Tuesday 28 July 2015

Splendid Fellow! A tribute to The Brigadier

A few days ago, I put out a suggestion; an invitation for people to write a guest post for the blog. What follows is the first submission, which I am proud to present, entitled simply "Splendid Fellow"; which is a warm, heartfelt tribute to the irrepressible Nicholas Courtney, better known, simply, as Brigadier Alistair Gordon-Lethbridge-Stewart. 

Splendid fellow. Written by @ATrueDoctorWhoFan

In the fifty-two and a half years that Doctor Who has been on, off and on again, The Doctor has had many companions through the doors of his wonderful police box. Some are invited in. Some barge in. Some arrive by complete accident, and some stow away.  But none of them can say that they have been in the Doctor's life as long as one;

Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart.

Actor Nicholas Courtney first portrayed the Brigadier in Doctor Who in 1968 and over time was threaded through the many future eras of the series. Even though both Nick and the Brigadier are sadly no longer with us, both of them are immortal.

In this post I share my memories of the Brigadier, how I found out that Nick had sadly died and a life lesson we all could learn from.

Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, head of the British section of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, (later changed at the request of the real life UN to UNified Intelligence Taskforce) is a character that shouldn’t ever work in Doctor Who. He is head of the military and The Doctor is a renegade, an anti establishment figure who laughs at and regularly mocks authority. But The Brigadier does work and that is all down to not only the skilful writing but Nick Courtney's wonderful performance.

The Brigadier started life as a straight laced, no nonsense character, barely fazed by anything he encountered, and while he always retained those qualities, it was nice to see him become more rounded and loveable. Keep an eye out next time you watch a story with The Brigadier in for those little moments that made him so good. All of these were added by Nick to enhance his character and they always make me smile.

There are the sideways looks, the well timed mutters, the constantly raised eyebrow, every punch line delivered 100% seriously (which made them somehow even funnier), and my personal favourite: every single slightly doubtful 'mmmm' whenever The Doctor produced a gadget or another way of stopping the alien menace that didn't involve troops, bombs or shooting at it. It made the Brigadier much more loveable and human.

Nick's first little part of self-made humour came in "The Three Doctors", the utterly spectacular anniversary serial that kicked off Series Ten in 1973. Its one of my personal favourite stories.

On seeing that now there is an alien world outside his headquarters, (the building has been transported into a black hole on the wishes of the villain Omega), The Brigadier refuses to accept it and ignores the Second Doctor's insistence that they are somewhere else. He is confidant that they are still on earth. He starts talking about how they are all now miles from London, most probably Norfolk. He is sure this could be seen as an invasion and that the building is in danger of being over run with holidaymakers. This wonderful little rant finishes with the simple but brilliant self written line of:
'I'm fairly sure that’s Cromer.'  See? Nothing fazed The Brig! Nick was sure of that.

This really wonderful punchline was followed in the final episode by another treat of a scene as The Brigadier sees the two Doctors he knows of with the First and realises who the old, white haired man on the scanner screen is:

'Miss Grant. That old chap? Is he...?'
'fraid so.'

A raised eyebrow and then a beautiful line delivered straight:

'Three of them. I didn't know when I was well off.'

(Many of you will know that this line was repeated by the president of the Time Lords in the 50th anniversary special Day of the Doctor, which I hope was put in by Steven Moffat as a little tribute to Nick alongside his picture seen earlier in the black archive.)

However, my two personal favourites of these self-penned lines by Nick are at the very end of The Third Doctors life and the beginning of the Fourth.

Firstly, The Brigadier witnessed the regeneration in Planet of the Spiders. The original line of 'well bless my soul' was deemed not 'Brigadier-ish' enough so it was changed by Nick with consent of then Producer Barry Letts, to the much better 'Well, here we go again.'

Then, at the end of Robot, Tom Bakers debut serial, The Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry pile into the TARDIS and it leaves. As it dematerialises, The Brigadier enters the UNIT lab to tell The Doctor about dinner at Buckingham Palace. He sees the battered old police box vanish before his eyes and with one of those sideways looks I mentioned, says, 'yes. Well I'll tell them you'll be a little late.'

This is character development at its finest and Nick was right on the button. He knew by then that Lethbridge-Stewart had been in the Doctor's life long enough to know exactly what was going on and would react perfectly to whatever unfolded in front of his eyes, no matter how bizarre.

