Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Reluctant Geek - A life less ordinary

When I was in my mid-teens, I developed a deep and abiding resentment towards my parents for not being American. It was totally unreasonable, not to mention somewhat uninformed, but at that age I hadn’t yet learned to associate the states with fast food, draconian attitudes towards abortion and Fox News. Instead, television had taught me that in order for anything truly thrilling, meaningful, exciting or dramatic to happen, it had to happen in America.

To be fair, based on the evidence of my limited experience, it wasn’t entirely surprising that I had catapulted towards this conclusion. While British TV was best known for Coronation Street and Eastenders, where people with inexplicable regional accents yelled at each other, had tawdry affairs and got run over; the States had Buffy and The X-Files. Week after week witty and committed protagonists with whom I could identify engaged in a spot of saving the world with a side of smouldering sexual tension. There was no contest really. I didn’t want to be a whinging Northerner in the rain. I wanted to be a glamorous, kick-ass heroine whose life had significance and purpose. And on some level, that meant I wanted to be in the good ‘ol USA.

That’s why I will always be grateful to the newer incarnations of Doctor Who. OK, he came along a little too late to save my teenage years, but it was the first show that taught me that the UK could be a setting for danger, excitement and narrative with meaning, just as much as anywhere else.

(I know what you’re thinking… Obviously I don’t *really* believe in time travel, aliens and magic phone boxes. It’s just nice to know that if a TARDIS did suddenly spring into existence, it might just as easily be in say, Montpellier, as the Arizona Desert!)

The early series of the modern Doctor Who massively played on this desire that humans have had to a greater or lesser extent since the days when we were living in trees and riding on pterodactyls.* We all want to be rescued from the humdrum of our daily nine ‘til five, of doing the ironing and going to the pub, just as Rose is when Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor first breezes into her life. More than any other show I’ve come across, Doctor Who taps into our craving for adventure and significance. A string of companions face the ultimate ‘intervention’ and the perfect escape, whether it’s from the wedding from hell, the family from hell, or just the soul smashing tedium of normality.

That’s why it’s really rather wonderful to have The Doctor back, as enigmatically brilliant as he always is. Matt Smith’s Doctor plays out the dichotomy of saviour versus utterly unknowable alien incredibly well and Stephen Moffat has thus far proved pretty keen to point out that all of this racing around the universe, engaging in daring escapades and seeing things that humans just weren’t meant to see, comes at a price.

Of course, where Doctor Who leads, other shows frequently follow. The Who universe spin-off Torchwood makes Cardiff look every bit as cool as any brooding American city and turns detective work into a shiny, slick, technological indulgence to rival CSI or 24 or any of the big American shows. I’m not ashamed to admit to a massive fan-girl rush standing on the Plaza, following in Jack’s footsteps (although to be honest, I’d happily follow Jack pretty much anywhere) and in this sense really exciting British TV does the UK Tourist Board a massive favour. In fact, Wales is where all of the cool kids are hanging out these days, after Being Human’s relocation, although I still feel a certain fondness for the gritty, decaying glamour of Bristol, entirely appropriate for a show about vampires and werewolves, let’s face it.

The opening scene of one of my favourite episodes of Doctor Who begins with the words, "For the first nineteen years of my life nothing happened. Nothing at all. Not ever.' When I was a teenager myself I could hardly imagine anything worse than a life where nothing happened, so perhaps this is why the next line of this soliloquy will always send shivers down my spine: "And then I met a man called The Doctor." Thank goodness then, that he’s back for the Spring and the Autumn. Not to mention, Christmas!

This week, Kate is looking for her mojo. It’s probably under the couch again...

*Please don’t send me hate mail, I know we didn’t ever really ride on pterodactyls!

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