It’s a very quiet period for Doctor Who news. Like Amy, we have said goodnight to the Doctor, but in the full knowledge that he will be back safe and sound in Series 8. All the various sites, podcasts and bloggers happily go off in their own direction, cherry picking from the good Doctor’s rich and bountiful fifty year heritage. The Classic Series and early NuWho start to get the attention they deserve. No more requoting or regurgitating of the latest Moffatism, no more speculating on the latest pictures of the Doctor. It’s a time for imagination. We are Wholess, but not clueless. Just as the post-1989 wilderness years spawned the writers and producers of the new series, as they spread their creative wings in the absence of any new Who, the Doctor Who sites, bloggers and podcasters show their mettle and dream up new content to rock our brains with. True, some of us will be happy to drool over Tennant and Smith pics on Facebook and Tumblr and that’s fine too. We all do whatever it takes to survive the long wait till Autumn. Some of us might even stray from the path of Whovianism and end up back in real life!
I myself have begun to stray. But in a good way. Not towards reality though. You see, there’s this show about time-travel and produced by the BBC which is full of laughter and tears alike. Sounds familiar? It isn’t Who. But it is wonderful and shares many similarities with our beloved show. It started in 1993, the first Doctor Who anniversary year ever when there weren’t any new episodes on tv. It is as if “Doctor Who”, the programme, temporarily used the Chameleon Arch and became this other show to pass unobserved at the, dare I say it, Who-hating Beeb of the Nineties. Spookily its first episode aired on November 18th, five days before Who’s thirtieth anniversary. Its writers, Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, even shared a stage with Steven Moffat at the 2008 Bafta Event “Time Travel in TV Drama and Comedy”. One of this strangely similar show’s main stars was Dervla Kirwan who appeared as Mercy Hartigan in “The Next Doctor” Christmas special. Michael Troughton, son of Patrick, and Bonnie Langford both made appearances in the series. Comedian Richard Herring is a self-declared fan of both series.
Your British Whovian may groan as I reveal the name of this series which clocked up 58 episodes between 1993 and 1999. It’s a show that is continually being repeated on digital channels in the UK. It’s a show that is unjustly considered slightly naff, partly due to the viewing public’s over-familiarity with its lead actor, Nicholas Lyndhurst, at the time typecast as “Rodney the Plonker” from sitcom giant “Only Fools and Horses”. Other regular actor Victor McGuire was known to the public as “Jack” from another BBC hit sitcom, “Bread”. It was as if the BBC was looking for a comedy vehicle for its two sure-fire sitcom talents. But what is this show?
Gary Sparrow, played by Lyndhurst, is a television repair man with a bolshy Northern wife, Yvonne, and an overweight slob of a “jack the lad” friend, Ron, played by Mcguire. At first it feels like the worst of nineties sitcoms, stereotypical and with some seriously unfunny lines. But when Gary walks down an alleyway, stumbles into a time portal and ends up in war-torn forties Britain, everything changes. He meets Phoebe, played by Kirwan, a pretty bar-maid in a run-down pub and it is the beginning of a beautiful love story. What starts off as a dodgy sitcom blossoms into a deep and meaningful drama with loveable characters who we really care about and emotionally invest in. Gary claims to Phoebe that he is both a secret agent and a singer-song writer, passing off future hits as his own! He brings her presents from the modern day, goods which are rationed in wartime Britain. We face and feel the heartache and danger of war but also regularly pop back to safe sitcom suburbia as the series flexes its muscles and exploits its own timey wimey potential. Gary flits backwards and forwards in time in a vain attempt to keep both Yvonne and Phoebe happy. He struggles to balance his two lives and has to deceive both women to explain his constant absences.
The series shares other similarities with Doctor Who. “Regenerating” the female leads of Phoebe and Yvonne after the third series just about works. Unlike Hartnell to Troughton, the new actresses resemble their predecessors. The original Phoebe makes it easy to understand the attraction and passion Gary feels towards her and the second actress’s portrayal goes some way to explain his fondness and depth of love for her. I wish however Dervla Kirwan had continued with her tough but tender performance as Phoebe.I miss her. The second actress to play Yvonne is a perfect match for the first and you would be hard pushed to tell the difference. Another similarity of “Goodnight Sweetheart” to “Doctor Who” is that Gary bumps into historical figures from the past, such as Noël Coward, George Formby and Guy Burgess. Another coincidence is when Gary is called “Doctor” as he dresses up as a medic to fake his way into a hospital. He is quite “Doctorly”, imagine a mix of Matt Smith and Arthur Darville. In another episode Ron even mentions “Doctor Who” itself as Gary commits a crazy act of timey wimey jiggery pokery.
“Goodnight Sweetheart” celebrated its twentieth anniversary last year and is really worth watching. You will soon become an addict and devour the series. And you will be sad when it’s over, because that really is it. Yes, there is talk of a musical, but only time will tell!
We have said goodnight to the Doctor, so let’s say good morning to Gary Sparrow! And then later to Doctor Number Twelve! After all, the last time we saw him, he was wearing a dressing gown! Surely it is time to be getting dressed…
(Main photo: BAFTA)