The view from another January…

The birds are chirping in the orchard as they feast on slowly fermenting stone fruit. The weather is a little humid, but a great deal more bearable than the past week’s seemingly endless heatwave. It’ll probably rain again soon. On the other end of the room, a four-month-old puppy is chewing contentedly on the head of a stuffed lion. Somewhere, a song called Lumen Lake is playing.

I’m sitting at the dinner table of an old, rambling red-brick house a few minutes’ walk from the centre of Albury, and a few minutes’ drive from the New South Wales-Victoria border. Lucy and I have been living here for a little over a month. It’s been six months since we arrived back in the area after our honeymoon, and it’s been a year – practically to the day – since I last wrote an entry in this blog.

My mother was right: the time, inevitably, flew.

When I last wrote, I was a fortnight away from getting married, and a month away from the trip. It’s been a pretty big year, so I should probably do this in sections:

The wedding

What can I say? It was perfect. No, seriously: it was perfect. For example, the weather. We’d been surrounded by days of forty degrees and over, then suddenly the rain came, washing away the dust and giving us a sunny, breezy day of twenty-seven degrees, before falling back on old habits pretty much immediately and returning us to intense heat in the following days. We got lucky. The food, the music, the speeches, the camaraderie and support of the bridal party and my groomsmen, the family and friends around us, and of course the bride herself… it’s been said the bride and groom shouldn’t expect to have a lot of fun at their own wedding, but I’ll say with great confidence that it was, by a wide margin, the best wedding I’ve ever been to. (Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so.)

The Trip 

Our first stop, apart from a brief stopover at LAX, was San Francisco, where we battled our jetlag by braving the famously steep hills on foot, wandered through the Beat Museum and City Lights Bookstore, and explored the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood, visiting the former homes of such legends as Janis Joplin, Hunter S Thompson, Sid Vicious, Jimi Hendrix and even a house where Graham Nash and Bobby McFerrin once resided (not at the same time, although that would’ve made a great sitcom). We were also lucky enough to catch up with my cousin Alice, formerly of Sydney and Melbourne and now a confirmed San Franciscan. (Oh, and we saw the house from Full House.)

We then flew to Chicago, which was in the middle of what has already gone down in Midwestern meteorological history as the ‘polar vortex’ – record-breaking low temperatures and snowfalls – and as we emerged from Lincoln Park Station, I saw, for the first time in my thirty-one years on Earth, snow. I became an instant fan. We spent Valentine’s Day wandering through a snow-covered Lincoln Park Zoo, which was almost completely devoid of visitors, and spent the night propping up a sports bar and trying (and mostly failing) to politely decline the constant offers of whisky shots from jovial Midwesterners. Turns out a couple of Aussies on their honeymoon is a bit of a novelty in their end of town.

We were joined the next day by Lucy’s friend Alison, who’d driven down from Michigan, and at my insistence found a genuine blues bar to spend the evening. The bar has the easy-to-remember name of B.L.U.E.S, and we were lucky enough to catch a set by Big Time Sarah and the BTS Express, which is one of the best blues names I’ve ever heard. Their set wasn’t bad either. The next day we drove to Michigan, via a pilgrimage to the Billy Goat Tavern, made somewhat famous by a mid-Seventies sketch on Saturday Night Live, and ended up in Alison’s home town of Decatur (population: approx. 1782), where we were to spend the next couple of weeks. There’s a lot of farmland in Decatur, and this was the middle of Winter, so whenever I looked out the window all I could see was white. Just… white. It blew my mind. I stood on the frozen Lake Michigan. Stood on it. I even got to build a snowman. Don’t worry, I had help: Lucy and I made fast friends with Alison’s five-year-old son Will, who was nothing short of devastated when he eventually learned we had to move on.

And move on we did, to New York City and its associated clichés: Times Square, Central Park, the Dakota, the Museum of Modern Art, Greenwich Village, the Staten Island Ferry, Rockefeller Centre… but my most memorable moments were ever so slightly off the beaten path. A tour of Columbia University, courtesy of Lucy’s friend Brian. Getting my toes wet on Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, where Neil Simon had spent his Summers. Watching the Oscars on a Sunday night (not a Monday morning!) with the ubiquitous Ruth. Marvelling at the Chelsea, the haunting, foreboding hotel where Arthur C Clarke had written 2001: A Space Odyssey, where Kerouac had written On the Road, and where such random luminaries as Mark Twain, Dylan Thomas, Tom Waits,  Jean-Paul Sartre and Iggy Pop had resided at one time or another. And finally, in Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park, I pulled off my shoes and socks and walked through the freezing, muddy grass barefoot… just as Neil Simon and his wife had done when they lived around the block, inspiring the title of the play that changed my life (and in turn inspired the title of this blog). Speaking of theatre: yes, we went to a couple of shows. Inevitably, we saw The Lion King, and yes, it was excellent; we also saw Matilda, with a great score written by our countryman Tim Minchin.

As February morphed into March, we said goodbye to the States and flew to London. More clichés: Trafalgar Square, the Portobello Road Market, the crossing at Abbey Road, Big Ben and the Embankment… but once again, we managed to dig up some more obscure experiences. For instance, we spent an entire day at the Harry Potter Museum. (It was awesome.) We also caught up with our friend Cara – it really pays to have friends scattered across the globe – and saw the West End production of Once, which was based on one of my favourite films. I never thought I’d say it, but I actually prefer the stage show. It was a truly unforgettable experience, and I must make particular mention of the live band, always visible, always playing, and always filled with exuberant energy. There wasn’t one dull moment. Also: I got to go up onstage and have a drink at a real bar. Directorial genius. (The show is currently playing in Melbourne, but it closes on the first of February, so hurry.)

