The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Tuesday, 3 March 2020


One of my ‘You Are Not Alone’ columns from back in 2007, published in DWM 393 under the headline 'Losing my Religion?':

Worst episode ever!!!

Normally, I enjoy watching Doctor Who. If anything, I enjoy it slightly more than is healthy. I’ve said before how inordinately excited I get in anticipation of watching an episode, and usually that anticipation is rewarded by the following 45 minutes of thrills, corridors, and hopefully something exploding at the end.

I make a big emotional investment in Doctor Who. I can’t help it; it has given me so much pleasure over the years that I find I care. It can mean the difference between ecstasy and despair, between skipping around the room with uncontainable delight and wanting to locate and dismember the nearest small furry animal.

Absurd, isn’t it? What a ridiculous lack of perspective! It’s only a television programme, after all. There are more important things in the world to worry about, like, wars and famines and remembering to cross the road correctly and money and relationships. Doctor Who, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t matter one jot.

Except that it matters to me, because I expect a return on my emotional investment. My reaction to an episode of Doctor Who will predicate whether I spend the rest of the evening getting drunk, beginning sentences with ‘Wasn’t it incredibly cool when...’ or whether I spend it getting drunk, beginning sentences with ‘And another bloody thing that annoyed me…’

I don’t want to be the ‘annoyed’ person. Never mind that fact that it means I’m awful, niggly company, it’s really tiresome and unpleasant to be in the epicentre of a zone of pedantry.

You might get the impression that it’s a polar response, that it’s either ‘Fantastic!’ or ‘Romana-was-appalled’ (or, to use the internet terminology, it’s either ‘cringe’ or ‘squee’ with additional letter ‘e’s where appropriate). And it’s not – I have the capacity for ambivalence – but with Doctor Who my responses do tend to be more extreme, where every reaction is an… over-reaction.

‘When I was a child, I thought as a child,' said Nicholas Parsons in The Curse Of Fenric. He was right, and could easily have gone on to say, ‘When I was a child, I thought all Doctor Who was great.’ Because, when I was a kid, I didn’t conceive of the possibility that there might be such a thing as a bad Doctor Who story – after all, it was Doctor Who, ergo, it would be automatically really amazing. I enjoyed everything because it never occurred to me not to.

But I can still recall my first ‘bad’ Doctor Who story. It’s a formative moment in every fan’s life. I won’t say which specific story it was – suffice it to say that it featured Sylvester McCoy, some Daleks, and had production code 7H – and I can’t remember what it was about it that left me so vexed – it was, and remains, a marvellous story – but nevertheless, suddenly, and massively, it really me pissed off.

Which is an odd response, if only because Dragonfire had been on the previous year and I’d found that perfectly congenial. I suspect the difference was not with Doctor Who but with me; I had reached a ‘certain age’, where things grow – in particular beard hairs, genitals and the capacity to take everything a bit too personally.

I had turned fourteen and was a prickly, insecure adolescent. And my problem with Doctor Who was that, overnight, it didn’t take itself as seriously as I took it. I wanted this show to continue to mean to me what it had meant when I was six years old, when it was realistic, gritty drama like The Creature From The Pit… but now the powers-that-be-at-the-BBC had decided to turn it into a cheap, silly, children’s programme. An embarrassment. Suddenly Doctor Who stopped being something that everyone liked, and became something that only I liked, and something that stopped girls from wanting to have sex with me (amongst other reasons).

This sort of over-reaction isn’t unique to Doctor Who, though. It’s the same sort of feeling you get when you buy the latest album from your favourite pop group, only to discover they are experimenting with ‘suddenly being shit’. Or when your football team gets relegated. Or when your political party comes second.

On all of these occasions, you have a valid reason to be miserable. And the same applies if you don’t enjoy an episode of Doctor Who. Over-reacting badly is all part of being a fan. There’s nothing wrong with it, as long as you are still over-reacting positively most of the time. As long as you’re dancing with glee more frequently than you are dismembering woodland creatures.

But there are two important things to remember. Firstly, although you have a very personal, very emotional response to Doctor Who, if you don’t like something, it isn’t because the programme makers have decided to annoy you. Just as pop groups don’t sit down and decide to release a bad album, with even the most lacklustre Doctor Who stories, everyone involved was working with the best of intentions. Every story was written, directed, acted and produced by people who genuinely thought it would be fantastic.

Even, hard as it may be to believe, Underworld.

And when things do go wrong, the programme makers are as acutely aware of the shortcomings as the viewers, if not more so. They are just not in a position to announce this publicly, and wouldn’t even if they could, because they know that every bad show started out as a good idea, and how, in a collaborative medium, things go wrong without it being any one person’s ‘fault’.

The second thing to remember is, whatever you do, don’t get drunk and go on the internet. The internet and five pints of lager do not mix. You will read things that will make you tetchy and you will post things you will regret.

Instead, my advice is, pick up the Radio Times and read the listing for next week’s episode… and start looking forward to that instead.

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