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The time travel of their lives

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The BBC pulled the plug on Dr Who's time machine a decade ago. Now, as a new generation tunes in, Liam Rudden finds the Time Lord is still master of the universe for many

THE cardboard sets wobbled, the bad-dies were giant tin cans on Hoover belts and the star's dress sense was often exceedingly questionable.

Despite it all, the adventures of Gallifrey's Doctor Who gripped a nation for 20 years — and more. Now a new generation of time travellers are tuning in to a Dr Who revival as classic episodes are revisited on BBC2.

But for many people, the Dr Who phenomenon never went away ...

And while they may well now be serious professionals with businesses to run, offices to manage and children to teach, whenever they hear that unmistakable theme tune they're whisked back to Saturday evenings spent goggle-eyed in front of the box as the Daleks of Skarro threatened, yet again, to exterminate.

The Edinburgh Dr Who group was born 21 years ago, when curly-haired Tom Baker's Time Lord was dashing around the universe in his flowing coat, long, multi-coloured scarf flapping behind him

Forrester High School teacher Martin Rogerson, organiser of the Edinburgh group, was then just nine years old — the ideal age to be entranced by time machines and baddies like the silver-booted Cybermen, humanlike Autons and slippery Sea Devils.

But right now he's not too pleased. He's just been asked to pose with five fellow fans at the foot of Leith Walk with a life-size cut-out of Tom Baker.

Nervous at leaving himself open to public ridicule, he groans that this isn't what they are about at all. "The first time I attended a meeting I expected to find a Tom Baker lookalike in the corner, with someone in Jon Pertwee's frilly shirt sitting next to him," he says. "Of course, no-one was like that.

Dr Who fans, it appears, take themselves seriously, preferring to leave the fancy dress for Star Trek fans, those lesser mortals who don't mind being sniggered at as they parade around in Klingon masks and Captain Kirk shirts.

Yet owning Dr Who props seems to be acceptable.

Walk into Martin's bedroom and you're faced with a full-sized London police box guarded by an equally large Dalek. So what's the appeal?

"It's like Christmas. You enjoy it when you are young and then, just when you think you have grown out of it, along come your kids, or grandkids and you find you're discovering it all over again," explains Martin.

The Edinburgh Dr Who group meets every Monday at the Claremont Bar in East Claremont Street. Co-owner Robin Scott says: "There's a real friendly banter between the regulars and the Dr Who fans, especially when they do dress up. We're a real sci-fi pub so everyone's used to it — we've got fans of Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5 and Buffy meeting here.

"Luckily they all meet on different nights of the week, so there's never any fighting!"

Gordon Heriot, 34, a biology lecturer, is quick to distance himself from Dr Who obsessives. "This is just like supporting a football team," he says, likening knowledge of the series to memorising your favourite team's results. "I don't mind people knowing I'm a fan, but I do object to the sad gits who are obsessive and get us all tarred with the same brush.

"They make me cringe and want to die away. The majority of us are pretty ordinary people with normal everyday lives."

Richard Walter, 41, who founded the group in 1978, isn't surprised to learn that it is still going strong.

He gets to meet a few real doctors today as secretary to the board of Lothian Primary Care NHS Trust, a job which couldn't be further removed from travelling in time to battle rabid Daleks. "Fandom was very different then," he says. "There weren't videos, and very often the only way you could appreciate old stories would be by seeing them at an event.

"There were social gatherings where you met interesting people and made friends for life. Things were done for the love of it because there weren't the resources there are now"

Stuart and Lesley Halliday, of Livingston, have more than most to thank the Doctor for. They met on a group trip to a Dr Who exhibition in Blackpool and have now been married 14 years.

Stuart, an information technology manager, recalls: "Instead of a bride and groom we had a pair of Daleks on our wedding cake. It was quite amusing watching our guests do a double take."

Amusing, but not just a little embarrassing on reflection? "Not at all," says Lesley, "We wanted to show that we are individuals, that it was our wedding. I suppose I was lucky, most people get a lot of enjoyment from being a fan, I got a husband."

Helen Johnson, meanwhile, is a business consultant and accountant working in Leith. "I remember sitting on the beach in Gibraltar, clutching my Dr Who annual and refusing to be parted from it," she giggles. "I've still got it.

"These days the accountant in me can appreciate the analytical nature of the programme, and even empathise with the clinical determination of the Daleks," she adds, profoundly.

"I suppose it's the multi-levels that the series worked on that made it a success. That and the cliffhanger endings. You had to wait for a week to find out if the Doctor escaped."

RICHARD FRANKLIN, Captain Mike Yates in the series from 1973 to 1993, believes some fans are trying to cling on to their childhoods. "I think as you get older you do tend to look back to your childhood more and more," he says.

