DWM 486 A Distressing Question
You know those optical illusions, the ones where you stare very hard at a while vase until it turns into two black faces, and then you can’t imagine how you could have seen it as anything different? It can work like that with songs too. I’m not talking about Mondegreens – the often hilarious misunderstanding of lyrics (yes, for many years I did think Phil Collins was singing about Kangaroo Love, when he was merely saying you couldn’t hurry love – although probably you can’t particularly hurry kangaroo love either so I was sort of right, in a way), but that you hear the right words yet misinterpret them. For example, husband, as a child, thought that the Wombles of Wimbledon were proudly declaring that they were common. Then this week, an epiphany struck me in the middle of the night – don’t ask me why – and I suddenly realised that the slightly ludicrous line ‘Who’s that Doctor over there?’ from Doctor in Distress actually makes a lot more sense if you add more punctuation and change it to ‘Who’s that, Doctor – over there?’ or possibly ‘Who’s that, Doctor? Over there!’ (which are pretty much the same thing), which puts us in a scenario where we’re with the Doctor, talking to him, and wondering who some random other person is – the Master, perhaps, or the Watcher – instead of for some reason wondering who that Doctor over there is, especially if you already knew he was a Doctor but for some reason hadn’t found out anything else about him, and had decided not to say the rather more simple and conversationally normal ‘Who’s that man over there?’ (And to anyone who protests that the line is actually word play based on the fact that the Doctor over there is Who, I reply: that’s not a fact. Don’t be silly.)
Talking of the Watcher, that ghostly figure did a very funny savaging of the Doctor in Distress lyrics back in DWM 445. He particularly laid into the line ‘We’ve learned to accept six Doctors’, and while his criticism was absolutely justified, I think maybe there is just a tiny bit of truth to the lyric. I stopped watching Doctor Who after Season 24 (I’ve probably mentioned this before; bear with me). The Seventh Doctor didn’t feel like the Doctor, and the stories weren’t doing anything for me either. But years later I got to see the last two seasons, and I thought the Seventh Doctor was brilliant. And I didn’t mind Season 24 anywhere near as much, either. Readers with long memories may recall that the old Time Team, of which I was a member, slated Dragonfire as the worst Doctor Who story ever. Yet husband and I reached it in our watchthrough only a week or so ago (it took us ages to get to Season 24 because husband took a break to read/watch/listen to all the post-Season-23 Sixth Doctor adventures) and I didn’t mind it half so much. When we were Time-Teaming, I remember finding it hard to accept the Second Doctor for a story or two, and it took practically the whole of the Third Doctor’s era for me to grudgingly agree that he might just be the Doctor after all. When you’re viewing Who sequentially, you know who the Doctor is, and of course the new one isn’t him. The Doctor is a crotchety old man, not a cosmic hobo. The Doctor is a cosmic hobo, not some patronising bloke with a perm. And more than any of that, the Doctor is a traveller who left his own people to bimble around in space and time because he got bored, he most certainly is not (a) a mystical Time Lord from the Dawn of Time, (b) God, or (c) a superhero who has everything planned out in advance. Except he is. Or at least, the Seventh Doctor is. So now, I’m not saying ‘he’s not the Doctor!’, I’m saying ‘he is the Seventh Doctor, and the epitome of Seventh-Doctor-ness’. Just like if I put on the DVD of Terror of the Autons or The Time Warrior, I’m quite happy watching the Third Doctor, rather than begrudging that he’s stolen the title of ‘Doctor’ from the real Doctor, the Beatle-haired one.
Actually, thinking about husband’s watchthrough detour brings up another aspect of it all – which is the Sixth Doctor, the shouty bloke with Peri, the mellow chap with Evelyn or the one inbetween who hung out with Frobisher? Obviously, all of them. Sometimes it’s difficult reconciling the Doctor’s actions in different circumstances. But it’s all him. The Doctor: god, grump, mischief-maker, authority figure, lack-of-authority figure, utterly alien, more human than the humans, he’s all of those. Which only goes to prove that ‘Who’s that Doctor over there?’ is an impossible question to answer, so I’m going to stick with my punctuated version from now on, whether it was what the lyricist had in mind or not, thank you very much. (Although to be honest I’m hoping there aren’t going to be many occasions in my future where I have to worry about the lyrics to Doctor in Distress.)
Mind you, in their respective hits of the Sixties it sounds to me like Roberta Tovey sings ‘but seeing as an early bird can’t move, so what can it be?’ and Frazer Hines runs on about the Doctor having a night chick’s endless hands (you ask and he may show it). Except Fan Twin has just informed me in his opinion the latter says ‘there’s magic in his hands’, which has solved a mystery of many decades for me and makes a lot more sense. Although I’d probably still advice you not to ask him to show it, whichever one of us is right.