Doctor Who Cuttings Archive

Time gentlemen

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1999-11-13 Radio Times cover.jpg
Doctor Who Night
November 13, 1999

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Everyone remembers where they were the day it happened. Grown men wept openly and little children throughout the land were inconsolable. Yes, it was 8 June 1974 and Jon Pertwee had just turned into Tom Baker. The giant spiders of Metebelis 3 had tragically claimed our hero: the marvellous, unforgettable, seemingly indestructible Doctor Who, Time Lord extraordinaire.

TV has created very few original and memorable heroes, but the Doctor stands out as one of the honourable exceptions, and it is no accident that he continues to be a source of fascination for many TV nostalgists. At its height, Doctor Who was part of the nation's life; 25 minutes of wonder, sandwiched roughly between the end of Grandstand and the start of The Generation Game. It was scary, funny, unique and, yes, dash it, as British as the flag.

This week I am outed as a Doctor Who fan of long-standing - although it's not something that I've ever tried to hide, For three glorious minutes, in a sketch for BBC2's Doctor Who theme night, Jim Fixed It for me: that Tardis was mine. It was a dream come true. But what brought me to this point? What possesses a man to fantasise about spending time in a rickety box that couldn't make it to one of those quarries that often passed for "abroad" in the series, let alone transcend the barriers of time and space?

My first clear memory of the Doctor is when he battled shop-window dummies who had come to life, in a setting that looked like any high street, my high street. For years afterwards I was terrified every time my parents stopped outside March the Tailor - scared stiff, but hooked. Who, though, was this mysterious intergalactic time-traveller?

Most people's favourite Doctor is generally whoever was the incumbent when they first saw the show. Mine, Jon Pertwee, had been exiled to Earth by his fellow Time Lords, his arrival happily coinciding with a lot of attempted alien invasions of south-east England. It seemed, though, that the Doctor had originally been a rather crotchety old man in Edwardian clothes who travelled the universe in a time machine that was not only bigger inside than out but resembled an everyday police telephone box. I knew what he looked like because he was on the cover of Doctor Who and the Daleks, the first of many novelisations I collected with something approaching mania.

For three years, William Hartnell's imperious old adventurer encountered everything from ancient Aztecs to the Celestial Toymaker, the Daleks memorably invaded Earth and the Doctor went through assistants at a rate of knots before meeting his ultimate crisis in his first encounter with the Cybermen. Then, as my sister solemnly told me, the Doctor turned into someone else.

I knew this scruffy Doctor - Patrick Troughton from the cover of Doctor Who and the Web of Fear, and felt sure I would have liked him enormously. As the sixties swung so did Doctor Who, and Troughton's Doctor by turns whimsical and grave - presided over some of the show's finest hours; including the Yeti invasion of the Underground and the excavation of the Tomb of the Cybermen. After three years, Troughton wanted to move on and the show blazed into the seventies in full colour, with Jon Pertwee in the role - a flamboyant dandy in ruffled shirt and smoking jacket.

And that's where I came in. It was a great boys' programme in those days: the blimpish Brigadier, the pretty Jo Grant, fights, explosions, monsters and, presiding over it all, the moralising Doctor who not only taught me the difference between right and wrong, but also why it's unwise to stage a dinosaur invasion of London on a tight BBC budget (it leads to what is perhaps not the last word in credible scenery). It was a magical time. Just say "Remember the one with the maggots?" to an average thirtysomething, and they will be transported back to a misty past when Saturday nights were always dark and wintry (even in the summer, although that could have been the three-day week), and we all played at being Sea Devils.

After five glorious years Pertwee left. I can still remember watching in tears that night as the Doctor collapsed to the floor of his laboratory and changed into an unfamiliar, odd-looking man with a big nose and mad eyes. Who was this interloper? For a while I entertained fantasies that the Doctor would somehow regenerate backwards into his old self.

But only a fool would argue that this new, loony Doctor in his scarf and floppy hat wasn't even better than the great Pertwee. The show reinvented itself yet again and Tom Baker [see right] became so popular he was mobbed in the street. I grew up, but I could never leave the Doctor behind. I felt I owed him too much.

Sadly, in later-years, our once indestructible Doctor suddenly became vulnerable. The BBC seemed to stop caring and, in 1989, after a postponement and a savage reduction in episodes per year, it was all over. To our shame. Doctor Who was a genuine family show-it was, as the Daily Sketch once put it: "The children's own programme which adults adore."

The Doctor was not an obvious hero: sexless, mostly non-violent, mercurial, arrogant, forbidding and silly - sometimes all at once. But if you watch the best of the stories now, you'll see that it's not just a case of misplaced nostalgia. The people who made them really were brimming over with invention and commitment.

Who would be a fitting Doctor now, if the programme were to be revived? Well, Geoffrey Bayldon should have been and Graeme Crowden almost was. Paul McGann displayed true grit in the 1996 one-off TV film. Jim Broadbent has been two spoof Doctors, but would be ideal for real. Dinsdale Landen, Dennis Quilley... I could go on for ever.

Maybe a total unknown, as Tom Baker once was, is what is needed. More radically, a woman would give the whole thing a fresh slant - Stephanie Cole gets my vote. I wouldn't mind another shot myself, and fora little longer than three minutes. But whether Who will once again be "regenerated" well, as the Doctor might say, only time will tell.


Caption: Mark Gatiss, standing before the trusty Tardis, fulfils his fantasy of becoming the Time Lord on Doctor Who Night--but finds it all too brief

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to whovian@cuttingsarchive.org

  • APA 6th ed.: Gatiss, Mark (1999-11-13). Time gentlemen. Radio Times p. 27.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Gatiss, Mark. "Time gentlemen." Radio Times [add city] 1999-11-13, 27. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Gatiss, Mark. "Time gentlemen." Radio Times, edition, sec., 1999-11-13
  • Turabian: Gatiss, Mark. "Time gentlemen." Radio Times, 1999-11-13, section, 27 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Time gentlemen | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Time_gentlemen | work=Radio Times | pages=27 | date=1999-11-13 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 June 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Time gentlemen | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Time_gentlemen | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 June 2024}}</ref>