Not being in Britain in the 1960s, I cannot say I knew much about it from back then — at least not first hand. But I was here in the 1980s, and then again in the 90s, and the Noughties, and the Tweenies… and then I did get it, first hand and avidly.
So much so that I became one of those diehard fans who absolutely needed to hit the sofa at the right time or there’d be no end of hell to pay… What am I talking about? I’m talking about Doctor Who, of course, and his astonishing T.A.R.D.I.S.. What else?
Ah, of course, the stories. The stories were something else. Everything about Doctor Who was something else. That is what I came to know.
When I was here in the 1980s, an English friend told me that to really appreciate Doctor Who you needed perhaps to be able to tap into what makes ‘englishness’. I’m mentioning this only because I do have to confess that, used to imagining my sci-fi inside my head, with the help of illustrations and of the few American old school classics and later commercial type sci-fi series which were already sort of ‘percolating’ into the Portuguese television, at first I was not that taken with Doctor Who. There was none of the SFX that Hollywood were already beginning to master. Or the sleek futuristic fashion. Or the high tech props. There was that Dalek thing, running around threatening human extermination, but who looked more like a garbage can than any E.T. I had ever seen or imagined… And not much else. Nah. That did not make my scene. Or did it?
As first impressions went, I can’t say I was instantly hooked. But then the thing grew on me, as the best things tend to do: slowly and steadily. Maybe my friend was right. Maybe to fully appreciate Doctor Who one needs to tap into some unseen, unspoken, hard to quantify reservoir of ‘englishness’, and in that case that is exactly what happened to me — I am now so fully acculturated that I naturally understand and tap into that reservoir whenever it is called upon.
Those who know me would say that it was certainly that, and Ecclestone. And then… well, then… then, there was Mr. Whatshisname. Whom another friend once described like ‘her parsley’ — he could be found, in whatever shape or form, pretty much everywhere she looked… for her absolute delight. Him. Who was my Doctor Who. But then there was the one who everyone said would not fill such huge shoes left vacant, but who did and very well, allowing us 10&1/2ers to continue madly in love with the show. And after Matt Smith, of course, there was the brilliantly exotic Capaldi. And I won’t talk of the sidekicks, as I still love Rose above all others. And I won’t talk of the new T.A.R.D.I.S.es, either, which gradually became ever more stunning and sophisticated. Or of the props, ditto. Or of the storylines, ditto, ditto ditto.
More about all that, from ‘englishness’ to Mr. Whatshisname, at a later date — well, maybe.
Because now, now the talk’s all about Doctor Who. Doctor Who, and someone called Sydney Newman. Yes. Sydney Newman. Whose autobiography, Head of Drama, I received today, to read and review. It’s coming out on September 2nd, so I’ll be reading it soon, to be able to tell you all about it. I expect it to be very interesting, and I’m really looking forward to it.
Erm… Sydney Newman, you say…? But who on Earth is Sydney Newman…?
You may indeed ask. Because it’s understandable that you might not know. Especially if you’re not as ancient as us old fogeys here. Or, heavens forbid, if you’re not a Whovian. Or even a fan of televised theatre. Otherwise, I’m afraid it might be unforgivable not to know who Sydney Newman was.
Born in Canada in 1917, Sydney Cecil Newman was a T.V. producer who, in the 1960s, landed the role of Head of Drama for the BBC. There, as the innovator at heart and critical thinker that he was, Newman set about, so to speak, shaking the cobwebs off the chandeliers.
Being an ‘outsider’ himself, and not a believer in — or a particular fan of — the “old boys’ network” thing or indeed of the insider v. outside custom and culture of the time, he thought jobs should go for those with talent and competence to perform them, irrespective of where they stood in the pecking order or the food chain… or the gender axis.
As far as Newman was concerned, fresh talent was to be nurtured and encouraged. A man well ahead of his time in a London — and a broadcasting environment — which was very rigid and formatted and barely coming out of the ‘50s, Newman dared the unthinkable: he put a young woman, Verity Lambert, in charge of the production of this new, outside the box series, which was also in a genre that was deemed, to say the least, ‘difficult’ and not audience friendly. The outcome was Doctor Who, and the rest is history.
So, that’s who Sydney Newman is. He’s the man who started it all. And I for one can’t wait to read about those years at the Beeb, and the thrill it must have been to come up with something so radically new and literally against all odds.