Wiffle Lever To Full!

Daleks, Death Stars and Dreamy Sci-Fi Nostalgia…

Regeneration X

The meandering highways of our lives are dotted with milestones by which we mark out the passage of time. Birthdays, Christmases, births, deaths and weddings. Doctor Who fans have an extra one, though. We mark our lives by the Doctor’s regenerations.

And, of course, there’s another one on the horizon. 

Back in the dim and distant murkiness of my childhood, I can only vaguely remember being aware that Tom Baker wasn’t the first Doctor to have whizzed around in the TARDIS. I think my Dad had made the odd cryptic comment about somebody called ‘William Hartnell’ and my Uncle Trevor had definitely mentioned that it was ‘better when Jon Pertwee was the Doctor’ (he was at a difficult age). But, as far as I was concerned, they might as well have been talking about Lady Hamilton and Lord Baden-Powell. Kids don’t really DO the past, so Tom was the only Doctor I cared about.

Anyone who’s read ‘Wiffle Lever To Full!’ will know how much of an impact Tom Baker’s regeneration made on me. Even when I wrote the book, I didn’t need to look up the date - Saturday 21st March, 1981. I was eight, and I was round at my Gran’s house in Acklam, eating something luminous undoubtedly manufactured by Findus or Bird’s Eye and looking forward to a slice of the brilliant chocolate-coated Flake Cake that my Gran brought home every weekend in a soggy white cardboard box from Shipman’s the Bakers.

It had been a normal Saturday - I’d slumped in front of Swap Shop in my pyjamas and eaten some toast coated in radioactive red jam, then me and my Mum and my Gran had caught the No. 13 bus to All Saint’s Church in Middlesbrough, and I’d bought a Star Wars figure from Romer Parrish’s and a nice new writing book from WH Smith’s. Then I’d come back and started writing a new story after a bit of beans on toast, and I probably called for Lisa Wheeldon and did a few laps of the block on my glistening Christmas Raleigh Striker.

Then the whole family watched Doctor Who over our tea (as we always did) and this happened…

4thregen

…’Ooooh!’ said my Mum, as a fresh-faced Peter Davison sat bolt upright in Tom Baker’s clothes at the end of the episode. ‘There you go, a new Doctor Who…’ Big slabs of confusion, exhilaration and - worryingly – grief collided like icebergs in the tiny Bering Straits of my mind, and from that day on I was (capital letters) A Doctor Who Fan.

The next time it happened, I was 11, and I knew it was coming. I knew because I was now (even bigger capital letters) A PROPER DOCTOR WHO FAN and I’d read everything I could about the impending regeneration in the pages of Doctor Who Monthly. In my own front room this time, I sat six inches from the screen of our Grundig TV (despite my Mum’s solemn warning that ‘you’ll ruin your eyesight and you’ll need to wear glasses’ – I didn’t and I don’t, so yah boo sucks) and watched Episode 4 of The Caves Of Androzani. And, at 7.05pm on Friday 16th March 1984, I saw this…

5thregen

…and this time it was MINE. Ah yeah, everyone at school saw it as well, but they didn’t understand it like I did. They didn’t know the minutae of the regenerative process, and its effect on the delicate balance of the space-time continuum. Or something. And when Colin Baker sat up with a quiver of his upper lip and was unspeakably rude and flippant to his companion Peri Brown, I felt that the programme had truly grown up.

And ironically, over the next three years, so did I. Ironically much moreso than Doctor Who, so by the time the next regeneration came around, I was nearly fifteen and considered myself a bit above such childish follies. I was virtually a man now - I had a man’s spots, a man’s GCSE homework and and a man’s exhaustive knowledge of ZX Spectrum machine code assumblers. I’d become (brace yourself) A Closet Doctor Who Fan. And convinced myself that, on Wednesday 9th September 1987, I wasn’t that bothered when this happened…

6thregen

…and Sylvester McCoy stared back at me. And then I REALLY grew up. No, honestly. It was nine years before the next regeneration, by which time I was 23 and had to drive frantically back from a lager-soaked weekend in Appleby with some old University friends to catch the strange, quasi-American Paul McGann TV movie that was debuting on BBC1 one blissful, careless Bank Holiday Monday. I had long shaggy hair, a thick goatee beard, and was permanently clad in a battered retro leather jacket that I’d bought from Camden Market on a drunken day-trip to London. I screeched the car into my parents drive and grabbed myself a steaming mug of coffee to watch this…

7thregen

And then Doctor Who did vanish from my life. For another nine years. By the time the show returned in 2005, I was 32 and living in my own house with a tall Cornish woman and a filthy Border Collie cross. But when BBC1 exploded back into Time Lord-related action, I became more excited than any 32-year-old man should really get, and while I was playing a few songs as part of an acoustic night on a balmy Saturday night in a pub in Rosedale, all I could think about was the programme that our new DVD recorder was burning onto its hard drive back home. A programme that contained this…

9thregen

Yes, Christopher Eccleston’s regeneration into David Tennant. We watched it at 1am when we got home, with the tall Cornish Sorcha resting her head on my chest and uttering - at the point of the changeover – uttering the immortal words ‘Are you alright? I’ve never known anyone’s heart beat so fast’. I think she was a little scared that I was about to regenerate myself, although possibly quite hopeful that I’d end up looking a bit like David Tennant.

So, in the words of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart back in 1974, ‘here we go again’. The next regeneration looks set to take place sometime around Christmas 2010, before which we’ll have endless speculation about the identity of the actor who’ll emerge on the other side of it looking slightly confused and wearing David Tennant’s clothes. Shipman’s the Bakery is no more, but I’ll see if I can find a chocolate-coated Flake Cake in a soggy white cardboard box to mark another milestone.

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