We hired a car in London and drove west for a whistle-stop tour of significant towns, starting with a morning in Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare. We then drove into Wales, first stopping in Cardiff, the current home of Doctor Who, where we visited several filming locations from the past few years (and also found the childhood home of Roald Dahl). Then I dragged us to Hay-on-Wye, a handsome and odd little town on the English-Welsh border that also happens to be the secondhand-bookshop capital of the globe. I’d last visited there in 2005, and was delighted to show Lucy what I’d been raving about for all this time. But our best moment there wasn’t book-related at all: it came when we dropped in on an open-mic night in a pub called the Globe and were treated to the music of a couple of eccentric characters: a singer-songwriter who went by the colourful moniker of Dirty Ray, and his fiddler accompanist, Al Cooper. They played together on one of Ray’s songs, ‘The Rain Song’, which was one of the finest pieces of music I’d heard in a long while; but then Al managed to blow us away all over again when he improvised a fiddle solo just for us. (Once again: a couple of Aussie honeymooners in a random bar. It opens doors, I tell you.)

Barely a week after arriving in the UK, we pulled into Liverpool, and after an evening at the Cavern Club (not the original, sadly), we treated ourselves to a black-cab tour of the city – well, specifically the parts of the city that had a specific connection to The Beatles. (Yeah, don’t act surprised.) It was a great way to explore the outer areas of the city, and our driver gave us plenty of obscure info, plenty of which I’d never even heard. She even provided a full soundtrack of Beatles songs. It was far more intimate than the Magical Mystery Tour, a seemingly money-grabbing enterprise of a crowded double-decker bus tour that followed us all through town. It was all amusingly surreal.

From Liverpool, we flew to Paris (via Manchester and London, but that’s hardly important). We were privileged enough to spend a fortnight in the apartment of Lucy’s cousin Josh and his fiancée Winnie, and got to spend plenty of time with our friend (and Lucy’s bridesmaid) Kate, who’d recently moved to the city. More clichés (mostly misspelled a little): Versailles, the Louvre, the Champs-Elysees, Musee d’Orsay, Pere-Lachaise, Montmartre. More not-quite-clichés: we found the homes of Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald; we wandered the subterranean, skull-filled Catacombs; we spent a weekend with Kate in the Champagne region, where we toured a champagne winery; and we had a memorable trivia night during which we apparently met Steve Coogan’s best friend, who was also once the producer of Blind Date. (I did say apparently.)

After Paris, we took the train to Amsterdam, and spent a lovely (if brief) couple of days there, wandering through Anne Frank’s annexe and getting lost among the myriad of canals and bicycles, before making our way into Germany – specifically, the northern city of Bremen, where my brother Nick lives with his wife Kirsten and their two adorable daughters, Amelie and Ella. We’d made sure in the planning stages to spend as much time with them as possible, so we hung out with them for over a fortnight, and were treated to a lot of utterly fantastic live music.

From Bremen we had a brief stay in Berlin, where – despite a bad cold – I fell completely in love with the city and its fascinating and multifaceted twentieth century history, ranging from the cabaret-filled Depression years to the Weimar era, and onto twenty-five years of Communist oppression. We even brought back a few little chunks of the Berlin Wall with us.

Wow, over eighteen hundred words in and I’ve only covered the first quarter of 2014 so far. This is a tougher assignment than I thought. Allow me to give you a bit of a breather before we venture into the sublime insanity that is Russia…

Back soon.

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The view from January…

The cicadas are chirping with the intensity of a military tattoo. The weather is somewhat balmy but the sun is behind a wide sheet of grey… mercifully. Somewhere, David Bowie is playing.

I’m in the family home in Koolewong, for the last time in six months. My mother says the time will fly, and she’s right. I wager I’ll be rather distracted over the next half-year, by the majesty of the world I’m about to discover.

But for now, let’s back up a little.

I last wrote in the wake of The Day of the Doctor. That was late November. After the anniversary, Lucy and I veritably buried ourselves in preparation for the heady times ahead. The first major event to occur was finishing up my time at work, and saying goodbye to an incredible team of colleagues, some of whom I’d known since I first moved to Melbourne, nearly three years ago. (A lot of you won’t find that a very long time, but believe me, by my standards it’s an eternity.) It was an emotional farewell, to be sure; but hopefully it won’t be the last I’ve seen of these truly good people. I miss you all already.

But there wasn’t time to dwell too much on the end of my employment for the foreseeable future, as we had the Meredith Music Festival to distract us. The music of The Bamboos, Hermitude, Spiderbait and of course the incomparable Nile Rodgers… as well as the old Meredith perennials like Bloody Martys, issues with cable-ties, the Boot Salute, dancing on top of a couch, “paflingo” drinks, sausage sandwiches from the Community Tent, and avoiding sunburn until the inevitable final morning.

Then, finally, it was time to return to Berwick, and say the hardest goodbye of them all. Goodbye to our home of two long, arduous years. And as much of a slog as they may have been, it was impossible not to shed a few tears as we pulled out of the campus that final time, with memories of theatre camp, fire engines, vinyl and SingStar parties, out-of-date confectionary, jovial security guards, and a marriage proposal in a kitchen.

