Could the BBC have picked a more incongruous launch pad for the grand unveiling of the new companion than the hallowed turf of Wembley or to give it it’s correct name ‘Wem-ber-ley!’
Yes, riding on the coattails of the nation’s collective goodwill towards Everton – a side who look great going forward right up to the point where they lose the ball and concede three – and Manchester United, a side whom practically demand that history repeat itself right to the point where they’ll spend untold millions trying to make it yesterday – the BBC have chosen the time where you usually buy a pie and queue for the toilet to launch the new era of Doctor Who.
Maybe it’s significant, maybe the new companion is former Arsenal centre back Martin Keown – the man who is 90% neck – maybe it’s an olive branch for all the times when a live match has messed around with the scheduling of an episode.
Who knows, but the canny amongst you, who harbour a love of the beautiful game – a name that gets more ironic with each sheet-clad FIFA executive driven off in the back of an unmarked police car – know that this isn’t the first time that the nations favourite game and the Doctor have been drawn to play each other.
An obvious one given Matt Smith’s sporting prowess but it’s worth remembering that it was originally a DWM comic featuring the Tenth Doctor – who doesn’t really seem like the footballing type – and, in the episode itself, the Eleventh Doctor doesn’t remember which sport is football despite having, on more than one occasion, come into contact with it.
In the audio adventure The Apocalypse Mirror, the Second Doctor – who really doesn’t seem like the footballing type – once played “keepy-uppy” with a football in the TARDIS’ control room. His all-time record was five. However, the football hit the control console and hit the harmonic resonator which as we can all agree it a pretty great way to start an adventure.
In fact, the Eleventh Doctor uses the time honoured tradition of ‘keepy-uppy’ to stave off boredom in Series 7’s The Power of Three. So perhaps we can deduce that he’s been practicing a little with each regeneration.
So yes, the Doctor lies…
For anyone who has watched a live game and then seen the dramatic re-enactment, there’s also a large amount of cognitive dissonance: sure it looks like football; they’re definitely kicking that ball all right but the majesty on show is in no way a reflection of the frustrating, drab and occasionally tedious lot of regular ball watchers – and The Lodger, playing up the Doctor as an extraordinary being, ranks about third on the list of insultingly beautiful representations of the not so spectacular game (in case you were wondering, the other two are: any of the Goal trilogy in second place, and, taking the biscuit, the packet and then the whole McVities factory comes the Sean Bean boy-dun-good – a – thon When Saturday Comes).
The Most Famous Match in History
No, not the 1966 World Cup final or the 1996 Coca-Cola Cup final where Aston Villa beat Leeds United 3-1, in fact, it’s the noblest kick around the game has ever been associated with.
The Christmas Truce of 1914 – the symbolic moment where peace broke out in the trenches and both sides united for a game of football in No Man’s Land – resonates with fans and non-fans alike because it says something profound about our nature through the simplest of gestures.
So naturally, when this rare moment of humanity broke out amongst the mud and the despair, the Doctor has, on more than one occasion, been present to observe us at our best.
In the comic, The Forgotten, Rose and the Ninth Doctor participated in a German/English football on the front line while, in the Short Trips: A Christmas Treasury anthology tale, Never Seen Cairo, the Fifth Doctor – who would perhaps be more comfortable discussing the finer points of the Duckworth-Lewis method than bicycle kicking one in the back of the net – also visited a battlefield during the Christmas truce and observed a similar football match with solider Edward Woodbourne.
Although, like the historical event itself, the two visits are very much open to interpretation: Was there more than one match? Did the two incarnations attend the same match? Was the Ninth Doctor aware that if he wasn’t careful, he could very well be crossing the ball to himself?
Perhaps in observing the game, the Doctor feels a great connection to humanity – and at that particular juncture in history, that celebration of humanity was at its most profound.
The Roar of the Crowd
Yeah, I know. Football crowds can be an intimidating lot but, as several of the Doctors have taught us, that collective spirit of unity can also be harnessed for other means.
Take the Short Trips: Repercussions anthology tale, The Rag and Bone Man’s Story, where, seizing a chance to recover the ‘blessing star’ buried by Susan at I.M. Foreman’s junkyard in 1963, the First Doctor returns to London to find that the alien jewel has been taken by a rag and bone man who inadvertently uses the star while watching the 1966 World Cup final.
Somehow, the thoughts of all of England focused through the Star and though the Star helped England get a crucial goal over Germany, it exploded because it overloaded – much to the annoyance of the Doctor.
Then there’s the audio adventure Living Legend where the Eighth Doctor – a passionate fan of football who boasts an ‘encyclopaedic’ knowledge of Liverpool F.C (the team Paul McGann supports) in another audio tale, The Next Life – uses the jubilant celebrations of Italian fans to convince the invading Threllip that the joy was actually a sign of an illness called “World Cup Fever”, to which the Threllips were also susceptible.
However, there are also times where even the Doctor can’t stand the beautiful game any longer. In the comic, Bow-Ties for Goal Posts, the Eleventh Doctor, a restless Doctor at the best of times, quickly becomes bored of the Leadworth Football Club game Rory has dragged him to and, bemoaning a lack of jetpacks and women footballers, uses the sonic screwdriver on the referee’s glasses; making him see every single football match in the galaxy all at once… For some, that’s a punishment worse than death.
What’s Offside Mean?
Finally, there’s the agony of having to explain to people who would rather watch a three-hour behind-the-scenes documentary on watching paint dry just what excites you about football, an agony suffered by the Fifth Doctor in The Church of Football, a Short Trips: The Centenarian anthology tale.
When Peri refuses to go to a cricket match, the Doctor, himself not the greatest fan of the sport, takes his companion to the 1936 FA Cup Final between Arsenal and Sheffield United, where after failing to explain the rules and revealing that, as a time traveller, he already knows the result (so much for being an expert), Peri storms off – resulting in a stadium wide mystery involving a file of photographs, a flash bomb, and a royal scandal – you know like most football games don’t!