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The Nottingham TARDIS Social Group Talk all About Doctor Who

25 December 17 words: Gav Squires

The Nottingham TARDIS Social Group has been running for more than 10 years. On the eve of Jodie Whittaker taking over the role, we popped down to have a chat about all things Doctor Who.

Every month the Nottingham TARDIS Social Group get together in The Stage pub and have a Doctor Who themed quiz, a raffle and just a general chat about all things Who. I sat down with four of their members after a recent meeting.

Greg

Favourite Doctor: John Pertwee, Tom Baker, David Tennant, Matt Smith AND Peter Capaldi.

Favourite story: Doctor Who and the Silurians

Member for: Five years

Jeff

Favourite Doctor: Tom Baker

Favourite story: City of Death

Member for: Two years

Carol-Anne

Favourite Doctor: Classic - Patrick Troughton, New - David Tennant

Favourite story: Classic - Shada, New - Doomsday

Member for: Ten years

Trevor

Favourite Doctor: Classic - Patrick Troughton, New - Peter Capaldi

Favourite story: Classic - The War Games, New - The Doctor's Wife

Member for: Ten years and organiser for the last year

Gav: The group started just after Doctor Who returned to our screens, how did you all feel when it was announced that it was coming back?

Greg: I was excited! I've been a Doctor Who fan for around 20 years so I became a fan when it wasn't on telly so when I heard it was coming back I thought, "interesting". When it came back, it felt a little bit different to the Doctor Who I'd been used to but I accepted it as a new Doctor Who for a new century, for a new audience. Over the last 12 years, I've come to regard both classic and new Who as one whole piece, it's just one whole 54-year old programme, there's nothing that separates it.

Jeff: That's the good thing about the way they brought it back, rather than a reboot where they completely reinvented it, kit was very much brought back as the same programme.

Trevor: But made for a modern audience.

Jeff: Yeah but tied in.

Greg: And they've brought back a lot of the monsters and other characters and the upcoming Christmas special is partly a remake of one of the classic 1960's episodes that saw William Hartnell leave the series. So, even though it's made for a modern audience, it does have a habit of looking back to the past every now and then.

Carol-Anne: I don't think it's so much as thinking of it as two separate parts though, it's just there is so much that it's hard to pick one so the easiest way to do it is to pick from one the classic era and one from the new. It's not that you're separating them, it's still all one. To be honest, I used to listen to classic as a kid but I can't remember much and then there was the big gap and with it coming back, it got me into the whole thing.

Trevor: I grew up in the '70s and Jon Pertwee was my Doctor. I'm old enough to have watched the black and white episodes but I think because of my dad I didn't get to watch it but when I was 9 or 10 I was old enough to say that I wanted to watch. I watched it all the way to the end and it sort of left me a bit when it wasn't on telly and then I was so excited when it came back with Paul McGann but then we quickly realised that nothing else was going to happen. Then when I heard it was coming back again there was a little bit of trepidation - we've been here before. Then when then announced that they'd got Christopher Eccleston, wow! He's a proper actor but then when he was leaving almost straight away, I thought "bloody hell"

Greg: He can't leave, it's only been one series! I thought, "what if they cancel the series again?" I didn't know that it had been recommissioned.

Trevor: And I didn't know David Tennant that well, I'd seen a couple of things but he wasn't well known at the time. He quickly showed that he's a superb actor. The thing with Doctor Who fandom is that it's kept alive by the fans, in the twenty odd years that it wasn't on television, the three people who have run it, Russell T Davies, Steven Moffat and Chris Chibnall, are all long-time fans. They're not Johnny-cum-latelys and lots of the people who work on it are fans - it's a programme that's being run by fans. There's always that difficult balance between making stuff for fans and making something acceptable for the general public.

Greg: You can't support one without alienating the other, you have to be more inclusive.