Thankfully, we were on our way to familiar territory – Lucy’s folks’ place near the border. It took a while to adjust to the new lifestyle – for one thing, for the first time in many years I didn’t have a set of house keys, which felt like a loss of identity, of sorts. I can’t complain, however – for the most part, it felt like a holiday. It helped that I had a birthday only days after we arrived, followed in quick succession by Christmas and the New Year.

(Oh, and in between, the Doctor regenerated. I was a little concerned for The Time of the Doctor, as I’d heard it was going to tie up most of the loose ends from Matt Smith’s era, and Lucy and I weren’t even halfway through Series Six in our marathon yet; but thankfully the episode was easy enough for her to understand. Guess what? I cried. Duh. But hey, a warm welcome to Mr Capaldi as Twelve. See you in August, sir – I personally can’t wait.)

Suddenly it was January, and there were only a few short weeks until The Big Day. Naturally, preparations became our full-time job, and each new day has brought us new challenges – each of which, I’m happy to report, Lucy has met with aplomb and vigour (and for the most part, I have too).

Last Thursday I flew to Sydney, to spend time with my family before the insanity begins. First I caught up my brother, his partner, and Lucy’s friend Ruth, who’d just flown in from overseas. Then I had a fantastic evening with my father, something we’ve not done in a long time. On Saturday night, while Lucy was down in Melbourne for what sounds like an incredible hens’ night, I was in The Domain with two-thirds of my groomsmen, for a free Chaka Khan concert. Never mind that we decided to bail once we realised Ms Khan seemed to have pulled a Blues Brothers move by leaving the stage to her (admittedly fantastic) rhythm section for the best part of half an hour; it was a truly great night, and guys, I’ll never forget it.

I spent yesterday on the Central Coast with my parents, and went to see Saving Mr Banks in the beautiful beach town of Ettalong. And the film was just as beautiful as the town. My nephew Luke has recently become enamoured with Mary Poppins (the first half, at least), and I’ve just re-read Steve Kluger’s young-adult novel My Most Excellent Year, an exceptional work that incorporates the legacy of Mary Poppins in wonderful and unexpected ways – seriously, search this book out and read it – so suffice to say, I was looking forward to this film. and I was delighted with the result – the note perfect performances of the two leads (Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks), as well as the stellar supporting cast (special mention to Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford and Colin Farrell)… and of course the music, both the original songs by the Sherman Brothers and the lovely score by my favourite film composer, Mr Thomas Newman. No, I don’t think it’ll win Best Picture – that’s right, it’s awards season, and I’m going to be as insufferable as ever (wedding? What wedding?) – but it’s still a delightful film, and I’m so glad I got to see it with my parents.

Finally, today, I’m hanging out in Koolewong before I fly home tonight, and reunite with Lucy. Honestly, it feels like weeks since I’ve seen her. And then it’s right back into the wedding plans. Twelve days and counting. I’ve no idea how that happened. But I have no complaints, no fears. No tears, no anxieties (in the words of the Doctor).

To put it simply: I’m ready.

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Song for Fifty.

I’m finding it rather difficult at the minute to assemble my thoughts of the last few days into one nice, coherent whole. Maybe because it’s Monday morning, and my Monday mornings are often like that anyway; but it hasn’t helped that this weekend has seen the culmination of twenty years of fanaticism, adoration and passion for something which is, ironically, far too silly to ever be taken too seriously.

So to make it easier on myself, I’ve opted to create a list. A cop-out, I know, but otherwise we’d be here forever, and I’d stop making sense by about the third paragra…

Bugger.

The Barefoot in the Vortex 50 Highlights of the Anniversary (In No Particular Order)…

 

  1. Let’s get this out of the way first – The Night of the Doctor. Yes, I’ve mentioned this one before, but it still deserves its time in the sun. See my previous entry for more gushing about this.

  2. We saw McGann regenerating. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: huge, huge moment.

  3. The fainting Cyberman. This was during a special broadcast of The One Show, a British talk show which celebrated the anniversary with a live performance by the recently reformed BBC Radiophonic Workshop, the experimental music outfit that originally created the Doctor Who theme. As they played their live version, two Cybermen – clearly sweltering under the studio lights – swayed to the dum-de-dums… until one of them keeled over on the drum kit. And bless ‘em, the Workshop kept playing. Rock and roll.

  4. Baffling Lucy with An Unearthly Child.

  5. Baffling her even more with the 1996 TV movie.

  6. I saw this at the very end of the anniversary weekend, but it was the first special to air in the UK, so I’m including it up here on the list: An Adventure in Space and Time, Mark Gatiss’ love letter to the godparents of Doctor Who: the Canadian powerhouse that was Sydney Newman, the incomparable pioneer Verity Lambert, the visual genius Waris Hussein, and the irascible, complex and truly wonderful William Hartnell.

  7. The note-perfect performance of Jessica Raine as Verity Lambert.

  8. The always excellent BBC attention to period detail, this time impeccably recreating the Television Centre era of 1963-66.

  9. The great Nicholas Briggs, voice of the new era’s Daleks, playing the voice of the original Daleks!

  10.  The tragic, BAFTA-deserving performance of David Bradley as William Hartnell.

  11. On that note: Bradley’s delivery of “I don’t want to go.” I was in tears. Again.

  12. The very last shot, with Hartnell glimpsing the future of the show, and – with a single glance – confirming it would be in good hands, for a very long time.

