In 2005 a new generation of young viewers came face to face with
Doctor Who for the first time. These pre-teens had their
conception of the series shaped by Christopher Eccleston’s
newly-installed Ninth Doctor, whose intense persona marked perhaps the
single-biggest departure in the way the Time Lord had been portrayed
since the programme’s original launch in 1963.
|"I don't want to go!" - The Tenth
Doctor regenerates; 'Journey's End' (2010).
Nearly eight years on, and these same youngsters have now enjoyed no
less than six complete series of Doctor Who. Companions have
come and gone, old and new foes bested, and all manner of additions made
to the show’s already weighty lore, including the Doctor’s ability to
abort his regeneration (Journey’s End, 2008),
and alter his biology (Human Nature /
The Family of Blood, 2007).
Speaking of Time Lordly transformations, we’ve also had
regenerations-a-plenty, courtesy of The Master (Utopia,
2007), Melody Pond (Day of the Moon, 2011;
Let’s Kill Hitler, 2011) and the good Doctor
on no less than two occasions (The Parting of the Ways,
2005; The End of Time: Part Two, 2010). Even
the mode of regeneration has become a stylised affair, as a fiery
release of regenerative energy underlines the biologically explosive
nature of the event.
Indeed, since Rose Tyler awoke to the day that would radically alter the
course of her life (Rose, 2005), enough water
has passed under the bridge for these young fans to have reached their
early to mid-teens. They are, therefore, sufficiently removed from their
younger selves to look back on their earliest memories of the series and
see just how well their remembrances stack up to reality.
Of course, the gap between one’s long-stored memory and the actual
happening can sometimes be huge. Over time the human memory naturally
edits the content of an event, adjusting emphasis and tone as well as
sometimes deleting whole passages. That’s why reviewing a story from
one’s childhood can be little short of a mini trauma, as the unfiltered
fact collides with one’s rose-tinted memories.
Misremembering events, often in a more positive light, is common enough.
I like to call it the ‘perception filter phenomenon’, after the
perception-altering gadget first introduced in Human Nature
(2007), and later seen to great effect in The
Sound of Drums (2007). In the latter adventure, we
discover this crafty piece of jerry-rigged TARDIS technology enables the
Doctor et al. to go unnoticed on the streets of Harold Saxon’s Britain –
so long as they remain passive bystanders, that is. In a sense, those
life moments with which we’re less than happy are treated in a
distinctly similar way to the perception-filter wearer, as our
subconscious carefully edits out, ignores or reshapes the memories we’d
prefer to avoid.
So, given how our memory can play tricks with our past, just what
happens when we finally sit down and re-watch a story from our formative
years, long since matured into a classic piece of storytelling by our
I have two examples from my own childhood experiences of Doctor Who, one
of which lived up to expectations, and one which sadly turned out to be
somewhat exaggerated, albeit aided and abetted by an exceptionally
The first is City of Death (1979) - the first
story I ever glimpsed. On that quiet autumnal evening in September, my
too-young self caught the final moments of Part One and witnessed the
unmasking of the spaghetti-faced villain – a scene which quite naturally
scared me into becoming an overnight fan.
Years passed and that grim
cliffhanger became the mythical spring from which my devotion to the
series sprang. And with no VHS release or novelisation on the horizon,
all I had to rely upon for reliving that seminal moment was my own
somewhat blurry memory, which inevitably decayed as time passed by.
|Count Scarlioni (Julian Glover) is
unmasked. 'City of Death' (1979).
Some years later and I managed to get hold of a photocopy of the story
archive, as it appeared in Doctor Who Magazine. But
with only the odd grainy black-and-white picture of the scary Scaroth to
sate my imagination, it wasn’t until 1991 – some twelve years after my
first scant viewing – that I finally had the opportunity to sit down and
digest the complete story.
