Some holiday reading for Messrs Moffat and Mathieson.
As Doctor Who’s top scribes jet off to Italy at the end of this month to attend the “Lucca Comic and Games” convention, I thought they might appreciate a little holiday reading to help while away the flight and swot up on Bella Italia’s close ties with the Doctor.
As an unashamed Whovian and something of an Italophile myself, I have written a few articles on Doctor Who and Italy and am republishing them here on the off chance that our beloved showrunner and his equally talented travelling companion should stumble across this post. You never know and as the Doctor very recently said to young Davros, “You forget the thousand and concentrate on the one!”
Doctor Who in Italy
When you think of Italy, you think of sun, sea, wonderful cuisine and colourful politicians. You don’t normally think of “Doctor Who”. But very shortly the Doctor is going to be played by Peter Capaldi, an actor with a very strong Italian connection. His father’s family is from Picinisco, about 120 km east of Rome. Isn’t it time we had a closer look at the country and how Doctor Who has taken off over there?
Imagine a TV channel where you can switch on and see two episodes of “Doctor Who” and an episode of “Torchwood” in just one evening! Impossible? No, it exists. It’s called “Rai 4”, a digital channel belonging to Italy’s state broadcaster and hardly a day passes without something Who-related being shown. Doctor Who is dubbed and has a break for advertisements half way through. At the moment they have got “Nu-Who” on a loop and are currently showing Tennant’s final season. The episodes are being shown every weekday evening and are repeated the following day.
Italian Whovians obviously don’t wait for Rai to dub and show the episodes though. Many young Italians have a high level of English and, using whatever means they have at their disposal, manage to watch a new episode live or as soon as it has aired. What is incredible though is that a new episode will air on Saturday night and twenty four hours later it will have been translated and posted online with subtitles. If you consider how many words there are in each episode and how tricksy the dialogue can be, this is no mean feat. Complimenti!
“Doctor Who” has had an interesting history in Italy. It certainly didn’t start with William Hartnell in 1963, but with Peter Cushing. His second film was shown in Italian cinemas in 1968 with the somewhat exuberant title “Daleks – Il futuro fra un milione di anni” (Daleks – the future in a million years!). That was it until 1980/81 when Tom Baker was shown on Rai’s main terrestrial channel. But only “Robot” to “Pyramids of Mars” were shown, inexplicably skipping, “Genesis of the Daleks”. Whether this was for rights or religious reasons I can only speculate. The episodes were dubbed but had irritating musak added in the background for the more wordy scenes. Interestingly, when the Doctor met the Brigadier for the first time in “Robot”, the name “Alistair Lethbridge Stewart” was translated into “George Armstrong Carter” and his rank was Major General. Even more excruciatingly the Doctor was often addressed as “Doctor Who”, which could come across as “Doctorrrroo”, with more rolling “r”s than McCoy on acid!
That was basically it again until Paul McGann. The “TV-Movie” was shown in 1999 on TVL, a now defunct pay tv channel. This was broadcast in English but was later released on VHS dubbed into Italian. Things would liven up however in 2005. From autumn that year digital channel “Jimmy” showed “Rose” right the way through to “Voyage of the Damned” in 2008. There was a woeful mini-hiatus of three years till 2011 when Rai 4 started showing every single episode of the new series. It has recently finished broadcasting Series 7 without the mid-season break. Two brand new episodes were shown back to back every Thursday evening, something a UK fan would die for! DVDs have been released of the new series (with Series 6 coming out in a few weeks) and box sets of classic Hartnell and Troughton stories are currently available too, all dubbed into Italian.
Just for fun let’s have a quick look at some interesting translations of the original story titles. The last two episodes of Eccleston’s season became a two parter called “Masters of the Universe”. “Tooth and Claw” was translated as “Empire of the Wolf”. “The Girl in the Fireplace” was “Windows in Time”. “Victory of the Daleks” turned into “Churchill’s Weapon” and “Nightmare in Silver” became “Cyberman Nightmare”, the translation by no means reflecting on the quality of the episode!
And last but not least fandom in Italy. Online we can find “Hermit’s United”, “www.doctor-who.it” and “www.doctorwhoitalia.it”. Facebook also has several pages and groups paying homage to the series.
