Watching Doctor Who from the beginning isn’t anything new. Unless you bring your wife along for the ride…
I blame Toby Hadoke and Rob Shearman.
I was reading the wonderful Running Through Corridors when I was inevitably inspired to watch Doctor Who from the beginning again. I’ve attempted this feat several times before but I usually crumble in the middle of The Sensorities; if I cheat and jump to Pertwee, it’s always Colony in Space that finishes me off. My methodology was probably at fault (that and the sheer awfulness of The Sensorities). I would stay up late, always alone, and I’d watch a handful of fuzzy Hartnells in sporadic bursts. Was it really any wonder that I lost the will to live? Then I remembered John Williams telling me that Andrew Pixley managed it when he rationed himself to a single episode a day. He would watch it while he was having his tea.
The thought of watching the classic adventures this way, with the modern equivalent of beans on toast or a boiled egg and soldiers on my lap, sounded irresistible. It might even result in the odd Proustian rush or two when we reached the Tom Baker years. And since there’s bugger all on the telly at 7pm – unless you count The One Show, and as a rational human being I don’t – it felt like the ideal time slot. All I had to do was convince my wife, Sue, to let me take over the living room for 30-minutes every evening.
And then, entirely on a whim, I decided to push my luck. Why not ask my wife to join me on this journey?
When Rob Shearman’s persuaded his partner to accompany him on his quest, he was met with a raised eyebrow and a pitiful laugh, and while Toby’s fiancé managed to sit through several episodes at the beginning, it didn’t take very long before she dropped out. Who could blame her?
Incredibly, brilliantly, and worryingly, my wife agreed. She would watch every single episode with me. She promised that she would make a concerted effort to stay with it to the bitter end and she promised to give it her full attention (she’d would even switch off her precious mobile phone).
She didn’t even ask for anything in return.
I thought it might be worth chronicling and so I asked her if I could record her reactions as a non-fan as we went along. It would be a bit like DWM’s Time Team, but instead of somebody pretending that they didn’t know what the hell was going on, or what was coming next (including the then-editor of said magazine), you’d get the real deal.
Plus, if people began to read and comment on these mini-reviews, I’d be able to guilt-trip her into continuing the experiment when we inevitably hit our first bump in the road (probably next week when we get bogged down in Thals).top
I have subjected Sue to classic Doctor Who before. When we met in 1993 she sussed that I was a fanboy fairly quickly. It was probably when I started frothing at the mouth when I discovered that she had UK Gold back at her place. I knew that the channel was broadcasting late night Jon Pertwee repeats (most of which I hadn’t seen since childhood), and I would have killed for any opportunity to see some.
In fact, because I’m a fan, I can confidentially pinpoint the day that I went back to her place and met my step-daughter for the first time: Tuesday 13th April, 1993. I bet she can’t do that.
The Curse of Peladon Episode Two, if you’re interested.
Not that Sue watched these episodes with me – not even during our honeymoon period. Thanks to a long and complicated series of events involving her parents and some lodgers who stayed longer than expected, I had to sleep downstairs with her dogs for the first few weeks of our relationship. Their gastric problems (the dogs, not the lodgers) threatened to drive me away on more than one occasion, but Pertwee kept coaxing me back for more.
When I moved in with Sue and her daughter, Nicol, a few months later (Monday 5th July, 1993 – you don’t easily forget the black and white opening to Invasion of the Dinosaurs), my overflowing cardboard boxes of videos, Target novels and back issues of DWM made it clear that I was more than a little interested in this show, and it wasn’t very long before I instigated that all-too-familiar gamble and casually suggested that we watch a couple of stories together. You know, just in case she liked it.
I’d already failed with the show’s intended target audience. Nicol was almost five when I moved in, but the show didn’t do anything for her. I tried every Doctor possible, and while she would laugh for hours at Jon Pertwee’s lisp, she didn’t care for it. A couple of years later, she had to complete a school project on the Aztecs and even that didn’t work out. In the end, I had to accept that Tom Baker couldn’t compete with Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
Sue’s memories of the classic series were practically non-existent when I met her. She didn’t watch the show when she was growing up, and while she knew what a Dalek looked like, and that the TARDIS was bigger on the inside, that was about it.
And so, after many hours of careful deliberation, I subjected her to The Caves of Androzani. It felt closer to modern television than the rest of my VHS collection, even the episodes that were still less that five years old at the time. There was also the added bonus of an unexpected regeneration that would hopefully prove to her that the show could be unpredictable, exciting and moving.
She thought it was “OK”.
A few days later, I wheeled out the big guns and we sat through Genesis of the Daleks in a single sitting.
She loved it. I had to rub her feet through Parts Three to Five but it was worth it.
Knowing me, I probably pushed my luck with something edgy and bleak like Ghost Light or Kinda, but my memory gets a little fuzzy, here. I do remember that she would acquiesce to the odd UK Gold repeat (I have a vivid memory of her scoffing at the Vardans in The Invasion of Time: Wednesday March 2nd, 1994 at approx 11:50pm) but nine times out of ten she would head for bed.
It would be another two years before she’d make another appointment to watch an episode of Doctor Who with me again, but she’s never missed an episode since. However, while she’s partial to the new series, if I unwrap a classic series DVD I will invariably find myself watching it alone, or Sue will use the opportunity to play with her iPad, occasionally glancing up to tut at a Voord or frown at a Krynoid. Every now and again, I might persuade her to watch a DVD extra that’s been directed by Ed Stradling, but on the whole I’ve managed to inoculate her against my passion for this show.
Not that she’s ever sneered at the programme. Sue has never told me to hide my videos or books away in the attic; she’s bought plenty of Doctor Who themed tat for me over the years; she would never chide me for wearing a T-shirt with Tom Baker beaming out from it; she even rang him up on QVC to baffle him with a question about Big Finish (that I was too scared to ask myself), even though she didn’t have the faintest idea who or what Big Finish was (or is).
In summary, she tolerates the classic series but she definitely couldn’t tell the difference between a Patrick Troughton-era Cybermen from a Peter Davison one, as a recent trip to ASDA sadly proved.
She does like science fiction, though, and unless she’s been lying for the past 18 years, she’s enjoyed Star Trek: The Next Generation (she liked Data a bit), Babylon 5 (she fancied Bruce Boxleitner a lot) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (we have a dog named after her). More recently, she’s been an avid viewer of Battlestar, Caprica, Fringe, The Walking Dead and Lost.
Oh, and she’s lovely. Did I mention that?
The experiment begins…top