I can’t claim to be a Dr Who fanatic, although there are many in my family across multiple generations. If pushed I would probably say “Tom Baker, followed by Christopher Eccleston”.
My interest though was raised a couple of years ago when the Doctor started visiting Park Hill in Sheffield, as I do love a good regeneration and that is a particularly fine example. I have used Dr Who as an analogy before for the renewal of places, of bringing somewhere back to life – changing its identity many times to remain relevant but staying true to where it comes from– different reincarnations but the same (two) hearts beating inside.
Equally, Park Hill has lived many carnations, some not so successful, and has finally reinvented itself to work for a new generation whilst holding on to the drivers that were behind its original creation. Placemaking founded on bringing a vibrant community together and offering a better, healthier way of life.
This latest Dr Who regeneration, though, I thought was genius – bringing back David Tennant – creating surprise, delight and the promise of great things to come.
That, to me, is a really good regeneration - and one that perhaps offers some helpful pointers as we come together in Birmingham to debate what regeneration and levelling up really means. So, here’s a few thoughts:
- Be ready to meet your foes – whether it’s going into battle with Cybermen, vanquishing the evil genius of the Daleks or preparing for the ravishes of recession and austerity, you know from the start you will have to meet your enemy head on and overcome them.
Every now and again a new fiendish terror may appear – whether the ‘Weeping Angels’ or Liz Truss – that will make you want to hide behind the sofa until they are gone. However, you must just keep battling on, being more creative and entrepreneurial each time to try and overcome them and get back on track. Once upon a time the Dr could escape the daleks by running upstairs – then they learnt to levitate to chase you down but there’s always a solution if you work together to cast aside the paradigms of the past and use what resources you do have to hand to get past them.
- Keep people with you – regeneration has so many threads and plot lines to weave together, it can be fiendishly complex. Funding, planning, land assembly, politics, procurement – it is easy to make it so complicated, particularly in the middle bit, that you just lose people. It may have started off great, but it becomes too hard. It’s never going to happen. It doesn’t make sense anymore.
Whilst drawing in references to characters that popped up three series ago will appeal to the minority die-hard fans with an encyclopaedic knowledge, ensuring that someone that just wants to dip in and out now and again and come away with a sense of what is going on, like me, is equally important. If you live in an area undergoing change, you might not want to attend multiple workshops, read through a planning application and know every detail, but just need to understand what is going to happen and when. You might not care that the delays are caused by planning or funding. You bought into a vision on the promise of something good that would follow – and when it doesn’t come, it’s human nature to disengage, switch off or go elsewhere.
Throw in new things to keep interest, and the faith, keep your messaging clear, simple and targeted for your audience. Work hard to maintain trust with them because once you lose both of those, they are really hard, if not impossible, to rebuild.
- No one gets left behind – how many times does the Doctor rush to the Tardis thinking they’ve saved the world and then realise someone is still trapped and they must go back? How many times are a community hopelessly outnumbered and have their backs against the wall but are helped to safety and the chance of a better tomorrow?
Levelling up should, by definition, mean no one, no community, gets left behind; that the battles fought are for everyone’s future not just a select few. It’s not ok to say some people prospered whilst counting those that fell further – it isn’t counting averages. It’s valuing every life there.
- Interims can add real value – David Tennant is only back, I believe, for a few episodes but even as an interim Doctor he is adding real value by drawing people that maybe lost interest back in; creating a buzz and making them excited for what is to come and curious as to what will happen next.
In placemaking terms, interim uses are always valuable tools. They help people understand what is to follow, can start to define a place and make people want to be there again when they perhaps fell out of love with it. They create fresh opportunities for local people, new plot lines, new relationships and help bring, or keep, people together. In short, they create life – and help the future make sense at a time when re-housing and demolition can risk degeneration kicking in before the actual regeneration happens.
- Don’t be afraid to look back to where you have come from – this is perhaps the most important lesson in regeneration for me. Never be afraid to reach back into an area’s past to enable it to look to the future.
Just as writers bought back the much-loved 10th Doctor to pave the way for what will be a very different 16th, understand what people loved and valued most from a place in its past, what made it unique, what kept its communities together, and use it to transition to what will happen next. Take things that are loved and familiar to guide people towards a tomorrow that may be very different to what has been before and take the time to help them understand what that tomorrow may mean.
Layer on its generations of history, heritage and plot lines to reassure its current communities that this tomorrow will be for them, but make sure what comes next is equally relevant for the next generations and for the new challenges they will face. That way your vision for tomorrow can be really radical and bold, transformative and can challenge our thinking, but it will be rooted and will always feel like it belongs, just like the Doctor.