Castrovalva is a village in Italy less than one hundred kilometres away from Picinisco, the town where Peter Capaldi’s grandfather was born. Castrovalva is in the Province of L’Aquila in the Abruzzo region of Italy and clings onto the top of a steep hill.
In the early eighties Christopher H Bidmead, the author of the story, was keen to introduce real science into Doctor Who and move the series away from the fantasy of the stories devised by Douglas Adams and Graham Williams. True to type, Bidmead was interested in the mathematical principle of recursion, which his story “Castrovalva” centres on. Recursion is the process of repeating items in a self-similar way. When two mirrors are exactly parallel to each other, the images which occur are a form of infinite recursion. A computer science student might learn that procedures for calculating factorials or Fibonacci numbers are classic examples of recursive programming. There is also a geeky joke: “In order to understand recursion, one must first understand recursion!” In the story itself when the fictional city collapses in on itself, we have an example of spatial recursion. Nyssa describes recursion as ideas which “fold back on themselves”. Tegan tries to grasp the concept saying “if we had an index file, we could look it up in the index file under ‘index file'”. Maybe the Doctor himself can make things clearer, in this exchange from the story.
DOCTOR: How do I know you’re telling the truth?
MERGRAVE: Because, sir, I maintain I am, and I am a man of my word.
DOCTOR: A perfect example of recursion, Mergrave. And recursion is exactly what we’re up against.
But what or rather who is the connection between Bidmead’s hard science and the pretty little village of Castrovalva? Let me explain. It is an artist. M.C. Escher. Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972) to be precise. He was a Dutch graphic artist, whose work featured impossible constructions and explorations of infinity. His 1930 lithograph print (shown below) is one of his most famous works. And its name? “Castrovalva” of course! He produced it after visiting the village in 1929. The design of Bidmead’s fictional city and the concepts and ideas in the story reflect the impossible nature of Escher’s work. Herein lies the connection.
Escher’s work shows his fascination with the high and low, the near and far. It has been described as an expression of the excitement of three dimensionality, not as an abstract concept, but in its full reality. The artist described his experiences in Castrovalva: “I spent nearly a whole day sitting drawing beside this narrow little mountain path. Up above me there was a school and I enjoyed listening to the clear voices of the children as they sang their songs.” Was Bidmead thinking of these children, when he wrote the little girl in the story telling the Doctor that three follows two?
But most intriguingly of all Escher himself “enjoyed” an adventure worthy of the Doctor, when in spring 1929 he spent his first night in Castrovalva. Escher had gone all alone to the village as he wished to sketch there undisturbed. He arrived late in the evening, found a place to stay and fell asleep. But suddenly at five in the morning he was woken by heavy knocking on his bedroom door. There was a shout: “Police!” He had no idea what these Italian “carabinieri” wanted from him, but his passport was confiscated and he was taken to the police station. His crime? Escher had apparently made an attempt on the life of the king of Italy. This impossible accusation was the result of an old crone’s gossip. She had noticed him, a foreigner no less, arriving late the previous night. In her account of events, Escher hadn’t taken part in a local “Castrovalva” procession that night and he had had an evil expression (“guardava male” were her words). She had simply reported this “evidence” to the police. It was a crazy story and Escher, incandescent with rage, did his best impression of the Ninth Doctor locked up in a cell with a Dalek. The artist threatened to kick up a fuss in Rome and it worked. He was set free.
Unlike the “impossible” Castrovalvan celery Davison’s Doctor would famously wear on his lapel and indeed the city itself, the village of Castrovalva in Italy is quite real. If fancy took us, we could quite easily hop on a plane and fly there. You certainly can’t say that of Skaro or Raxacoricofallapatorius.Bidmead’s story “Castrovalva” reflects on the concept of recursion, also reflected on in Escher’s graphic depiction of the hilltop village of “Castrovalva”, which itself resembles the city of “Castrovalva” in the story itself. Erm. Is “Castrovalva” recursion itself?! My poor head! Damn it, let’s just visit the place, forget the science and drink some recursive Italian wine!
