I’m glad Twitter exists so that I can talk to the pals I can’t meet up with. This week I was talking to my friend, Rachel Rankin, about Dr Who. It reminded me of a piece I wrote ages ago for a Scottish Book Trust project, the name of which I no longer remember. I can’t even recall what the brief was. Anyway, here it is.
My daughters are now 24 and 21. Rosie is with her flatmates in Edinburgh and I haven’t seen her for weeks now. Juliet is stuck here with me and her dad and is desperately missing her pals and her boyfriend.
But, the sun is shining and we’re healthy and this will all be over eventually.
The Stolen Earth is the first part of the finale in the fourth series of the new Doctor Who. It was first broadcast on Saturday 28th June 2008 on BBC1.
The evening began well. We sat down to curry scooped from tinfoil containers after a day full of weekend chores and hobbies. Now there was a bowl of pakora to be dipped in fluorescent sauce and chilled white wine haemorrhaging into my glass. Rosie, our eldest, switched on the television and the whole family waited for the latest episode of Dr Who to begin.
The familiar music started and we each had our own combination of excitement and anxiety that the souped-up piece of archaic electronica inspired. Whether it was John Pertwee, Tom Baker, Christopher Eccleston or David Tennant’s image that floated through our minds, we four were part of a collective experience – not just inside our kitchen – but in rooms with televisions all over the country for the best part of the last half century.
As the music faded, it was Mr Tennant, the tenth doctor, whose face appeared on the screen and I noticed a huge grin emerge on Juliet’s face. Few things display devotion as innocently as a nine-year-old girl in love with a fictitious time-lord played by a skinny young man from Renfrew.
“Why do you like him so much?” I often asked her. She replied in evasive sound bites, “He’s funny,” or “He’s cute,” or “He’s Scottish.” I couldn’t understand her crush. True, her preferred Time Lord was given self-consciously amusing lines to say and, although he seemed to me to mug mercilessly at the camera using a strangulated, estuary English, Brit-pop accent he was definitely Scottish. Like everyone else in the West of Scotland, we were considerably less than six degrees of separation away from the great man himself. A friend of a friend lived next door to his sister and a neighbour’s work colleague had once sold him organic courgettes at a local farmers’ market.
You couldn’t deny the new Doctor was good-looking and had more street style than the previous incarnation. I had been a fan, but admittedly, Christopher Eccleston’s brand of dour, Northern, leather-jacketed dad-chic had been an acquired taste. Juliet certainly thought David Tennant was perfect in the role. She adored his edgy Converse trainers, his sonic screwdriver, his increasingly precarious quiff and his ability to travel through time and space. In the early days, she had also adored his companion, Rose Tyler, an ordinary girl who was plunged into the Doctor’s thrilling world. If someone like Rose could meet him, then it wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility that Juliet might grow up to do the same.
That Saturday night, the plot revolved around a Dalek bid to steal Planet Earth and the subsequent mustering of the Doctor’s forces in an attempt to foil their evil plan. In a mind-bogglingly, convoluted story, the writers had conspired to amass our hero, his most unassailable foe and every companion of note from the last two series. Thus, as the Doctor battles to close the time portals that allow the Daleks to wreak havoc on Earth and threaten the very existence of the Universe itself, a motley crew of sidekicks gather for a timely reunion.
The hype for this penultimate episode had been such that, even without her subscription to the weekly Dr Who Adventures magazine and borderline addiction to the official BBC website, Juliet knew that the end of this series would see a major character lost forever. We had discussed the possibilities at length over the last few weeks and every family member had a theory as well as a preferred character to be bumped off.
It sounded like an exciting, engaging family-friendly adventure. The trouble was that we hadn’t counted on two crucial things. Firstly, the deep well of devotion that was our younger daughter’s love for the Doctor and secondly, the fact that the producers seemed to have decided that David Tennant should be the actor headed for the dole queue. By the end of the episode, the Daleks had captured and destroyed him and the only thing that could be done was for the Doctor to regenerate thanks to a body double and a rogue hand (don’t ask – it got complicated!). That meant, that when we tuned in next week for the final instalment, another actor would be playing the Time Lord. I looked over at Juliet and saw a mixture of shock and disbelief on her traumatised face. A few moments later she was sobbing – tears pouring onto her naan bread.
I then discovered that in a situation like this, no amount of sensible chat about it being make-believe, the programme makers manipulating the audience in their quest for ratings, the actor being separate from his character and therefore not actually dead proved any help in alleviating the very real pain she was experiencing.
We spent the next couple of hours wrapped in conciliatory cuddles while manically surfing the web trying to find any information about the denouement of the story. Frustratingly, in a world of information overload, media saturation and proliferation of reliable spoilers, it became apparent that the Dr Who production team had actually achieved the impossible and succeeded in keeping the outcome of the story top secret. I could find no clue, anywhere, as to what had happened and how it would play out next week.
A nail-biting week ensued until Saturday evening rolled around again and – what do you know? – David Tennant lived to travel to another galaxy. It had all been a trick and was rectified within a few minutes by a series of implausible twists and turns. Juliet was mightily relieved, the angst of the previous seven days shrugged off as she became entangled in the latest plot development.
It had been a classic case of girl meets boy, girl loses boy and then girl gets boy back again. So much for originality, Russell T Davies!