For those of us who are fans of the DVD series extras, Matthew Sweet is a sign post to excellence. If he is writing or presenting one of the documentaries that follow our classic series adventures, you know you’re getting intelligent, detailed, accurate and affectionate storytelling about the behind the scenes of Doctor Who.
For the Fiftieth Anniversary, Matthew writes and presents the Culture Show Special, Me, You And Doctor Who, and I’m pleased to say, along with a few thought provoking points, we get the same loving and clever narrative that we do on the DVDs.
Matthew takes us from the early days of Who – and in a climate where many of the older Doctors are feeling ignored in the BBC’s own celebrations – and he talks about the origins of the programme, citing not as you’d expect Sydney Newman but staff writer and forumulator of Planet of Giants CE “Bunny” Webber as the grandfather of the programme we all love. It’s an interesting and compelling argument he makes, along with the delightful classic director Richard Martin and one that will no doubt be debated and researched further.
Each Doctor and era is highlighted (although there are a few name checks missing – no mention of Terrance Dicks, Philip Hinchcliffe or Robert Holmes for instance), and each is given ample time to be looked at in a sideways and intelligent way. Malcolm Hulkes leftie leanings are not news to fans, for instance, but it’s interesting to see how a right wing concept is coloured by left wing writings. It’s maybe one of the reasons the Doctor appeals to most people.
The programme is studdied with interviews new and old, with archived material from Douglas Adams and Delia Derbyshire (who’s own sad history is not ignored) to some bespoke set pieces, most thrilling of all is Mark Ayres and Matthew recreating the music of Weng Chiang.
The Doctor’s dark past isn’t ignored either, and whilst some might say in celebration we don’t really need to talk about this, Who fans won’t thank you for patronising them, and Matthew knows this, as he talks about John Nathan Turner’s more nefarious revelations, Who overstepping the violence mark or being paused and then cancelled.
Professional fans like Gary Russell, Paul Cornell and Rob Shearman share their genesis with old fanzines and audio productions and there are some glorious clips, not least of which are rare glimpses of The Web Planet.
Matthew clearly loved Doctor Who as much as we do. And he loves it warts and all, which might scare newbies but which, to us old timers, is part of the rich tapestry that makes this programme so special to us. I personally can’t think of anyone better to look intellectually at why Doctor Who is such a huge cultural phenomenon, and I found myself moved during this proper celebration.
The more churlish might bemoan some huge omissions – no Sarah Jane, no Brigadier, no K9, no Cybermen – but in the hour afforded to him Matthew has created a fans love letter, and I for one won’t be the churlish amongst us on this most special of weeks.