Lucca is a city in Tuscany renowned for its intact Renaissance-era city walls, designed by the Fourth’s Doctor’s friend Leonardo Da Vinci. Giacomo Puccini, writer of the Eighth’s Doctor’s beloved Madame Butterfly, was born in Lucca. The city is also famous for “Lucca Comics & Games”, an annual comic book and gaming convention held within the city’s walls. Interest in Doctor Who has been growing in Italy over recent years, since popular digital channel Rai 4 started showing episodes of the new series. Could the convention in Lucca be the place to find and meet Italian fans of Doctor Who? Your roving reporter decided to set the coordinates for Lucca, 2013 and go and find out!
The weather forecast for the first day of the convention promised sunshine. The other two days would be less clement. I made up my mind to go on Day One and top up my tan in my hunt for Whovians. My Italian hosts drove us there in a large green people mobile, something like “The Mystery Machine” from Scooby Doo. As we approached Lucca, where I was hoping to find a police box or two, the actual “box” we were travelling in was stopped by the police. Having dismounted from their motorcycles, two policemen checked our passports and identity cards in a thorough but I must say friendly fashion. We were held up for just half an hour, before continuing on our way.
When we arrived in Lucca, the ancient city walls took my breath away. As I walked through the “San Pietro” gate, I imagined myself entering Castrovalva. That became somewhat more difficult as Batman, Lara Croft and Mr Spock walked past. I started snapping away with my camera phone. Admittedly they weren’t “Who” but their costumes were so realistic, so colourful and simply a joy to behold. Like President Borusa, they deserved immortality and thanks to my camera it be would be granted to them. Groups of fans, as varied and colourful as the Sixth Doctor’s coat itself, laughed, smiled and chatted with complete strangers as if they were best friends. But I was worried. I couldn’t see any Whovians.
More enthusiasts in the most weird and wonderful guises strode confidently past. I felt inadequate in my simple black t-shirt sporting a cartoon Cyberman, Tennant, Tardis and Dalek. We proceeded through the narrow streets of the historic centre at a snail’s pace, but what did I care, I had all these colourful costumes to feast my eyes on. But still no Who? Had I failed in my mission?
Suddenly out of the corner of my eye I saw blue. Tardis blue. A girl and her friend were explaining something to a tourist, all intently studying a map of Lucca. But one of the girls was wearing a Tardis dress. I thrust my phone into my friend’s hand and shouted “Take a pic!” All my natural inhibitions disappeared and I approached Tardis Girl. In my most polite English I tentatively asked if she would mind having a photo taken. I pointed frantically at my t-shirt to prove my Whovian credentials, so she didn’t think I was some kind of maniac. I have no idea what became of the tourist, but I had found my first and maybe only Whovian. I was in heaven. I don’t think I’d experienced this kind of Whovian happiness since meeting Peter Davison back in the days of Longleat.
Smiling contentedly, I walked around Lucca’s historic centre in a trance. Only when I saw something blue would I snap out of it. Alas they weren’t Tardis costumes! Just cartoon characters that meant nothing to me. Suddenly someone spoke. “Bella maglietta!” said a passer-by commenting on my t-shirt. It was only a flippin’ Tom Baker look-a-like! This was getting silly and there was absolutely no way he was going to get away from me. “Can I have a pic please?” I asked, starting to feel like a stalker. He kindly obliged, whipping out his sonic screwdriver! Like a Tardis in a time tunnel, my head was spinning.
A sense of optimism started to grow in me. It was only a matter of time before I would make more close encounters of the Whovian kind. I saw two girls, one dressed as Matt Smith and the other as a Tardis. Almost with nonchalance I walked confidently towards them. That is a complete lie. I ran over to them like a drunken fool. Maybe I did freak them out a little, but I had notched up another amazing pic. They would understand. We walked up onto the city walls. The view of the town below was breathtaking. Along came Matt Smith. I grabbed the poor guy in costume and repeated the mantra: “Can I have a pic please?” As he posed he informed me: “There’s Clara over there!” Lo and behold, there was indeed the “Impossible Girl”. She admonished the Doctor as his bow tie had been a little wonky in the picture. He adjusted it and we all posed for camera, before happily going our separate ways.