  13. Now, of course, onto the main event – The Day of the Doctor. The excellent script – Moffat’s best, in my opinion, since A Good Man Goes to War – and Nick Hurran’s strong direction made this a treat on its own. But let’s get onto the specifics…

  14. The Hartnell opening sequence. Need I say more?

  15. The Marcus Aurelius quote that opens the script. I’ll admit, I didn’t pick up on this too much on my first watch, as I was busy preparing beans on toast like it was 1963. But the second time, it hit me. Allow me to repeat it here: “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”

  16. The cinema-style opening credits. I didn’t see this in a cinema, but it felt like I was in one, anyway.

  17. “Why am I saluting?” Perhaps because you’re standing before Tom Baker’s scarf? This may not have been intentional, but it’s how I read it.

  18. References aplenty to Lee Evans’ Malcolm, UNIT’s scientific advisor introduced back in Planet of the Dead, sadly not seen here but fondly remembered and happily acknowledged.

  19. The long-awaited return of the iconic Zygons, not seen since 1975.

  20. The long-awaited return of Mr David Tennant, not seen since New Year’s Day 2010, through a cloud of tears.

  21. The bit with the rabbit.

  22.  The return of Billie Piper, as sort-of Rose Tyler but not really, in a way that doesn’t ruin her character arc in the way Journey’s End, let’s face it, did.

  23. The performance of the great John Hurt. Angry and mercurial, yet warm and batty, I salute the Storyteller’s entry into the pantheon of Doctors on the merit of this truly stunning portrayal of the Doctor we never knew.

  24. Aside from his performance, the very existence of the War Doctor perfectly bridges the gap between the ‘classic’ and ‘new’ versions of Doctor Who. There can be no more debate about this – it’s the same show, ladies and gentlemen.

  25. All the meta-commentary. I love Hurt tearing strips off his older/younger selves for their infantile gibberish (“timey-wimey”) and – upon seeing the bowtie and the sandshoes – his concern that he’s having a mid-life crisis. Also, of course, we finally get to laugh out loud at all that kissing that’s started to happen.

  26. That really cool trick with the sonic. Repeated, of course, at the climax; but the Tower of London scene was an excellent way to seed in the concept.

  27. The Zygon-human memory wipe. Brilliant idea – end a conflict by making both sides forget what side they’re even on. “Peace in our time.” Amen.

  28. I am finally a big, big fan of Clara Oswald as a character, and that’s all due, of course, to Jenna Coleman. The “impossible girl” mystery is over – my dear, you’re now a proper companion.

  29. Finally, the great phrases of Terrance Dicks, the elder statesman of Doctor Who writers, have been included onscreen – the description of the TARDIS’ “wheezing, groaning” sound, and the Doctor’s credo: “Never cruel or cowardly.”

  30. Was that…? No, it couldn’t be… IT IS! The intense eyes and piercing stare of Peter Capaldi, our next Doctor. (To hell with what number he is.)

  31. Another regeneration. Goodbye, War Doctor – we hardly knew ye – but what’s that? A very subtle glimpse of Christopher Eccleston’s face?

  32. Gallifrey falls no more. In other words, we suddenly have a “quest” narrative. The Doctor’s home is out there somewhere, and he intends to find it.

  33. The Curator. The force of nature that is Tom Baker, hinting that he’s a future, retired Doctor, revisiting some of the old faces (specifically “the old favourites”). At this point I got something in my eye…

  34. … but I was beyond help when that handshake happened, and Tom whispered “congratulations” to Matt with that mad, otherworldly twinkle in his eye. Congratulations indeed, Matt – you were there when this show turned fifty. And who better to offer that accolade than The Guvnor himself?

  35. Tom’s declaration at the anniversary after-party, stating it was the happiest time of his whole life. Just beautiful.

  36. This special was watched in 94 countries. At the same time. I can’t wait to see how many people that equates to.

  37. My parents called me as soon as it was over. That’s even bigger, to me, than the 94 countries put together.

  38. The live blog on The Guardian’s website, written by Neil and Sue Perryman of Adventures With the Wife in Space.

  39. A few hours after the simulcast, the BBC broadcast something… rather different. Entitled The Five (ish) Doctors Reboot, it was a half-hour film written and directed by the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison, and starring Doctors Five to Eight – Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann (“work permitting, of course”). And it was by far and away my highlight of the anniversary.

  40. An early moment in the Reboot film: Steven Moffat dreaming of many, many past companions whirling around his head, in a homage to the Fifth Doctor’s regeneration… including a hilarious moment for Matthew “Adric” Waterhouse, appearing in place of the Master, and promptly exploding. (“Now I’ll never know if I was right!”)

  41. The appearance of Peter Jackson and Sir Ian McKellen on the set of The Hobbit with Sir Ian struggling to recall his co-star Sylvester McCoy.

  42. John Barrowman’s dark secret. In fact, all the Barrowman stuff. I won’t ruin this one for you – search it out and watch it for yourself. It’s funnier that way.

  43. Tom Baker’s sort-of appearance – first he literally phones his performance in, via some delightful references to Little Britain and (would you believe Dimensions in Time); but then we even get the same footage from Shada that they used in The Five Doctors! Ah, in-jokes.

  44. Everything set in Upper Boat Studios in Cardiff made me realise: we’ll be there in March!!!

  45. The sudden change in musical scores between the old-school Radiophonic Workshop synthesizer and Murray Gold’s orchestral bombast as they enter the studio.

  46. The return of Russell T Davies, the man who brought Doctor Who back and made it a thing of true greatness again.

  47. The fact that, after all that, The Day of the Doctor included the classic Doctors all along… albeit under shrouds.

  48. The very existence of this show. Thank you, Sydney, Verity, Bill, Terry, David, Peter, Raymond, Delia, Ron, Anthony, Mervyn, Rex, Bunny, Jackie, Carole, William, Waris, and all of you who were there when it all began.