I wasn’t disappointed, and how could I be? City of Death
presents the Doctor’s first foreign excursion, courtesy of some lovely
location shooting in Paris, along with a tour de force of guest actors,
of whom Julian Glover’s turn as the suave Count
Scarlioni / ruthless Scaroth is surely one of the highlights of the
whole series. I adored it. It felt as though the decade-plus since I had
first snatched a look at it had simply evaporated. To my eyes it had
more than stood the test of time, and to this day – almost twenty years
on from my initial revisit – I feel the very same way. Perception filter
phenomenon? Not this time.
The same, sadly, cannot be said for my second example, which suffered
from my memory adding details to it, which clearly were a result of
viewing a certain blockbuster movie franchise of the time, and my later
reading of its very fine novelisation.
Eric Saward’s Earthshock
(1982) is an undoubted classic. It has stood up to the intervening years
in robust fashion, and widely deserves its status as one of the best
stories to involve the Cybermen. More, its portrayal of a companion’s
death, by way of the tragic loss of the young Adric, makes it somewhat
of a rarity amongst the Doctor’s adventures.
I originally saw this story whilst enjoying my second full season of
Doctor Who in early 1982. After seeing the opening episode, I can
distinctly remember taking a toy motorbike helmet and a stick-gun, and
heading for the trench-cum-ditch which ran alongside the football pitch
behind my parents’ flat. There, in decidedly chilly weather, I played at
being one of Lieutenant Scott’s soldiers, intent on hunting down the
shadowy androids in the caves. For sure it was my favourite story of the
time; and with the arrival of a Star Wars double bill at the cinemas
later the same year, a firefight involving a melee of laser beams was
the default setting for my conception of science fiction.
|The Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan explore
the caves in 'Earthshock' (1982).
Like City of Death, I had no further contact
with Earthshock until its release onto VHS in
1992. However, unlike the former, I had had the advantage of devouring
Ian Marter’s excellent 1983 novelisation on more than one
occasion, and along with a triple dose of Industrial Light and Magic’s
laser battles, my memory of Scott and his team pouring lethal energy
from their laser tubes into the Cybermen’s android puppets had taken on
Star Wars-esque proportions. Hence, when I
eagerly sat down to re-watch the final gripping minutes of Part One and
the opening sequence of Part Two I was left distinctly underwhelmed -
and all because my ten year-old memory of the scenes in question had
become so distorted as to bear little or no resemblance to the actual
Since that disappointing re-acquaintance I have reviewed
Earthshock on a good many occasions and, gradually,
readjusted my perspective so that my once-exaggerated recollection has
been replaced by a more reliable version. I guess this is a fairly
natural process, and it’s quite possible that a good many post-2005 fans
may now be experiencing this revisionist process too, as their young
memories collide with the high-definition reality.
But their experience will be different again. Since 2005, the
availability of Doctor Who stories post-original transmission
date has become vastly more extended than its twentieth-century
counterpart. Through repeats, the Internet and regular DVD releases, the
act of reviewing a story is so much more likely to happen within a
comparatively short span of time, and thus the erosion of memory which
tends to occur over the space of several years is now somewhat more
avoidable. Still further, the technical look of an episode circa 2005 is
far more likely to match up to visual expectations in 2011, the
distorting power of the pre-teen memory notwithstanding.
So, does this mean that the perception filter phenomenon is threatened
with extinction, and that henceforth revisiting past adventures will not
be quite so dislocating? Indeed not, for however much a story may resist
the colouring of an overactive imagination, there is little chance of
the childhood memory – awash with the emotions generated by the viewing
experience – containing a wholly unadulterated recording of a scene or
story. In this way, at least, the manner in which our perception of an
event is preserved is still very much open to error. And in any case,
there’s something to be said for enjoying one’s perception-filtered
memories, at least until the revisiting moment is upon us and we may
glean just what we’ve taken to heart and what we’ve forgotten altogether
– and perhaps, when re-encountering an old favourite, these are the most
telling details of all.
Copyright Jez Strickley & Doctor Who Online, 2012.