DWM 481 Unconditional Love

Dear Santa,

For Christmas, please could you bring world peace, a cure for all illnesses and Mission to the Unknown returned to the archives, obvs. (Please don’t ask me to rank them in order of preference.)

I really don’t like writing to Father Christmas, it seems very grasping. Also, you always have to tell him that you’ve been good. But as the song assures us that he knows your exact degree of goodness or badness anyway, there’s not a lot of point to it and if you’re a borderline case you might find he considers it to be a lie which will then tip you into the ‘naughty’ category. Santa – a no win situation.

But, with all that in mind, can there be anyone better qualified to answer the Doctor’s question ‘Am I a good man?’ than Mr Claus? Eyes were opened wide in this house when the red-coated one popped up post-credits on Death in Heaven, although it’s probably not quite as out of left field for children still at an age where Father Christmas is more real than the recently revealed as real Robin Hood…

Oh, that season finale. You can’t create something iconic by design. It’s the audience who decides. But you can have a pretty good idea. Cybermen coming down the steps of St Paul’s for example. It was amazing the first time, so it’s probably going to have a similar impact on those who haven’t seen it before (Fan Twin did of course point out its origins). And to follow that, Cybermen pushing their way out of graves – that’s got to be the image everyone remembers from the finale, right? That’s the one that children all over the country will be re-enacting the moment the episode ends. That’s the one that’s going to be the new Sea-Devils-smashing-out-of-shop-windows-covered-in-giant-maggots moment.

(Brief digression: That makes me wonder, are children of my sons’ generation ever going to have that half-remembered memory mishmash thing, now that things are recorded and rewatched, endlessly repeated on satellite, available on DVD, and in case all that fails able to be discovered in exact minute detail with a few seconds googling? Will they ever know the pain of never being able to track down the TV memory that burned itself incompletely into their childhood brain (in my case something from early-ish 1980s ITV with West Country flat-cap-wearing children-as-adults, locking up other children in stables, eating burgers that were strongly hinted to be made out of people while Teddy Bear’s Picnic played sinisterly and there was something about Arthurian legends thrown in – honestly, it wasn’t some bizarre dream, I definitely saw it but it seems no one else in the world did)? And is that a bad thing or a good thing, when the thing you rediscover hardly ever lives up to your memory of it?  –  yes, stunning effect where Bigon lifts off his face in Four to Doomsday, I’m looking at you. Sorry. Back to Death in Heaven…)

Well, it wasn’t zombie Cybermen that provided the iconic moment in our house, as it turns out. The image that’s stuck with my children – the moment that they’ve re-enacted again and again, to hysterical laughter each time, is one that wasn’t actually in the episode at all. That wasn’t even hinted at in the episode. That is, what’s more, a moment that, in their imaginations, wasn’t even part of the fiction. This is what I’ve been hearing over and over again:

DOCTOR: (falling from sky) ‘AAAArrgghhhhh! My pants have come off! (comic-timing beat) Better do that bit again.’

Yes, it’s the Doctor – or rather Peter Capaldi, as this imaginary happening occurred behind the scenes – sky-diving from the exploding UNIT plane and going so fast that his pants fly off. (Note to American readers: and they definitely aren’t meaning his trousers.) The scene then has to be re-recorded. This is, it seems, hilarious. Oh, what am I doing with my snootily superior ‘it seems’, this, as interpreted by my children, really is hilarious. I laughed and laughed too. And especially nice that after an episode full of death and sacrifice, what stayed with us was laughter and invention and the joy of being a family together.

Presumably, as one has to write to Santa anew every Christmas, he wipes the slate clean every year, so he’s going to be judging the Doctor’s naughty-or-niceness on the basis of this season alone. Well, the other thing that made both twins laugh in Death in Heaven (a moment that was actually there on the screen) was the Doctor calling himself an idiot. It was funny because he was a grown-up saying it, but more funny because they – and we – know that obviously it isn’t true. The Doctor isn’t perfect and he isn’t (thank goodness) a superhero. He gets things wrong, he does bad things. But he’s not an idiot, and he’s not a bad man. And the reason I know this for sure is because of one sentence from the week before.

“Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?”

I will forgive this season of Doctor Who anything for that one extraordinary line.

Unconditional love. You hear about it a lot when you become a parent. And I probably didn’t fully understand it until I was a parent. But here was the Doctor, suddenly, out of the blue, expressing it in the most astonishing way and my god I love him for it. Not unconditionally. But a lot.

So, dear Santa, for Christmas, please could you make the Doctor understand that he’s not an idiot. And he is a good man. Thank you. Lots of love, Jac xxx

PS I really wouldn’t say no to world peace and Mission to the Unknown as well, though. Ta.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: That Arthurian-burger-children-Teddy-Bears’-Picnic memory is going to haunt me forever. One day I’m going to track down the entire 1980s run of TV Times (Anglia edition) and read the lot until I find it. The thing is, I don’t even know how it ended! My Grandpa came in and said something along the lines of ‘This doesn’t look like the sort of thing you should be watching’ and turned it off. But it has never left me! Never!