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Published on July 4th, 2014 | by Alex Skerratt

Does Doctor Who Really Need A Catchphrase?

Catchphrases: aurely the Marmite of all creative writing? Writer and comedian John Cleese, (who appeared in 1979′s City of Death and created the hugely successful British sitcom Fawlty Towers), admitted that he and his Monty Python writing partners had a very “low opinion” of catchphrases, and yet the line “He’s from Barcelona”, which he created,  has become almost legendary in the UK.

Is there something intrinsically effective about catchphrases? And does our favourite Time Lord from Gallifrey actually need one?

Now, it’s worth noting that neither William Hartnell or Patrick Troughton had catchphrases per se, unless you count “Hmm?” and “Oh my wooooooooooord!” but I’m not sure I’d have these on a poster.

Jon Pertwee was the first Doctor to properly have a catchphrase incorporated into his dialogue. The line “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow” first appeared in 1972′a The Sea Devils, if memory serves, and made several return appearances at the request of the Third Doctor himself. Apparently, he found the line’s somewhat rhythmic quality easy to memorise, and so the script editor Terrance Dicks endeavoured to work it into as many episodes as possible, albeit in a variety of forms.

Then there was Tom Baker, who could always be relied upon to ask people if they’d “like a jelly baby” as the universe crumbled around them. It wasn’t until Doctor Who burst back onto our screens in 2005 that catchphrases began to be included as standard, with Christopher Eccleston’s wide-eyed “Fantastics!”, David Tennant’s “Alons-ys!” and Matt Smith’s “Geronimos!”

And with a brand new Doctor a matter of weeks away, will head writer Steven Moffat break with Nu Who tradition, and give us a Doctor with somewhat less ‘stylised’ dialogue? (Maybe not, if this video is anything to go by…!)

The big question is, are catchphrases essential to Doctor Who’s term success, or are they unnecessary and annoying? I think you could make a checkmate argument for either side. Personally, I am against catchphrases, but let’s examine the positives for a moment.

First, they are so easy to imitate. Just as the Daleks’ cries of “exterminate!” echo throughout school playgrounds up and down the country, “alons-y!” and “geronimo!” are just as memorable for school kids, not to mention cosplayers and general geeks (such as myself.) For brand awareness, and general lolz, this stuff is perfect.

Second, catchphrases create a sense of brotherhood. Not so long ago, I found myself in the company of relative strangers, heading out for food. As we scrambled out of the car and walked towards our destination, I said, “Right then – alons-y!” The chap next to me smiled and said, “Alons-y, Alonso!” Oh – I could have cried. We then proceeded to discuss the virtues of 2007′s Voyage of the Damned, and the virtues of the Tenth Doctor in general. I now love this man.

That said, I still find catchphrases very, very annoying, especially when they’re ‘signposted.’ I always found Matt Smith’s “geronimo!” to be a little in-your-face. Crikey, he used it in his first ever scene! It was as if the producers had hung a flashing neon sign above the poor guy’s head, saying “This is our catchphrase for 2010, kids!” At least his subsequent “Bow ties are cool” catchphrase was a little more organic; it felt as if it had evolved from the characters and drama, as opposed to being shoehorned in by the bods at Aunty Beeb. I can just imagine them creating a catchphrase think-tank, in which people wear lanyards and eat cold quiche and pore over pie charts and graphs, piecing together corporately-inspired dialogue that will “appeal to the core demographics.”

But then, I do have a very vivid imagination! (And I’m feeling grumpy today.)

I guess we’ll have to wait until August 2014 to find out if Peter Capaldi has a catchphrase, and whether or not he’s Sonny Bono’s ex wife. Personally, I hope he doesn’t / isn’t! But hey – it won’t stop me watching.

Bye bye, everybody. Bye bye!

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About the Author

likes William Hartnell, whisky, being creative, debating canonicity, The Gunfighters, The Keys of Marinus and City of Death. He has a strong dislike of cold quiche, corporate PowerPoint presentations and lanyards, but loves terrible puns. He's currently employed by a mute teddy bear with black ears.




20 Responses to Does Doctor Who Really Need A Catchphrase?

  1. T d says:

    Jelly babies started with the 2nd doc.


    • Indeed they did, and nowhere in the article is this contradicted…

  2. lozzer says:

    I have it on good authority that the new Doctor’s catchphrase is Yabba Dabba Doo…

    • vidarraven says:

      Personally I can take them or leave them.On Jon Pertwee he only said ‘Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow’ in the Five Doctors. Prior to that he had said Reverse the polarity or neutron flow but never together.Rather like beam me up Scotty in Star Trek was never actually uttered during the series.

  3. DonnaM says:

    Personally I loathe catchphrases. I think they are lazy shorthand, ticks above characterisation. I reserve a particular hatred for the Eleventh Doctor’s, simply because we used to shout it when jumping off the playground wall aged six or seven.

