In the 29th minute of the first episode of the rebooted Doctor Who the credentials of the Ninth Doctor, played by the Salfordian actor Christopher Eccleston, were challenged by Rose Tyler, his sceptical Sarf London companion.
“If you are an alien,” she wondered. “How come you sound like you’re from the North?”
“Lots of planets,” the Time Lord patiently pointed out, “have a North.”
I was reminded of the famous exchange – well, famous to those of us geeky enough to know that it took place in the 29th minute of the first episode of the rebooted sci-fi classic and featured the Ninth Doctor – when I heard that the Tardis had landed this week in Sheffield.
I was not at all surprised by this extraordinary sighting. Every planet, after all, has a Yorkshire.
And, to be fair, I had received a reliable tip-off. Back in February, my daughter – a fellow Whovian who is studying in the city – had sent me a photograph of the wooden police box, which had appeared overnight in front of some flats in the town centre.
“Dad,” she excitedly texted. “I just saw Doctor Who being filmed!!!” I am not a great fan of over-punctuation but her three exclamation marks were, in this instance, entirely justified.
On further investigation – I am, after all a trained journalist – I discovered that some of the new series – season 11 of the rebooted show, featuring the Thirteenth Doctor Jodie Whittaker and written by Chris Chibnall, seeing you’re asking – will, indeed, be set in the city of seven hills. Which, due to its distinct topography, is clearly less vulnerable to attack by the Daleks. I mean, if they can’t even climb up a few stairs...
I was surprised to discover, however, that a Time Lord with a northern accent was still a thing.
In the 13 years since the incredulous Rose interrogated Eccleston, you would have thought the London-centric show would have moved on a bit. True, the Tenth Doctor David Tennant had to drop his Scottish brogue because the then-writer Russell T Davies didn’t want the extraterrestrial’s accent “touring the regions”. But, whilst the Eleventh incarnation Matt Smith represented a brief return to the early, old school RP-era of Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, Davison and the two Bakers, the Twelfth one – Peter Capaldi – came to be defined by his Glaswegian lilt.
And yet it seems there are mutterings and grumblings amongst the more prejudiced elements of the Whovian community.
It’s bad enough Whittaker is a female, they mutter. But she’s a Yorkshire female. Not only that, they grumble, she’s from Huddersfield of all places. And she speaks Huddersfield, too.
The poor woman has only, so far, uttered two words – at the end of the Christmas special last December, as I’m sure you’ll recall – but her joyous cry of “Oh brilliant” as the Tardis plummeted through the air was accompanied by an explosion in the fandom as big as the one which blew up the time machine.
Chibnall’s immediate predecessor, Steven Moffat, now fears the worst, predicting the fandom will “spend more time in the first episode (this October) reacting to her accent than her gender. It’ll be ‘Isn’t she Yorkshire? Why’s she got a Yorkshire accent?’”
According to some recent polling – me talking to a few blokes in a north London pub the other night – there appears to be a hankering for the halcyon days of the RP-era. When grumpy old men with euphonious voices saved the universe from monsters, fought evil at every turn and struggled manfully through a succession of wobbly sets.
One remembered, with great affection, Hartnell bashing a Frenchman around the head. “I mean,” he added, “it’s as if Brexit never happened.”
Actually I made that quote up. He did, however, suggest that Jodie be immediately replaced by Sir Patrick Stewart, the avuncular, mellifluous-voiced, former captain of the USS Enterprise. Not only has Sir P a great track record as a space traveller, serving seven years in the Star Trek franchise, but he was trained at the RSC.
When I pointed out that, like Whittaker, Stewart also hailed from Huddersfield, he responded with an exasperated two-word curse.
And it wasn’t “Oh brilliant”.