DWM 464 Bad Behaviour!

There is a particular version of Sod’s Law reserved especially for Doctor Who fans. It is this: whenever you sit down to watch new Doctor Who with non-fans, the episode will be terrible. This has happened to me a number of times, a particular stand-out in recent years being the time we sat down with a collection of in-laws one Saturday night and to our horror, Fear Her happened. I have a good friend who lists this as one of his favourite stories ever, so fully accept that your Who-mileage may vary, but for us it was a case of wanting the ground to swallow us up while desperately trying to explain to the non-fans it’s not normally like this, honest. Would we have found the story so bad if we hadn’t been conscious of the non-fans’ reactions, of their judgement of the show that felt like a judgement on us? Probably not, actually. But in that heightened awareness state, it was a nightmare.

Actually, watching Doctor Who with non-fans is always a tricky one, even if you know in advance that the story you’re showing them is pretty much brilliant. When you’re a fan, you happily overlook flaws – yes, that biscuit-tin spaceship is a bit silly, but the story is great so who cares, and anyway we know the time/money issues behind the scenes and really it’s amazing what they managed to do with such limited resources so actually it’s not a problem at all and we’re laughing with not laughing at, oh OK, maybe we are laughing at a bit, but it’s in a spirit of love. See?

When you’re watching with non-fans, though, those flaws suddenly take on massive proportions. You’re on a knife edge, ready to jump in with LOOK OUT OF THE WINDOW SOMETHING REALLY INTERESTING’S TAKING PLACE, QUICK LOOK NOW AND KEEP LOOKING FOR AT LEAST A MINUTE the instant the Taran Wood Beast threatens to appear on screen. Suddenly the pantomime rat or the giant plastic snake is all you can think about, overshadowing every virtue that the show possesses.

Being a parent is very much like this. I want my children to be kind, thoughtful, caring, generous and considerate towards others. Minor transgressions usually go under the heading of ‘things children do’ or ‘accidents will happen’ and I’m prepared to overlook quite a lot of stuff if it doesn’t counteract the values previously mentioned. Yet if we’re with other people and my children are well-behaved 99 per cent of the time, it’s the remaining one per cent that sticks out as my cheeks burn with parental shame and I try to persuade everyone that they’re not normally like this, honest. Would we usually have been worried about that tiny bit of naughtiness? Maybe not quite so much. But when it comes under the heading ‘making a good impression’…

A couple of years ago my husband and I had the good fortune to see a certain Mr Colin Baker performing at the local theatre (he played Inspector Morse and was, incidentally, brilliant). Colin kindly agreed to meet up afterwards and I was extremely excited that the children would get to meet my favourite Doctor, and that the Doctor would get to meet my favourite children. Unfortunately it didn’t quite turn out as I had planned. Misbehaviour ensued (I won’t give all the details of what or by whom in particular as it’s not fair to do so in front of more than 30,000 strangers, I’ll just say that one of our party developed an obsession with ice cubes and it wasn’t Colin Baker). So there I am, desperately scrambling for excuses – he’s overexcited! He didn’t get enough sleep last night! And of course, he’s not normally like this, honest! – while wanting the ground to swallow me up. I don’t want you to think I’m putting all the blame on a small child – husband and I completely failed to control the situation, and as grown-ups we don’t get to make excuses. The thing is, though, as with the Fear Her/in-laws incident, I can’t think back to that afternoon without cringing.

I can acknowledge that my children aren’t perfect while at the same time being utterly sure that they are in fact totally perfect. (Whoever said love had to make sense?) Do I love them any less because of the odd incident? Of course not. There’s nothing they could do that could make me love them with anything less than my entire heart. Yes, it’s my duty as a parent to help my children understand the right ways to behave but that’s because the world can only be a good place if it has good people in it. It shouldn’t be merely because I want them to make a good impression.

So I resolve to apply the same rules to Doctor Who. Sometimes it misbehaves and makes me cringe. But whether or not it makes a good impression on others isn’t as important as whether or not it’s actually good – and I’m not talking about ‘good’ in terms of effects or monster costumes. While Doctor Who has a heart, while it’s never cruel or cowardly, while it is honest and honourable, while it is a good thing that does as much as any television programme can do to make the world a good place, then I resolve never to love it any less, however many times it gets the Doctor to carry the Olympic torch.

So sod Sod’s Law.