Thinking about it for this post, I have realised that, in discovering the Brigadier and his life with The Doctor, I feel I can understand what River Song went through, as I saw his life all out of order.

Starting with the repeats on the cable channel UK Gold with the start of Tom Baker's era as a child in the dark days of the early 90s when Doctor Who itself wasn't on BBC1, I only saw the end of the UNIT era and the Brigadiers on screen active service. This was followed by his retirement and teaching life in Peter Davison's time and the call back to service with Sylvester McCoy's. After several watches, I finally got to see the middle of the Brigadier's career with the Jon Pertwee era and heard the beginning and first meetings with the audio soundtracks of Patrick Troughton's time. Finally all those translating hints and glimpses in the later (but earlier for me) stories made sense.

I suppose you could say I was travelling in time backwards while watching a series about time travel!

It was not until the DVD edition of 'The Invasion' came out that I got to see The Brigadier at the start of his UNIT life. I thought that was it until 2013...

In the early to middle of 2013, rumours began to spread across the internet and social networking sites that lost Black and White episodes of Doctor Who had been found, and fans were excited but cautious. After all, there have been rumours and speculation for years that lost episodes still existed, but many, if not all, were hoaxes or false leads. I confess myself that I regularly swayed between the thoughts of "I wonder what has been found" to "this is a load of rubbish". However I was happy to be proved wrong this time, as we know in that October, the missing presumed wiped adventure "The Web Of Fear" was 99% found (alas as I write, Episode Three remains missing) and returned to the BBC in a blaze of publicity alongside "The Enemy of The World".

I shall never forget the first time I watched a YouTube clip of The Web Of Fear, at 12.10 am, after the news had been released at midnight, and saw Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart as he then was for the very first time. I really have no idea if it was Patrick, Frazer Hines or Nick I was most excited to see more footage of. Though I had heard it many times, to finally see it and it's finest scene, with Nick as he tried, and failed, to save any of his men in the Yeti battle at Covent Garden, was breathtaking. Writer Robert Shearman once said dreams do come true and getting to press play all on the DVD of "The Web of Fear" was totally one.

How ironic that Nick's first was the last one I had gotten to see, though I do dearly wish Nick was here to see it returned as well. In what became his final interview for DWM, Nick expressed deep sadness that it was missing and regret that he himself never got to see again the first story of him in his most famous Who role.

I also really wish Nick had done more serials with Tom Baker. The plan had been I believe to have The Brigadier return every so often but Nick was so busy touring in plays he couldn't. So all we got in stories that featured UNIT were fill in officers.

Sadly soon after, producer Phillip Hinchcliffe left and new incoming producer Graham Williams had no desire to return to UNIT, or to the Brigadier.
I personally think it is a terrible shame as I would have loved to see The Brigadier's reaction to Leela and K-9, and maybe to have seen him help find a section of the Key to Time. The Stones of Blood was set on earth, and as it was the 100th serial to be made, to have the Brigadier make a guest appearance would have been great.

Though off the air in the 1990's, Doctor Who just refused to die and Nick was there every step of the way. He saved the nonsense of Dimensions In Time by ticking off another Doctor as he finally met on screen Colin Bakers Doctor number Six. It's the one scene I genuinely want to rewatch if I ever search for it on Youtube. Not that I do very often as it really is terrible.

The medium of radio seemed to be the natural home for Doctor Who after 1989 and Nick starred in two radio plays alongside Jon Pertwee and Elisabeth Sladen. As someone who studied acting in college, I fully sympathize with Nick's confession that although he was happy enough to reprise the role, he didn't really understand the scripts. This is something I fully agree with as I've heard both "The Paradise of Death" and "The Ghosts of N Space" and both plays are completely potty!

Thankfully however, the same cannot be said for the Big Finish audios that later followed. Nick did all in the range. He did stories with official Doctors. He did the UNIT spin off series. He performed several Companion Chronicles and was even whisked off to Skaro for a meeting with Davros due to an alternative Third Doctor. If you can, please seek out these stories with Nick. I promise that you won't regret it.

