Dene October
The Day my Doctor Died: a Child’s Experience of the First Regeneration
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Pat Troughton was well received critically and I could not deny that he was dynamic, funnier. I continued to watch 
Doctor Who every week, dreaming of the real Doctor. Even Troughton must have known this was not him. That’s why he left the show voluntarily, fearing he would become typecast. He was not family.  

My own family had been transported through time and space on an Australian ten dollar migration. Have you ever thought what it's like to be wanderers in the fourth dimension? Have you?... to be exiles? To be cut off, without friends or protection? My performance of the Hartnell-Doctor was played out against the rust-coloured cliffs and parched fields along the continent’s east coast. Each day I would cross into the alien landscape, a zoned off area at the back of my school, disappearing too easily from the sight of teachers and peers, where I would often be waylaid by a Dalek … my brother laying in wait. The vistas remind me now of Jon Pertwee-era episodes, where a Devon quarry serves as the surface to some alien world. We played our lonely games until my family rematerialised in 1969 England, the time the ‘Troughton Rule’ [xviii]was first installed. And in those three years I never once played as the Troughton-Doctor. I kept my faith …

… because my Doctor could have been saved. The seven-year-old me believed this for he had seen something in the internal logic of the final story which could bring my Doctor back, a magic threshold he could cross that would ensure his survival, a doorway between the fictional and real worlds, between the discourses of the fictional future of December 1986 and the real future. When the Daleks create a robot Doctor in The Chase(1965), it is attempt to replicate the Hartnell-Doctor. But their clone is shit and the threat to identity evaporates when Edmund Warwick, Hartnell's 'double', has him “walking, talking and gesticulating like the Doctor almost as well as your mum could”[xix]. At this point, no one is slipping into Hartnell's shoes, not even as a brief joke (even if within the diegetic world of Doctor Who, the TARDIS crew are themselves duped by the fake Doctor).[xx] The episode title reveals why: it’s called The Death of Doctor Who. Not The Death of the Doctor ... not The Doctor Changes into Something New ... but The Death of Doctor Who ... because those were the stakes.

This isn’t just another instance of the cardinal rule being broken …not of interference, but of calling the Doctor 'Doctor Who'. Back then, everyone did it, the Radio Times, Doctor Who Annual, just about every TV critic and BBC commentator, and, yes, even Hartnell himself[xxi]. And it’s there in black and white, in the credits. Dr Who … William Hartnell. Back then there is no separating the concepts of the Doctor, Doctor Who and Hartnell, they are like Venn diagrams, intersecting elliptically.

Everything intersects. Nothing is ever discreet or pure. That is the dangerous message of the Cybermen. When they arrive at the South Pole they warn that Earth will be absorbed by its twin, and humans will become part mechanical, like them. The writing team of Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis may not have been thinking about the Doctor’s little death when they created the Cybermen. But they were clearly thinking about transplant technologies and the moral questions that arise from such technologies. Pedler was a medical researcher and was concerned about the trend for organ and pacemaker implants in the 1960s. How many transplants, he wondered, would it take before you ceased being human? For 
Davis, the loss of humanity could result in a fight for survival we might be prepared to pay any price for. Even today, our arts and narratives warn us against immortality. But is it wrong that improvements in the last two centuries have extended our lifespan by roughly 40 years? Thanks to vaccination, pasteurisation and sanitation, we survive while our ancestors perished. Our lives, most of us, the lucky ones, are greatly enhanced by technologies of sight and sound, by intersecting with that technology, replacing worn parts with superior ones, ramping up our athletic and intellectual achievements, helping us be the best that we can be. We might even live millennia, as long as Timelords. Take away ‘ordinary forms of death and disease […] infectious disease, cancer, and all of these sorts of things so that people only died in accidents or conflict, on average they'd live to be about a thousand years of age.'[xxii]

Isn’t this why we are more scared of Cybermen than Daleks? With their swaddled faces, transparent protective overalls and disembodied voices, this first incarnation is the most unsettling ever. Because they are so human, because they still have real human hands, because you catch glimpses of their humanity in eyes darting about beneath the mask, and in the shrill ventriloquism. When they arrive at the South Pole, they are easily able to pass off as human simply by donning the guards’ furs and coats. Like them, we wear masks, ours social, and like them, there is more to our moral arguments than we show at the surface. When the Cyber leader tells Polly that people are dying all over the world (you don’t care about them, he accuses) it is the truth. The cold truth of mathematics counts death in the thousands and tens-of-thousands. But there’s the problem with emotion, it can only cope with so much. Isn’t that why the Cybermen traded theirs for a long and pain-free life? Their people were dying, but they cared enough to confront their own cultural fear of transhumanism. For humans, that cultural fear is embedded in the very Enlightenment tradition that brings us rational and scientific thought coupled with the liberal-humanist view of the world that defines what it means to be human.

But humanity isn’t about being human, is it? Doctor Who monsters can sometimes surprise the audience by demonstrating humanity and, by the same token, humans can lose theirs. Isn’t the Doctor a case study of the alien embodiment of humanity? And isn’t that why, after three years of to-ing and fro-ing with his inscrutable alien otherness, my Doctor is in a dialectical relationship with the Cybermen, being the spokesperson for those liberal-humanist views and learning to be the hero he becomes in later incarnations, when he should be hitching a ride to Mondas for an upgrade?

