Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

Do the Daleks, Dad!

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As a boy, Pete May adored Doctor Who while his father thought it was rubbish. So when he had his own children, he was keen to be the monster-loving dad he'd never had himself – and, luckily, his daughters both share his lifelong obsession

I helped them to hide behind the sofa and cope with Doctor Who night terrors

Never mind Sats or key stage four results. My prime duty as a father has been to instil in my daughters a love of Doctor Who. I was there during the wilderness years, playing my toddlers VHS videos of the Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy eras. Instructing them in Time Lord history and telling them that their mum is a distant cousin of Lalla Ward, who was once a companion and married to Tom Baker. Photograph by David Levene for the Guardian Who am I? Pete May and his daughters Nell, left, and Lola

But all the time I was worrying about indoctrinating them in something that would get them laughed at by their peers. A programme that had been taken off air in 1989 and seemed doomed never to rematerialise.

But they liked it, pleading, "Do the Daleks!" Lola even insisted on naming her first pet chicken Romana, after Lalla Ward's character. On days when the children were ill and off school, we came to a secret pact that as long as we didn't tell Mummy, we could watch Doctor Who.

Why the emphasis on Whovian values? I can still recall my first glimpse of the Daleks as a four year old in 1963. The Doctor was a father figure. The Tardis felt womb-like. The show was fun and scary, with an infinitely renewable formula. And it was brilliant television until it was axed by the BBC's croak-voiced Daleks. My dad thought Doctor Who was rubbish, along with pop music, so when fatherhood arrived perhaps I wanted to be the monster-appreciating dad I'd never had.

We watched the return of Doctor Who in 2005 while staying with friends in Yorkshire. Lola was seven and Nell four. I'd waited 16 years. Did they notice their emotional dad as the theme played again? My dread was that they'd think the new Doctor Who was rubbish and their dad a loser addicted to wobbly scenery and men in bad rubber suits.

But Russell T Davies's brilliant writing did it. When Christopher Eccleston gave that speech about feeling the earth revolving through space at 1,000mph they were hooked.

The Daleks and Cybermen returned too. Rose was a positive role model for young girls, the farting Slitheen perhaps less so. Even my non-Whovian wife, Nicola, started watching, remarking that Eccleston was better looking than William Hartnell.

After The Empty Child, where gas mask creatures menaced a second world war hospital, we spent a lot of time shouting up the stairs at my longsuffering wife, "Mummy, are you my mummy?"

Soon, amazing things happened when I dropped the kids at school. Children shouted "Exterminate!" in the playground and role-played as companions. The formula still worked.

Our daughters were at our wedding at the end of 2005. In my speech, I revealed that I'd offered Nicola a marriage voucher redeemable in any year when Doctor Who returned, West Ham got promoted and England won the Ashes. All three things happened – possibly after Time Lord intervention.

Our Whovian life continued, year by year. Saturday dinner had to be rescheduled around the show and Christmas at their grandmother's was always conditional on watching the Christmas special.

I nursed my children through their first regeneration, coping with the tears as Lola sobbed, "But he's turned into a Beatle!" at her first glimpse of David Tennant. Soon they loved Tennant's Doctor and rejoiced at the return of K9 and Sarah Jane Smith. Eventually both girls became addicted to The Sarah Jane Adventures on CBBC. I helped them to hide behind the sofa and cope with Doctor Who-induced night terrors.

Christmas and birthdays bought yet more delights. I would point a battery operated sonic screwdriver at the kids' heads in bed, press the button that made it go bleep and announce: "Small humanoid female detected ..."

We chanted "eggsterminate!" accompanied by a model Dalek every time we sliced open the top of a boiled egg at breakfast. We started to visit the Who Shop in east London, queuing up for Elisabeth Sladen's signature. She said the girls had lovely names.

The local paper revealed that David Tennant was doing a signing at the Ashmount school fete in London, where Tennant's godson was a pupil. Sadly, Nell was away but I was determined Lola would meet the Doctor. The organisers tried to turn us back from the 500-strong queue for health and safety reasons.

What sort of dad was I if I couldn't get access to the Doctor for my daughter?

It felt like waiting for Father Christmas. After an interminable queue, we finally met the Doctor in a classroom. Lola was able to discuss whether he really was the last of his race and ask him what happened to his granddaughter Susan, Romana and the Master who were all Time Lords. On a sweltering day, Tennant was brilliant at handling awestruck 46 year olds and pretty good with nine-year-old Lola too.

In 2007, we spent three months travelling around the UK, home schooling and house swapping. Which meant that Doctor Who stories are forever associated with certain locations. Ill children smuggled into the TV room at Ben Lomond YHA to watch Blink, the drumming of the Master in Kettlewell, North Yorkshire.

Our Who world continued through Martha, Donna and the arrival of Matt Smith in 2010. We always had plenty of catchphrases, such as "Hey, who turned out the lights?" and "I like a little shop!" in any museum.

Lola became fascinated with the character River Song. We'd walk to school discussing how two timestreams can run in different directions. We ran around the house in Matt Smith masks and searched the shops for Amy and Rory Lego figures. I've dressed as Tom Baker and carried jelly babies on New Year's Eve in Cornwall, and trick or treated in a Cyberman mask.

Once I tried to hide my Doctor Who collection from prospective dates, and then my wife, and now my children's friends and their dads peruse my DVDs and regard me as almost cool.

In July, we attended the Doctor Who Prom. Matt Smith, Peter Davison and Carole Ann Ford (the Doctor's granddaughter from 1963) appeared on stage and the theme sounded stupendous with a full orchestra. And we'll be at the ExCel centre in London for the 50th anniversary celebrations.

Watching the live unveiling of Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor, I was able to reassure my children that it was OK: he'd been in Local Hero and 50-odd is a great age for a Doctor. "It could be you next, Dad," suggested Nell.

Other dads affect gravitas or can put up shelves. But I have a whopping great Doctor Who DVD collection, a Zygon coaster and a Dalek mouse mat. I feel I've given my children a good start to life in the universe. And when my time comes to regenerate, perhaps they'll think only this of me – he was a true Whovian Dad.

The Day of the Doctor, the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special, airs worldwide on 23 November. Pete May is the author of The Joy of Essex, published by The Robson Press

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