Let me mention my obliging friend from New Zealand. She was starting to see me in a different light. She probably thought that this normally rather subdued and restrained English guy had gone a bit nuts. Her suspicions were confirmed when all of a sudden I yelled “TARDIS!”. I had spotted a familiar police box in the distance. I pushed politely, if that is possible, through the crowds to reach my goal. It was standing there, unloved and all alone. No one was taking any pictures of it. I imagined Idris sniffling sadly inside. So I posed in front of my beloved blue box and while I was having my photo taken, a girl sitting on some steps nearby shouted out “Bella maglietta!” All inhibitions cast aside, I shouted back “Do you like it?” and she replied in perfect English “Yes, it’s great!” As we walked away, I heard her laughing among her friends: “Wow! Did you hear me speak English with that guy! Didn’t I do well?”
But a question remained. Why had that Tardis been standing there all alone? I was about to find out. We approached a square so full of people it was impossible to move. But I moved alright when I saw another Tardis, but this time there was Madame Vastra alongside it. She was restraining an innocent passer by or was it a duplicitous Zygon in human form? I moved in closer. There was the Doctor too, this time in his tenth incarnation, and also a Weeping Angel. People were looking on, bemused. “Che cos’è?” asked one girl. Another replied, “It’s Doctor Who. He’s like a Sherlock Holmes in space!” Steven Moffat would have wet his pants. “Can I have a pic?” I asked Madame Vastra and she beckoned me forward with a swish of her hand, not uttering a word. Oblivious to the crowds, I posed with her, the Doctor of course and the Angel. “Bella maglietta!” said the Doctor.
However the sands of time were passing. Our hosts had to leave. We ran back to our rendezvous point, the “San Pietro” gate. But not before bumping into a fan in a fourth Doctor’s scarf. I took a hasty pic and ran on, imaginary cloister bells ringing in my head.
As we climbed into the mystery machine, I had but one small regret. I hadn’t had time to go into the main pavillion area of the convention. What delights I would miss inside! A few days Iater online I saw some wonderful cosplayers there dressed up as Van Gogh and the Sixth Doctor amongst others. There was a quiz, a fan meet up and a showing of the first ever episode too. But one step at a time. I was happy enough. I couldn’t have coped with any more. In the mirror of the mystery machine, Lucca was fading into the distance and I thought of the words of the First Doctor. They seemed quite appropriate. “One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back!”
The Italian city of Naples is to Italy what the Sixth is to the other Doctors. Louder, brasher and considerably more colourful! On arrival in Bella Napoli, you will be deafened by the traffic and blinded by the myriad colours of the sea, sun and let’s not forget street markets with all their mouthwatering fresh fruit and vegetables which brighten up the metropolis. Colin Baker’s noisy multicoloured version of the Doctor would have certainly felt at home here, though he might well have received a few funny stares from the locals! As a somewhat belated sequel to my “Doctor Who in Italy” article last year, I thought I would zoom down from space at breakneck speed into the heart of Naples – think opening sequence of “Rose” – and look at the city through Whovian eyes.
Let’s start with “The Unquiet Dead”. The Ninth Doctor attempts to take Rose back to historical Naples and, thanks to the umpteenth Tardis malfunction, they accidentally end up in Cardiff. The author of the tale, Mark Gatiss, obviously has a fondness for Napoli as he also set his novel “The Vesuvius Club” in the city. Fellow scribe Russell T Davies suffered the same fate as the Ninth and Rose when he booked a long and well-deserved holiday in nearby seaside resort Sorrento in July 2007. Although in his diaries he describes his accommodation as “palatial” he starts panicking about production of Doctor Who in Cardiff without him and books a flight back after only staying seven days. Digressing slightly, I wonder if RTD was watching when Napoli beat his home town of Swansea 3-1 in the Europa League not so long ago?
David Tennant witnessed the sprawling outskirts of the city for himself when he visited Pompeii in 2007 to see the ruins of the town destroyed by Vesuvius. He was taken there by the much-missed “Doctor Who Confidential” on a day off from filming “The Fires of Pompeii” in CineCitta’ in Rome and was shown around the site by tour guide Gaetano Manfredi. The ruins are famous for the plaster casts of the victims of the eruption, “frozen in time”, a gruesome snapshot of death (see above). Surely they would make for a most disturbing new slant on the Weeping Angels, were they ever to feature in the show. As all good Whovians know, Peter Capaldi appeared in “Fires” as Caecilius. When the Doctor mentions San Francisco, Capaldi’s character replies, “That’s a new restaurant in Naples, isn’t it?”! Finally, David Tennant’s “audition piece” for playing the Tenth Doctor was as Giacomo Casanova in Russell T Davies three-parter of the same name. In the final episode of the tale Casanova heads off to Naples and on arrival finds it a bed of sin which proves even too much for this superlative latin lover to stomach and the experience leads him to calm down and mend his ways.