In 2005 when Doctor Who returned to TV, many thought it may be a reboot with little or no connection to the original series. Thankfully that frankly terrible notion was blown out of the water not just by the return of the Daleks but with episode Four: Aliens of London, where The Doctor specifically mentioned UNIT and Mickey added that The Doctor had worked for them.

As the series progressed and old faces began to return, many hoped that the Brigadier would be seen once more. Though sadly it never happened on TV, he got a name check in "The Poison Sky" (where The Doctor confessed he could have done with Alistair being there and proved that, even all those incarnations later, he still needed his oldest friend). Later on the Brigadier met Doctor Ten in a DWM comic strip. At the end Doctor Ten salutes him. Take that Moffat with your terrible my-father-wished-you-had-saluted-him-just-once! Stupid nonsense line!

It was a terrible shame that after being so wonderful and rather sprightly in the second series finale of The Sarah Jane Adventures, Nick's failing health forced him to miss the next series and robbed us of seeing the wonderful meeting of him and Doctor 10 as they attended the wedding of Sarah Jane.

I was recently asked by a friend where Lethbridge-Stewart could have fitted into a New Who story and this is the answer I instantly gave: The Stolen Earth.

Now I adore The Stolen Earth. It’s a wonderful, scary rollercoaster of an episode that never stops for breath. Its 45 minutes of awesome Doctor Who and has everyone we love in it from across its (then) four series. While I really love that it’s Harriet Jones at the head of the Sub-wave Network, only having The Brig controlling it would have topped it. Who else could have commanded The Doctor's secret army better?

I can see it now. Sarah Jane so happy to see him and telling him about Luke. Martha saying she has read so much about him through UNIT files. Jack flirting with him! Ah, what a scene that would have been. Though the scene in "the wedding of River Song" where The Doctor discovers that Sir Alistair has died truly is heartbreaking and one I cannot watch without a tear, to see him lay his life down for The Doctor to save the world would have been just as fitting.

But, although the Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart era has passed, I am glad that his legacy continues today with his daughter Kate. Anyone who follows me on Twitter must know of my intense dislike for the 50th Special (I'm not exactly quiet about it!) but one element I remember with fondness was the moment of focus on The Brig's picture as Kate talked about him and his legacy. Even although Alister was no longer with us, he was still there. Still saving the world.

It's a disgusting shame that his memory was so tarnished a few months later on at the end of the latest series with him (or at least his physical dead body) when it was disgustingly turned into a Cyberman. Not my idea of honouring the past of a legend. Every time I think of it I shudder. I will always find it so disrespectful to both Nick and The Brigadier. Nobody, not even Steven Moffat has the right to turn the longest serving regular character that is threaded throughout the history of Doctor Who into a Cyberman!

And now, I turn my thoughts to a terrible day in the history of being a Doctor Who fan.

Tuesday 22nd February 2011.

It was a day like any other. That’s all I remember. I got up, went off to work for 8am. At 5pm, I finished and went home. I returned, made myself some tea and toast and prepared for some mindless TV and a chill before washing the dishes. (I honestly do lead an exciting life. Sometimes)
I turned on the red button to look at the showbiz news and there it was at the top of the screen. The news that shook the day apart and jammed my brain.


I cannot begin to tell you what went through my mind at that point and when I read the article, I burst into tears to hear that Nick. The man. The actor. The legend to me and so many others, was gone forever.

I don't mind telling anyone who is not a fan and asks me just why I cried when I tell them that I did. Nick wasn't my family. I never got to meet him. Why would I shed tears over his death? Well here is my answer. It may seem a cliché but it’s true, and I know it’s true of others. My childhood was troubled and I was bullied in school. Doctor Who was my escape from it all. My escape from the hell of the school yard and all that was in it. Well Nick was so much a part of that escape during those years so that’s why I felt I had lost someone in my own family.

The very next day was my day off work and I scrapped what plans I had and instead had a Nick Courtney day to honour him. First was my audio of The Web Of Fear, then The Invasion, then Inferno (Nick's favourite story as he got to play his evil double), then The Daemons, Robot, Mawdryn Undead and Battlefield. This was followed by his journey into the Sarah Jane Adventures with the story Enemy of the Bane.

A lot of tears were shed that day and,although it may sound silly I was so steeped in grief and sadness, I didn't watch episode two of the Daleks Master Plan, which of course Nick was in as Bret Vyon because I completely forgot. I really felt ashamed until a friend said "you watched so much of Nick anyway I'm sure he didn't mind."

