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Who's time just ran out?

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1996-05-28 Daily Mail.jpg

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Dr Who (BBC1); The Empty Quarter (BBC2)


SOMEONE has to say it and, at the risk of being deluged with letters, it might as well be me. This obsession with Dr Who is a personality disorder which strikes at the roots of our national life.

I thought we had got it out of our system. I thought that, after indulging ourselves for years, we had kicked the habit. Last night we went back.

'Who am I?' asked Paul McGann, the latest patsy from the actors' union to take on the part. Nobody else could tell him, so he had to work out the answer himself. 'I know who I am. I am ... The Doctor!'

It was like a bad memory of childhood. I thought this absurdly inflated character had achieved his final resting place as a line in a knock-knock joke. Seeing the Tardis again, in a vulgar American reincarnation, was too depressing for words. Do we never grow up?

Most successful television shows outstay their welcome. That is the nature of the medium. But with Dr Who, the desire to sustain a product beyond the term of its natural life has reached psychotic proportions.

In the Sixties it was a fine show, harmless escapism for the under-tens. I too went around school playgrounds zapping my enemies and saying 'I ... am ... a ... dalek.'

Then it deteriorated. Nothing wrong with that. Everything deteriorates sooner or later. What was wrong — or, at the very least, pathetic — was the way the BBC people refused to bow to the inevitable. They deluded themselves that Dr Who was one of those mythic characters, like Hamlet or Sherlock Holmes, which can be reinterpreted again and again for successive generations.

In reality the character has no mythic qualities. It is only its ability to travel to and fro in time which makes it more interest-worthy than the conductor of a No.88 bus. As Paul McGann floundered last night, hamming up his lines because they were so rotten they had to be hammed, the hollowness of the character was pitifully exposed.

A token blonde was thrown into the stew but, bar a whimsical scene at the opera, added nothing to the flavour. The show relied, like so much Hollywood science-fiction, on its special effects. They were pretty good, technically, but where was the magic?

I hankered, as I am sure many viewers did, for that Dr Who of happy memory, where the special effects were achieved by sticking tinfoil onto cardboard but, because they were new, had power to enchant.

The moral was inescapable. In the shifting world of television, not even a Time Lord can cheat time. The show should have been given a decent burial years ago and spared us last night's botched attempt at grave-robbing.

DEFENDERS of this sort of trash would probably say that, as we know our own planet inside out, only travel in time and space offers the viewer any real sense of adventure.

The fallacy of that argument was exposed by a marvellous travelogue on BBC2 last night. The Empty Quarter saw Sandy Gall riding across the Arabian desert on a camel. The idea was to follow in the footsteps — or should I say the hoofprints? — of the great Wilfred Thesiger. But this was no dry exercise in antiquarianism. The journey was not dry at all.

First, Gall risked the wrath of his Arab hosts by taking surreptitious slugs of whisky. Then he ran into another problem — rain. The man who dodged the bullets in Afghanistan had a new scoop on his hands: Umbrella needed in desert shock!

The show was a delight from start to finish, and a lesson in what you can do without a Tardis.

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.: Davidson, Max (1996-05-28). Who's time just ran out?. Daily Mail p. 43.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Davidson, Max. "Who's time just ran out?." Daily Mail [add city] 1996-05-28, 43. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Davidson, Max. "Who's time just ran out?." Daily Mail, edition, sec., 1996-05-28
  • Turabian: Davidson, Max. "Who's time just ran out?." Daily Mail, 1996-05-28, section, 43 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Who's time just ran out? | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Who%27s_time_just_ran_out%3F | work=Daily Mail | pages=43 | date=1996-05-28 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=13 December 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Who's time just ran out? | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Who%27s_time_just_ran_out%3F | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=13 December 2019}}</ref>