For those non-UK readers who are saying to themselves, "Dr Who?" and suspecting that this might be a version of the "who's on first?" routine, I'm referring to a British science fiction TV series. A distinctly cult series, if ever there was one. The first episodes were back in the early 1960s and it was revived,very successfully, a few years ago after a hiatus. The programme has a huge following, of all ages, and, of course, like all cult things, an industry surrounding it. "The Doctor" is a strange alien time-traveller, immensely old, but always looking like whatever actor is starring in any given series; there have been eleven Doctors over the years, every one of them the ingenious solver of bizarre problems, always able to, in the end, avert imminent catastrophe. As one actor moves on, he mutates, regenerates, into the new one. The Doctor travels about - through space and time - in the Tardis, which looks for all the world like an old UK police callbox (right), but open the door and inside it's huge, filled with all kinds of weird and wonderful time-travelling propulsion and calculating contraptions.
These days, the programmes go out not on a regular schedule but as periodic, and eagerly awaited, specials. Last month, for Easter, we were treated to Dr Who and the Sands of Time (I know I'm a bit late describing this but I have been otherwise occupied with kitchen physics and proof-reading). It was filmed in February in Dubai - as the producer commented, "We always looked at going abroad. A beach in Wales, especially in February, would have just looked like, well, a beach in Wales." The typically strange story required the presence of a red double-decker London bus in the middle of the desert, so the BBC shipped one out to Dubai. Unfortunately, on arrival, a cargo container was dropped on it so the script had to be rewritten to incorporate its revised appearance. Then shooting was disrupted for some time by a major sandstorm - and in the story, blowing sand penetrates the engine of the bus, causing agonising delay and tension as the voracious aliens (not the poor guy in the picture, who was also stranded but was, sadly, consumed) approach.
The show is highly creative and extremely well-written and the latest incarnation of The Doctor, David Tennant, has been superb (at the same time playing a highly-acclaimed Hamlet for the Royal Shakespeare Company). In every series, Dr Who has always been accompanied (platonically, of course, since he's an alien and this is prime-time TV) by a lissome female companion, sometimes just for one episode, sometimes for many. In the desert, this was Michelle Ryan, star of the remake of The Bionic Woman and English TV soap opera, fetchingly attired in a black cat-suit. But everyone knows that David Tennant's time is up, he is due to be regenerated by the end of the year. Everyone knows who his replacement is to be (this is news in the UK) and everyone, including, presumably, his replacement, is apprehensive - Tennant's time-travelling shoes (generally suede) are big ones to fill.
Dr Who and the Sands of Time, was good TV from every point of view, but, naturally, particularly mine given the place and the ubiquitous material. I have read that there is also a classic desert episode (I think I missed it, but then again, my memory...), in which the Tardis arrives in the Gobi Desert, just in time to meet Marco Polo on his way to visit the fabled palace of Kublai Khan. Forced to travel together, they witness "singing sands," the bizarre variety of sounds emitted periodically and spontaneously, by dunes. This is entirely accurate - in his description of his journey, Marco Polo tells of the spirits of the desert and the strange and terrifying musical and drumming sounds that they make. But undoubtedly more of that in a later thrilling Through the Sandglass episode.
[pictures from the Radio Times]