The Nick Courtney tribute issue of Doctor Who Magazine issued a few weeks later had me in tears again. Nick worked with so many different people over the years and all of them said the same words about him.

Nick was the kind of person we all aim to be. He was kind, honest, level headed, always professional no matter what and a friend to all who worked with and loved him. Nobody had or has had a bad word to say about him.

In that, or a very close issue of the magazine was a little memory from a fan that has always stayed with me. A life lesson that, should I ever somehow become famous, and I will stick to.

Through the years Nick attended millions of Doctor Who conventions all over the world. Goodness knows how many times he signed his own name over an image of himself.  He loved the fans as much as we loved him and he always went the extra mile to make sure all the fans were happy. He was often found after official convention hours at the bars of the hotels where conventions were taking place, surrounded by fans and telling sometimes naughty jokes. Many have said Nick loved being the life and soul of any party.

At a con a small boy missed his chance to meet Nick and outside the venue saw him heading to his car. The boy went up to Nick and asked him for an autograph. Though clearly pushed for time, Nick spoke kindly to the boy for a few minutes and happily signed his autograph.

This was Nick Courtney summed up to me. He was never too busy to make someone happy or please a fan. He appreciated all his fans so much as we did to him. It’s something I think we, and a lot of so called celebs and so called heroes today can all learn from.

It’s still hard to think that Nick is gone forever. I continue to think his name will be on convention lists in magazines and I know in my heart that if he were still with us, he would have been at the big 50th anniversary conventions.

The Dimensions convention I attended in 2013 was packed with companions from all eras for the 50th and I know Nick was there in spirit as he and the Brigadier truly spanned every era.

I know in years to come fans coming to Who will discover the Brigadier and Nick as I did and I know they will love him as much as we do now. The love he had for the series and its fans will never stop shining through the commentaries and interviews he did.

And for me personally, Nick once made me a very happy fan despite never meeting him, as he said that despite knowing absolutely nothing about football, he supported Newcastle United as the fans from the North East of England were lovely.

Nick spent his Doctor Who career filling in for other actors when required. He replaced Freema Agyeman in The Sarah Jane Adventures. He replaced William Russell in Mawdryn Undead.

But if Nick hadn't been considered to replace David Langton in "The Web of Fear" then this post, and a wonderful creation brought to life by brilliant actor would never have happened.

Rest in Peace Nick. You are forever missed.

Nicholas Courtney and The Brigadier. Splendid fellow. Both of him.

Follow the author on Twitter, @ATrueDoctorWhoFan

How Do You Solve A Problem Like The Doctor...

Doctor Who fans will doubtless have noticed that all is not well in Camp Sixie. Colin Baker, rightly, draws our attention to the lack of tact shown by the Doctor Who Magazine, in their decision to publish an interview with him, followed, four pages later, by a poll which consistently places him and his era firmly at the bottom.

Of course, all polls are subjective, and will have, by their very nature, a bottom placing. But, as Colin opines, is it necessary to publish the poll in its entirety? It is, after all, bound to be disheartening for those placed at the bottom. Some time back, I analysed the results of the 2014 poll on this blog. I disagreed with much of the poll results, but published them, in full, as per their appearance in the magazine. With hindsight, a part of me wishes I hadn't, although, in fairness (to me!), I was an allying the poll, as published. 

The more I think about it, the more I agree with Colin Baker. Publishing the bottom placings of a Doctor, a story, or a season, seems rather disingenuous, and rather cruel. After all, our opinions differ wildly, and what, for some, may be a "low ranked statistic" may well be someone's personal favourite. That lowly placed Doctor, that "lousy" episode; they may be a firm favourite for some. Indeed, some may have been the first introduction to Doctor Who for some people.

This, of course, doesn't preclude us from having favourites, nor does it prevent us from offering an opinion any aspect of the show. Which leads me neatly into the second half of the post...

