We're the Last Generation That Will Watch Patrick Troughton

By Gary Cutlack on at

I know Patrick Troughton and have seen loads of his Doctor Who episodes, despite not being born when he first warped into the Doctor's physical scaffold 50 years ago this week. The simple life hack responsible for this? Being bored in the 1980s.

He was an intense guy. Looked like an uncle who rode motorbikes. Played a little whistle thing when he was the Doctor. Had the same haircut we all had back then. I can't remember the plot of any of his Doctor Who episodes, but he had this weird presence that was oddly captivating to a child watching black and white repeats.

There he is now, I can still picture him clearly, frowning at a control panel made out of washing up liquid bottles while slowly turning a yogurt pot to maximum frequency oscillation.

"Coming up next on BBC 2, the same thing as 20 years ago"

The reason I know Patrick Troughton's concentrating face so well is thanks to the BBC repeating The Three Doctors in the winter of 1981, when I was eight years old and it was dark and I didn't have an iPad for obvious reasons, or any friends to play with for less obvious reasons. Those repeats, when there were only three TV channels in our world, were the entry point into classic sci-fi for a generation because there was nothing else on TV apart from the news and ITV regional documentaries.

Good luck getting a hyper-stimulated eight-year-old to watch something black and white and with lots of exposition instead of lots of explosions today; they'd be straight on Childline's web-based chat portal to have themselves taken into care were you to try.

Boredom forced us to try new things out in the old days. Yes, it was boring before technology meant there was always something happening to look at, and some of those things we tried out to pass the days -- smoking, setting things on fire, shoplifting, sniffing dad's old glues and paints in the shed -- to pass the days didn't work out for the best, but the TV part of it did. We even watched Bergerac because mum and dad watched Bergerac and we didn't have a magic screen in our pockets to do anything else on, hence still having a working knowledge of law enforcement on the Crown dependency of Jersey.

It was an education, a full timetable of the bizarre. Wednesday nights was Star Trek repeat nights. There was the silent comedy of Harold Lloyd on BBC2 for a while, Laurel and Hardy were still endlessly clonking planks into each others' heads on TV too, as were the original Thunderbirds, Stingray and more. It was an education in the classics, before children had all the new films -- oh, and games -- on demand through a vibrant screen designed to be held right up to their faces.

Faces on posters, too many choices

It's choice that's the problem -- there's too much of everything now. It seems to be a crime to let children be bored nowadays, so they have it all, literally everything ever made, on their tablet and phone. So why watch some boring old black and white frowning man to pass the time until dinner or bed when there's Captain America and Batman, and colour and explosions on a loop? Why linger on The Three Doctors when a rogue algorithm displays it in the feed?

BBC2 repeated The Caves of Androzani as recently as February of 1993, so there is still some hope someone watching the only entertainment option back then might realise the world's gone off on a wrong track, like 50-year-long episode of Black Mirror, and try to do something about it.

Not sure what you can do about it, though. Perhaps only let children watch things made before 1990 at the weekend? Put old TV on the national curriculum?