DWM 461 The End of Time

Several years ago, three-quarters of DWM’s Time Team went on a day trip to Leeds Castle, to celebrate reaching The Androids of Tara. Husband and I were extremely late, owing to train problems, station queues measuring several Earth miles (we’ve reached The Daleks’  Master Plan in our watchthrough and have learned you must always calculate things in Earth measurements, whatever planet you’re on or from) and a slightly unnerving ride on a bus that might well have been driven by Iris Wildthyme (and if you don’t know who that is you’re missing out – why not go and investigate?). At the time, it seemed like a travel nightmare. And yet it was nothing compared to undertaking a trip with small twins and a wheelchair, which is one of the reasons our family doesn’t go out very often these days. This does, however, mean that our infrequent days out are particularly special occasions, and when we set off to join fellow Who novelist Peter Anghelides and family on a visit to the Doctor Who Exhibition at Olympia, back in 2011, it promised to be a day to remember.

And it was. A thoroughly lovely time was had by (I hope) all. We flew the TARDIS, escaped from Weeping Angels, marvelled at the exhibits and spent lots of money in the gift shop. Like the Tenth Doctor, we like a little shop. Talking of the Tenth Doctor, in our house we rarely call him the Tenth Doctor. He is known to us as Non-fan Twin’s Favourite Doctor. We’re an equal-opportunities household when it comes to favourite Doctors; there are so many DVDs and books and toys and so forth littered around that it doesn’t necessarily follow that the current Doctor will be the children’s favourite (at the moment Fan Twin likes the Second Doctor the best). But the Tenth Doctor had, until the previous year, been the Doctor for the boys’ entire lives, so it wasn’t really surprising that Non-fan Twin thought he was the best – he even had his own Tenth Doctor costume: suitable suit and tie found after a lot of searching on eBay, plastic glasses courtesy of Doctor Who Adventures comic, canvas shoes, toy sonic screwdriver.

By the time of our London trip there’d been one season of the Eleventh Doctor and we were all excitedly looking forward to the new season that was just about to start. Nevertheless we weren’t surprised that at the Doctor Who Exhibition, it was the Tenth Doctor exhibits that Non-fan Twin was particularly keen on – he loved seeing the costume, and we took photos of him posing alongside pictures of his hero.

Then we turned a corner and were confronted with a giant screen constantly replaying the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration into the Eleventh. Non-fan Twin suddenly became distraught. The hugeness of the images and the relentlessness with which the end was shown again and again and again made it really hit home: his favourite Doctor was gone. Really gone. Gone forever. We tried to explain that the Doctor hadn’t died, he’d just regenerated. He looked different, but he was still the same person. It was OK. It was really OK. And we could go back and watch him on DVDs any time we liked.

People get attached to fictional characters, especially those in programmes they particularly love, and it’s perfectly natural and understandable for a child to get upset when a TV character dies. (I cried when Adric died, and I’m not ashamed.) Exploring issues like this in fiction is one way that children start to understand and make sense of the scary real world out there. So we comforted Non-fan Twin, and after a little while he was all right again, and happy to carry on round the exhibition: talking like a Dalek, learning to stomp like a Cyberman, having his photo taken, by some form of green-screen trickery, at the TARDIS console and in the Pandorica.

A lovely day with lovely people. Definitely a day to remember.

Then on the train home we heard the news that Elisabeth Sladen had died.

Both sons loved Sarah Jane Smith. Their emotional connection to the hero of The Sarah Jane Adventures was much greater than to any Doctor. This time we had to explain to our sons that it wasn’t OK. She wasn’t, as they suggested, going to regenerate – that was our comforting talk from earlier in the day coming back to haunt us. Real life is much crueller than fiction. Our lovely day out had suddenly turned into a day to remember for very different reasons.

When DWM issue 435 came out in May 2011, the boys immediately claimed the giant poster that came with it – and, ignoring the side which showed the Eleventh Doctor, instantly and unanimously asked for the picture of Sarah Jane Smith and the Brigadier to go on the wall of their den.

Somehow, that seemed very right. And although I’m not a child any more, I’m still not ashamed that it made me cry.