  49. The fact that we’re still here, for which we have so many people to thank it’s simply an impossible task. As impossible as a little blue box with a universe inside it. As impossible as a saint with two hearts and infinite faces. As impossible as fifty years.

  50. And finally… Lucy understood it all.

Back in the heady days before we began our experiment, when Lucy would join me for the odd episode, I’d have to explain many things to her, about the plot and about certain character traits, as well as the vast mythology of the show. Then at the beginning of the experiment, I recall having to pause the DVD several times to bring her up to speed. Doctor Who existed on the periphery of Lucy’s life – it was something her partner liked, and that was lovely.

But now, she’s not asking the questions, and she’s engaging. She loved the opening two-parter of Series Six, as well as The Doctor’s Wife, our last episode before the anniversary – we skipped The Curse of the Black Spot, breaking the rules for the first time because I wanted to start the anniversary by showing her Doctor Who at its best. (Don’t worry, of course we’ll be going back to the pirates.) We didn’t quite make it through all 102 episodes before the anniversary, but we got closer than I’d ever imagined we would. 

In 1993 – as I’ve described before – my father received a birthday present from my uncle. A book about the beginnings of a television show that would grow into an institution. My father had watched and loved it as a child, and now it was my turn.

So maybe in another decade’s time, when the sixtieth anniversary comes around, I’ll introduce my child to this bonkers institution, just as my father did before me. And I think Lucy will approve, because she was right there with me.

The experiment worked.

 

As I stand here waiting for my time to come,

I follow in your footsteps

I follow when you run

 

From the jaws of disaster

From a planet besieged

By deadly ancient foes

 

And still you make me smile

When you stop and turn and say:

“This is a creature we can understand,

A living being,

It is just being.

If we could find out what’s on its mind

Then perhaps

We might survive.”

 

And as we stumble down our slow road

I can’t but wonder what it would be like

To run away with you through time

Where would we go

Who we might find

 

But on we go,

Cutting our paths,

Only one way,

One day at a time,

While you embrace the universe

Spinning your way on the fast road

Limitless

Endless

 

So my dear friend you’re getting kinda old now

(Or maybe we are)

And now our children watch you do the deeds we

Marvelled at

Wondered at

 

From the jaws of disaster

From a planet besieged

By deadly ancient foes

 

It’s not the end

Yet there is no end

 

Fumbling and bumbling while all around is crumbling and stumbling through time like you’re a madman still it’s humbling to watch you reconcile divergent creeds without succumbing to the lure of weapons force or greed you only use intelligence and jokes and charm

 

Happy birthday

 

Doctor.

 

You.

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Return of the Living Doctor…

Once again, it’s been a while, for which I apologise. But it’s been a busy time for us – organising the move, the wedding and our overseas trip, as well as Lucy’s completion of her Masters. In just over a month, we won’t know what to do with ourselves… although I predict I’ll still be bouncing off the walls about the latest developments in Doctor Who. And that’s regardless of what happens in the anniversary special, because the “prequel” mini-episode, The Night of the Doctor, has already changed the game completely.

In all honesty, I’d stopped paying very much attention to the spoilers that had begun to trickle out about the Doctor’s fiftieth birthday. Too much rumour and speculation, not enough solid fact – what was the point? This is why I was completely surprised this morning, when I woke up to the news that a mini-episode had been released. Knowing how secretive the production team have been, I didn’t expect The Night of the Doctor to reveal very much about what was to come, but it was only a few minutes long, so I decided to sit down and watch it before heading out to work.

Moments later, I was jumping up and down in my seat. Paul bloody McGann. Unseen on TV since 1996, and now spouting words written by Steven Moffat, underscored by the music of Murray Gold, and in the centre of a mythology invented by Russell T Davies, was the Eighth Doctor himself. When he whispered, when he yelled, when he reassured, it was like I was thirteen all over again. It was glorious.

And then he died.

But then! But then! A regeneration. The eighth regeneration, a lost chapter in the story of the Doctor (and Doctor Who) until now. And he regenerated into… a young John Hurt. The War Doctor, as he was credited. Clearly there’s more to this story, as seen in the trailer for the anniversary special (aptly titled The Day of the Doctor), which we’ll be seeing in just over a week’s time. It’s been a long wait, and it’s finally – almost – here.

Meanwhile, Lucy and I have managed to dip back into our marathon. We’ve now finished Series Five, which Lucy has agreed definitely improved towards the end. Well, yes, it did. Episodes like Amy’s Choice, and Vincent and the Doctor, and The Lodger… oh, and A Christmas Carol! My favourite Christmas episode, bar none!

Watching A Christmas Carol, actually, was a bit of an odd moment. Up until then, I’d been reminiscing about what I’d been doing, where I’d been in my life, when these episodes first went out. But A Christmas Carol was the first time Lucy appeared in those memories. It was Boxing Day 2010, she was about to jump on a plane to the United States, we hadn’t seen each other in weeks (I still lived in a different state, which didn’t help), and she got her first proper taste of my fanaticism. “So how was Doctor Who?” she asked on the phone after the episode. I can’t recall my exact reply, but I’m pretty sure it was well nigh indecipherable.

Things have, of course, changed. In our relationship with each other, and with the show. Lucy’s all over it now. Seriously. We visited a ‘pop-up’ Doctor Who store last weekend – on Bridge Road in Richmond, the source of some of my first Melbourne memories – and Lucy (brace yourself) bought a red Dalek dress. Yep, that really happened. Readers of my blog from the beginning – both of you – might be astonished to read that, considering how different things were back then.

