Doctor Who or: My Own Private Inferno

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Rob, enjoying some literature

The biggest lie I ever told was in April 2004, when I tried getting out of a five week holiday across Europe and North America. I was nine years old and my parents had planned, saved, and cashed in the long service leave to give my brother and I the trip of our lives, but I told them I was too scared to fly. This was a few years after 9/11 and I was generally a pretty nervous child, but the real reason I said this was because I didn’t want to miss five weeks of Doctor Who reruns.

The ABC had started running old Doctor Who episodes in around September 2003 – every Monday through Thursday at 6pm – and I’d caught every one, even though that meant missing The Simpsons four nights of the week. Now six months and seven seasons deep, Doctor Who had consumed my imagination. I began writing my own stories and parodies and drawing cartoons. Clearly, I wasn’t going to miss twenty whole episodes just for some bloody holiday – especially not now the Jon Pertwee seasons had begun.

My parents didn’t understand. At the time, my Mum had watched a few episodes with me, but she later admitted it was only to spend time together. Another night we had friends over for a barbecue, but it was 6:15 so I was busy at the television; “You’ve seen all the Simpsons,” my Dad scoffed, and he scoffed once more when I told him I was actually watching part four of The Dominators from 1969. Ultimately, my parents understood that I wasn’t going to budge, and they made sure our house-sitter taped every night on our VCR. Only then did I hop on a plane.

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The Dominators: clearly unmissable television. BBC.

I owe the sitter greatly for that. Looking back, the trip was a deeply happy experience, filled with the love and adventure of a wholesome family unit. I can’t remember much of the specifics, but the feeling is there: the ease of things, the comfort, the discovery, the four of us. I even forgot that the last Doctor Who before we left had ended on a cliffhanger where Liz Shaw was thrown into a canal. It was good while it lasted.

We landed back in Adelaide, and whilst my parents slept off the jet-lag, I pounced on the VCR and caught up what I’d missed. Liz escaped her watery fate, The Doctor boarded a rocket bound for Mars, and interplanetary war was peacefully averted – The Doctor always saves the day. Soon enough, I was ready for the next tape, and the next, until I had caught up to watch the next episode live to air. I must’ve watched four tapes in two days, never breaking my grin.

The longest five weeks of my life: Liz Shaw is dangled into a canal, from The Ambassadors of Death. BBC.

However, truth be told, there was one interruption. I was watching 1970’s Inferno (a gripping tale of alternate realities, doomed fates, and primal fury!) when Dad came in and switched off the TV. It was time to collect Mum’s new car, the one he’d bought her: a brand new, navy blue, BMW convertible, just like he’d always wanted. We arrived to the dealership as a family but things got much harder after that: Dad hadn’t consulted Mum on such an extravagant purchase, they’d just come back from an expensive holiday, and there was barely enough room for the children. I remember lots of arguing in the ensuing months, but I also remember Jon Pertwee fighting off hordes of radioactive Primords with a fire extinguisher. It was waiting back at home for me, and to this day it’s still my favourite serial.

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My hero, from Inferno. BBC.

Mum left Dad at the start of 2005, the same year Christopher Eccleston emerged from the TARDIS and began anew. The show became cool. Kids were buzzing about it at school the next day – that blue box, those killer shop dummies, the jokes – and I knew how to talk to them. To this day my parents still don’t understand my love of Doctor Who, although I do remember them taking me to see Star Wars: Revenge of The Sith a few months after they separated. I never knew a movie could suck so bad.

-Rob Lawry

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