Tell me about Doctor Who?
For Irish fans of the British science-fiction series Doctor Who, the universe can be cold and lonely. Down the decades, the time-travelling Doctor has enjoyed the status of a national treasure in the UK – whether played with a tweedy twinkle by Peter Davison in the 1980s or an eccentric tilt of the head by David Tennant in the mid-2000s.
Isn’t it that way everywhere?
The Doctor has a ferocious grip on the British imagination. Jodie Whittaker’s casting as the 13th Doctor in 2017 created national headlines. Similarly, Tennant’s return to the role last weekend drew an audience of more than five million, making it the most-watched UK drama show of the year.
In Ireland, though, the Doctor has been a bit of a space-time anomaly. A tad too whimsically British, perhaps, to gain a broad following. We’ve always preferred our sci-fi with an American twang (heaven forbid RTÉ should ever make Irish sci-fi – what about another miserable soap opera instead?). Star Wars and Star Trek were the franchises to rule them all. The Doctor and his Tardis finished a distant third.
What about the scary monsters?
Even the good guys conjured a chill. I will forever be haunted by my dimly lit recollections of Kamelion, a shape-changing robot that briefly served as companion to the Doctor during the heyday of Peter Davison (a sort of interstellar Chris de Burgh). He was ostensibly on Team Tardis – and yet, who would want to traverse time and space with this metallic menace?
Weren’t the monsters all made out of bin-bag?
Doctor Who could be spectacularly shoddy. Consider the notorious Myrka – a glorified pantomime horse with which the Doctor tangled in 1984. With production time on the episode cut by two weeks owing to a UK general election, the props department finished the monster minutes before it was due on camera. It was operated by two puppeteers who reported feeling overwhelmed by the reek of solvent. Its black body paint, still wet, was soon splashed around the set.
That makeshift aspect of Doctor Who was never a deal breaker for fans. If anything, that cheap-as-chips quality added to the fright factor. Star Trek, even in its original 1960s incarnation, was as slick as anything. Doctor Who, by contrast, inhabited an uncanny valley of wobbly sets, hammy acting and stilted dialogue. All offset by terrifying sound effects (and that mould-breaking theme tune by Delia Derbyshire). That very hokeyness added to the dread. The dire production values gave the show a creepiness that got under the skin.
Isn’t it coming to Disney+?
A new deal between the BBC and Disney + will see the series streamed internationally.
However, for Irish fans, there is a catch. As Ireland is lumped in with Disney+ in the UK, Doctor Who won’t be available in Ireland because that would interfere with the BBC’s exclusive rights to stream it on the iPlayer. But iPlayer is not available in Ireland, so Irish fans are left in a grey zone where they can’t catch up with the latest episodes.
So there’s nothing Irish at all about Doctor Who?
Even though the Doctor may not have a broad following in Ireland, there are still small links to the country that Irish Whovians can celebrate. The 2010 Doctor Who audiobook, The Book of Kells, was set in Ireland in the year 1006. As was an episode of Jodie Whittaker’s second season, although it was more Quiet Man than Cyberman. Plus, the publisher of the official Doctor Who role-playing game Cubicle 7 is headquartered in Balbriggan and Irish author Dave Rudden has written several Doctor Who books. These may be small connections, but they are something to hold on to as the Doctor embarks on his next thrilling trek through time and space.
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