Oh, and I may have bought something there, too. But you won’t know about it for a couple of months. Spoilers.

So what’s next? Well, most importantly, my brother Josh and his partner Alice have just touched down in Melbourne to spend the weekend with us. My work life has changed for the better, ironically in my final weeks of employment here. I’ve officially spent four hours behind the wheel of a car, out in the traffic, learning things like u-turns and blind spot checks and how to navigate roundabouts.

Also, there’s a murderous astronaut, a paranoid President, and monsters so scary I can barely even…

Wait, what was I saying? I seem to have forgotten.

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Love, community and the Omni-rumour…

I’m exhausted. That’s mainly because I got up at 6:00 this morning to get my photo taken for my Learners Permit (yep, I finally bit the bullet!), but also because I woke up in the middle of the night to check for any news on this missing-episodes thing.

I explained a lot in my last post, dropped a lot of history on y’all, and probably bored a few of you to tears with my ecstatic geeky filibuster. What I don’t think I managed, though, was to truly express how the world of Doctor Who fandom has been affected on this day of days.

Let me think on this for a moment.

Okay, I’ll start with the example I gave Lucy last night. “Imagine,” I said, “a lost Beatles album had been discovered. One that they recorded between Sgt. Pepper and the White Album.”

(Before any of you jump on me, yes, I’m already aware of the existence of Magical Mystery Tour. But technically that was a double-EP, and half of its material had already been released. So back the hell off.)

I considered my analogy, then realised it was even bigger than that.

“No,” I said, “imagine two lost Beatles albums had been found.”

But it’s not a perfect analogy. After all, we already knew these old episodes of our favourite show had existed, at least once upon a time. This was a recovery more than a discovery. But it was the biggest single haul in the thirty-year history of the recovery effort. Frankly, it’s unprecedented.

I know, I know. I’m still not conveying this in a way that most people can connect with. So maybe I’ll just dispense with the analogies and just describe what it’s been like for us.

Hello, my name’s Alex and I belong to an online Doctor Who forum.

Just the one, mind you. Gallifrey Base, the largest Doctor Who community on the World Wide Web. I’ve been a part of that community for over ten years now, since just before the revival was announced. It’s been a heady decade, to say the least. Some members are close to half my age. Some of them are girls – who saw that coming? I’ve been there for it all.

The first furtive glimpses of the TARDIS in Cardiff (and the ensuing “windows are the wrong size” debate).

The “Rose” leak.

The ugly outcry that followed the sudden departure of Christopher “splitter” Eccleston.

The anti-RTD tirades.

The anti-Moffat tirades.

The anti-everything-else tirades.

But once in a while, among the vitriol, something glorious happens.

The universal praise of Blink.

The Capaldi casting.

And every aeon or so, the discovery of missing episodes.

It might be hard to believe – we’re talking about a message board – but there’s been a party atmosphere on Gallifrey Base for the last couple of days. At one point last night, in the final hours before the official announcement, a single thread was being bombarded with new posts at a rate of four times per minute. This wasn’t just a party; it was a global event. And it went beyond the confines of this silly little TV show we all adored.

The inevitable trolls, sceptics and naysayers had faded into the distance. All of a sudden, everything was rosy. People began to write about this news brightening their day, or their week. Then some people revealed how difficult their year had been. Someone had lost his job. Another was still getting over a bitter break up. One person confessed that he and his partner had recently lost a child. A child. At least Doctor Who episodes still have a chance of turning up. Some things we can’t ever get back.

And yet, he was smiling. From ear to ear. We all were. Regardless of what was happening in our lives – I won’t pretend it’s been an easy year for Lucy and I – the sun was coming back out. I was lucky enough to have felt this relatively recently, when Cathy McGowan ousted Sophie Mirabella from the Victorian seat of Indi (my future home) in the Federal election. I don’t even live in the area yet, but I was there, on Twitter, soaking up the party vibes. As Cathy has pointed out many times, she’s a firm believer in community. Well, that’s what we are on Gallifrey Base, too; and last night the community was having a party that was bigger than Capalday.

In fact, the party’s still going.

That’s why it’s so good these episodes are available on iTunes. I was too young for fandom back when Tomb of the Cybermen was discovered in 1991, but I’d assume there was a substantial amount of time between the BBC announcing the discovery and the release of the story on VHS (remember that?). This time, however, people were downloading and watching these episodes within minutes of the announcement. I watched their reactions in real-time, just like I can do with the current era. It’s like Patrick Troughton is alive and well and right back on TV where he belongs. In glorious black-and-white.

After all that, I still don’t think I’ve done justice to the sheer joy that’s going on amongst the fans – I’m sure plenty of them aren’t members of the forum, or even the online community – but there’s something I haven’t really addressed yet.

We call it the Omni-rumour.

Basically, a lot of people – many of whom are very reputable sources – are convinced this is just the tip of the iceberg. Nine episodes? That’s nothing compared to what’s coming, so they say. The logic is that, over in that town in Nigeria, there’s  more where those nine came from. A whole lot more.

Here, briefly, are three of the most sought-after pieces of Doctor Who history that have yet to be recovered:

Marco Polo

Dating from early 1964, Marco Polo is the fourth Doctor Who story to ever be broadcast. And rarely for the show, no footage whatsoever from this story has survived. Which is a real damn shame, as it seems to have been an absolute cracker of a story. The good news, however, is that Marco Polo holds the record for the most widely sold Doctor Who story internationally. Its last known broadcast was in Ethiopia in 1971. All evidence points to this being an easy recovery… but bizarrely, it just hasn’t happened.