In Tom Baker’s story “The Masque of Mandragora” the King of Naples and other Italian rulers are invited to San Martino to celebrate Giuliano’s accession to the dukedom. Back in real life writer Chris Chibnall was inspired by the ship “MSC Napoli” to pen “The Power of Three”. The ship was caught in a storm in the English Channel and ran aground in Lyme Bay near where Chibnall lives. The writer said, “A lot of its contents got washed up onto the shore and people just started taking the contents. I wanted to do a story based on humanity’s ability to go ‘Oh! Look at that, I’ll take that!'”
Naples boasts one of the most modern and innovative underground train stations in Europe. A recent station to open is the “Università” stop. As you wander through its futuristic and avantgarde passageways, it is not hard to imagine you are walking through the corridors of the Tardis itself, with an albeit trippier “desktop theme”. When you emerge from the next station on the line, “Toledo”, it seems as if you have travelled in time, as you find yourself in the heart of the city, a few steps away from the dark and mysterious Spanish Quarters. Nothing has changed there for years, with characteristic washing lines hanging from balcony to balcony, little old ladies gossiping and gesticulating wildly on street corners and Vespas shooting off in all directions. Naples on foot is also a journey through time. One minute you stand in awe in front of ancient churches and monuments, the next your breath is taken away by striking examples of modernity such as the hi-tech business centre with its imposing skyscrapers and mirrored-glass windows gleaming in the sunlight.
Doctor Who fandom in Naples exists, but only if you know where to look! Last year ComicCon Napoli organised a Doctor Who flash mob and there is even a regional “Whovians Campania” fan group which organises local Doctor Who events.
So if you fancy a Whovian holiday in the sun, a city bursting with history and culture and some excellent local cuisine, then visit Napoli. There’s no need to fill your Ipad with Doctor Who episodes. Just tune your hotel telly to the Rai4 channel and you’ll find plenty of Nu-Who to enjoy. They even repeated “The Day of the Doctor” the day after. Italians do it better. Sometimes even Doctor Who!
Doctor Who at Naples Comicon
When I attended Lucca Comics convention in Italy I had my Whovian credentials emblazoned on a t-shirt – a cartoon Tennant, Cyberman, Dalek and Tardis. No longer a Italian convention noob, I felt that “Comicon Napoli” deserved a little more effort. I would dig out a Tennantish suit from my wardrobe and in the words of the TV movie Master “drezz for the occasion”.
Being a Whovian can often be a solitary affair, but I enlisted a Neapolitan friend to dress up as a Christmas Clara to keep me company. I knew beforehand that fellow Whovians would be in attendance having checked out the “Whovians Campania” Facebook page. Their stand would be my goal.
Easier said than done. Comicon Napoli is incredibly popular. In the last few days the site selling tickets has kept crashing due to excessive demand. My train coming from the Sorrento peninsula was packed with fellow sci-fi geeks, all dressed up in cosplay outfits to the confusion and consternation of the locals. On arrival in Naples, the police and railway security were not letting anyone catch the underground to the event, presumably due to the excessive number of fans and consequent safety concerns. But dressed as Tennant I was not going to allow myself to be trapped in time and space. Not having a Tardis at my disposal, I caught a taxi.
A little bit of Napoli football chit-chat with the driver later, we arrived as close to Comicon as the traffic would let us and I leapt out and ran Tennant-style to the entrance. But there were lengthy queues to get in, even with a ticket. More daunting than a Dalek battlefleet!
I found Clara in one of the queues. The sun beat down and we prayed for clouds to pass overhead, which they fortunately did. If I had fainted, being human, I would not have been able to regenerate! But queueing is never boring when you can feast your eyes on all the imaginative costumes walking past. After an hour we arrived at the entrance gate and headed into the throng.
At first, there was not a Whovian in sight. Just an indiscernable mass of Cosplayers. Suddenly a Dalek in a yellow dress “glided” into sight. Having acquired exquisite Whovian stalking skills from Lucca, I stopped her and asked for a pic. Then she kindly accompanied Clara and myself to the “Whovians Campania” stand.