In Defence of the Doctor

Whilst, I think, most fans would concur, none of Colin Baker's stories reach the lofty height of masterpieces like Genesis of the Daleks, the same cannot be said of his portrayal of the Doctor. By definition, each regeneration is different, with their own quirks, foibles and personality traits. And this is, for me, where Colin Baker stands out. From the very outset, his Doctor is loud, brash, bombastic and certainly makes his presence felt. In many ways, he is, perhaps, among the most alien of Doctors. He burst onto our screens, not with a fainting whimper, but with a violent burst of energy, leading to some of the darkest scenes the classic series had ever seen. Never before had a Doctor attempted to kill his own companion!

Each of Colin Baker's television episodes has merit. They have Colin Baker! That, alone, makes each and every one worth watching. Whilst most polls would place stories like 'The Twin Dilemma' or 'Timelash' at the lower end of the scale, for me, I throughly enjoy both. I find Colin Baker's Doctor compelling, energetic, sincere and credible. His presence elevates every story. Every moment spent with the Sixth Doctor is like a moment spent with an old friend, who we have watched grow and mature.

Unceremoniously dumped by the BBC, Colin Baker could have, quite easily, stuck two fingers up to Doctor Who, and I doubt anyone would have blamed him. And yet, he has become, perhaps, the most ardent supporter of the show, and a great ambassador for fans everywhere. He is, by far, the mist accessible of all the Doctors. Some of you will, perhaps, have had the pleasure of receiving a tweet from him. I have, and I have to confess to a rather giddy thrill that The Doctor tweeted me! 

Of course, the real triumph of the Sixth Doctor lies in his audio adventures, courtesy of Big Finish. My introduction to Big Finish audios came in the form of a birthday present; a CD of 'The One Doctor'. It whetted my appetite, and 201 stories and numerous spin-offs later, I still eagerly await each new release. And that enthusiasm is never greater than when a Sixth Doctor story is imminent. 

I have something of a reputation for singing the praises of Big Finish. I do not dish out praise lightly, but the reputation is well earned. Whilst it is, I think, fair to say, none of Colin's on screen adventures are quite in the same league as some of those from the early 1970's, his audio adventures are more than a match. Stories such as 'Jubilee', 'Davros', 'The Reaping' or 'The Spectre of Lanyon Moor', to name but four, are, I believe absolutely worthy of "classic" status. Leaving aside the numerous merits of each story, the real strength here, again lies in Colin Baker. 

With each story, Baker turns in a more nuanced performance, and we are treated to real character development for the Sixth Doctor. His brashness softens, his relationship with his companions grows stronger, and his charm and wit become evermore present.  At the end of each story, you are left in no doubt that you have just spent a couple of, very enjoyable, entertaining, hours with The Doctor.

I somehow suspect, whilst polls are being voted upon, many of those voting have never taken the time to listen to audio adventures. It would certainly explain why "Nu-Who" Doctors are consistently placed near, or at the top of those polls. There is a whole universe of Doctor Who which many have not yet explored. Perhaps, if they did, those polls may look very different.

Ultimately, though, who gives a damn about polls anyway? They are a snapshot of a selective number of people, and do not fully do justice to any of the placings, high OR low. For someone out there, 'Timelash' is their introduction to the world of Doctor Who. For someone, it is a favourite sorry, and no amount of polling will change that.

As for me, well.. I adore the Sixth Doctor. I love his energy, enthusiasm and uniqueness. And the same is true of Colin Baker, for who. I have an enormous amount of respect. His Doctor is loud, brash and volatile. Colin, by contrast, is dignified, tactful, erudite, and passionate. There is much to love about both the character and the actor. After all, he is The Doctor. Whether you like it, or not!

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Mental Musings

I have written somewhere in the region of 30 blog posts; Some have been easier to write than others. This one is, perhaps, the most difficult to articulate. It shouldn't be; And yet, it is. It will be equally uncomfortable to read. Again, this should not be so.

The stigma surrounding mental health is deeply troubling. We would never consider telling a cancer patient to "pull themselves together", yet when it comes to mental health, there are many people who seem to think it is that simple. If only...

