Who was that woman in Army of Ghosts, and why was she shouting at a ghostly Cyberman to “get outta my pub?” Well…
British soap operas are different to the rest of the world. While American soaps like Days of Our Lives are glossy escapism, Brits tend to crave gritty, depressing drama. The twin titans of British soap operas are EastEnders on the BBC and Coronation Street on commercial channel ITV. EastEnders is set in the rough East End of London, and many of its stories centre around the Queen Victoria pub.
Peggy Mitchell –played by Barbara Windsor, who also starred in the old Carry On films– was the long-serving landlady of the Vic, and was prone to banning people who annoyed her. “Get outta my pub” was a bit of a catchphrase. The ‘Den Watts’ for whom she mistakes the Cyberman was an old villain –nicknamed Dirty Den– who had died some years earlier. Of course, he was later revealed to have faked his death, which means that the Doctor Who scene no longer fits with EastEnders canon, which I’m sure is a massive issue for at least one person in the world.
This wasn’t the first Doctor Who crossover with the soap. The infamous 1993 story Dimensions in Time –produced for the charity event Children in Need– featured five of the Doctors materialising outside of the Queen Vic.
It…it wasn’t good.
On first seeing UNIT’s flying airship the Valiant, many Marvel comic book fans immediately thought ‘Helicarrier’. However, British nerds –and the Doctor– were more likely to think ‘Cloudbase’. This was the floating aircraft carrier that appeared in 1960s children’s show Captain Scarlet & the Mysterons.
Captain Scarlet was one of the many puppet shows from the legendary Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. Their stable also produced such classics as Stingray, Joe 90 and the live-action Space: 1999. Their most famous accomplishment remains Thunderbirds, about a family who use amazing machines to rescue people in distress.
Thunderbirds has a worldwide audience, but it is a true phenomenon in Britain, where it has been repeated again and again for generation after generation of children. Tracy Island, the team’s (Earthbound) base, has been the must have Christmas toy in the 1960s, 90s and 2000s. A CG remake is currently showing on ITV, and there have been references peppered throughout Who history.
All of this is relevant in that not only are the Anderson shows well known, there were a lot of them, and sometimes even the Doctor gets confused. When the Doctor claims to be “Captain Troy Handsome of International Rescue” in the Lodger, he’s conflating Troy Tempest from Stingray and International Rescue from Thunderbirds. Most recently in Death in Heaven, the Doctor calling the Valiant ‘Cloudbase’ led to an incredibly nerdy discussion of the differences between all of the shows.
Are You Being Served?
Here’s proof that no matter how global Doctor Who gets, it will still be British at heart. During David Tennant’s visit to Manhattan in Evolution of the Daleks, he takes a lift (elevator) to the top floor. For no apparent reason, he then puts on a nasal voice and chirps “First floor, perfumery.”
This is a reference to classic British sitcom ‘Are You Being Served’, which was set in a department store. The first line of the theme tune went “Ground floor: Perfumery, stationery, and leather goods, wigs and haberdashery, kitchenware and food.”
Honestly, sometimes Doctor Who needs international subtitles.
Right, back to kids TV. When John Simm’s Master took some time off from being Prime Minister to watch daytime TV, international viewers probably recognised the Teletubbies and the “televisions in their stomachs”. But did you know? This scene was itself a reference back to The Sea Devils, when Roger Delgado’s Master also skived (bunked off? Is that the American phrase?) from his plans to watch …well, just look…
I’m curious, if you aren’t British, what do you think is happening here? For no apparent reason, the Master sits down and watches some pink woollen mice whistling on the moon. Then he starts whistling too. This continues for some time.
The mice are Clangers, and the show he is watching is called The Clangers. It was made by Oliver Postgate, a genius of children’s TV in the 1970s who also produced Bagpuss, Noggin the Nog and many childhood favourites. His contribution to British family television rivals even Doctor Who.