Thursday, 14 November 2013

Who's turning fifty: Part one

Another anniversary, for another famous fictional icon,
is materialising fast

(With apologies to the Radio Times)
Most of my writing about Doctor Who (and there’s a vast embarrassment of, well embarrassments, really) has been for other fans, (and can be found here: and here: and is therefore pitched at a certain level, for an often very specific brief. ‘Niche’ might be the word I’m looking for, or ‘geeky’, if you prefer.
But a piece which hasn’t been published before, and is hopefully a little more accessible than usual, is this speech I delivered six years ago for a Speechcraft course.
It’s not a spectacular example of public speaking, but it did force me to try to explain my love for Doctor Who to people who weren’t already converted to the same cause, and possibly even suspicious or dismissive of the programme.
Whether my captive audience found the following three minutes entertaining or not, I couldn’t say, but I found it a useful exercise in questioning what to me what is unquestionable, and asking why anyone should watch this wonderfully-silly little programme..

Why the Doctor is Good for you (2007)
I have a secret affliction. 
It’s been described by some as the social equivalent of a venereal disease, with symptoms which include being very unlikely to see a woman naked until you‘re well into your twenties.
It doesn’t so much break families up as ensure that they’re never started in the first place. Tap-dancing your way to social ridicule is so last century – this will do it for you in seconds.
I am a Doctor Who fan. 
Particularly since the unbelievably-popular revival of the programme a couple of years ago I now know that I’m far from alone, so I’m going to justify this affliction, and prove that it’s good for you.

1. General Knowledge
The programme is older than I am – 44 years old this November, in fact.
When it first began it was intended to be educational – oh yes! – because you see, the lead character, the Doctor, is essentially a scholar, an explorer and a scientist.
The programme may not always use ‘real science’ but when it does, it always strives to get it right.  Consequently countless gems of physics, chemistry and biology rattle about inside my brain because I’ve seen or heard them on Doctor Who!  These same gems have led some others to pursue careers in science, taking them in directions of  research which may one day benefit all of us.
The Doctor is also a Time traveller, which very intentionally opens up history to its audience.  We get to meet figures from Nero to Richard the Lionheart, to Charles Dickens and experience events from the eruption of Vesuvius to the French revolution first hand.  While being entertained we learn.  And I know this because with every crossword or quiz I’ve ever done in my life I’ve owed at least a couple of correct answers to Doctor Who.

2. Values
I don’t mean in a preachy US sitcom sort of way, definitely not.
The irony of Doctor Who is that it takes a 900 year old time-travelling alien with two hearts to demonstrate the best qualities of being human. 
How to be brave when the monsters come, but tolerant and gracious when encountering something different.
To be interested in everything and to abhore violence, cruelity and oppression.
To always try to use brains over brawn and wits over weaponery.
To be passionate in your beliefs, to uphold the rights of the individual and to never lose your sense of wonder, no matter how old or well-travelled you are.
I think it’s better to have these things reinforced by a television programme than not at all.

3.  Creativity
Lets return to the nature of being a Geek  I’ll be the first to admit that the more extreme examples can be a little socially challenged.  In fact I’ve seen and heard sights you wouldn’t believe but I hope to keep this speech at an acceptable length, this week, so I’ll move on
With this unfortunate ‘nerdery’ also comes surprising intelligence, creativity and motivation.  Some call it the geek gene, some compare it to a strain of autism, but what geeks lack in social graces they seem to have in abundance creatively. 
I myself missed out on the intelligence, but over the last two decades have illustrated books and magazines, written and had published reviews, essays and a short story, and even drawn a couple of comic strips about Doctor Who.
A young relative, who’s interest has nothing to do with me, honest, struggled a little at school until he got his first ever ‘A’.  It was for a project on, well, I think you can guess.  This gave him a taste for the satisfaction in doing something well and his marks have stayed good ever since.
In another league altogether, the current production team and even lead actor of the new series are all top in the fields they work in because they grew up as Doctor Who fans.  The lunatics really have taken over the asylum, but it must be a good thing because the programme wins BAFTA’s these days.

So you see, watching Doctor Who can offer you brain food, a moral compass and a creative catalyst – it’s all there.
And I haven’t even mentioned what fantastic fun it is, the sheer joy of escaping reality for a while and getting lost in the lunacy and ingenuity of it all.
Thank you.



  1. And almost immediately, that (fantastic!) graphic is made erroneous...

  2. Uncanny, or what? I posted this last night, and obviously had no way of knowing.
    But I'm more than happy about that... I'd happily throw out a year's worth of artwork to see you know who back in you know what...
    (and I should credit Peter here, who provided the idea for the illustration when it first appeared)