Geronimo - Eleventh Doctor Who in The End of Time

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!


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.

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