The Power of the Daleks

Not only is Power a truly great Dalek script, this 1966 story was also the first to feature the newly “renewed” Doctor, played by Patrick Troughton. (He wouldn’t call it “regeneration” until he was Jon Pertwee and the show was being produced by a Buddhist.) Just like Marco Polo, none of it exists anymore. Which kind of blows.

And finally…

The Tenth Planet 4

Just a single episode this time – but a very, very important one. Seminal, even. The fourth instalment of The Tenth Planet (also the debut story of the Cybermen) was the last episode to feature William Hartnell as the Doctor. Not the “first” Doctor; simply the Doctor. Because to anyone watching it back in 1966, the Doctor pretty much died at the end, and an impostor appeared in his place. Man, it’d be good to see how that shit played out onscreen. But alas, no. That little snippet of TV history is the only episode of The Tenth Planet to be missing. In fact, it’s one of the “ten most wanted missing programmes”, alongside (and this is an absolute TRAVESTY) the BBC footage of the goddamned Moon landing.

Different versions of the “Omni-rumour” exist, but one of the most persistent versions includes whisperings of the above three titles. Now, I’m not saying I’m a believer, necessarily; call me an optimistic agnostic at this point. The point is this: up until a few days ago, I was convinced I would never see these episodes – that they were dead and gone. Now we’ve got Salamander, and Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, and Yetis in the Underground, and Griffin the Chef (arguably the greatest supporting character ever).

Now anything’s possible.

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Welcome back.

Introduction

 

Today is a red-letter day in the history of Doctor Who.

 

No, it’s not the anniversary. No, a new Doctor hasn’t been announced. Nor has a new companion. In fact, those of you who are only familiar with the post-2005 era of the show might have little to no interest in the subject of today’s blog; but I implore you all, read on.

 

I’ve tried to make this story as user-friendly as possible, putting everything in an historical context but also avoiding the more technical side of things. I may even have screwed up or missed a few facts. But the essentials are there, and that’s what’s important.

 

It comes down to this: if you have any interest in popular culture of the mid-twentieth century, keep reading. For you, and for me, this is history.

 

 

Part 1 – The Year of the Monsters

 

England, Christmas 1967.

 

The Beatles were Number 1 with Hello Goodbye and Sgt Pepper. Their new film Magical Mystery Tour was about to premiere… and crash and burn.

 

Over in Australia the search continued for Prime Minister Harold Holt, who’d vanished off the coast of Melbourne barely a week earlier.

And in the world of Doctor Who, the Year of the Monsters was in full swing.

 

The show was into its fifth season, and Patrick Troughton had been playing the Doctor for just over a year since taking the reins from William Hartnell. The show was really hitting its stride by this point, with serials comprised of four or six episodes, mostly based around claustrophobic Earth bases being besieged by otherworldly, soon to be iconic monsters.

 

The Cybermen – who had debuted in Hartnell’s final story and now opened and closed the fifth season – had already become iconic. But this season was also notable for introducing the Ice Warriors and the Yeti.

 

In the middle of it all, though, came Christmas 1967, and The Enemy of the World.

 

By pure coincidence (considering the Harold Holt tragedy), this story began with the Doctor and his friends arriving on… an Australian beach. Awkward. But hey, it was set in the future, so they totally got away with it.

 

Rather than getting attacked by the requisite monsters, the TARDIS crew were soon caught up in a tale of intrigue, politics, and espionage. There were helicopters. There was globetrotting. There were daring escapes from the clutches of people who weren’t all that nice at all. And at the centre of the chaos was a ruthless Mexican dictator named Salamander… who happened to be the Doctor’s double. This sudden change in genre wasn’t all that shocking. The fifth James Bond film, You Only Live Twice, had opened that Summer, and the 007 spoof Casino Royale had its premiere on the same night as The Enemy of the World’s second instalment.

 

But the show was back to its old tricks by the following story, The Web of Fear, the second story to feature the robotic Yeti. Whereas their first outing had been set in 1930s Tibet, this time the action was set firmly in present-day London. (Or the very near future. But seriously, let’s not get into that.) The images of the Yeti stalking through the London Underground are some of the most iconic from the show’s fifty-year history. And The Web of Fear is historically significant for something else, too – it marked the debut of Colonel Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, who would soon be promoted to Brigadier and become a fixture of the show for the rest of its run. The story remains an outright Doctor Who classic among fans… or at least among the fans who can remember it.

 

And now I finally reach my point.

 

About a year earlier, the BBC – in its infinite wisdom – junked the master videotape of the Doctor Who story The Highlanders. Two things to bear in mind here: first of all, this story had introduced the Doctor’s companion Jamie, who by this time had become rather popular. Secondly, the story had only been screened a few months earlier.

 

They just chucked it out. And that was only the beginning.

 

 

Part 2 – M.I.A.

 

For the next decade or so, the BBC either junked or wiped the master videotapes of the show’s first 253 episodes. In other words, the entire output of the first two Doctors. Essentially, they wiped the tapes so they could record over them; and they junked the rest because they were taking up space. More importantly, though, they could see no reason for these tapes to be kept. The concept of home entertainment was still in the distant future, and with the advent of colour TV it was very unlikely audiences would bother with these black-and-white relics. So they took the logical step and got rid of them.

 

Don’t worry, they made copies. Of course they did. And they shipped the lot of them overseas.

