and seeks to bring the vengeance of the devil itself upon humanity just to spite his brother.

Although they might not be brothers, it was never set in stone that they were brothers”¦ oh, never mind.) Then again, I might go to Karn. Or Tara or Skaro. Or anywhere where he has been. Anywhere The Doctor has been, anywhere he can take me with him. And of all the special places he could take me there is one special place where we can always go back together, a place that no amount of anti-social noise can take away.

As special a place as Metebelis Three, or Barcelona (the planet), or the leisure hive on Argolis combined. A place I’ll always want to go at times like these, a place called Saturday.

Nowadays we’ve got so much good stuff to see and watch and we take it all for granted. At any time of the day or night we can watch something good, something not-so-good or even something execrably bad on the telly on one or another of any number of channels or failing that whip out a DVD box-set and watch whole series in their entirety.

We can go on the internet and check all manner of stuff out, suss out i-player, you tube, twitter, kindle and facebook. It won’t be long before someone invents a machine that’ll give us anything we want before we even know we want it. If we really want to see something/ anything worth seeing we can get it whenever, wherever we want, 24/7. Historians tell us that this was not always the case.

You’re reading this so you’re around about the same age as me. You might be a little bit younger so you have, as successive generations have bemoaned their offspring, had everything handed to you on a plate. That includes telly that goes on after the pubs have shut and pubs that go on after the pubs used to shut. Then again, you might be a little older than me in which case you’re still amazed there’s such a thing as BBC2.

Either way, it just so happens that I was born into a time and place, (mediaeval rural south Herefordshire’s notorious Little Italy district), when all there ever used to be to look forward to, media-wise at any rate, was the biennial visit of the library van and a certain twenty-five minutes of telly a week. On Saturday.

Nowadays every day can be a Saturday but back then Saturday was special. On Saturday, all being well, I might get left all to myself. My mum pottering in the kitchen or watering her plants, me left to my own devices. Although the devices I got left to weren’t in fact my own. I mean, the telly wasn’t mine. But with no-one else around I could watch what I wanted. That meant old films. And documentaries. Stuff my dad and especially my evil twin sister wouldn’t ever really want to watch.

The other ”˜device’ was my mum’s old record player. I used to listen to her old 45’s; Elvis, Billy Fury, Adam Faith. I still remember playing Tom Dooley by The Kingston Trio for the first time and the feeling of being smacked in the mouth it gave me when I realised what it was about. Realising that Tom Dooley was going to die. That there was nothing I could do to save him and that, however many times I heard it, he was always going to die. And I cared, I cared about Tom Dooley.

Tom Dooley taught me a lot.

Then tea-time neared, with the smell of baked potatoes in the ray-burn suffusing the living room and the teleprinter clicking out the football scores. Saturday, most special day, was nearing its zenith, the whole week was nearing its zenith. There might be a cartoon. There might be Basil Brush, who I loved, but more importantly than anything ANYTHING there was”¦
There was”¦ DOCTOR WHO.

Now, I’m no fan of Damian Hirst; but I did once read something that he had written about another of his mates that struck a chord with me. He said of them, I forget who it was and it really doesn’t matter, that seeing their work reminded him of the first time that he had been affected by something.

Affected, in that hearing something, seeing something indescribably powerful, massive bass intro, life-changing, shock to the system, kick in the eye, Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley kind of way for the first time in your life. And the thing that had done all that was nothing more or less than the little black and white telly in his living room. It had started emitting the most bizarre and indescribably alluring noises and images. Sounds and sights that could only have come from somewhere that was beyond, above”¦ apart.

The theme from Doctor Who coming on.

Is there anything as evocative, as frightening and enlivening, as full of threat and promise in the whole wide world? The whirr-whirr-whirr, de-dum, de-dum, de-dum, de-dum, de-dum, whirr-whirr-whirr of Doctor Who starting is still the best sound in the world. It signals the beginning of something special, the heart-crunching end of anything else; and only the first of loads of things that are brilliant about this program, that set it apart not just from another program but from anything.

Because Doctor Who is not just the best telly program ever it is the best thing ever. At least when you are six years old it is. And nine years old. And twelve. And fourty-three.

Once that bizarre uncanny music has heralded us in anything, but anything, can happen. We can go anywhere and anytime, see anything that’s ever happened or anything that ever will.

The Doctor didn’t just fight monsters from outer space. Fact was sometimes he’d take their side if that most belligerent of returning monsters, the humans, were at fault. He fought everything that was and is wrong in the world; evil scientists, corrupt politicians and greedy industrialists, the cruel, the deranged and the ill-informed, the power-mad, the downright wrong and the manic street preachers.

That one twenty five minute section of the week was so special that it would live on in the imagination for the next seven days, turned over and over in the mind, recreated in the playing field ad infinitum and made all the more poignant and beguiling by the terrifying cliffhanger that saw each episode end, swirl, scream whirr-whirr-whirr, de-dum, de-dum, de-dum, de-dum, de-dum,de-dum, and so on and so forth, then leave us bereft again, no video, no no DVD, no i-player, to see us through till next time.

