Monday, January 30, 2017

Dear Mr. Hurt:

We've never met. (Well, as things stand, we never will, unless Heaven's quite small and I somehow make it there after all my bad attitude.) But I had it in my head, in my silly way, that we would.

I mean, we'd absolutely talked about it at (Re)Generation Who. The idea of bringing you in. Our hearts were collectively wrung with the news of your cancer, and beat easy again when you went into remission. Not because of fear of losing a business partner -- because we wanted you there. Because while there's business that goes into it, inviting a guest to (Re)Gen is more like making a party invitation list. And we all love you. And we wanted you there.

The first time I saw you on television, I didn't quite understand who you were. Spaceballs was on, and my uncle had to explain your gag cuz I'd never seen Alien. I'd seen my dad's Mother Alien maquette he left in my nursery, but that's not the same thing. It's a bit weird to say that's the first thing I remember you for, while everyone else around me is dishing out The Elephant Man and I, Claudius and the actual Alien movie proper... but that's my family, really. We always did do things in a bit of an odd order.

Eventually I did learn who you were, and I appreciated all your work. Your unexpected appearances in Harry Potter. Your unmistakable voice in Merlin. And then, the night every Whovian sat clinging to each other watching 'The Name of the Doctor' and trying to figure out what would happen next, my family fell silent when we heard your voice. And when we saw the words come up on screen, there was a strange gravitas, a sort of echo in my mind. JOHN HURT. AS THE DOCTOR.

There would be no Oscar for it. It wouldn't be at the top of your oeuvre as film students talked about you. But there was something to the realization that you would be taking this role. We waited months, guessing. Pondering. Remembering your other roles, imagining the grim, grizzled warrior you would be when you returned to our screens in November.

And then... you twinkled.

Do you know? I don't know how much you ever knew about Doctor Who as a show. I'm sure you did your homework, and I'm sure being English you couldn't have avoided it. But that's what they said when they first made the character fifty-odd years ago. Strange, unearthly, occasionally disagreeable. But with a twinkle. A kindness. A sort of knowing... something. You grouched and mocked and laughed and broke my heart and oh my goodness, you were lovely. And you were always, always the Doctor. It was the theme of the episode, but the dual meaning never escaped me. You may not have had the press releases and run-ins with kids at the park during filming and the odd convention stories and the companion entrances and exits, but in that moment, you were the Doctor. Fully.

We had plans. I'll admit it. I had this damned silly plan, I don't know how we would have done it, of having you and Derek Jacobi at (Re)Gen the same year. And we'd have you interview each other. That was my grand, goofy plan I kept pushing on the con chair, to please let us do that. She seemed to like the idea, at least.

But one of the reasons I love working for these conventions is because it became a chance for me to give back to the creators I admire -- to help make a fantastic weekend both for fans and for guests. It's my way to say thank-you in a world so clogged with opinion that it's almost impossible for words to get through.

When I say my heart aches because we'll never get you to (Re)Gen, it's not because I'm sad about losing a guest. I'm sad because now I'll never have that chance to thank you, to show you how much I and my friends and fellow staffers love everything you did -- every role. I'm sad because I foolishly thought that our intention to invite you once our schedules synced up was enough to guarantee that we could help bring you at least a fraction of the joy you've brought us... forgetting rather conveniently that mortality exists. That it can shove a foot in at any time.

So instead of the gift bag at the airport, the guest dinner Sunday night, the quiet word, the interview that will never happen, I can only do what I always do: throw my words into the ether and hope the right person sees them.

Thank you, Mr. Hurt. For your roles. For your bravery in the face of illness. For the inspiration you brought to so many of my friends. We all may remember you with different names and different faces, but I assure you, you'll never be forgotten.