 

Australia got a bunch of them. So did the West Indies, and Asia. And Africa. Basically, all over the British Empire, the subjects of the Commonwealth were being dazzled by the adventures of Messrs Hartnell and Troughton. They got sold in batches of episodes, rather than full seasons; and after a country had broadcast each batch, that country would send it on to the next one. They called it “bicycling”.

 

Here’s the bad news: at the end of the “bicycle” route, the last country would ship the episodes back to the UK… where, you guessed it, they’d get destroyed all over again.

 

But like the Daleks in the Void, a few survived.

 

As the Thatcher era began, and with it the introduction of home video, the BBC ended its policy of wiping old TV – finally realising people might actually want to watch this stuff again. Sadly, by this point the archive was looking very scant. At the time, a mere 47 episodes of Doctor Who were held in the official archive.

 

So dedicated Doctor Who fans began the seemingly endless search for the lost era; and little by little, film cans began to trickle back to the BBC, from all over the world. Some were random episodes from private collections; others were full stories – notably, in 1991, a TV station in Hong Kong returned the opening gambit of the Year of the Monsters, The Tomb of the Cybermen, to its rightful BBC home.

 

The recovery of Tomb was a huge coup, and over the next twenty-two years, a total of only four more random episodes would be returned. Not stories, but episodes. Just four. Until now.

 

 

Part 3 – Midnight at the Lost and Found

 

So, back to Christmas ‘67.

 

Remember The Enemy of the World? You know, with the helicopters and the Doctor’s Mexican double?

 

Oh, and remember The Web of Fear? With the not-quite-Brigadier and the Yetis in the Underground?

 

Well, they’re back. God knows when they were found, but we know one thing for certain – they were found in Nigeria.

 

By Christmas 1967, the Nigerian-Biafran War was in full swing, after Nigeria’s south-eastern provinces tried to secede from the rest of the country and renaming itself the Republic of Biafra. The ensuing civil war was soon to fall into stalemate.

 

Somehow, in the middle of all the chaos, in the city of Jos – a city that had only recently become the capital of the northern Beune-Plateau State – two film cans materialised, on the way through the BBC’s “bicycle” route. They were to remain there for over forty years.

 

This morning, after months of speculation, it was finally announced – nine episodes of Doctor Who, previously missing, have been officially returned to the archives. They comprise of all but one episode of The Web of Fear, and The Enemy of the World in its entirety. All nine episodes are now available on iTunes, and DVD releases are forthcoming. As I type, fans across the globe are watching episodes of their favourite show that are over forty-five years old – episodes they’ve never seen before.

 

See what I mean? History.

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My hometown.

I’m home.

But I’m not really.

Well, I am… but it’s complicated.

For me, “home” is a concept that spans past, present and future.

The home of my present is Melbourne. I’ve been here for close to two and a half years now, and there are so many things I love about it, I’d find it very hard to list them all. But that won’t stop me trying.

I love all the friends I’ve met here. Team Powlett, otherwise known as HayLuLex. My Meredith/Golden Plains crowd. My Scarlett’s Room cast. The Termi team. And all the rest of the Halls family Lucy has shared with me. You all know who you are, and you’re all wonderful.

The home of my past is, of course, Sydney. Lucy and I have just returned from a much-needed break in the home of my recent past, and we both wish we were still there.

The Upper North Shore, the Central Coast, the Inner West…

My actual family, immediate and extended…

The please-never-go-away trappings of the city, like Kinokuniya, Galaxy, Opera Quays, The Vintage Cafe, and the last remaining dine-in Pizza Hut for miles and miles and miles.

Tiny pockets of my personal history like the Peninsula Theatre and Fisherman’s Wharf in Woy Woy, the Town Hall Hotel and Elizabeth’s Bookshop in Newtown, the water clock and that tunnel-bridge thing from the station to the mall in Hornsby.

Bush turkeys and possums.

Flossy and Mabel. Mali and Wilson.

Unseasonably amazing weather.

The river. (Or, as I always used to describe it in my diary, the River.)

It’s all my past, but it’ll always be my home, because mercifully, none of it has changed. It’s still there, waiting for me to dip my foot back in when I need to. And in that respect it’s become one of Lucy’s homes too.

Finally, there’s the home of my future, currently sitting on another river, the mighty Murray, waiting for us. And there’s my new family, Lucy’s family, waiting for us too.

Before we left for our Sydney trip, Lucy and I felt like the walls were closing in on us. The year seemed like an eternity, and we were caught in the middle of it, with no discernible way out.

And now, suddenly, we’re in Spring. The names of the months are longer from here on out, as are the days themselves. The weather is warm and sunny, even in Melbourne. Work is changing, and will soon be ending. (Soon enough, anyway.)

Doctor Ten dies in two episodes, and then we’ll be on the home stretch – before we know it, we’ll hit the anniversary. Our own anniversary (also quite important) is also almost here… as is the AFL Grand Final (yep, I said it), a Learners Drivers Licence, a certificate in teaching, a return to running.

Before we know it, we’ll be back at Meredith, hoping against all hope not to be cut at the 60 sign, with our Bloody Martys, triple-cheese concoctions, Lucy guac, Sonic Screwdrivers and Discosaurus.

Then, finally, we’ll be on the River. My new River. My new home (and Lucy’s old one). The year will turn – our tumultuous transitional year – and I’ll become someone’s husband. Bit nervous about that, but not nearly as much as spending half a year out of the country.

I guess I shouldn’t be too scared about that, though. After all, I’ve got three homes waiting for me here. Past, present, future… but all here, and all waiting.

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