The Cybermen could have saved him. In a parallel universe, my Doctor is indeed upgraded. In the unused Robert Holmes story, The Six Doctors, originally planned for the twentieth anniversary, the Doctor and Susan are scripted as walking along planet Maladoom exploring its local fauna. They look ‘incredibly lifelike’ a disembodied voice says of the cyborg pair. For, they are at the heart of a Cybermen plot to become like Time Lords. In another parallel and paratextual universe, in the comic strip The World Shapers (1987) [xxiii] writer Grant Morrison has the Sixth Doctor prevented from destroying the Cyber race by the Time Lords. He storms off angrily and does not have the opportunity to reflect that the Cybermen, who evolved from the Voord[xxiv](first encountered by Hartnell's Doctor in The Keys of Marinus, 1964), will continue to evolve into an advanced peace-propagating race. Perhaps it is time for us, and the Doctor, to re-evaluate the Cybermen.

As I watch 
The Tenth Planet back, I am filled with despair that the BBC came to think so little of the Hartnell-Doctor, that they even erased his death. First they kill him off. Then they wipe away the evidence. So even his loss has been lost. Finally they restore the death scene in an episode that ‘Planet 55 Studios’ animated. It’s not the reanimation the Cybermen had in mind. Far from it. The cartoon is unreal, full of ghosts. This is how the art critic Frederic Jameson describes an Andy Warhol work, seeing it as ‘the emergence of a new kind of flatness or depthlessness, a new kind of superficiality’[xxv] brought on by consumer culture. On the other hand, the work of Van Gogh invites interpretation, a hermeneutic development and completion of the world beyond the one represented: a referent to an original. The animated episode of The Tenth Planet wants to be a copy of the original but is pure simulation; a simulacrum with no relationship to any prior reality of experience,[xxvi] it becomes merely another reference to the programme in its fifty year, a knowing nod. The animated Doctor is neither the Hartnell-Doctor reborn in adventures new, nor the reanimated cyborg-Hartnell of the badge – whose face is at least the blank canvass of those first transhumanist Cybermen – but a hollow attempt to blur representation and reality and render the original loss in over-sentimental tones. I admit this is not entirely fair to the animators, since the sequence of the renewal of the Doctor was always a perversion of a basic reality, one masking the assassination of the Hartnell-Doctor.

As I sit down to Mark Gatiss’s lyrical An Adventure in Space and Time (2013) it is like trying to watch the hand that manipulates the ventriloquist dummy, a deconstruction of the performative Hartnell-Doctor. But Gatiss admits this reconstruction is actually a story, where judgements about dramatic points are more important than accuracy. Bradley plays the Hartnell-Doctor so mournfully, neither the child’s hero nor the intolerant old man, but as a character whose identity emerges in the writing. If Gatiss focuses largely on the positive it is because an hour-and-a-half isn’t time enough for all the bitterness, and this way the Hartnell-Doctor gets to save the programme. His death, a sacrifice … the ultimate act of heroism.

I understand. Well, not really. Not entirely.

In The Escape Artist (2013), David Tennant plays a lawyer bringing up a small boy after the killer he successfully defends goes on to slay his wife. I don’t mind telling you that the scenes between father and son brought me to the edge of tears partly because it is very difficult not to see the Tennant-Doctor in Tennant’s characters. You can take Tennant out of Doctor Who … How hard it must have been for Bill Hartnell, in his last years, his health failing, stripped from the role of his life, knowing things could have been different – were different in some parallel universe – knowing he was two years from his own prediction of how long the programme would last, knowing that cybernetics could have kept him alive for 1,000 years, the lifespan of an actual Time Lord. Yes, of course he knew that … the seven-year-old me is certain of it. If you look hard enough, you can see it in his face as the Bradley/Hartnell-Doctor drifts 50 years into the future to where the Matt Smith-Doctor stands anticipating his own regeneration. It is as beautiful a homage to the Hartnell-Doctor as you could hope for.

So don’t mind me in the corner. Just one more drink here, then I’ll join the party. One more. Poor me. Poor me. Pour me another!

He was my Doctor you see, always will be.

In a parallel universe, my Doctor is indeed upgraded. In the unused Robert Holmes story, The Sixth Doctor, the Doctor and Susan are scripted as walking along planet Maladoom exploring its local fauna. They look ‘incredibly lifelike’ a disembodied voice says of the cyborg pair

[xviii] The fear of being type-cast was shared by other actors working in the expanding television drama arena, and thus became known as the ‘Troughton Rule’.

[xix] Wood, Tat and Miles, Lawrence. About Time: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who - Seasons 1 to 3, Mad Norwegian Press 2006, 160

[xx] For an extended argument about First Doctor copies and infelicity see Dene October, Doctor who? What's he talking about?: Performativity and the First Doctor, pending publication Scarecrow Press 2014

[xxi] ‘It will be my last four weeks with, or as, Dr ‘Who’’ Hartnell writes in a letter to Derek Martinus, director of The Tenth Planet, Howe Walker & Stammers, The Handbook: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to the Production of Doctor Who. Telos Publishing. 2005: 177

[xxii] Bennett Foddy, quoted in Superman Exploring Human Enhancement from 600 BCE to 2050, Wellcome Collection, 2012

[xxiii] Comic Strip in Doctor Who Magazine

[xxiv] According to Grant Morrison’s story

[xxv] Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press. 1991: 9

[xxvi] Jean Baudrillard, Simulacres et Simulation. University of Michigan Press 1994