I met quite a few Tennants. All very friendly and much better dressed than me! Posing with one, I was quite impressed with myself as I whipped out my sonic screwdriver. But then he showed me his collection of three! We met a Captain Jack and a couple of Elevens. Mission accomplished!
Giovanni Battista (literally John the Baptist) Capaldi was born in Picinisco, Italy, in 1885. His grandson, Peter Capaldi, once visited the Italian hillside village himself and was struck by a war memorial in the main piazza with surnames he recognised from the Glasgow fish and chip shops, hairdressers and ice-cream parlours where he had grown up. “I always thought it was funny that my grandparents had bought a ticket to New York and ended up in Glasgow.” he said in a Scottish newspaper interview back in 2008, shortly before filming Doctor Who as Caecillius, a marble dealer from Pompeii. So how did his grandfather Giovanni end up in Scotland? What do genealogy sites reveal?
According to a relative researching her family tree on an Italian genealogy forum, Giovanni and his brother Filippo left Picinisco for America to seek their fortune. There Giovanni apparently lost his leg in an accident. Peter Capaldi himself said he had heard that this accident had happened whilst his grandfather was building the Brooklyn Bridge, but was deeply sceptical. He was right to be so. The bridge was completed in 1883 two years before Giovanni’s birth! Whatever the truth of the matter, Giovanni decided he did not like America and so left his brother in the USA. Filippo apparently became very successful in Chicago, where his numerous family live today and still hold Capaldi family gatherings.
Giovanni, however, came to England and settled in Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, before going up to Glasgow in Scotland where he found work in a cafe. In Glasgow he met his wife, Agnes Dougan. “Scotland’s People” records show that a certain “John Capaldi”, aged 27, married Agnes, aged 16, on 20 February 1913. They were both resident at 256 Hillington Street, Glasgow. According to the same records, Giovanni’s deceased father had been a farmer.
Giovanni and Agnes would then start up their “Capaldi’s” ice cream business, using his mother Nicolina’s recipe. Agnes gave birth to five children. Two of her sons were born in Newcastle upon Tyne suggesting that the Capaldi family spent a period living there. Their last son, born in 1925, was Gerard, Peter Capaldi’s father, born in nearby Lanchester, County Durham.
During World War II, the UK interned about 4000 people of Italian origin, amid suspicion of their loyalties. Churchill had decided to “collar the lot” when it came to enemy aliens. Posts on geneology sites suggest that Giovanni Capaldi was sent to the Isle of Man. The island had been designated a prison island with space for over 10000 internees. Giovanni apparently died there in 1947. His wife survived him and encouraged her grandson Peter in his artistic pursuits. Capaldi himself says, “My grandmother used to say it was an Italian thing, that all the great artists came from Italy.”
Capaldi’s father, Gerard, would continue the family business and owned ice cream vans, selling the ice cream he produced in his factory in Glasgow. The Capaldis and relatives lived in the Glasgow tenement blocks in Keppochhill Road. On one side of the road – “the tough side” – were Peter’s mother family, who came from Killyshandra in Ireland’s County Cavan, and on the other side was his father’s. “The Thick of It” writer Armando Iannucci grew up on the same road. Iannucci said: “Our parents lived in the same street and knew each other. So when I told my mum I was working with Peter, she said, ‘Ohhh, wee Peter’, because she remembered him as a baby.”
(Sources:italiangeneology.com,geni.com,www.heraldscotland.com, ancestry.co.uk,picinisco.net,glasgowguide.co.uk,theglasgowstory.com, Capaldi-clan.com)
Exam time is probably one of the most stressful times of the year for those “lucky” enough to still be at school. What with last minute revision, private tutors and late night internet research, pupils end up bleary-eyed emotional wrecks. But not always. One lucky young Italian is doing her final school exams with Doctor Who!
In Italy, students hoping to achieve their “high school diploma” (equivalent to A-Levels) have to face an examining board, as fearsome as the Daleks themselves, and present a so-called “tesina” – a mini-thesis. This involves an oral presentation of their school subjects, all linked together by a central topic. Patrizia chose the Tardis.
