AFTER a concerted attempt to resist the Time Lord epidemic that
swept the nation last week (oddly, the more sophisticated and
serious the media outlet, the keener they were to celebrate the
50th anniversary of what remains essentially a children's
programme), it occurred to me that I would hardly be doing my duty
as TV commentator if I passed over an event to which everyone else
accords so great a cultural magnitude.
BBC2 attempted to confront the issue with Me, You and Doctor
Who: A Culture Show special (Friday). How much of our
childhood fears had been given corporeal shape by the Saturday
teatime encounter with the bending of the space/time continuum and
Daleks? How much was our embryonic moral compass informed by this
science-fiction clash between the forces of good and evil, by the
heroic willingness to confront existential danger even unto the
possibility of self-annihilation?
I was happy to entertain all these possibilities, excitedly
discussed by a distinguished line-up of commentators - but then
they showed archive clips of the actual programmes, and, like an
insubstantial pageant, it all fell to dust.
The main problem was the presenter, Matthew Sweet, whose
enthusiasm for the subject reached such levels of rapture as to
require any reasonable viewer to step back a pace. A less
emotionally involved presentation would have given us more space to
join the devotees in their cult. Claiming that we would not yet be
enjoying the privileges of civil partnership or same-sex marriage
had it not been for a gay kiss in some episode or other makes
anyone long for a sense of perspective and realism.
But what of the anniversary programme Doctor Who: The day of
the Doctor (BBC1, Saturday), a 75- minute blockbuster? It
contained many good things. I was particularly struck by the
opening scenes, set within the pantheon of Britain's icons: an East
End Board school, the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square, and the
National Gallery. Even Queen Elizabeth was involved; but in this
case the first monarch of that name, who appeared to have
jettisoned the title of Virgin Queen, thanks to her infatuation
with the Doctor.
All this is part of a significant trend, observable in the
Olympics Opening Ceremony: British heritage employed to add
gravitas to a work of fiction, the employment being at the same
time ironic and tongue-in-cheek, but also respectful and
This is not at heart a subversive or radical critique: it is
essentially romantic, even reactionary. I fully expect the
Doctor Who 100th anniversary to be played entirely by real
members of the royal family and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The story sought to engage us with a Manichaean struggle:
crucial moral issues of conscience and twists of the extremities of
science. Should the Doctor destroy all Arcadia's innocents as the
only way of ridding the universe of the most powerful race of
evildoers (Daleks, of course, bent on extermination)?
It often lapsed into incoherence and playground humour, but the
set pieces were oddly affecting, especially the line-up of all 12
emanations of the Doctor, combining to save his native planet.