Twenty-five minutes that lasted a week. And beyond. That still last. Even though you couldn’t watch it again. Even though you might never see it again. Ever. There might be the odd repeat in the summer holidays but there was no guarantee of that even. No, every minute, every second was precious and had to be committed to heart. Doctor Who didn’t begin and end with what was on that Saturday night. It lived on inside. It lives on inside like the best fucking music you ever heard, like your first crafty fag, like your first fumbled kiss.

There is more than one generation that has grown up and grown old, well older, having gained more than just a little part of their set of values from The Doctor. Watch TV almost any night and you can see the influence the programme, or the character, has made. Without it, or him, there wouldn’t be a Primeval, a Being Human or a modern day Sherlock Holmes.

Go in the bookshop and check out books by Neil Gaiman, Jasper fforde, Paul Magrs, anyone connected with the League of Gentlemen and, whatever he might have told you at the time, Douglas Adams. Music, too: Steve Ignorant mentions Doctor Who three times in his autobiography; only David Bowie gets more glory. And David Bowie is said to be a fan, too. (I’m still sure there are Daleks on the inside cover of Diamond Dogs.)

There were lots of Saturdays and some were better than others. Some were really very, very good. Scary, exciting, life-changing. The Sea Devils slowly emerging from beneath the waves and onto the land-mine riddled beach will live with me forever. So too, the Krynoid seed pod bursting open and the chilling realisation that there were men in the world who were prepared to let it happen, for whom human life and dignity was something that could weigh less heavily than profit or perverse fancy. I remember all those times the villains mask was finally ripped away and the awful truth that lay beneath was finally revealed; Magnus Greel, Sharaz Jek, Tony Blair.

Then again, it wasn’t always all good. Maybe I was growing up but sometimes Doctor Who seemed every bit as silly as some people I knew were saying that it was. Then funnily enough, after a while it seemed sillier and sillier, other things started to seem less silly, slowly took precedence and Saturday wasn’t as important as it used to be. I was at big school now and me and my mates liked listening to music.

The charts at first, stuff like The Jam and The Police but then we started getting into other things, all branching off into jazz and rock and heavy metal. But for me, especially, it was Punk Rock. Then I heard Crass and everything changed. And there was, of course, the ongoing issue of the girls in our class and how they had emerged into desirable butterflies while we were still ugly grubs, me most of all, and the most pressing issue in the world was no longer whether Daleks could go upstairs (they always could) but how I was ever, ever, going to get a girlfriend.

In fact, after a while, I went away to college and there were all sorts of things to sway the head of a young boy from the farm and somewhere, in all that flurry of distraction, Doctor Who died. More surely than he had in the cave of the Great One, with more certainty than falling from the telescope on Logopolis and with a finality that exceeded his attempts to save Peri’s life at the expense of his own while they were both ravaged by the effects of Toxic Plasmosis The Doctor had ceased to be.

The programme was cancelled, it stopped being on, and I don’t think I even noticed. I was probably swirling about in the Hacienda, without a care in the world, when they showed the last episode and didn’t even know. I think my mum might have mentioned it in one of her letters but I don’t suppose I was paying much attention.

Looking back now I still feel pangs of guilt at not being there but there isn’t always a way of knowing. Of knowing that this might be the last time we spend with someone, that this time ”˜goodbye’ really does mean Goodbye. That we have spent our last Saturday together”¦

This story has a happy ending, sort of. The Doctor has come back. Everybody knows that. My friends’ children have watched his new adventures unfurl before them and I have watched them lap it up, although the little bastards can watch it whenever they like thanks to all the repeats, cable channels, DVDs and all that.

With them I have assumed the mantel of wise old tosspot, answering their questions with regard to all matters appertaining thereunto as best I can. Which, believe me, is very well. Once you know the difference between Mondasian and Telosioan Cybermen it never leaves you.

And I’m not a spod. Or a geek. Although I can name all fifty American states and their capitals. In alphabetical order. And I did once spend Christmas Day putting all my LP’s in alphabetical order. It’s just that that silly television programme really did mean such a lot to me. Our Saturdays together when I was a little boy seem even more special now than they did then. I’m lucky I suppose. The Doctor will always be there. Punk Rock isn’t just a kind of music and Doctor Who”¦? Well, it’s not just a program. It’s a place to go.

So it isn’t Manderley I go to like the anonymous narrator of that book my lovely partner is clutching while we try and grab a moments sleep just lately. And, of course, it isn’t really Gallifrey either. After all, I’m not a Timelord and, just as well, they never seemed a very happy bunch. Instead I like to go to Saturday, where my mum is still alive, and the Best Thing In The World is about to be on telly. Saturdays; baked potatoes, Tom Dooley, Doctor Who, especially Doctor Who, were the best, better than Christmas Eve, and sometimes I want to get that back.

Maybe one day I will.

Right now, I’d settle for a bit of peace and quiet.

(- with apologies to Daphne du Maurier.)

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4 comments on “Dr Who, his part in my downfall – by Dave Norman”

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  1. Nicely summed up, sir. I’m 41 now, a manky grizzled old specimen who still drums in a punk rock band, but in my deepest heart I’m still the four-year-old who chanced upon episode 1 of The Ark In Space, fell into another world, and never left it. It’s still my favourite programme, as the legions of toy Daleks infesting my living room (and the one on the dashboard of the band van) attest…

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