Doctor Who – The Gateway Drug

23/11/2013 at 10:18 am (Doctor Who) (, , , , , )

IMG_3513Yesterday, my partner and I had the pleasure of visiting the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Celebration at the ExCeL in London. We’d arrived in good time for the events, herded en mass to the main auditorium. The visitors were split into two groups, Ice Warriors and Weeping Angels, ensuring there was sufficient capacity for the different groups who would see the guest panels at different times.

There was an all-pervading sense of expectation and excitement rippling through the queue as we waited for entry to the first screening. The excitement was mainly due, I think, to many of us not knowing what to expect. I assumed this as I’m not one for doing my homework and tend to turn up at things wide-eyed and confused.

The hanger-like holding area held no visual interest, so we turned to costume spotting. Tenth Doctors slightly outnumbered the Eleventh, there were a few Seventh, a Fifth and a many Tom Baker scarves. Quite a few were dressed as TARDISes, or rather TARDIS dresses and tops. Sadly, no re-constitued fridge boxes were evident. Later that day we’d see the most adorable toddler Sixth Doctor (“He’s a bit grumpy today,” said his mother. “In character then?” I replied.)

The first panel dealt with the special effects of the show. Perhaps not enlightening for older fans, it was undoubtedly great for younger visitors, with its fire and flashes. Which was the point really. The children and families. Yes, I’m a grown up man, but I’m still a fan. My interest in Doctor Who has risen and fallen like the TARDIS’ time rotor (certainly as pubs and… other things grabbed my interest), but it’s never completely gone away, and I was hooked from childhood.

We shuffled into the ‘Celebration Hall’, stepping through the gates of IM Foreman’s junk yard in Totters Lane, touchingly done out to represent the studios of BBC Television Centre. There were the merchandise stands (me = moth, toys = flame) and examples of props and costumes.  Vintage wagons, used for location filming, held examples of make up and wardrobe, while there miniatures and models from the history of the programme.

Events like these cement this love, not just with Doctor Who, but television and performing arts in general. This became particularly clear at the ‘Walk Like A Monster’ demonstration, tutored by show’s choreographer Ailsa Berk. You could see the children get really into it, mimicking Cybermen and Peg Dolls, capturing the jerky, disjointed gait of the latter with enthusiasm. That’s when you realise that if even one of those kids enthusiasm for performance is sparked, it’s been a good day.

I read a tweet, which I regrettably can’t remember who said it, that said ‘Doctor Who is a gateway drug to horror.” That is a perfect way of putting it. For children, it opens up the possibilities of other storytelling, delving into the otherworldly tales, dealing with death and horror in the safe environs of teatime terror. It’s also a gateway into understanding what goes into a television programme that boasts an incredible complexity. There is no other programme like Doctor Who, which can be any kind of show it wants to be.

Doctor Who fans, from my experience, don’t really care about the gossip behind the show as a rule. Not as much as the tabloids would have you believe. We tend to absorb information about how the programme is put together; shooting blocks, writers, directors, producers, and other essential aspects of a show’s production. That’s not unusual for fans of TV shows, but it tends to come later. When it comes to Doctor Who, this interest is piqued very early on. Children will write stories for Doctor Who, but also start making their own short films, design monsters.

I see Doctor Who as a dearly loved friend. I am, and pretty much will always be a fan. That came from my love of the programme as a child.

Am I too old for Doctor Who? All I can say is that there’s no age limit on that kind of adventure.

Happy 50th, Doctor.


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