My "battle" with cancer is well known, amongst friends and my Twitter followers (many of whom fall into the category of friends). In all honesty, it wasn't much of a battle. It was a slaughter. And I won. Easily. There was no great fight, no struggles with adjuvant treatment. I had cancer, had surgery, and kicked the aforementioned cancer right up the arse. Piece of cake!
What is less well known, certainly amongst my blog readers and Twitter friends, is my struggle with my mental health. Cancer was, for me, a walk in the park by comparison to the 30 years I have struggled to stay mentally afloat.
I do not remember the first panic attack I experienced. I know I was around 14 or 15. Perhaps younger. What I do remember is that it changed my life forever. Attempting to describe, accurately, and in detail, a panic attack, is akin to describing the colour blue to a blind person. I can articulate the symptoms of a an attack; the terror, the hyperventilation, the disorientation, nausea and physical pain quite easily. To put the experience into words is almost impossible. Unless you have experienced a full blown panic attack, it is something which is almost impossible to understand.
Panic attacks happen, often without warning, and usually when you least expect them. A tightening of the chest, difficulty breathing, or at least, the perception of difficulty, when in actuality, every breath compounds the attack; from these initial stages comes an intense fear. Pure terror. The sweat pours from every pore, the stomach churns, the head throbs. Sounds become an echo; vision narrows and becomes tunnelled  with every breath. Tearing at the chest, I scratch myself so hard I bleed. The heart races. Waves of nausea flow over me. And therein lies the compounding factor.; the vicious circle from which it is so hard to break free from.
I suffer from an intense phobia of vomiting. When the nausea generated by the panic and fear overwhelms the mind, the fear of vomiting kicks in, exacerbating the attack. The nausea increases. As the nausea increases, the fear of vomiting grows ever stronger. Desperately, you try to regain control of your breathing, as blood pours from the deep scratches inflicted in a state of panic.
(Warning. The next paragraph is somewhat graphic.)
A rush to the bathroom, amid the panic. Diahorrea and intense pain in the stomach. Does this mean vomiting is imminent? Panic levels increase. Bowels go into overdrive (I did warn you!). Blood, tears and less pleasant bodily fluids flow. Knuckles are bleeding. How the hell did THAT happen? You later learn you punched a wall or a door, in sheer panic. You have no recollection of doing so, nor did you feel any pain. Gagging, retching, fighting the urge to throw up. More stomach pain. More diahorrea. By now, you literally wish you would die. You pass out, unconscious, on the bathroom floor...
(Graphic depictions end)
Awake. Vision widens. The echoes that ring in your ears pass. Breathing slows. The heart stops racing.. Physically and mentally drained, you slowly return to reality. One last deep breath as you wipe away the blood, sweat and tears. It's over. For now.
Try, if you can, to imagine that lasting for ten or fifteen minutes. It doesn't sound terribly pleasant, does it? Ten minutes is the average duration for a panic attack. Ten minutes. Now, try to imagine that lasting for 31 HOURS. Oh yes, I don't do things by half! A ten minute panic attack, for me, was a merciful blessing. Most lasted for several hours. 31 hours of non-stop panic is my "personal best". It is an "achievement" I hope never to see again!
I have Crohn's disease. (Mildly graphic bit coming up!). Of course, when the panic attacks first began, I had no idea that I had Crohn's. But, with every stomach ache, every attack of diahorrea, came the fear that this may be a virus of some sort. Enter emetophobia (the fear of vomiting), and the panic attacks were never far behind.
I saw numerous doctors, and was hospitalised many times, often for months. Anxiety disorders invariably lead to depression, and with no firm diagnosis of either Crohn's or the anxiety disorder, I became very depressed. Compounding this depression, I hit the bottle. It goes without saying that this only exacerbated the anxiety, depression and Crohn's disease. I became trapped in a vicious circle.
By the time I had reached my mid twenties, I was an alcoholic, fuelling my own depression with beer and scotch. In attempting to drown the pain, I was, unwittingly, making it worse by the day.
Eventually, after seeing a never ending stream of gastroenterologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, I finally turned a corner. I was referred to a psychologist, who, within 8 months, did more for me than any other specialist had achieved in 15 years. I learned how to manage my attacks. I understood and became able to rationalise my conditions. I became capable of separating Crohn's disease from my emetophobia, and with the right balance of medication, was able to start breaking free from the depression which had haunted me for so many years.
I detoxed from the alcohol, although I did slip, spectacularly, "off the wagon" when I was stabbed, some years ago. A failed suicide attempt brought me to the realisation that I was, once again, spiralling out of control. I do not propose to go into the details of my assault, except to say that it was unprovoked, and consequently I was unable to process what had happened to me. Sleep eluded me for many months, and was only achieved at the bottom of a bottle.
Another detox, a spell with Alcoholics Anonymous, and my local Alcohol and Drug advisory service brought me swiftly back to sobriety, and I have remained sober for 15 years.
I still have panic attacks. I suspect I always will. But, thanks to the strategies learned by CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), medication, and sheer determination, I am able, finally to control them, rather than allowing them to control ME.
I still suffer from depression. Again, I do not anticipate that changing. I am tired; exhausted, even. There are days when I find my existence futile. It is on those days I reflect upon my prior experiences, I have come SO far. I have a long way to go, but having survived a severe anxiety disorder, alcoholism, a brutal assault and cancer, I know that there IS a light at the end of the tunnel. It is true that I often wonder where the tunnel is, let alone the light, but I NEVER stop looking for it.
Cancer is a fucking doddle by comparison to a mental illness, or at least, it is in my case. Cancer can be treated. Anxiety disorders and depression can be treated to a degree. The rest MUST come from within. Depression, anxiety and phobias will dominate and decimate your life if you let them. And therein lies the rub. We all, almost without exception, get our arses to the Doctor at the first sign of a physical ailment. And yet, when it comes to our mental health, we are oddly reluctant, to the point of complacency.
Similarly, people understand cancer. They understand Crohn's disease. Physical ailments are easy to understand. People talk openly about them, offer support and kind words. When it comes to mental health, many people have no idea how to broach the subject, particularly when talking directly to the sufferer. This is something which needs to change. Mental health is every bit as real as a physical impairment, and needs to be treated with the same level of understanding. Whilst mental health sufferers may find it difficult to talk about their situation, that does not mean others need to skirt around the issue. Whether you are a person with a mental health condition, a family member, friend, or stranger, we NEED to keep talking about mental health. We need to treat it with the same consideration and understanding we would treat a cancer patient. Because, often, a mental health condition IS a cancer; a cancer of the mind, the soul, the very essence of what it is to be a human being. It eats away at you, grows and metastasizes.
It is absolutely VITAL that people treat their mental wellbeing in the same way one would treat a physical ailment. Mental health conditions CAN be treated, but the onus is, ultimately, on the sufferer to seek help. GP's have a much better understanding of the mind nowadays, and can make the appropriate referrals to specialists who can help. No one should suffer in silence. The internet has a plethora of support forums, where sufferers can share experiences. These can prove invaluable, as it often easier to talk to people who can relate due to their own experiences.
By talking, we can overcome, or, at the very least, start to manage our mental wellbeing. By talking, we can overcome the stigma surrounding mental health. There are countless conditions which affect the mind. By understanding them in the same way we understand physical disabilities, we can take control of them, before they control us. The healing process, the management of mental health conditions, overcoming preconceptions and the stigma all start by simply talking.
We all need to talk a LOT more about mental health, because silence kills.

