Menna Rawlings CMG

Menna Rawlings

British High Commissioner to Australia

Part of UK in Australia

7th October 2018 Canberra, Australia

She’s back! The return of Dr Who Down Under

As a child, watching Dr Who once a week was a family ritual. I still get a shiver down my spine whenever I hear that iconic music (‘Dun-dun-dun, dun-dun-dun, dun-dun-dun, dun-dun-dun, Waooooooooooo, Waoooooooooo….’) and remember the nights spent watching the latest episode from behind the sofa. The Daleks and Davros scared the heebie-jeebies out of me but, gosh, I loved it.

My Dr Who was undoubtedly Tom Baker – the Fourth Doctor – who played the role from 1974 until 1981, when I was between 7 and 14 years old. I don’t really remember his predecessor, Jon Pertwee; and by the time Tom regenerated as Peter Davison, I had started to lose interest. I don’t think I noticed or cared when the original series ended in 1989, and the attempted revival of Dr Who through a TV film in 1996, featuring  Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann, did not spark my interest.

But then, in 2005, Dr Who was back! With a bang and a flash and a brilliant Christopher Ecclestone in the leading role and Billie Piper as his new side-kick – or “companion” – Rose. And by now I had daughters of my own, who adopted the ‘new’ Dr Who with that familiar mixture of joy and terror. They were 5 and 7 years old when The Doctor returned to our screens and went through a similar cycle to me, with David Tennant their hero; before they started drifting away through the Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi years. But we have spent many happy hours watching and re-watching their favourite episodes, on our battered DVD box sets, so Dr Who is again woven through our personal family history.

It didn’t take me long on arriving in Australia to realise that Dr Who also has a huge following Down Under. On my first visit to the ABC studios in Sydney, I was delighted to find a life-size tardis, which was surely bigger on the inside. The Canberra Museum ran an excellent Dr Who collection in 2016; and I was surprised the first time I walked up Red Hill to discover an electricity sub-station disguised as that famous police box.

A bit of research reveals that the ABC started broadcasting Dr Who in January 1965, just a few months after it premiered in the UK. Despite some challenges to scheduling (for example: the lack of an Australia-wide Network in the 1960s and early 1970s meant that each episode had to be physically transported from city to city, for broadcast on a different date), all episodes have been shown here and the familiar cult following of ‘Whovians’ has developed. There are other links to Australia too: that iconic theme music was in fact written by an Australian musician, Ron Grainer.

But to the present day. The terrific news is that Dr Who, Series 11, will premiere on Monday 8 October on ABC, just a few hours after it is first shown in the UK. There is a new Doctor heading for our screens who, as I’m sure everyone knows by now, will be played be Jodie Whittaker. As Director Chris Chibnall said in his press release: “The Thirteenth Doctor is falling from the sky and it’s going to be a blast.”

In my house, the news that a woman will finally get to play this iconic role is celebrated and, if anything, seen as overdue. My daughter (the one who was 5 years old back in 2005) wrote to her Snapchat group (and agreed I could share this in my blog):

“As a girl who grew up watching Dr Who, I cannot put into words how excited I am for this development. Yes, there were female heroes – take Rose for example, one of the greatest characters the show has ever had in my opinion. But at the end of the day she was a companion. A side-kick.

To finally see a woman in power is a bigger deal than you would think. Finally, at that grand age of 17, I can imagine myself as The Doctor, and not just the companion. It will be an inspiration to countless women.”

To me, that says it all. At a time when we are still struggling to get girls to stay in STEM subjects, it is fantastic that they will finally see a female Doctor, just like them (well, except for her two hearts obviously), travelling through time, using sonic screwdrivers, and saving the universe.

So – on Monday night I will be getting out the popcorn, settling down in front of the TV with my daughter, and getting ready for some new adventures across space and time. And I will feel safe in the knowledge that the 13thDoctor will be brilliant; and that Dr Who is just one of those familiar attachments between the UK and Australia that make our relationship special – possibly even cosmic.

Jodie Whittaker – the floor is yours.

About Menna Rawlings

Her Excellency Menna Rawlings CMG is the British High Commissioner to Australia. Menna joined the FCO in 1989 and has served in a wide range of Diplomatic Service roles. She…

Her Excellency Menna Rawlings CMG is the British High Commissioner to Australia. Menna joined the FCO in 1989 and has served in a wide range of Diplomatic Service roles. She was most recently a member of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Management Board as HR Director. This followed postings to Washington DC, Ghana, Israel, Kenya and Brussels. In London, she has served as Private Secretary to the Permanent Under Secretary as well as in Press Office and the Africa and EU Directorates.