Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Colossus in a velvet cape

As someone obsessed with music, film, TV and literature, I am in the business of admiring people that I have never met, and never will meet. For some, I feel affection, sometimes even something like a crush, but there is only one stranger I have ever loved and that is Mr. Jo(h)n Devon Roland Pertwee.

I was very young when he became the third Doctor Who, but I remember the impact he had on my life vividly. Whereas many people say they watched the show behind the sofa, I watched it sat on the edge of my seat, crisp sandwich in hand, absolutely gripped by what I was watching. At this stage in the series, Doctor Who was exiled to Earth, so everything that happened, no matter how fantastic, took place in the familiar brown and mustard settings of the world I knew, opening up my imagination to the infinite possibilities of living on a planet where mankind was constantly under threat from the most evil minds in the galaxy, with only one man (well, Timelord) able to stand in their way.

Pertwee played the Doctor as an intergalactic cross between James Bond and Sherlock Holmes: suave, sardonic, snappy, resourceful, indestructible, deadly. Although to the adult eye the fight scenes now have a comedic value (Pertwee was essentially a comic actor) as a child I found them very exciting: not only was the Doctor a genius, he could also boot arse and do (Venusian) Kung Fu! Chuck in the gadgets Pertwee was so fond of (the Whomobile, a space age hovercraft, was a favourite) and his flamboyant Victorian gentleman look (all velvet and ruffles and capes and cloaks, topped off with a thick head of immaculate white hair) and its not surprising that I held him in such high regard. Actually, ‘high regard’ is putting it too mildly: I loved him, I was obsessed with him, he was my hero, the 50 year old actor that had been expelled from RADA for writing graffiti in the toilets.

It couldn’t last, of course. Pertwee left the role in 1974, and the Doctor changed into the infinitely less loveable Tom Baker. There was the odd repeat (no videos or DVD’s in this primitive age) and I had my collection of Dr Who annuals, Target books, a few puzzles and some badges from Sugar Smacks cereals, but that was that, the bubble had burst – he was gone and he wasn’t coming back (actually he did come back, briefly, but in later years, long after I’d given up on the show). But I loved him, regardless of ‘Whodunit’ or ‘Worzel Gummidge’ or anything else he did where he wasn’t reversing the polarity of something or karate chopping a Sea Devil - and I still love him, even after all this time.

Jon Pertwee died on the 20th of May, 1996. On the 13th anniversary of his death, I’m posting the first Pertwee era Dr. Who title sequence, a simple tribute but something that still fills me with a frisson of childish excitement thirty five years after the event.


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