    I suspect we’ll be landed with another one for the Twelfth Doctor; it seems to be the way the show has gone. If it’s not over-used, or overtly childish, I dare say I can live with it. After all, the Tenth Doctor taught my niece her first tiny bit of French!

  4. g2-85c257af70e1f4adc0a60571fa5da5ae says:

    Yowza!

  5. Michael says:

    Catchphrase? I would not really call most of these utterances catchphrases. Pertwee said “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow” only one time while he reigned as the Doctor. He said it a second time when he returned with the other Doctors in The Five Doctors.

  6. J W says:

    Davison had a kinda catch phrase with “Braveheart, Tegan” or some variation thereof.


  7. To re-use my answer for the Doctor Who Tumblr’s 30 Days of Doctor Who Challenge (Day Six): Surprisingly the Doctor’s catch phrases never bothered me while watching the series, it’s rather the overuse within the Fandom that’s bugging me.
    If you look at the episodes as a whole – and some really interesting analysis have covered this – the phrases aren’t used that often, but the fans’ use make it seem like they are used at least once an episode, which they aren’t.
    What I also find interesting – and mentioned before to one of those analysis – is the combination of Fantastic/Alons-y/Geronimo, just from the meaning it doesn’t really fit. The combination Run/Alons-y/Geronimo and Fantastic/Brilliant/Beautiful sound better, though “Run” is pretty much an all-Doctors-thing.

  8. Lucas W says:

    I personally dislike the overuse of catchphrases. Ten’s “allons-y” was funny the few times he said it, but eleven became a string of catchphrases which became boring quickly. I personally hope that the no nonsense approach to Capaldi’s costume bleeds through into the writing. The show isn’t going to suffer because Capaldi doesn’t shout “quel dommage!” from time to time.

    • Lucas W says:

      I said personally twice there, sorry about my repetition. Hate it when I do that.

      • Rick says:

        I personally feel that could become your catchphrase.

  9. Taz says:

    wow!!!! This fandom, has really turned into some of the biggest complainers,,,it’s almost like how I envision children talking about their favorite Muppet, I don’t like this, I don’t like that….Just give Me the Doctor, The fans are spoiled, whiny and prone to negativity, we have been giving this great gift and this is how you choose to discuss it. Sir Moffat do as you please, if these “Fans” can do better, there are all kind of sites to place their fan fiction, so to steal poorly from the 11th,,,”If you want Moffat’s job, go and take it. My answer to the question is simple…A catchphrase is fine, if it is organic, it allows fans of certain Doctors to easily identify themselves and it rocked, when used as it was in the 50th Anniversary

  10. Rick says:

    Surely the Doctor’s new catchphrase will be F*ckity-bye.

  11. chris says:

    “Die Dalek scum!” has a kind of nice ring to it.

  12. rickjlundeen says:

    Yeah, the fans make more of it than the Doctor ever does. Smith only said Geronimo like 3 times, Yowza twice. Ten only started saying Allon-sy during series 4 and not much afterward. Eccleston did seem to say ‘fantastic” quite a bit in his shirt time but whatever. I don’t any of them ever got over used except by the fans.

    Each Doctor had their mannerisms they’d repeat like Tom Baker saying “well” during so many strings of dialogue or the occasional “oh!” by Troughton in the heat of the moment. I don’t even think Davison said “Braveheart more than a few times but it stuck in the fans consciousness.

  13. FrancoPabloDiablo says:

    The 10th Doctor said ‘Sorry, I’m so sorry’ a hell of a lot too which got quite tiresome.

  14. Ranger says:

    I seem to remember the 2nd Doc saying “When I say run, Jamie, run!” a few times.

    I don’t mind a catchphrase as long as it is not repeated to often, then it just becomes boring. Like the bloody return of the Cybermen.

  15. Al says:

    The best catch phrases are those that aren’t created as catch phrases. Clearly, Moffat intended
    “geronimo” to be the Eleventh Doctors,” but it ultimately didn’t become one. It was used a few times, but the phrase most people associate with him is “Bow ties are cool” (or some variation of “…are cool”). Davies tried to make “allonsy” the Tenth Doctor’s phrase, but while he certainly used it repeatedly, I consider “I’m so sorry” and “What, what, what?” to be the true catchphrases. The phrase “be my pal”, heard in the first major teaser trailer a couple weeks ago sounds so out of place for the Doctor that I’m willing to be that’s going to be the phrase given the shot at being the Twelfth Doctor’s “allonsy”. But in a couple years we might be referring to a phrase that hasn’t even been written yet (I don’t think “allonsy” was used until fairly well along for the Tenth Doctor).

  16. Mikey C says:

    As has been said above, Geronimo may have been written as 11′s catchphrase, but in reality the “***** are cool” variations are what he will be remembered for, along with the fez which hardly appeared, but is an integral part of his Doctor’s character, the Doctor who thinks he’s ‘cool’ but isn’t!
    “I wear a fez now. Fezzes are cool”

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