Doctor Who has been there throughout my life; sometimes in tiny ways, sometimes in life-changing ways. Here are a half dozen random examples of varying sizes.
1. Norman Hartnell’s ‘In Love’
Sir Norman Hartnell was one of Britain’s leading fashion designers from the 1920s to the 1970s, achieving a Royal charter and going on to design a wedding dress for Princess Elizabeth and a coronation gown when she ascended to the throne. He was also William Hartnell’s second cousin. Like fashion designers these days, Hartnell also produced a perfume; his signature scent being ‘In Love’, which he launched in 1946 and was on the market for many years. Throughout my childhood, my Mother favoured the talcum powder of ‘In Love’, which came in a distinctive pink heart-shaped bottle and when I saw Norman Hartnell’s name, I always used to wonder if he was in any way related to the First Doctor actor? I had to wait until the Internet came along to find the answer.
2. The Police Box
I grew up in the Chester Road area of Sunderland, a town in the North East of England which, at the time, was the largest in the country not to have City status. Throughout the 1970s, I would trek up Chester Road to the Kayll Road Library, where I would get my fix of Doctor Who from their extensive collection of WH Allen hardback novelisations. However, little did I know that every time I turned the corner from Chester Road into Kayll Road, I was passing the site of the very first wooden Police Box. It was long gone by my day, of course, but my childish glee would have known no bounds if I had known that was the site of the very first ‘TARDIS’. Other cities have claimed ownership of the first Police Box, but these remain unsubstantiated; the Sunderland box has photos and everything.
3. Journey in the TARDIS to see Santa Claus
When I was a nipper in Sunderland, the toy department of Joplings Department Store in Frederick Street was as close to Heaven as I thought I would ever see. My Denys Fisher Tom Baker action doll came from there, and my Palitoy Talking Dalek, not to mention the two Marx ‘Robot Action’ Daleks that I found in a bargain bin in the late 70s! But the best time in Joplings basement was always Christmas, when you could take a sleigh ride to visit Santa Claus down there. Except for one year when, as a special promotion, you could ride in the TARDIS to see Santa! You entered through the Police Box doors and sat in some stalls that looked suspiciously similar to Santa’s sleigh from the previous year and ‘travelled’ through the universe, with the usual rolling panels of Lapland scenes replaced by something more ‘spacey’. Unfortunately, at the end of your journey, there was only a bloke dressed as Santa and not the Doctor.
4. Tom in Wonderland
The Fourth Doctor might not have been with Santa at the end of Joplings’ TARDIS ride to Lapland, but that doesn’t mean the kids didn’t get to see him. I don’t know if it was the same year (I suspect it was) but Tom Baker called in on Sunderland during his UK promotional tour of 1977. Riding in the back of a jeep with his best pal Santa, I remember seeing the top of his head when was driven past as I gazed down from the top of the bus station. That was the first of four occasions when I saw a real live Doctor around these parts; Sylvester McCoy cropped up at the National Garden Festival in Gateshead, to open the ‘Doctor Who Dome’ in 1988, I served Colin Baker tea and biscuits when he visited a local group in Newcastle during The Ultimate Adventure a year or so later and, most recently, Neil Johnson and I gatecrashed an appearance by the incoming Matt Smith in 2011 at the Sunderland University campus.
5. Ian and Ixta
Upon learning that I was a fan of Doctor Who, relatives of a certain age were always keen to tell me that there was a companion actor who hailed from my home town. The actor in question was none other than Russell Enoch, aka William Russell, who played the part of inquisitive schoolteacher Ian Chesterton in the first two series. Although he spent much of his upbringing in the West Midlands, Russell was indeed born in Sunderland, a factoid that had probably become common knowledge locally during his earlier starring role as Sir Ivanhoe. From just outside Sunderland in the small suburb of East Boldon, came an actor called Ian Cullen, whom among other things played the Aztec warrior Ixta, with whom Ian Chesterton battles to the death in the early TV adventure The Aztecs. One of my uncles was in the same year as Ian Cullen at Boldon Comprehensive.
6. All Connections Great and Small
Although inextricably linked with North Yorkshire, veterinarian and author Alf Wright (who wrote under the name of James Herriot) was born in Sunderland in 1916. His family moved to Glasgow when he was a child and he trained in the veterinary sciences at Glasgow Veterinary College before relocating to Thirsk in North Yorkshire. The BBC television adaptation of his semi-biographical books All Creatures Great and Small starred a young actor called Peter Davison as Tristan Farnon, propelling him to fame as one of British TV’s most successful actors of the 1980s and leading to his eventual casting as the Fifth Doctor. Numerous other Doctor Who favourites appeared in the series, including Lynda Bellingham, Patrick Troughton, Nicholas Courtney, Michael Sheard, Pamela Salem, Annette Badland and Kevin Stoney.