Patrizia is about to share its secrets with her teachers. She has decided to use the Doctor’s faithful Type 40 as the central theme for her mini-thesis. The idea is that the Doctor will fly the Tardis through Patrizia’s school subjects. As you can see below, her “tesina” is divided up into Italian, History, Latin, English, Greek and Geography. Back in the Sixties Doctor Who was not only entertainment – the remit was to educate its audience in history and science. It seems the Tardis is still doing so today in modern-day Italy!
Let’s head back into the examining room. Imagine the scene. A row of stern professorial types, looking down from on high, all perched at their lofty teacher’s desk. The severe examiners peer down through their glasses and look quizzically at Patrizia. Little do they know, they are about to learn the secrets of Doctor Who for the very first time in their lives…
Patrizia hands her mind map (above) over to them. The examiners look on. “What is that blue box?”, “Is it a phone box?”, “What’s a police box?”, “It travels in space and time?” “It’s bigger on the inside?!!” Unbeknownst to them they are reliving the very same mind-boggling experience as Ian Chesterton did but fifty years on. However, luckily for the baffled “professori”, Patrizia will call on the Tardis to take them quickly onto safer and more familiar ground.
The Tardis will travel back to Italy of nearly two hundred years ago and Patrizia will discuss her first subject, Italian. Patrizia will speak about Ugo Foscolo (1778-1827), an Italian writer, revolutionary and poet. Patrizia and the examiners will gaze into the “Eternal Nothingness” and discuss the “eternalising function” of poetry.
Then we jump forward in time for History. The Tardis will land in the midst of the First World War, Blitzkrieg and trench warfare. I wonder whether Patrizia will introduce the examiners to the dastardly General Smythe from “The War Games”!
We then take a stroll into the Tardis library to reflect quietly on Philosophy. We pull down a dusty tome from the Gallifreyan bookshelves and blowing the cobwebs away read the name of its author, French philosopher, Henri Bergson (1859-1941). Patrizia will discuss “Time” both from a scientific point of view but also in relation to our day to day lives.
Back in the console room, the Doctor suddenly pulls a lever and we hurtle back through the time vortex to Ancient Rome. It’s Latin! Patrizia and the Doctor step outside the Tardis. Who is this striding up towards them? Why, it’s Roman philosopher, statesman and dramatist Seneca! (c. 4 BC – AD 65) The Roman intellectual was also Emperor Nero’s teacher. I wonder if ever during their lessons Nero daydreamed about that time-travelling schoolteacher Barbara Wright, who he had taken something of a shine to in “The Romans”. Patrizia will speak to the examining board about Seneca’s concept of time.
The Tardis then lands in 19th century London. We meet Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), an English writer and important figure in literary society. Woolf explains to the Doctor, Patrizia and the examiners that “stream of consciousness” is a narrative device. She tells them that it is an interior monologue which depicts the many thoughts and feelings which pass through our minds.
And if that is all Greek to you, what about Greek itself? “Setting the coordinates for third century Ancient Greece!” cries the Doctor. The Tardis doors swing open to reveal Greek poet Theocritus! Patrizia poses a question.
“What is a ‘Locus Amoenus’?”
“Why, it’s a literary term which refers to an idealised place of safety and comfort.” replies the poet.
“But that’s Gallifrey right now!” she exclaims. Surely the perfect title for a future story!
The final trip in the Tardis is through time and space as we follow the life and death of a star. For Geography Patrizia is talking all things celestial, but perhaps not the toymaker methinks!
The Tardis materialises back in the exam room. The examiners stagger out of the Tardis and back into their seats. Have they enjoyed the trip of their lifetime? Have the Doctor and Patrizia impressed them sufficiently? Have the examiners turned into Whovians? Will Patrizia receive her high school diploma as she surely deserves?
Let’s cross our fingers, or should that be our sonics, without confusing the polarity of course!
Update: Patrizia passed her exam and decided to go and study in the UK. Only a few days had she been in London, when she bumped into Mark Gatiss outside the theatre (after seeing Martin Freeman’s Richard III). Her adventures didn’t quite end there! The very next week, who did she meet outside Selfridges? Exactly. Who did she meet. She met Who! She met Matt Smith! Patrizia says that Matt was the perfect gentleman, stopped to chat for a while and she even managed not to cry!