Trevor: I think a lot of fans struggle with that - the fact that it's made for a general audience. I think almost all fans accepted it when it came back, loved the fact that it had come back at all and the fact that it was being looked after by Russell T Davies, you couldn't have had anyone better - he knew modern television, he'd had success, he knew how to write and he was a huge fan. He'd written books before so you knew he was a fan. Steven Moffat had written episodes before, under Russell T Davies, so you knew he was a fan.

Carol-Anne: As far as I can see, we owe Russell T Davies a great debt of gratitude, it's him that brought it back.

Greg: As I said, I grew up in the years when it wasn't on telly and was really embarrassed about it.

Trevor: It wasn't cool was it?

Greg: For many years, the BBC didn’t want anything to do with the show, they had a real negative attitude towards it. It was only because of Russell T Davies that they agreed to bring it back.

Trevor: The BBC for a long time had a very negative attitude to all science fiction. So, when BBC 2 started showing Star Trek The Next Generation, they realised that there was an audience for it and Alan Yentob, who was in charge of the BBC at the time thought that if people wanted to watch that then maybe they would want to watch Doctor Who. So it was him that started showing classic episode on BBC 2 - Alan Yentob deserves a bit of praise as well for that. But without Russell T Davies it wouldn't have been a success. He realised that you had to appeal to fans  but also the general public. He based it on The Adventures of Lois and Clark, the Superman thing, he was a huge fan of that and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and he knew what modern audiences wanted. So, you had someone there steeped in modern TV but is also a huge Doctor Who fan.

Carol-Anne: Sci-fi was a big thing in the '60s and you had all the b-movies and I absolutely loved them. I don't know if I could watch them now but I loved them. And then it died a death for a bit but I think it's come back with a bang now.

Trevor: There was that culture at the BBC in the late '80s, when they cancelled the show. I remember going to an audience with Andrew Cartmel, who was the script editor during the final Sylvester McCoy run, and he was saying that not only did that hate Doctor Who but they hated all science-fiction. They couldn’t understand why anyone would want to watch.

Greg: And remember that Doctor Who was put up against Coronation Street.

Jeff: They tried to kill it, didn't they?

Trevor: When Michael Grade went on Room 101, one of the things that he wanted to consign was Doctor Who.

Greg: He said that it was absolute rubbish, which shows that he still had it in for the show.

Trevor: There was a whole culture that hated it.

 

Gav: We've got Jodie Whittaker making her debut as the new Doctor on Christmas day, what do you all think of the new Doctor?

Carol-Anne: I can't wait!

Greg: I'm looking forward to it. Obviously, this is the first time that the Doctor has changed gender.

Gav: Does a Timelord have a gender in the same way that we humans do?

Greg: Well they do now, it seems. They made The Master into a woman, played by Michelle Gomez, who was wonderful.

Carol-Anne: We have had female Timelords before.

Greg: And in one of Peter Capaldi's episodes, we saw one regenerate from a white man into a black woman

Trevor: The Curse Of Fatal Death, the Comic Relief special written was Steven Moffat, was almost a template for his run on the show - starting with a male Doctor and ending with a female one. Speaking as a 50-something white male, the ethnicity and the sex of the Doctor is completely irrelevant. There are two things for me - are they a good actor and are they different from the last person? Jodie Whittaker is different from Peter Capaldi and she's a good actor so she qualifies on both counts.

Jeff: I think that's the crucial thing, can they act?

Trevor: Everybody that has played Doctor Who has been a good actor

Jeff: I nearly agree with you on that one but some have definitely been better than others. From what I've seen of Jodie Whittaker in Broadchurch she's a very good actor.

Trevor: I think that they've all been good character actors

Carol-Anne: I must admit that I was very sceptical when they said that it was going to be a woman but that's only because I'm a traditionalist and until I saw a big debate on Facebook and someone said "that's the way it's always been", I realised that was me. I don’t want a woman Doctor because there hasn’t been one before. Then I started thinking, "what difference does it make?" and now I quite excited.

