A Universe Without the Doctor

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Guest contributor Elliot Thorpe remembers the dark days…

There’s an oft-quoted speech from 1989’s ‘The Curse of Fenric’, wherein it alludes to putting away childish things once adulthood had been reached. Doctor Who, however, doesn’t apply.

My earliest memory of the series was in 1976, when the Krynoid pod from ‘The Seeds of Doom’ split and out popped a long thin tendril.  I was 5 and had never watched Doctor Who before and I didn’t watch it much after, either. It terrified me, you see, this thing quivering across the screen in all its green glory.

The next few years found me only ever catching the closing credits (pre-1980s style) and thinking that the time-tunnel effect looked organic and somewhat similar to what I imagined the inside of a windpipe to be like. It terrified me, you see, this endless tube that I was hurtling down.

Then I caught ‘Logopolis’, specifically the climax of episode four. All these weird creatures and other humans looked on – all saying ‘Doctor’ while the titular hero lay dying on some grass.  He’d fallen from something after doing something beforehand that saved the universe somehow. I hadn’t paid much attention if I’m honest. You may have gathered that. Yet it had all been prepared for (apparently) because he changed his appearance! Right there before me!

And it struck a chord. Quite suddenly.

There I was, ten years of age, and I wondered what on earth I’d been missing all these years. I had arrived just as the Doctor, this funny man with big teeth, bigger hair and the biggest hearts, was leaving. Who was he? Who had he been? Why did he now look so different?

And so I watched. And I watched. And I watched. Every episode.  Season in, season out. For the next 8 years. I felt I had so much catching up to do, so much to learn, to discover. Not only was I absorbing these new stories as they unfolded on TV, I could go back and find out more about the curly-haired Doctor who had so cruelly been taken away from me – and all these other older Doctors, too!  I bought all the Target novelisations, all the variations of the essentially-the-same Peter Haining hardback books and started collecting DWM, I videoed the stories off the TV and I played my treasured Doctor Who – The Music LP over and over and over again. I recorded bits of the soundtracks off TV, mixed them with selections of The Music and made my own cassettes of clips! Hours of them! I was in heaven! (I still do that, make up clips. But now I’m all modern and they’re mp3s.)

And it never stopped. Not ever. Not once. (Well, maybe once. I didn’t buy DWM one month because I thought I shouldn’t anymore. But I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat. What had I done?! It was okay though. I bought it as a back issue in the end.)

Then it was 1989.

I was a grown-up (apparently). I had been for some time (apparently).

And Doctor Who left. Never to return.

So while I and the rest of fandom (actually, as far as I was concerned, it only ever was me who was the Doctor’s greatest fan) reeled in shock and desperation as we realised this really was the final end, I still had my novelisations, Doctor Who Magazine and the occasional video release to ease my Cold Turkey spasms.

So I squirreled away my disposable income – albeit meagre- to help buy the Virgin novels that suddenly started being published – too broad and too deep for the screen, they were (apparently). The videos were becoming more regular in their releases and so my cravings were being satisfied. Or were they? Were they really being satiated enough?

But I got used to it. I knew it wasn’t ever going to come back. Instead, it became part of TV history and something you never admitted to liking when you went down the pub.

And so, even though I, as I say, got used to it, in answer to my own question, no it was never enough. Because something was missing. Something new. Someone new.

The Doctor. He was there in spirit. He’d always been there. In the cupboard, under my bed, on my bookshelf, in my video (then DVD) player. But he wasn’t on TV. And I missed him. He tried to come back once. But some people in charge didn’t like it enough.

Then it was 2003.

Was this true? After years of speculation, rumour, disappointment, was he actually coming back? Properly coming back?

Then it was 2005.

What followed I don’t think anyone, no matter how much faith they ever had in Doctor Who, could have foreseen.

Everywhere you look now, every magazine, newspaper, shop window, the Doctor is looking back out at us. The current Doctor. The Doctor on TV having new TV adventures. Just like he used to when I was a child.

I may be older. I may be arguably wiser, but that doesn’t matter, because here we are on the eve of the show’s biggest ever anniversary year. And I’m still watching it. Still absorbing it all (as much as I can, at least – because now we’re spoilt for choice). We all are, every one of us.

So Doctor, if you’re ever thinking of leaving us again, if you ever decide that the TV schedules just aren’t enough for you anymore, please reconsider.

If you go, who will fight the monsters? Make us laugh? Make us cry? Make us happy? Make us feel safe?

You’re our hero and you always will be.

For the universe without the Doctor scarcely bears thinking about.