Memory, moments and Doctor Who

This one time we made daleks on a train
I have memories of a lot of television. But in most cases those memories tend to be about the viewing experience; they’re snapshots of television, not of life. My house is currently rewatching Doctor Who in anticipation of the 50th anniversary, and one of the strangest things has been how strongly each episode has taken me back to a specific place and time, to a moment in my life. I have extremely vivid memories of the first time I watched almost every new episode, memories of parties and conversations, friends that I don’t have any more and friends that are still around. Each season, locked as it is within a specific year, is like a time capsule containing strange, forgotten corners of my memory.
I wonder if that’s why season four means so little to me. My strongest memory of that season was watching the last episode the night before we drove to Dubbo to visit my godparents. And the pervasive feeling in that memory is apathy. I just didn’t buy into the show that year. Even now I find it difficult to engage in discussions about that season because I don’t really care enough.
There were other things in my life that year. I had friends and adventure. I spent a lot of my childhood being kind of lonely, and I think 2008 that was the first year I really felt like I belonged to a group of people. Oddly enough, Doctor Who was a part of that and we talked about it a lot. But I didn’t really need Doctor Who. I didn’t need to escape to that world because I was quite happy with the real one.
The year the Specials came out was the year I finished school. When I found out they wouldn’t be making a full series for 2009, I was devastated. So much so that I wrote an email to the BBC to tell them I was devastated and received a very nice reply from someone named Bevan. I used him as inspiration in a creative writing piece in one of my English exams.
I first watched ‘Waters of Mars’ on Christmas Eve in a snow covered house in Winchester.[1]This rewatch was the first time I had seen ‘Waters of Mars’ since that night and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. I cried. I sobbed watching it again and not because it was sad but because I couldn’t change it and I hate the way it ends and I hate what the show became for a little while there in 2009.
Even though that episode is well written and well-acted and all those things, I still hate it.
I hate it because I can’t separate it from the memory of sitting in that lounge room in England. I needed Doctor Who then much more than I had needed it the year before. I needed escapism. I needed those episodes to be a window into normality.
Boxing Day of that year remains one of the worst days I can remember. Not because it was terrible – I spent most of the day eating leftover turkey and watching Top Gear repeats – but I had a terrible cold and I was so homesick. I wanted to go home. And not just back to Australia but back to certainty. I was facing the yawning, unstructured emptiness of my gap year and adulthood beyond that. I felt lost that day.
‘Waters of Mars’ (and, to a lesser degree, the total ridiculous awfulness which is ‘End of Time’) are locked in that memory. They were a part of those moments of darkness and sadness and loneliness and watching them again just takes me back there.[2]
For a little whileDoctor Who stopped being the show I loved.
Then there was season five. Season five aired during the aforementioned gap year. I watched ‘Victory of the Daleks’ in my aunt’s living room in Sydney and ‘Flesh and Stone’ in a hostel in Melbourne. After ‘The Pandorica Opens’ aired, I stood outside in the cold holding my phone to the sky to get reception[3]so I could text my best friend. Because for the first time we couldn’t just talk about it on Monday morning. She was at university and I was all over the place. I didn’t know when I was going to see her next.
Where the specials had been a crushing disappointment, season five rose above all my expectations. I loved David Tennant’s Doctor but I hated the man he became at the end. I was ready to hate Matt Smith’s Doctor but I loved the man he was, right away, unconditionally. That year Doctor Who was everything I needed it to be. It was warm honey and magic. It was fairytale. It was escape.
Alongside those memories of first-time viewing, there are memories of rewatching. I rewatched the whole of season five in two days when I gave myself minor food poisoning just after I’d moved out of home. I watched repeats on the giant TV while housemates I didn’t really know or like talked loudly nearby. I watched ‘The Eleventh Hour’ on a laptop on The Spirit of Tasmania last year, when I was helping my boyfriend move to the mainland.
That season has, and continues to be, a source of comfort. It sits in that very special pile of things that you pull out on days when life feels too hard and you need something to remind you that, actually, it isn’t so bad. It’s what I watch when I am sick or lonely. It’s what I watch when I need to be happy.
It’s been odd discovering that my feelings about Doctor Who are only partly about the episodes themselves. I love Doctor Who not just for what it is but for what it is to me. The show has been a constant (and important) fixture in my life for a decade now.[4] It’s been there while I’ve grown up, while I’ve learnt about who I am and in a very strange way, it’s a record of all that. Each episode is a trigger for memories of times and places and people, moments and parties and forgotten emotions.
Watching back is like reliving all those things that I used to be, catching glimpses along the way of the person I’ve become.

I wrote a guest post over at Hum Drum Plum this week. It’s also about emotions. Check it out.
Adventures in TV-Land is now running on a schedule. Click here for more information.

[1] It was a repeat, we were in Italy when the episode first aired
[2] I’d just like to note at this point that I loved travelling and I have a lot of completely wonderful memories of England but travelling is hard sometimes too and that was not a good day.
[3] My parent’s beach house does not come with mobile reception. It’s like the 90s.
[4] Don’t panic, 2005 was not a decade ago. I started watching the classic episodes when I was twelve.

Further reading

December – home

I spent the first minutes of 2018 on the beach. I’ve never actually spent New Year