New York, 1920s
I’d go back to the Jazz Age to witness the city being built. To see the early skyscrapers going up would be amazing. I’ve been to (modern) New York many times and the energy of the city is addictive, as is the sense that anything is possible. We’ve all seen it in movies since we were kids. It’s so familiar that it feels like going home.
Venice, any time
This year, on the eve of my birthday, my wife took me to dinner. After we’d eaten, she gave me an envelope. It contained two air tickets to Venice. And the next day, there we both were. Venice feels mythological – somehow appearing from the mist, then vanishing again. So if I had a Tardis, I’d go back there. Any time. But with my wife on my birthday would be pretty special.
What were parties really like in Ancient Rome? How did people dress? How did they behave – was it as debauched as we imagine it to be? Of course, the reality is, if someone said to you, “You’ve got a time machine, go anywhere you want,” you’d go to Ancient Rome and then realise it’s a violent culture; as a foreigner you might not be welcome at the party; and somebody could take against you for having a different belief system and throw you to the lions.
When my daughter Cecily smiled at me the first time
I’ve been lucky – she’s smiled a lot since.
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1973
I never saw enough of David Bowie. And the last time he played in London, I had to give up my ticket as I had a job in Eastern Europe. My wife called me from the concert, held her phone up and let me hear the entirety of Heroes. It cost around 40 quid to hear that one song.
I’d seen him in the late 70s in Glasgow, putting all my cash into tickets for three of his four-night run, but I never saw Ziggy Stardust. I’d love to have seen those shows, with Mick Ronson and the Spiders. I can’t believe he’s gone. A genius. From Bromley Technical High School. I feel really lucky to be part of the first generation to discover him.
Wouldn’t it be great for the Tardis to materialise in the Reeperbahn, so I could see the Beatles in Hamburg? They were the soundtrack to our lives, growing up in the 1960s. I remember hearing She Loves You everywhere. That song is like a time machine. Every time I hear it, I’m a child again. It came out in 1963 when I was five. Also in 1963, Doctor Who started on the BBC, and the Beatles appeared on it in 1965.
Vermeer’s studio, Delft, 1657
In Vermeer’s A Maid Asleep, a young woman is sitting, dozing, her elbow on the table. Behind her through the open door is a silent room. During an unhappy time in New York, I spent a lot of time with this painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art – it would set me up for the day. I love Vermeer, so I’d like to poke around and see if, as David Hockney and others have suggested, he used a camera obscura and other optical tools to achieve his effects. I think he did, which doesn’t detract from his genius. A Maid Asleep remains a miracle of solitude and serenity.
Berwick Street, circa 2012
I left a great pair of shades in a café on Berwick Street in London a few years ago. I’d go back and get them. They were LA Eyeworks shades and had the date of their production on them: 1982. A keen indicator of the ageing process, it reminded me I was working with people younger than my shades. I’ve got belts older than the actors I’m working with now.
The moon, 1969
How fun would it be to see the Moon land- ings from the Moon. To be hiding behind a rock when these little human beings arrived, to see their faces and how thrilled they are to have come all that distance.
My parents’ wedding
The older you get, the more people you miss. Maybe I’d go to my parents’ wedding and see lots of family I grew up with. Maybe when they were driving away, throwing coins behind them (in Glasgow we called it “a scramble”), I’d catch one and keep it as a memento. I remember looking at their wedding photo album as a child. There was an out-of-focus figure in the crowd behind them. That could be me.
Doctor Who airs on Christmas Day on BBC1 at 5.45pm