I don’t like Doctor Who. Not anymore, at least. Before you organise a twitter fatwa, hear me out. I even called it Doctor – not Dr – Who, consider that a peace offering.
The Time Lord was probably my first introduction to the genre of science fiction. As a young boy, I had a Dorling Kindersly book about space. Admidst the cross sections of shuttles and the moon-landers, there was a double page spread on Sci-fi. The space station from 2001, the stasis pods from Alien. In the corner of the page, with a backdrop of battered corrugated iron, were the Daleks, and I fell in love.
I even have Remembrance of the Daleks on DVD, yet still, I find myself not being able to watch Doctor Who. I gave it a go when the character returned with Ecclestone a few years back and then Tennant, but as I got older, my interest waned. Aside from a few notable exceptions (Blink), I just couldn’t get anything out of it. I’ve tried to enjoy Matt Smith’s run. I can’t. Where I once experienced charm and wonder, I now feel like I’m being shot in the face with a double-barrelled charisma cannon. Smith’s Doctor is essientially a time travelling children’s TV presenter for the ritalin generation. I can’t stand him.
Luckily though, he’s redeemed himself with the delightful Bert and Dickie. As pleasant as Henley on Thames itself, it follows British rowers Bert Bushnell (Smith) and Dickie Burnell (Sam Hoare), as they are begrudgingly placed together to row the double skulls in the 1948 London Olympics. This is shamelessly sentimental guff which will leave you feeling more manipulated than a Rubik’s Cube, but it’s great fun and there’s a lovely slice of patriotism running through the centre, so whatever.
Smith, dressed as if Wally (of Where’s fame) had been forced into a child’s sailor costume, plays his role with aplomb. Here is real charisma – motivating and exciting, a welcome relief from the coercing foppishness of his portrayal of the 11th Doctor.
Whilst Smith is the star, Hoare deserves a heap of praise. The contrast between the two may not be subtle – Bert is working class, skinny and rounded, Dickie is ex Eton and Oxford, broad, angular, all latissimus dorsi. But the pairing works well, mostly because for the first third of the programme, Bert exhibits some masterful wankery. We don’t get the “let’s get this straight, I don’t like you…” spiel verbatim, but it’s not far off.
As it turns out, they have something in common which isn’t rowing. Both have daddy issues. Bert’s doesn’t really seem to give a hoot about his son’s potential and Dickie’s has a gold medal in the sport, as well as plenty of thoughts about what it is to be a gentleman. Whilst it may have made for better drama, this isn’t really explored in much detail but really, it’s for the best. Like the backroom bickering about politics and economic implications of the Olympic Games, more emphasis on these parts would detract from what makes Bert and Dickie fun to watch – the serenity, the quaintness, the post card cinematography.
Bert and Dickie is, in essence, a stock tale of two ruddy good chaps overcoming adversary. Additionally, it’s a look at a part of England that managed to avoid the devestation of the War, the closest thing to the mythical ‘good old days’. It’s about the Olympics when they were about amatuers competing to be the best, before it was sucked into a hellish vortex of ‘legacy’, surface-to-air missiles in Tower Hamlets and ‘brand police’.
Bert and Dickie is not the perfect drama, and it’s hardly a white knuckle ride – yet it doesn’t set out to be. Well acted, well-scripted, and with a suitably slow pace, it’s feel good TV. I only wished they explained why rowers have to train so early in the morning…