Not long after, the show's thirtieth anniversary happened, along with Dimensions In Time. My first "new" episode of Doctor Who, it featured all the surviving Doctors, supposedly in 3D... and was an Eastenders crossover. Not exactly the best Doctor Who had to offer, but it was my first sight of all the other Doctors, so it was invaluable to me. In 1996, the TV Movie happened. A follow-up series starring Paul McGann did not. Oh well: it was ninety minutes of Doctor Who, so it would do. I busied myself reading about the show's past, including all seven Doctor Handbooks, the Sixties/Seventies/Eighties books, The Television Companion, Monsters, Companions, Timeframe, A-Z, The Completely Useless Encyclopedia, annuals, not to mention the fictional side of things. I filled my brain with trivia, and filled a cabinet with videos. At a still tender age, I tried to write a Doctor Who spoof and even sent an outline to BBC Books. (I got a free book and a kind letter for my troubles.) I loved this show, even when it didn't exist and even when it was rubbish. It was, and is, part of who I am. In hindsight, I could probably have gone outside a little more.
– including Tom Baker's first episode – all thanks to his diligent video-recording. (Ta, Daniel!) We went to at least two Doctor Who conventions (not, I must point out, in any kind of costume) and met Tom Baker (wonderful), Nicholas Courtney (delightful) and Peter Davison (having a bad day). I decided not to go the year they had Colin Baker, but I met him in the end. Sort of. Well, I directed him to the nearest toilet.
At some point, I started to grow up. I even, to a small extent, moved on. But the show returned in 2005, so any plans that didn't involve being a Doctor Who fan went out the window. (I lived right by Cardiff then. Doctor Who was NEXT DOOR TO ME.) Ah well. I've followed the new show ever since. It's often brilliant; more often it gives me something to gripe about, at least. Gradually it's caused me to re-examine the original show, and the original Doctors' efforts in audio. I've found some really great stuff in both. (And I still haven't watched all of "old" Doctor Who.)
It's a lot easier being a Doctor Who fan now. Normal people watch it. People talk about it and it makes headlines. My family watch it, without my forcing them to do so. My younger sister bugs me to find out what's happening next. My older sister misses David Tennant so much she won't give Matt Smith the time of day. My nieces and nephews grew up with Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith as the Doctor – their entire view of Doctor Who is different from mine. I envy them, having (if they so wish) twenty-six years of stories and eight other Doctors to investigate.
– it was just a fact of life, as sure as I've got two eyes and a nose – although the odd one or two has come back over the years, usually found in dustbins and attics. Last month, nine were discovered and released on iTunes. Nine! That's two Patrick Troughton stories, previously with one episode to show for each, completely restored. (Well, almost.) And I can watch them whenever I like. On the bus to work, for instance. Or right now, while I'm writing this. I still can't believe it: I have seen The Web Of Fear! I've seen The Enemy Of The World, which features two Patrick Troughtons! This would have been completely unimaginable a year ago. And there's every possibility there's more missing stuff on the way.*
(*And even before hitting Publish, The Mirror says that Marco Polo – a seven-part epic from the show's first year – has been restored! Okay, this could be a whopping fib, but these days, who knows? Isn't it wonderful knowing that stranger things have happened?)
It's incredible. Just when you think you know what's out there, the sheer history of pop culture, what does or doesn't exist, it goes and changes before your eyes. The impossible has become probable. This, in itself, is quintessentially Doctor Who.
And here we are. Fifty years of it. Eleven Doctors, give or take a bit of Peter Cushingy, John Hurty small-print. A shrinking number of missing episodes. And for me, twenty-one years, a ton of books, a library of videos, friends who love it too, a housemate who sat through the entire Hartnell era with me, two trips to the Doctor Who Experience, a totally not-embarrassing collection of action figures, two sonic screwdrivers, various Daleks, a few TARDISes, a TARDIS-shaped piggie bank, and enough accumulated trivial knowledge to push my street-cred well into minus numbers. I still watch it, and I still love it. It's who I am.