Liberal Democrats bring Doctor Who into the Lords

Yesterday, Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords held a debate on broadcast media. Falling in the week after the triumphant 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, it’s hardly surprising that the BBC’s flagship drama was heavily referenced during the contributions.

Olly Grender was one of a trio of Liberal Democrats to make their maiden speeches during the debate. We’ll put them all up in full separately as is our custom, but here are some highlights of Olly’s. First of all, she talked about the advice she’d received about her debut:

 I am sure, like me, most will have received a great deal of advice about when and how to do a maiden speech, most of it contradicting the previous piece of advice. Normally, Thursday seems like an excellent day—not too many people—but the names that are down to speak today are, to a new Peer, like the A-list of broadcasting, and suddenly a debate on a Thursday feels like something in the full glare of the media spotlight.

Broadcast media, she went on to say, has an important role in protecting the most vulnerable:

As director of communications for Shelter I always understood the special role that broadcast media can play in holding those who are in power to account on behalf of those most left out of power, like homeless people.

She had better grasp of the facts than Alex Salmond had the other day on Doctor Who – at least she knew that it had been broadcast in 94 countries. He said it was 80 in the press conference launching the White Paper on Scottish independence.

This debate necessarily starts with the record we have in public service broadcasting, of which the cornerstone is the BBC. BBC Worldwide is the largest TV programme distributor outside the major US studios, and its impact on the reputation of the United Kingdom overseas is one which increases our ability to trade worldwide and way beyond broadcasting. My noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter’s timing for this debate is perfect, following the amazing weekend marking the 50th anniversary of “Doctor Who”. Simulcast in 94 countries, setting a Guinness world record, with record-breaking figures in America, it was event TV drama at its best, delivered around the globe. That thrill of seeing all the Doctors saving Gallifrey is something my eight year-old son will remember until the 100th anniversary.

However, 50 years ago, even if all the noble Lords in this place had popped into the TARDIS—because, remember, it is much bigger on the inside—and travelled back in time and explained the revolution that was coming in broadcast, digital and online content, not even the first Time Lord would have believed it. Even the changes since this sector was last regulated 10 years ago have been revolutionary and the need to update that regulation, but with flexibility, must be coming soon. Thanks in part to that revolution, we now have a creative industry sector in the UK economy providing over 130,000 jobs and over £13 billion pounds in revenue from television and radio combined, delivering both jobs and growth.

Not quite as well versed in the facts was Jane Bonham Carter, but we will forgive her for having a wee dig at Michael now Lord Grade who cancelled the show in 1989:

Finally, as “Doctor Who” has dominated the debate and I see my noble friend Lord Grade in his seat, I cannot resist wondering whether, had he known that Sylvester McCoy would regenerate into John Hurt, he would still have cancelled the programme. I beg to move.

Sylvester McCoy, of course, regenerated into Paul McGann in the 1996 tv movie. It was McGann who regenerated into John Hurt.

To give the final word to Olly, she had an interesting and welcome prediction for the Doctor’s second century:

Fifty years from now, when many more celebrate the 100th anniversary of “Doctor Who” with a new Time Lady, rather than Lord, in the TARDIS, I hope that we will be able to celebrate the continued unique balance of UK broadcasting.

While the pedant within me wants to say “No, no, they’re all time Lords regardless of gender,” it’s good to have the idea that the Doctor could be played by a woman talked about in Parliament.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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