Doctor Who Night

Saturday, November 13, 1999 by

It was a cold wet night in November and what splendid entertainment.

There is something gratifying about seeing the big old telly celebrate something which has such a personal meaning to you. I remember Doctor Who winning the BBC award for Best Ever Drama a few years ago. I knew it was a fix, but seeing it applauded by real grown up people who don’t really understand was particularly heart warming. Doctor Who had gone legitimate! Likewise seeing this week’s Radio Times with its proper Doctor Who cover (don’t be fooled in to thinking this a proper recognition of its popularity by the BBC, it’s a cynical “collector’s item” in the making; just you wait for the reader’s special offer to buy exclusive prints) warmed the cockles. After all this, the content of BBC2′s Doctor Who Night was always going to be rather irrelevant. A friend of mine once remarked that he’d happily watch Patrick Stewart fart in a jar. Likewise the bowel movements of any of the incarnations of the Doctor would hold an appeal (albeit morbid) for me.

Having been off the screen for 10 years, it was always going to prove difficult to conjure up a new slant on the Time Lord. More Than Thirty Years in the Tardis has pretty much covered all the bases, and unless someone were to extract the salacious side of Doctor Who, there was little chance of either of the documentaries telling us something we didn’t already know. All the participants trotted out their standard responses and the only real surprise was the alacrity in which the Pertwee era was dealt with. No matter, this night was geared towards the “real folk” anyway, and our thrills were to be extracted from enjoying the packaging. Doctor Who in a hip ’90s context was always going to be appetising. From the iconic power of the Dalek BBC2 logo to the hip text fonts in the documentaries, one felt that Russell T Davies’ vaunted Doctor Who 2000 was already here (in essence anyway). Then of course there was Tom Baker.

Perhaps it took Have I Got News For You for the Who community to realise that Tom was always our best ambassador. He has an appeal to a mainstream audience that cuts across the potential embarrassment factor. In short he is the Doctor you would most like to have a pint with. Tom did not need to work for his money on this particular gig. He simply imbued his linking material with his customary sparkling eyes. Having become accustomed to his fixation on religion and love, he seemed slightly reined in here. But then again such observations had no real part in these proceedings. He looked great and like everything else, one was invited to enjoy the packaging. Content was irrelevant for this night – with one exception.

Gatiss and Walliams were the only source of any real new material during the entire evening. Sketches written by people in the know who are also funny is a unique phenomenon for Doctor Who. Sly digs at post Season 18 and insulting remarks regarding some of the Doctor’s acting abilities were delivered as if they were proper jokes and not anal fan things. The Web of Caveslooked like Doctor Who circa Patrick Troughton (actually kind of like the beginning of “The Krotons”, or “The Dominators”) with Gatiss playing a great, hen-pecked Doctor, and The Kidnappers seemed to be broadcast directly from Royston Vasey. Splendid sketches all of them.

So all in all a thoroughly entertaining night. I didn’t much care for the actual Doctor Whoepisode of course, and I switched off halfway through the movie. However, one was left with an essence of what Doctor Who could’ve been had it continued past 1989. Every Who fan carries with them a fear that one day it will come back and they will discover they don’t like it anymore. Tonight allayed those fears. Without providing us with a single snippet of “real” Doctor Who, BBC2 made us feel as if – for one night – the TARDIS had rematerialised. Time to stick on your copy of “Doctor In Distress”?


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