STEPHEN LEWIS talks to York pastor Mark Troughton about his dad, the Doctor.

WHEN that oh-so-familiar Doctor Who theme tune comes swirling out of TV sets on Saturday, one man will be watching with more interest than most.

Mark Troughton, the pastor of York Evangelical Church, is keen to see just how the ninth Doctor - being played by Christopher Eccleston - measures up to arguably the greatest Doctor of them all: Mark's dad, Patrick.

Mark was six when his dad landed the role, taking over from William Hartnell. And unwittingly, he was responsible for what became one of the great icons of early children's TV.

Troughton senior was looking for a gimmick to make the part his own. "And I was learning to play the recorder," Mark says. "So I taught him to play."

Everybody has their own favourite Doctor Who. But for many the impish, recorder-playing Doctor of the Patrick Troughton years is what the long-running TV series was all about.

A big budget may have been lavished on the new Dr Who yet Eccleston, who begins his incarnation on Saturday, still has a hard act to follow.

In Patrick Troughton's day, the sets may have been a bit wobbly and some of the costumes oddly floppy but none of that mattered, Mark says.

"What carried the whole programme was the fact that the scripts were very strong, and the acting was strong," he says. "It was really frightening. And what made it even more exciting was that you were kept in suspense for seven days, waiting to find out what happened. That was awful."

He admits to having enjoyed the programme just as much as any boy of his generation. But it made for some pretty odd Saturday nights.

"We used to sit down waiting for dad to come on the telly," he says. "And then at about 10.30pm dad would walk in after a hard day's work being beaten up by cybermen or Daleks."

And, as a six-year-old boy, did he ever worry that his dad was really being hurt? He grins. "You do. But half of you knows that it is just a job and he's acting."

There were plenty of compensations. Mark visited his dad during rehearsals and on location.

"It was all incredibly low budget," he recalls. "More often than not, rehearsals were in some church hall. There was tape on the ground to show where the edges of the set were, and the 'monsters' were all wandering around in casual clothes going through their lines. It was completely bizarre."

The locations could be a deserted quarry or a piece of waste ground somewhere - although for one yeti episode, Mark recalls, his dad went to Snowdonia to film. Now that's exotic.

From the Doctor Who memorabilia spread out on his desk - press-cuttings, publicity photos, DVDs and a poster of his Dad in typical recorder-playing mode - it is clear Mark remains hugely proud of his father even now.

But it wasn't like that when he was at school, Mark says. He went to a direct grant school in London where half the children seemed to be from acting families, so being the son of Doctor Who didn't cut all that much ice. Quite a few of his classmates went on to become actors themselves.

"For example, I went through school with a certain lad called Hugh Grant."

So what kind of person was his dad - and did he enjoy playing the Doctor? He was generous hearted, with a great sense of humour, Mark says. He loved playing the Doctor and had great fun doing it. "He was a great corpser, and was giggling all the time. He thought if you're going to act the fool - and he did in one sense, he had that sort of clownish character - then you had got to play it for laughs."

But at the same time, Mark says, he took his work seriously. Before doing Doctor Who, he was a stage-trained actor who had worked with the RSC and played opposite Olivier in Hamlet. When first offered the role of the Doctor, he turned it down because he didn't think it was serious enough. His wife - Mark's mum Ethel, who preferred to be known as 'Bunny' - persuaded him to change his mind.

"She said 'this will pay for the kids school fees,'" says Mark. "End of story."

Patrick was also a real-life hero. During the war, he commanded a Royal Navy motor launch in the North Sea. One day, in heavy seas, he was involved in the rescue of an American airman who had been shot down. "There was a storm, and they couldn't find him. The temptation was just to call off the search - but dad, who was captain, said 'no, we're going to continue searching for this guy'. And they found him."

He was modest, too, says Mark. He himself didn't find out about his dad's heroism until years later, when he read the story in a newspaper article. "I said 'Dad, you never told me!' He said he was just doing his job."

Mark has no doubts about who was the best Doctor Who - his dad, of course. He didn't see many of the Hartnell episodes and he found Jon Pertwee, who was a great friend of his father, a "bit too flamboyant". By the time Tom Baker took over, meanwhile, he was beginning to grow out of the series.

The most frightening storyline he can remember was Mind Games, in which people's fears became real. As for the monsters, the Daleks were among the scariest, he says, along with the Cybermen. But the most frightening would have to be the autons, the shop dummies who came to life.

"They were frightening because they were so believable," he adds. Join the club - how many middle-aged people are there out there, I wonder, who still find it a bit scary looking at the tailor's dummies in a clothes shop window?

The autons are rumoured to be the stars of the first episode of the new series, which starts on Saturday.

Mark will certainly be watching intently.

"You bet. And I'm sure my kids will too."

His six children have got to 'know' their grandfather, who they never met, by watching videos of his old programmes.

"It will be interesting to see it!"

Doctor Who is on BBC1 on Saturday at 7pm.

Updated: 08:55 Thursday, March 24, 2005