Relative Dimension


'You're fokin' jokin', mon.'

Black dreadlocks addresses queue of symbolic anoraks in Piccadilly Circus. It is midnight, Tuesday 21st May 1996. Does that date mean anything to you? No? What about November 23rd 1963? You associate it with the death of some American? Well then, you aren't one of us.

This is going to be a little complicated.

The rasta wasn't the first person to ask us— and there are at a guess, two-hundred— whether we were queuing for a night-club. No, we explained. We were queuing for a record shop. It was going to open at midnight. That's the earliest they are allowed to sell the new video. That is to say, the, er, new version of Doctor Who.

The queue inched forward in that way that queues do, like the hour hand of a clock.

It started to rain.

'You're fokin' jokin', mon.'

No. Actually not.

You will never meet someone who is a fan of both Doctor Who and Star Trek. The are mutually exclusive personality types, like dog-owners and cat-owners. Star Trek is neat and shiny and full of wonder and the human spirit can be relied on to sort things out. Dammit, the human race was never meant to be happy. Captain Kirk, and his bald successor have sworn to uphold something called the Prime Directive, which basically means that they can't interfere with the affairs of less advanced races, except when they can. Interestingly enough, the Time Lords, the Doctor's people (Doctor Who is the name of the programme, not the character—do please try to keep up) have exactly the same law, the law of non-interference. This was, so far as we know—even after more than a thousand episodes, this point remains a little vague—upped, nicked a TARDIS, and ran away. Interfering is very much his line. The universe is such a mess that it damned well needs meddling with. Thus, Captains Kirk and Picard are committed to upholding the very same law which the Doctor has dedicated his life to breaking. Star Trek characters wear uniforms and call each other 'Sir'. In Doctor Who, you can forget the military. If they aren't in league with the monsters then you can bet that they are disorganised, trigger happy and bureaucratic. And the only person who can possibly save the day is this raving lunatic in a long scarf and floppy hat.

Are Doctor Who fans nerds? Sure. 'Nerd' is a word used by accountants to describe people with interests and hobbies. It's a word used by bullies to describe the bright kids they duff up. The Doctor himself is the first and greatest of the nerds. His enemies are upstart machines; and corrupt bureaucrats; little, conventional men, after money and power and prepared to sell out the human race in order to get it. Or else they are school bullies, hurt by the universe and hurting it back in return. But the Doctor champions the nerds. Learning things and having fun count for more than money. And he doesn't care about his clothes.

The Doctor's universe, despite his promises, is singularly devoid of wonder. It is a grey, dull place, full of metallic corridors, offices, caves, backstreets, drab military uniform. The good places are little villages with cottages and village greens. The sense of wonder comes from the Doctor himself. He is the wonder of the universe; and he is always set against it. He finds everything wonderful, including us.

Since he doesn't exist, it was necessary to invent him

We were supposed to be queuing here a week ago, May 14th. The idea was that Brits who could be bothered to queue got it first; then it went out on American television, then, on UK television a fortnight later. On the Saturday, I was wandering around the Branson Temple on Oxford street. Rows of the boxes in its video section, with nothing in them. Rows of copies of the book-of-the-film, for people who want to spoil their appetite.

On Monday, it was announced that the video had been refused a 15 certificate by the British Board of Film Ruiners, and the release would be delayed for seven days. This almost reassured us that traditions are being kept up. Mary Whitehouse was always attacking the programme for being too frightening. She once called it the most violent on television. From her grave, she delays us for a week.

Two days later, we read that Jon Pertwee had dropped dead.

The TV news did obituaries, with clips. He stepped out of the police box in front of a painted backdrop, thumbs in his pockets, and looked around. He had the face of someone both experienced and cautious, someone who had seen many planets but knew that there was still danger, while still managing to evoke the gentleman explorer. He was not acting, but inhabiting his role. People like that don't die.

HMV blasts the theme tune over loudspeakers. Excerpts flash across the big screens. (I'd been worried that the might be showing the video; I didn't want to see some of it until I'd seen all of it.) They were only letting the pilgrims in groups of twenty. (Pilgrim is right; an all-but empty department store at 1.15 AM is a spooky, cathedral-like environment.)

Racks of videos. Single copy. If not for the censors, last week, Paul McGann would have been there to sign copies. Instead, we have the producer. He seems genuinely surprised and pleased that so many people have turned out to get the film. I thank him for signing my box, and add 'And thank you for bringing him back'. Pathetically, I feel as if I am about to cry.

Home. Tea. Crumpets and jelly babies. Video recorder. 'Play'.

They have re-set Ron Grainer's classic theme music to a march beat.

'You're fokin' jokin', mon.'