Greg: I'm an old-fashioned so-and-so but I'll give Jodie my support, the same as all of her predecessors.

Trevor: Over the last 10 years or so, I've seen a change in the fandom from being almost exclusively male to being almost 50:50 now and younger. It was nice to see that there were lots of videos on YouTube of people introducing their young daughters to the female Doctor Who and I think that will be a massive influx of fans. There are lots of people who have already decided that they aren’t going to watch it ever again because it's a female Doctor.

Jodie Whittaker Doctor Who

Jodie Whittaker, the new Doctor Who

Gav: As fans, how does it make you feel when you see others in the fandom complaining about things such as a female Doctor or a companion in Bill, who was a lesbian?

Carol-Anne: My answer to that is that I'm a fan not a sycophant. There may be things that I don’t like about it but in the end I'm a fan and I'll carry on watching it. I didn't much like Peter Capaldi and I didn't like a lot of his episodes but I still carried on watching it because I'm a fan.

Jeff: I think that most people are quite enlightened, you might get a vocal minority who are against change but the whole of Doctor Who is about change! Like any good science-fiction, it's reflecting the world around us and now women are more empowered than they were in the past and we're more accepting of diversity and the show should reflect that.

Trevor: I think that Doctor Who fandom is quite welcoming though, there has always been a big gay following and we've always been welcoming here. As in any walk of life, there are people who will accept progress and those who are against it.

Carol-Anne: Can I just say something about that though? We've had female members but I want more! We have a few who come and go but I've been the only constant.

Gav: Do you think that having a female Doctor will bring more female interest into Doctor Who?

Carol-Anne: Personally, I don’t think so. I can see what you're saying but there's this thing about women and empowerment and this that and the other, I think you'll find that's a very small minority of women.

Jeff: I think that it could definitely get more younger women and girls interested.

Greg: It would have caused controversy if they had just cast another man in the role.

Trevor: They had to do something different and it either had to be a person of colour or female.

Gav: Do you think a person of colour would have created more or less controversy than a woman?

Trevor:  I think it would have been about the same, I think that people would have moaned about it.

Jeff: It's hard to say but I think less.

Trevor: Possibly because it's male not female.

Jeff: The sad thing is that I think it's seen as being more acceptable to be against female things

Trevor: To be sexist rather than racist? Yeah. My sister-in-law is a massive Star Trek fan and her favourite is Janeway and she can remember when she was first announced there was uproar. People soon got over it and now she's really popular and now in the new Star Trek series, the main character is female and now no-one says anything about it because she's good in the role.

Jeff: I think that it harks back to how it must have been in 1966 when people were saying that you can’t have a different actor playing Doctor Who, it has to be William Hartnell and then people accepted it. I think that is says something really positive about the modern world - I couldn't have seen this happening in the '80s or the '90s.

Trevor: I think that the first episode of Jodie's will get massive viewing figures because people will just be interested and then it will level off and then three weeks in, we'll be used to it.

Carol-Anne: You are going to get people who are looking for any excuse to complain just because it's a woman and it's different

Gav: And is it important that she's given good stories so that she is less likely to get criticised?

Carol-Anne: Well, let's face it, you're watching the story. If you're sitting watching their acting, you're missing everything.

Trevor: A good actor should be like a good referee at football - you don’t notice them. Look at Colin Baker - in his tenure as the Doctor, he was so enthusiastic, worked so hard and was so badly treated by the people that ran it but he is such an ambassador for Doctor Who. He turned up even after he'd been sacked. He wanted to be there for years and he was so badly treated, given rotten stories, rotten production, the people that ran it didn't care. So, I think that stories are so important and I think that Sylvester McCoy suffered from that in his early episodes too.

 

Gav: What would you like to see for the future of Doctor Who? More of the old characters and villains brought back? Brand new stuff?

