The word from Geek Street was that watching Doctor Who is like watching a tribute band: it's not quite the same thing, it's never as good as it used to be, but it tries valiantly, always clinging to the old ideas and trying to spark up the old magic. There was anticipation, of course, of the new series but it was tempered with a grim satisfaction that it wouldn't be as good as the old days.
I wasn't troubled as I didn't know what 'the good old days' were like. I'd never seen Doctor Who because surely it's just a tarted-up children's programme relished by middle-aged geeks. (At least, the fans I know are all middle-aged men. I assume children like it too but, mercifully, I don't know any children).
It opened with a dinosaur stamping through London, a scaly alien decked out in Victoriana and a baked potato dressed in a cowl.
Peter Capaldi appeared. 'Shoosh!' he said. Then ranted and waved his arms and fainted. He revived to run about in a grubby nightshirt, shouting 'why are there so many beds?' Then he skipped about on the rooftops like Wee Willie Winkie, shouting 'BIG SEXY WOMAN!' at the dinosaur which then ignited.
My confusion was total. And Capaldi was playing a senile old man. (My resident geek explained this was a form of regeneration disorientation. Apparently, the Doctor is an alien who comes to life in new worlds again and again. Well, you needed to be a fan to know that. All I saw was a demented man in a dirty goonie.)
And where was the plot? There was a dinosaur, then a gay alien, then the senile Doctor, then a man getting his eyeballs tweezered out. What the hell? Was the dinosaur an alien? Was the alien a lesbian? Was the Victorian a dinosaur? What was this mangled, steampunk mess?
Some kind of plot began to emerge after 40 minutes when the Doctor and his pal were cornered in a restaurant by clockwork baddies, but I was bored and tetchy by then.
It's almost impossible to wade into Doctor Who. You can't just settle on the sofa and switch it on carelessly. If you're a novice you need to prepare. You must study the history and the recurring characters. It's like trying to understand the Second World War: you need to go back and understand the First, and to understand the First you need to go back further still and try to understand Imperialism and the intricacies of the European balance of power…it's exhausting.
You can't just turn up, fresh-faced and keen, hoping to innocently enjoy some Saturday night TV. There is just too much history and backstory with Doctor Who and it feels like it's groaning under the weight of its own continuity as well as under the demands of its fans.
The Whovian diehards have iron-clad expectations and new people (like me) can find no way in.
But perhaps that's the way the fans like it: they want their own tight-knit community packed with in-jokes and references which we outsiders won't get. And that's fine. I respect that. I get the same sense of exclusivity when my resident geek confuses Emily and Charlotte. I can stroke my laminated Bronte Society membership card and think 'Hah! Bloody amateurs.'
This sense of belonging and privilege is part of the package of fanaticism and the fans don't want newcomers trampling all over their sacred ground. And it seems the BBC don't want us either. They're laden with enough fans and followers and Whovians. If you've won the lottery you don't notice an extra tenner going into your account.
So there's no room for me in the Doctor Who universe and I endured the full episode only for the violent erotic thrill of that man Capaldi and, also, because I was obliged to.
Good tune, though!