Without doubt, the greatest influence on my childhood imagination was British science-fiction television series, Doctor Who. Throughout primary school, I faithfully watched every episode screened during James Valentine’s Afternoon Show on the ABC, including all of Tom Baker’s peerless run as the Fourth Doctor, and Sylvester McCoy’s as the Seventh. Then, I had the chance to encounter the Fifth (Peter Davison) and Sixth (Colin Baker) when the ABC screened their adventures at the ungodly hour of 4am, inspiring my mastery of the VHS video timer (look it up, kids), and watched each new episode before school.
I was a strange child. Although I did try, I couldn’t understand my class’ obsession with Michael Jordan, Nike Air and Street Fighter II, when there was another episode of Kinda to be savoured and decoded… Fortunately, there was a small group of teachers and students at the school who shared my obsession, similarly red-eyed the morning of Adric’s (spoilers!) at the hands of the (spoilers!) in Earthshock.
Meanwhile, thanks to an expanding range of BBC Videos, I was able to acquaint myself with the legendary first three Doctors (William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee). Thanks to my rapidly expanding collection of Target Novelisations (God bless you, Terrance Dicks!), and a proliferating collection of non-fiction books about the series, I knew exactly what treasures I was looking for. Of course, anything with the Daleks was a top priority.
The show expanded my vocabulary, inspired an interest in history and science, taught me to dress unfashionably, and to boggle my eyes at people, like Tom Baker. I built my own K‑9 out of ice cream containers, imagined there was a Jagaroth under the house, and was terrified during swimming lessons because of the crab robot in Paradise Towers. In fact, although it looks rather silly now — despite a great script — Paradise Towers did me loads of damage. I was separated from my mother in K‑Mart Burwood after encountering a robotic cleaner, and ran for my life. Also, there was that one time my family was locked outside our house. I was small enough to squeeze through a window to open the door to let everyone in, but was too scared of the Rezzies (elderly cannibals) to enter the house alone. Instead, my parents had to smash a window! Oh, and I forgot to mention, the bath was left running and soon flooded the carpet thanks to my anxieties. See what you did to me, Stephen Wyatt!
Most of the stories I wrote at school and home were about Doctor Who, most of the games I played in the garden, park, or beach were about … Doctor Who. I was never content to simply swim, I had to become a Sea Devil or Marshman, rising from the deep. Fortunately, my sister and cousins were willing accomplices. Some of the time.
Like the Last Centurion, I carried my love of the show through the wilderness years (appropriately enough a teen at the time), when the BBC no longer made new episodes, despite the false-dawn of the Paul McGann TV Movie. I was no longer making robots from ice cream containers, but the inspiration had not faded, and I continued to owe a debt to the show in everything I wrote. I joined fellow die-hards in reading Virgin’s New Adventures and later BBC Books’ series of on-going adventures, listening to Big Finish audio dramas, and attending the occasional convention. I read, and still read, Doctor Who Magazine every month.
One of the highlights of my year backpacking around Europe in 2005 was spotting Russell T. Davies in a W.H. Smith in Manchester, a week before Christmas, and only months after the show’s long-awaited revival. I was purchasing a copy of Doctor Who Magazine — what else? — as he waited behind me in the line. I was too star-struck to speak, but as I left the store turned and caught the great man’s eye. And so with wide smile and booming laugh he joined me for a chat, about what a triumphant return the show had made with Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper in the lead, and what a treat we had in store with David Tennant soon to take the TARDIS reins.
Months later, when I finally returned home (from Barcelona, as it happens; apt choice, as fans will know), I was pouring over a pile of unread DWMs, waiting beside my bed, when I stumbled upon one of Russell T. Davies’ monthly columns, the opening line of which read: “I just met Chris from Sydney!” My heart (almost) literally burst with joy.
I often think of that meeting in Manchester. In my youthful exuberance I naturally told the great RTD I was a writer (carrying an early draft of Empire of the Waves in my backpack at the time), and what an inspiration his work was to me, and he took the time to share some words of wisdom. Nothing heavy-handed, though, just a good-natured warning about the challenges of the writer’s life. (Incidentally, RTD’s book The Writer’s Tale is one of the best books I have read about the subject. Read it!)
Well, it only took me another ten years … but here I am!
I’m so grateful for the return of Doctor Who to our screens. Naturally, it warms the heart of an old fan to have had five incredible new Doctors to appreciate, but it especially warms the heart to think a new generation of children (and future writers) will have their own imaginations kindled by the adventures of the mad man with a box, and by all the wonderful men and women who have brought him to life: actors, writers, directors, producers, designers. All of ’em.
Happy times and places!