Thursday 9 July 2015

Moffaty Musings

"Bad fan!", "If you don't like it, don't watch it!", "Not a true fan".. I'm pretty sure anyone who has ever voiced an opinion on the current state of Doctor Who, has heard those words at some point. Similarly, I am sure you will have heard comments like "I hate Moffat".

It is no secret that, for the most part,  I utterly detest the direction Doctor Who has been going in, of late. There has certainly been, for me, a marked improvement in S8, although it has had its fair share of lousy episodes. My reasons for disliking the current run are long and varied. Season 7 moved too far away from science fiction and into the fantasy genre. Clara is shoehorned into every aspect of the Doctor's life, The Time War has been completely retconned. I could go on, but that isn't the point of the blog.

My opinion of the show is entirely that. An OPINION. And, despite what some ardent Moffat fans may think, it is one I am absolutely entitled to voice.  People are welcome to disagree with it, or challenge it. In fact, I welcome constructive debate on the subject. What I do NOT welcome are the opening words of the blog post, being perpetually hurled in my direction. I generally bite back, and, with an acid tongue, make it very clear that I am only voicing an opinion. But it gets tiring. Being told you "aren't a true fan", often by people who started watching in 2005, grates. I've watched since 1973, collected all the books, have every single DVD release, every Big Finish release, including spin-offs.. I think I qualify as a "true fan". And those who only started watching in 2005? They are true fans as well. I have no right to denigrate their "fan status" based on their opinion, nor on the length of time they have watched. And they have no right to judge my dedication to the show.

