Bandwidth Presents: A Moment of Clarity
Steven Rainey meets the new Doctor Who, Matt Smith, and has his illusions shattered
Brian Wilson once sang 'I just wasn’t made for these times', and increasingly I’m inclined to think he was singing about me. As culture continues to spiral further and further out of my grasp, I increasingly feel like an anachronism, left behind watching some glittering future that I can never be part of. And as the years go by, once seemingly unshakable institutions crumble and fall into dust.
REM are no longer in the hit parade. Three of the four Ramones are dead. Jar Jar Binks ruined Star Wars. There’s a new Captain Kirk. You can’t smoke in bars anymore.
And now… the new Doctor Who is younger than me.
Admittedly, Matt Smith is only slightly younger than me, but for a character who’s central defining characteristic is his (almost) immortality and his amassed wisdom, it’s still strange that I’m older than him, and by extension have possibly seen more than he has. Call me egocentric, but this matters to me.
As a little kid, Peter Davidson’s floppy-haired Doctor ran about, battling Cybermen and the like, not so discreetly cashing in on the whole 'Post-Star Wars, isn’t Luke Skywalker great!' thing. Then, as I started to discover that scary things were slightly cooler, Colin Baker took over as a deliciously deranged Doctor, prone to bouts of unpredictable anger and schizophrenic mood changes. After that, the clownish buffoon of Sylvester McCoy slowly evolved into a Machiavellian puppet master, pulling the strings behind the scenes.
Then there was the Americanised Paul McGann’s version of the character, which nobody was too fussed on, leading to Christopher Eccleston’s bloke-ish re-start in 2005. Then came David Tennant. Nobody could have predicted the impact he’d have on the series, capitalising on the unsuspecting success of Eccleston (lest we forget, there was only one episode of the series made in the 1990s), and drawing an entirely new audience into the sphere of the show.
Time for truth – the only reason I’m able to write this at all is because of David Tennant. For whatever reason, it felt like everybody liked the guy. No longer was Doctor Who the territory of the stereotypical nebbish 'anorak' types, it was adopted as a national treasure, beloved by all, and setting new standards in family entertainment. If it hadn’t been for Tennant, there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell I’d have admitted the knowledge of Doctor Who I’ve just displayed – it would be cultural suicide. Tenant made it cool to like Doctor Who, and that’s all there is to say about it.
But they were all older than me.
And now I am older than Doctor Who.
So, as I stood in the reception of the QFT cinema in Belfast alongside dozens of school kids [there in my capacity as producer on Gerry Kelly's Radio Ulster programme], all there to meet the new Doctor, I had mixed feelings as to what I was going to do. Would I wish him well? Give him a bit of advice for the journey? After all, I had been going through this longer than he has, and there’s sure to be things I’m more experienced in dealing with. You know, Sontarans, and stuff.
Or would I attempt to attack him, causing him to re-generate again? Into someone older, hopefully.
But as the doors opened and Smith strode in with his new on-screen assistant, Scotland’s Karen Gillan, any thoughts of causing the Doctor to regenerate – before his first adventure, no less! – were immediately swept out of my head by the response which greeted the young time traveller.
A huge scream went up, and a palatable sense of excitement filled the room. Standing where I was, I couldn’t see anything so I was forced to draw my own conclusions as to what was taking place – judging from the hysteria evident in the room, he hadn’t bothered turning up, but had plucked the 1964-era Beatles up in the TARDIS and dropped them off in his place.
Rounding the corner towards the main foyer, I could see that it was this young Doctor who was provoking the shrieks, and not the smiling faces of Paul and Ringo, alongside the resurrected faces of John and George.
In a sense, I was both bewildered at the response – never having dared guess the kids would get that excited – and saddened, as I had briefly begun to entertain the notion that I would soon be shaking hands with the Fab Four. Signing autographs, the new Doctor Who – younger than me – was swamped by school kids, who seemed to think a titan walked amongst us, a genuine Time Lord, like Tom Baker or something, rather than some fella with indie-ish hair, and a scruffy coat.
But the kids lapped it up and continued screaming and screaming, with no evidence of them reaching their peak just yet. Looking around, I began to notice the haunted, worried looks on the faces of the adults present. Beads of sweat began forming on brows, eyes darted about, and teeth were ground – this is the passing of the torch… he is no longer ours.
Sitting in the empty cinema a few moments later, I steadied myself for the interview. I was assisting a colleague, and also hoped to grab a few words with the time travelling pair myself, if – ahem – time permitted. The doors swept open, and they were escorted in.
It was at this point the thought of attacking the – younger than me – Doctor completely evaporated from my mind. He seemed a likeable type, clearly aware of what an opportunity he’d been given, but intent on enjoying it as well. Any impression of him as some time travelling Johnny-Come-Lately was shattered, as he revealed himself to be a fairly regular guy, an actor, no less, who once had the opportunity to be a professional footballer, but had to give it up because of injury. There was no magic, no mystery, just a guy… round about the same age as me, if I’m being charitable, enjoying the experience of a lifetime.
And anyway, it didn’t really matter to me as, by this point, I’d begun discreetly flirting with the Doctor’s assistant, Amy Pond, aka the actress Karen Gillan. She’s from Inverness, I lived in 'nearby' Aberdeen, and ultimately that was enough of a cosmic connection for me. Obviously I didn’t tempt her away from a life of exploring the expanse of the galaxy – and time itself – but it was an opportunity to flirt with a fictional character, and that’s something I’ve never been able to turn down.
And then it was all over. There wasn’t enough time for me to grab an interview, which I wasn’t too bothered about anyway, and I was handed two autographed postcards; a memento of the moment one of my great illusions was finally shattered.
This feature first appeared on Bandwidth - the place to go for great local, independent music videos. Featuring promos from A Plastic Rose, The Jane Bradfords, Dutch Schultz, General Fiasco, Panda Kopanda and others - Bandwidth also hosts awesome live concert footage from Therapy?, Pocket Promise and more. To find out more about Bandwidth or to check out some of their brilliant videos click here.
The illustration above is by Paul Milne. Visit his website here.