"For most people it was a stable time when they felt safe and didn't have worries, so I suppose you draw comfort from immersing yourself in things that remind you of that period of your life."

And former Dr Who, Sylvester McCoy, who didn't really need quirky outfits and accessories to look a little strange, says the series is as popular as ever. "We were doing a Children in Need item outside the Admirality Club in Greenwich and all these former Admirals were coming out in their gold and red trim jackets shaking my hand and saying how much they enjoyed it," he recalls.

"Then there were hard-hat workmen shouting and saying welcome back — everyone from Admirals to workmen still loves Dr Who.

"It makes sense to make a new series. People would love to see that." And who should appear in the starring role?

"Me, of course," he cries.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh fan Simon Knight, a 34-year-old software programmer, doesn't like to over-simplify his reasons for enjoying a programme as well-known for its attachment to quarries and jerky camerawork as its storylines.

"As a scientist I enjoy the show for its technical aspects," he says, deadpan.

"The concept of time travel fascinates me and I see fandom more as a way of meeting like-minded people to socialise with."

Martin Rogerson wants more fans hooked by the latest re-runs to join his merry band of companions. "Our get-togethers are very informal. They've evolved into an evening where a group of friends with a common interest meet and socialise. We tend to spend very little time talking about Dr Who. "That means if someone comes along who has no life outside of the series, they have no option but to join in our varied conversations, so widening their own horizons." So why not enter the Gallifrey?

• The Edinburgh Dr Who group is marking the 36th anniversary of the series by holding an open day tomorrow from 5-7pm at the Claremont Bar, 133 East Claremont Street. It includes a slide show, quiz, displays, raffle and buffet.

DOCTOR Who is now a television classic, with the latest repeats attracting two million viewers.

• There were eight Time Lords, William Hartnell (196366), Patrick Troughton (196669), Jon Pertwee (1970-74), Tom Baker (1975-81), Peter Davidson (1982-84), Colin Baker (1984-86), Sylvester McCoy (1987-89) and Paul McGann (1996).

• There were 470 Dr Who episodes made, but 110 have either gone missing or been destroyed.

• Fans were delighted earlier this month when a long-lost black and white episode of Dr Who starring the first Doctor, William Hartnell, surfaced in New Zealand.

• The BBC plans to retrieve as many lost episodes as possible so the entire collection can eventually be released on video.

• The Daleks, created by Terry Nation, got their name from the spine of the DAL-EK section of an encyclopaedia.

• Terry Nation has said the inspiration for their "gliding" motion came when he saw a performance by the Georgian State dancers.

• Dr Who became a household name in the mid-Sixties and two cinema films starring Peter Cushing were rushed out to meet the demand.

• But in 1967 concerns grew that it was becoming too terrifying for young viewers' nerves and a four-part adventure, Tomb of the Cybermen, prompted questions in Parliament about its effect on children.

Merchandise began to appear in the late 1960s, including Tardis toffee and Dalek icepops.

• The Doctors were all accompanied by glamorous assistants, including Bonnie Langford and Louise Jameson, who currently plays Rose di Marco in EastEnders. But Katy Manning created a massive fuss in the Seventies when she posed nude in a magazine shoot - next to a Dalek.

• The series was axed in 1989, after cinema blockbusters like Star Wars and Close Encounters introduced viewers to lavish special effects.

• The time hopper made a brief comeback in a £3.5 million 1996 film starring Paul McGann and Eric Roberts, brother, of Julia.

• The controversial Channel 4 drama series Queer as Folk featured a character who was a devoted Doctor Who fan.

• The BBC is reported to be considering a new £10m Doctor Who - with Scots actress Daniela Nardini, of This Life fame, as the first female doctor. Further speculation, that camp comic Eddie Izzard could be enlisted as a new Dr Who, has been dismissed by the BBC.

Caption: UNREAL MCCOY: It's a different world for Sylvester McCoy fan David A Porter

Spelling correction: Skaro

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

  • APA 6th ed.: Rudden, Liam (1996-11-26). The time travel of their lives. Edinburgh Evening News p. 23.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Rudden, Liam. "The time travel of their lives." Edinburgh Evening News [add city] 1996-11-26, 23. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Rudden, Liam. "The time travel of their lives." Edinburgh Evening News, edition, sec., 1996-11-26
  • Turabian: Rudden, Liam. "The time travel of their lives." Edinburgh Evening News, 1996-11-26, section, 23 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=The time travel of their lives | url= | work=Edinburgh Evening News | pages=23 | date=1996-11-26 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=26 May 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=The time travel of their lives | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=26 May 2024}}</ref>