Let's be very clear. If you "hate Moffat", quite honestly, you need to grow up and get a life. The chances are, like me, you have never met the man. Hating Moffat on a personal level is an absolute waste of a powerful emotion. It is also incredibly disingenuous to the man. I dislike, and at times, hate, his WORK. I have no personal animus toward him as a person. He appears, to me, to be slightly egotistical, and that is the extent of my observation of him as a person. To "hate" someone on the perception of one character flaw seems, to me, to be an exercise in futility.

"If you don't like it, why keep watching?". That's a question commonly thrown at me, and people who find Moffat's tenure to be lacking. In my case, the  answer is simple. Hope and loyalty! I have been a fan for 40 years. To give up on a show I have loved for such an extraordinary length of time, purely because the current direction doesn't please me, seems disloyal and a tad lazy. Giving up is easy. Sticking with a show, even when one doesn't always enjoy it, is a harder road to walk, however, it can be a rewarding one, which leads me to the second part of my reason for staying with the show; hope.

Season 8 produced some complete and utter dreck. 'Kill The Moon' and 'In the Forest of the Night' instantly spring to mind. However, it also produced flashes of brilliance. Moffat, for all his flaws, made an outstanding decision when it came to casting the 12th Doctor. Capaldi is, quite simply, bloody brilliant. Stories such as 'Flatline' must surely have given even the most ardently "anti Moffat" people a glimmer of hope. The Christmas story, which, from the trailer, looked perfectly terrible, actually turned out to be one of the best Christmas stories the show has produced since its return. Supporting characters, have, for the most part, been much better developed and relatable. In short, things are, slowly, looking up.

The bottom line is, the division between the so called "pro" and "anti" Moffat camps needs to stop. People, regardless of which "camp" they fall into should be able to express their opinion, without denigration or judgement. What we all proffer is OPINION. Nothing more. Nothing less. My opinion on Doctor Who is NEVER wrong. And neither is yours. Or anyone else's. They are OPINIONS. Equally valid. Equally entitled to be shared and heard. Equally open to CIVIL challenges and debate, but categorically NOT to denigration, save for "opinions" which stray into the hatred of people, such as Moffat, on a personal basis.

Another complaint I often hear is that I, and others like me, are "ruining Doctor Who" for those who do like it. This baffles me, as, if my opinion affects your enjoyment in ANY way, then your faith in the show is pretty weak. The opinion of one person should not impact on your enjoyment in any way, and if it does, perhaps you aren't enjoying the show as much as you think! 

There is, amongst the "pro" Moffat camp, an element of pious people whom, I can only assume, have never found a television programme they enjoy to be lacking. Equally, amongst the "anti" Moffat camp, there are those who actively seek out people who enjoy the show, and point out why they are "wrong". Neither "side" has clean hands. 

So, yes. I do moan. Quite a lot. And will doubtless continue to do so. It's my opinion. You don't have to read it. You don't have to agree with it. You don't have to like it. And, above all, you don't have denigrate it. You should respect my right to hold an opinion, even if it differs from yours. And, in turn, I should afford you the same courtesy, as should everyone else who disagrees with YOUR opinion.

Doctor Who makes people passionate. It makes us vocal. It provokes debate. It is also, at the end of the day, just a television show. For some of us, it is a very important part of our lives. But it is STILL only a television show. And if we cannot agree, and more importantly, disagree, civilly, politely, and respectfully, then we should examine our own behaviour and attitudes. Polite disagreement costs nothing. Respecting the right to an opinion, no matter how vehemently one disagrees with it, costs nothing. Division, disdain and disrespect DO cost. They cost emotion, upset and a basic lack of respect for the, equally valid, opinions of others.

I am a Doctor Who fan. I am struggling to enjoy it at the moment. And that's fine. Perhaps you are? I respect that; to a degree, I even envy it. I wish I could see what you do. At the moment, I only see flashes. I hope for better. But, regardless of my opinion of the show, at present, or of Moffat's tenure as showrunner, I am a Doctor Who fan. I always will be. So, please. Don't try and tell me I'm not!