WHEN SATURDAY COMES...
I've seen Doctor Who in a lot of different ways in a lot of different places. I watched The Mutants and The Sea Devils on a PBS station while spending a month living on an oil tanker moored on the Mississippi. I've watched Five Doctors with a couple of dozen other fans in a video room at a convention.
I've watched one of the Dalek movies and the TVM on the big screen in the main hall at Panopticon. I've watched it on stage,twice, with two different Doctors.
But that's beside the point. None of them compare to watching Who in it's natural environment. Where it stayed for eighteen years before being mercilessly ripped from its abode just to test out timeslots for a future soap-opera.
Saturday nights. BBC1. Around 5.45pm.
I didn't get into Doctor Who because it was a science-fiction show, or because I was an SF fan. I was introduced to it early, via my parents. Back in the 1970s, Saturday evening was family viewing day. Heck, almost the whole day come to think of it. These were happy days, when the BBC ruled the TV airwaves, when quality counted for something, before Jim Davison, Dale Winton or the National Lottery Show came along to screw things up.
I've managed to pretty accurately pin down my first Who experience.
Sometime in March or April 1975.Not yet three years old. For years I had a single memory from Genesis Of The Daleks, of Davros talking to someone, in front of a pair of those doors with the small round windows. That and the first set of Weetabix cards were my first dance with what was to become a lifelong obsession.
You see, Doctor Who was a part of something bigger back then. The aforementioned evening of family TV. This could be extended back to 9am in the morning (at least, from 1976 onwards) when you'd have your breakfast and watch Swap Shop. The parents could happily sit andwatch the cheeky, non-offensive entertainment of Noel Edmonds and Keith Chegwin and the kids would enjoy it too (although many, like me were really waiting for the cartoon to be shown, Hong Kong Phooey to begin with IIRC) Then came the Saturday afternoon sports show,Grandstand, which in those days actually *had* sport to show. I'd either sit and watch the horse racing and footie, although I *did* switch over to ITV for the wrestling. Either that or go out and play at the local park. But always back before teatime.
Ah, teatime. The chattering of the teleprinter, the commanding voice of the bloke who read out the final scores. That warm, fuzzy, heady feeling after you've eaten your tea and have settled down in a comfy chair until bedtime (allowing for calls of nature, naturally).
Then the evening news. Of which I remember nothing.
Then (and here's where I admit, I'm working from memory here. Haven't checked any of these details, I may be talking rubbish here) it was one of three programmes.
The Pink Panther Show - complete with a kid driving the Panthermobile in the titles. Face it, we *all* wanted to be that kid.
Basil Brush - A few lines can't do justice to the comedy genius of this show. The kids were entertained by a puppet fox while the parents laughed at the slightly ribald humour and his sidekick's attempts not to crack up.
Jim'll Fix It - Dear Jim, please could you fix it for me to be controller of the BBC for a day. Yours, Michael Grade.
Programme which made dreams come true for kids.
Mainly remembered now for Sir Jimmy Saville O.B.E., the one with the scouts eating lunch on a loop-the-loop roller coaster and Gareth Jenkins.
Then it came. Those two lines of light, that blue cabinet thing, the tunnel, the music, the face of Tom. This was our hallelujah chorus, this was our equivalent of Robbie Williams' 'Let Me Entertain You'. Twenty five minutes of rollicking adventure.
Monsters and explosions for kids. One-liners, background resonances and attractive female companions for the parents.
It didn't get much better than this. Indeed, it hasn't.
After the joy of Who, came the Generation Game. Back then it was a hugely entertaining gameshow, the best bits of which were the contestant's attempts to replicate the work / routines of professional potters / cake decorators / limbo dancers.
Can't remember what came after that. A sit-com perhaps?Are You Being Served? or Dad's Army or Some Mothers Do'Ave 'Em. I seem to remember all of them being on a Saturday evening at some point.
Ah, the point. Yes, I get to it eventually.
For season 19, they moved Doctor Who. Moved it to a twice weekly slot at about 7pm or 7.30pm. You may have all your opinions and theories about how producers / actors / writers /etc, etc killed off Doctor Who, but i think *this* was it.
Something was gone. Who had to stand alone now, apart from all the other classic family programs. It seemed to be more of an effort to tune in now. (I missed about four episodes of season 20 because I was out playing, whereas if it had been in the old timeslot, I wouldn't have missed a single one.)
The old magic was gone. Yes there was a half-hearted attempt to put it back on a Saturday with S23, but I think it was too late by then. Saturday evenings just weren't special anymore, they were just another evening, like all the others.
This is why I kind of doubt it'll ever come back. There's no way we can recreate those halcyon days of the 70s. Back then, combined with its neighbours it was a pure, unstoppable force of entertainment.
We thought it would last forever, that nothing could go wrong.
Well, it did.
I miss those Saturdays. When I get depressed I wish things were back the way they were then. Stupid? Mad? Looking through rose-tinted glasses? Probably.
But the fact remains that when I stick in a video-tape, press play and that blue tunnel starts heading my way and Tom Baker stares at me with those eyes of his, it's one of the best things ever.
Choose adventure. Choose green monsters. Choose Doctor Who.