Jeff: It needs to be looking forward. All the classic villains of the past have been done and done really well and it's got to avoid repeating itself - that's one of the worries. It has been getting into a bit of a formula - there has to be a Dalek episode, there has to be a real historical figure. If you think of the successful times in the past, they wiped away a lot of the continuity so let's have a season where we have no returning monsters.

Carol-Anne: I think a bit of both.

Jeff: I do too but sometimes it can feel a bit formulaic.

Trevor: I would like to see something like The Key To Time, a Tom Baker story-arc that featured no returning monsters at all. It was really inventive, not all the stories were great but it was really inventive. I think that the Daleks are what people associate with Doctor Who.

Jeff: It's hard to do something interesting with them though.

Trevor: I would personally be happy if the Daleks and the Cybermen didn’t turn up for a couple of years but the general public want to see them.

Carol-Anne: Plus story arcs. I used to know someone who didn’t like story arcs, they preferred every single thing separate but I personally like story arcs, it keeps you watching, you want to know what's coming next. You'll hear something in one episode and it links back to something in a previous one and you'll think, "oh yeah!"

Trevor: I think that story arcs are part of modern television anyway, you have to have a story arc. You couldn’t do 15 separate stories like you did in the past, it wouldn’t work, modern audiences wouldn’t want it.

Gav: Probably the best new villains that they've come up with were the weeping angels, so they can do really good new villains when they put their minds to it.

Jeff: Yeah, that was fantastic and it was interesting just how little David Tennant was in that first weeping angels episode.

Carol-Anne: That's supposed to be the favourite episode of the new Who.

Trevor: Yeah, it's certainly up there.

Jeff: It was very different and I want to be delighted and surprised by Doctor Who, I don’t want to be like, "oh, here’s another one of those kind of episodes." There have been some good Peter Capaldi ones - there's one where he's pretty much the only actor in it and that was radical. I'd never seen anything like that.

Trevor: And the shrunken TARDIS one was absolutely brilliant.

Jeff: That's the strength of Doctor Who - it's only limited by the imagination of the writing. Anything possible could happen!

Trevor: In other sci-fi, you have to think of a reason, like that Star Trek episode where they find that planet that's like Nazi Germany. In Doctor Who, you have a TARDIS and, as Jeff said, the only limits are the writers' imagination - you can go anywhere in time and space, you don't need an excuse, you don't need to invent something. For me, that has been the great strength of Doctor Who - you can do anything, it can be a western, it can be in outer space, it can be a crime thriller.

Jeff: Maybe, they could do a musical episode!

Trevor: They've done it on one of the audio dramas - there's a Colin Baker story called Doctor Who and the Pirates, which is entirely in song and is like Gilbert & Sullivan.

Jeff: Bradley Walsh is going to be one of the new companions and I think that he likes singing

Trevor: He's got an album out hasn't he?

Carol-Anne: That's the one thing I'm not too sure about; Bradly Walsh.

Trevor: I was the same about Catherine Tate. I really didn’t like her comedy but she has been my favourite new series companion. I was stunned by how good she was.

Jeff: She was good and well written as well.

Gav: She was the first of the new companions that didn’t just have the hots for the Doctor.

Trevor: Yeah, they'd done that to death really.

Jeff: It was a good contrast with what had gone before.

Trevor: It felt different because the previous companions had fancied the Doctor and she was the first one that didn’t.

Carol-Anne: To be honest, I thought that they pushed that a bit too much.

Greg: I think that David Tennant got a lot of girls into Doctor Who though - I knew a lot of girls that fancied him. Five years before, they'd never even heard of Doctor Who.

Carol-Anne: I love Doctor Who and I love musicals but I don’t want a musical episode of Doctor Who!

And with that we take our leave from the Nottingham fans of all things Whovian. It was really nice speaking with a group of people that had a real passion for something and were both very well versed in Doctor Who but were also really welcoming.

The Nottingham TARDIS social group meets on the third Thursday of the month at The Stage pub in Nottingham

Nottingham TARDIS Social Group Facebook Page

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