At BB, we’re used to disregarding stories about the return of Doctor Who approximately every six months. Usually, these turn out to be either random, hopeful/less speculation or hype for a half-baked spin-off (“Dr Who returns - in cyberspace!”; “Dr Who is back - as a range of exclusive collectible figurines! You’ll want to ‘exterminate’ them all, Who fans!”). For the past fifteen years, the series has been like an embarrassing granny in the BBC’s attic that they bring out on special occasions just so everyone can say, “Aw! Isn’t she marvellous for her age? Could do with her nappy emptying though…”
But this time, it’s different (honest).
Let’s look at the BBC’s recent stewardship of what was once a premier sci-fi series:
- Successfully manages transition to Peter Davison and whole new set of lovable eccentricities. Daringly introduces ambiguous anti-hero companion called Turlough. Continues experiments with long running story arcs. Regenerates the Master. It can’t get better, and indeed - it doesn’t.
- Boldly tries a new, unlikeable, indeed downright obnoxious Doctor, in the form of Colin Baker.
- Gets scared, hands role over to panto dame (Sylvester McCoy).
- Concludes that falling ratings are not due to bad actors, rotten stories or tiny budgets but because people forget it’s shown on Saturday evenings. Starts moving show all over schedule, including bold/stupid attempt to crush Coronation Street figures.
- Throws in Bonnie Langford for good measure (“Pass those last few nails and we’ll soon have this coffin lid banged shut”).
- Introduces new breathless companion called “Ace” (or “Ace Fab Groovy” to use her full name). Fans fondly recall death of Adric and wonder if another tragedy can be arranged (or has it already occurred?)
- Cancels show when Surrey sand quarry closes, depriving programme of remaining outside location. Also, even extras contracted to play aliens refuse to wear tiger face paint.
- First revival for charidee, following rule that all shows must merge with Eastenders for the occasion. The Doctor battles the evil Dodgy Market Traders of Al’bert2.
- Flogs license to American TV hoping to ride coat tails of revival with someone else’s money. Plan flops badly when the country that brought us TJ Hooker, Dukes of Hazzard and Airwolf somehow can’t get to grips with eccentric Brit sci-fi. (Paul McGann’s impressive audition for part comes to naught.)
- Rock bottom: revives Dr Who - as a one-off skit for Comic Relief night. Cue gratuitous wastage of talents like Rowan Atkinson, Richard E. Grant, Jonathan Pryce and Joanna Lumley to joke that the sets wobbled and the daleks couldn’t climb stairs - aw-hawhawhaw. Haw.
- Makes comfortable living off licenses for old rope and Dr Who as centrepiece of “cult TV” pages on new web site. Commissions “Bugs”.
- New one-off special in development: the Doctor and the Master redecorate each other’s TARDIS, with help from Laurence L-B and Linda Bloody Barker.
How desperate must the cokeheads* at the Beeb have become over dwindling TV audience figures if they’ve decided that salvation lies in finally heeding the prayers of several thousand aging, easily-pleased Who fans? Have we really reached the limits of DIY makeover shows or is there no one left to present them?
BB is not a great Dr Who afficionado, although back in the halcyon days of our youth - no wait, the Seventies were emphatically not halcyon - we were a huge fan. We developed prodigious speed-reading abilities through the consumption of one Terrance Dicks novel a day. We endured “The Duchesses of Duke Street” and “When the boat comes in” while waiting for the next episode on Saturday evenings after tea. We had the Genesis of the Daleks audio cassette, a curious experience which suggested that the show consisted mainly of what sounded like sado-masochistic gang bangs involving Sarah. We remember Nicola Bryant’s debut as Peri - chiefly because it coincided with the onset of puberty (thanks be). But forgive us if the BBC’s past cynicism regarding this show proves contagious. We badly want it to succeed. We just wish the BBC weren’t involved. Still, at least the outside filming will be in Wales this time (“the Doctor visits another planet on which it mysteriously rains all the time”).
* Surely you could only view the current crop of self-congratulatory, manic, contrived bilge and not escape the conclusion that everyone involved in the TV industry is coked up to the eyeballs.
- Outpost Gallifrey: scarier than emptying Davros’ chamberpot.