There is a great episode in Lost‘s fourth season when the character of Desmond finds himself drifting through his own timeline, the result of having turned a key during an electromagnetic event… or something. Y’know, it’s Lost. The only way he can stop himself going mad is to focus on the one thing which remains unchanged throughout his life, the thing which gives name to the episode. His ‘constant’.
My constant is Doctor Who.
I couldn’t say what my earliest or definitive memory of Who is. I know that, as a young child, I watched Peter Davison regenerate into Colin Baker and it left me confused and a little upset. I know that Sylvester McCoy changing from a beige jacket to a brown one in Battlefield seemed like a really big deal. I know that The Robots of Death was the first video I ever owned (“I will kill Zilda…”) and I watched it obsessively. I know that Peri and Ace made me feel funny in a way I didn’t altogether understand at the time but in these days of Martha Jones and Amy Pond I understand very well indeed.
I know that it was impossible for me to walk past the hardback novelisations of Castrovalva, The Caves of Androzani or The Keys of Marinus in the library and not borrow them for the millionth time. I know that the day a friend loaned me his 30-strong back catalogue of Doctor Who Magazine was the greatest day of my young life – even more so than when I found a Game Boy in my parents’ wardrobe a month before Christmas and had Super Mario Land 2 half-completed before December 25th.
As a kid, Doctor Who was everything to me. I would read 25 Glorious Years over and over and over, devouring every tidbit about every Doctor, every companion, every production team. I created my own handwritten spreadsheet (shut up) detailing each story title, Doctor, companion and enemy. I wrote, oh, at least 80,000 of my own stories.
I hoarded cardboard boxes and built my own console with switches and levers and a time rotor in the centre. This I would drag up to my sister’s bedroom when she was out (she was a much more social creature than I) and fight Daleks all by myself.
And then it all went away. Sylvester McCoy walked off with his arm around Sophie Aldred – “Come on, Ace, we’ve got work to do” – and that, apparently, was that.
Until Virgin’s New Adventures novel line started up. All of a sudden my pocket money was going towards a new Who book every month, stories with sex and swearing which made my young teenage self feel slightly better about still being into this stuff. It was dark and weird and had naughty bits. Just like me!
The tv movie (known as The Enemy Within to those of us who really need to have a good, long think about our lives) flashed into existence just long enough to remind me why I had been so invested in this madman who can change his face and save people and travel through space and time. But then it, too,was gone and my interest in the books was waning. There were girls and Amiga games and football and girls and exams and girls to think about.
Life carried on. I grew older. Now my life was Uni and PlayStation and clubbing and alcohol and still an inordinate amount of time devoted to girls. In these intervening years I discovered the other great television love of my life, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of which I shall wax lyrical at some future time.
Every so often, though, I’d smile as an old echo flitted through my mind: all those creepy wooden rooms in Remembrance of the Daleks and The Curse of Fenric, the time my dad took me to the Blackpool Who exhibit and I pulled a lever on the console, the William Hartnell speech from The Dalek Invasion of Earth which serves as prologue to The Five Doctors: “One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.”
Life continued apace. I graduated, I lived in South Korea, I returned home, I started to work on my teaching qualification and decided that I was finally giving that long-dreamt-of writing career a chance.
Suddenly it’s 2005 and one Saturday night I sit down more out of curiosity than anything else for the transmission of the first new episode of Who in years. It’s called Rose, and after I’ve finished watching my dad asks me what I thought. I take a while before I answer. “It’s really different. Really fast, quite blunt. But I reckon this new Doctor Who has potential.”
Twelve weeks later I literally ran home from an appointment so I could catch the season finale, The Parting of the Ways. And as Christopher Eccleston grinned before throwing back his arms, erupting with light and turning into David Tennant, I felt confused and a little upset.
Doctor Who is my constant. At any point in my life you could ask me what I find most comforting and, in amongst the girlfriend and song and hobby of the time, I would always name that theme tune, the sound of the TARDIS dematerialising, cricket clothes and long scarves and question mark shirt collars and red Converse hi tops and bow ties.
When I eventually lie on my deathbed, I take great solace from the knowledge that the thought of a battered old police box will be able to whisk me back through the life I have lived. There will be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties, because in my head I will simply be changing my face, ready for the new adventure ahead.