Saturday, 23 November 2013

"When I Say Run, Run!": Travel & Doctor Who

The author, looking absurdly young in 1990
If you ask me, there's nothing more fulfilling than travelling with a theme.

Whether your special interest is reggae music or World War II sites or bagpipe playing, lacing your itinerary with relevant stops brings a trip alive.

Rather than consisting of dutiful trudges around worthy museums and cathedrals, your journey becomes one that's deeply meaningful to yourself.

In April 1990, Narrelle Harris and I had been together for a mere four years.

We were on our first overseas trip together, a rail journey around Britain aided by a thick paperback containing the entire UK train timetable.

The World Wide Web was yet to be invented, email was still largely unknown to the public, and the Berlin Wall had only just fallen.

A mock-up of the TARDIS console room at Longleat's Doctor Who Exhibition, 1990

Another thing that had ended in 1989 was Doctor Who. After running for 26 seasons since 1963, it had finally exhausted itself. However, we were keen to engage with aspects of the series on its home soil, if we could.

So on Tuesday 24 April 1990 (according to my beautifully handwritten travel diary - those were the days!), we enjoyed a full English breakfast at our B&B in Salisbury, had a look around the local market then caught a train to Warminster, the closest station to Longleat House.

Longleat House in 1990

A stately home with various attractions on its grounds, Longleat had long hosted a Doctor Who exhibition. Striking a deal with a local taxi company to take us to the house and mind our luggage for the day, we reached the Doctor Who Exhibition, in those days the only place you could see props and sets from the show.

The photos from that visit have been scanned and dotted through this blog post (though sorry about the date stamps - people in 1990 didn't know any better).

A Yeti, as seen in the 1968 Doctor Who story The Web of Fear

You might be asking yourself: Why make such a big deal about a cancelled TV program?

Doctor Who had always meant a lot to me. Born seven months before its first screening in Australia, I watched it from the very beginning (according to my mother).

One of my earliest memories of any sort is of a thrilling episode of the Patrick Troughton story The Evil of the Daleks, in which a civil war erupts among the Doctor's deadliest foes.

A Dalek from the 1988 Doctor Who story, Remembrance of the Daleks

It was screened in Britain in 1967, so I suppose I must have seen it a year or so later, when I was four years old.

It's impossible to say how much Doctor Who influenced me as a bookish kid growing up outside a small country town in 1960s and '70s Western Australia.

However I've always loved science fiction and am an avowed cultural Anglophile, and I admire the Doctor's combination of individuality, curiosity, courage and reason. So the show must have left its mark.

The bizarre Kandy Man, from the 1988 Doctor Who story The Happiness Patrol

More than anything, I travel. It's a fact often overlooked, but beyond its adventure and science fiction roots, Doctor Who is a program about travel.

Travel without boundaries of time and place, travel that challenges, travel that you hopefully come away from a little wiser.

So today, on the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who's first transmission on 23 November 1963, I want to say "Thank you, Doctor." For opening my eyes to the vast, varied, exciting world outside my door.

For my thoughts on the cultural references and connections of Doctor Who, read this article for Issimo Magazine.