DWM 489 Seasons in the Sun

Last week, my children’s homework was to come up with words and phrases associated with autumn. It’s June. That seemed thoroughly bizarre, although not quite as strange as the local ice-cream van regularly coming down our road playing ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’. ‘Children! Let us tempt you to our frozen treats by reminding you of the coldest part of the year!’ A marketing genius at work, there. Of course you come to associate different things with different seasons, even when not quite so blatant as that – especially things from your childhood. Winter is bare trees and Bunty annuals and syrup pudding (no one had heard of sticky toffee pudding in the 1970s). Spring is cherry blossom and newborn lambs and Easter Eggs. Summer is Wimbledon and ice cream and beaches. Autumn is – according to the boys’ homework – colourful trees and bonfires and rustling leaves. And also, according to me, new school shoes, chilly evenings… and Doctor Who.

From Season 13 to Season 18 – that’s practically all of the Tom Baker era, and incidentally my formative years – Doctor Who began as it was time to go back to school. The days got shorter, teatimes were darker, and this incredible character, all teeth and curls and scarf, appeared on our screens and saw us through to spring. It just seemed so *right*. Just enough darkness and chilliness to enhance the fear factor while cosily curled up on the sofa. When the sun started to come out again we’d bid farewell to the Doctor – apart from the occasional repeat – as our Saturdays became more about kicking a ball around or seaside holidays. Or, admittedly, pestering parents to take us to the Longleat or Blackpool exhibitions. Or wanting to visit all the bookshops in whatever place we were staying in the hope they stocked different Target novelisations to the bookshops at home (the Amazon generation don’t know they’re born!). Husband has similar memories, except that he actually got to go to Longleat every summer as his family lived quite near, and the reason he used to head to each new holiday-town WH Smiths was to rearrange their Doctor Who section into broadcast order. But apart from these tangential activities, Doctor Who just *didn’t belong* in the summer.

Which would probably have come as a surprise to fans who were older than me. Yes, the First, Second and Third Doctors were on in the winter, but they were still on telly when summer came round. The scarefest that was Evil of the Daleks crept into July 1967, while horror-movie-esque The Daemons took fans almost up to the longest day in 1971. The very first season began, as everyone knows, on a cold, wet night in November, but went on all the way to the next September: The Sensorites and The Reign of Terror were on in the height of summer 1964. I wonder how many children were dragged off to Margate or Camber Sands and never ever discovered how things finally turned out on the Sense-Sphere.

Into the Eighties, and Doctor Who was still associated with darker days as the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors all stuck to the autumn/winter pattern. Seasons 19 – 22 were broadcast January to March, seasons 23, 24 and 26 were on September to December, with Season 25 slipping slightly to October to January. Of course, Summer did bring the joy that were DWM summer specials, but Who on telly – nope.

It’s been a bit all over the place recently. For 2005 and the next few years, Doctor Who began at Easter and carried on until summer. Easter! Summer! That’s not the Doctor Who time of year! Except, of course, for a lot of the more recent fans, it is. (Witness husband from 2005 to 2008 going to elaborate lengths to get the living room dark enough to watch Who in the right atmosphere. On several occasions I did consider getting him blackout curtains instead of an Easter egg.) But hang on, it’s now on every Christmas too. Plus what about the years where we only got specials, not full seasons?  And the split seasons! April to June then August to October, or September to December then March to May, what’s that all about? It’s all confused! Since 2005, the only month in which there’s never been a new episode of Doctor Who is February, which ironically enough would be a really good time to have some Doctor Who. But as of last year, it’s back to where it – to me – belongs, autumn. This is how it should be. You can cope with the sadness of the end of summer, of the return to boring old school, as long as you have the Doctor with you.

So do current viewers associate Who with any particular time of year? ‘What time of year is Doctor Who on?’ I asked Fan Twin. ‘About August to October,’ he replied. Same question to Non-Fan Twin. ‘Near Christmas, so you don’t have to wait too long for the Christmas special,’ he said. Ha! It’s like the end of The Last Christmas, where everyone forgets about what’s been going on as they wake up to the real world. Spring/Summer Doctor Who is but a dream to us now we have returned to Who as it should be. And why is The Last Christmas so clear in my memory? Because we’ve just rewatched it. On a sunny Saturday afternoon in the middle of June. And now I think I’ll pop out to get a 99 from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.