Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tripping the time fantastic: How I learned to love Doctor Who.

(Partial Credit goes to @ItsMikeandIke, for lively conversation, also @ButMadNNW. Most importantly, my two favorite Whovians: @MelindaKitty and @Ree923. Go to twitter: Learn it, live it, love it.)
Disclaimer: I am a rabid New Who fangirl. This is important to know. I will quote, reference and possibly drool over New Who episodes at the drop of a hat. Really. No, REALLY REALLY.
Why? Read on, my friends...

My first recollection of Doctor Who: c. 1970's airing episodes with the fourth Doctor, (Tom Baker.) I've convinced myself that it was on PBS, but Wikipedia disputes the timeline, (Strangely, this seems appropriate.)
This is how I learned to hate Doctor Who: Being made to stay awake long past my bedtime and forced to watch Monty Python and Doctor Who. These shows are inextricably linked together in my memory. I was about 4 years old. My father, (Aussie ex-pat,) made me watch these shows. While I liked Monty Python, because it was quite silly, Doctor Who earned my derision for decades. It was too cheaply produced, too strange and to me, the Daleks were frightening merely for the sound of their voices. Fingernails on chalkboard to my ears. It is however, quite possible that my parents' subsequent divorce and the attendant miserable fatherless childhood were also negatively associated with the Doctor.

Poor Doctor.

Flash-forward to 1996.
Paul McGann. That hair was ridiculous. I'm pretty sure I only saw part of the movie because of... Baseball? Yeah, I'm pretty sure it was baseball. Fox screwed the pooch on that one.

Onward to 2005...ish.
I'm pretty sure I had the flu, or pneumonia, or some other vicious, nasty bug at the time. Channel surfing with a 103 degree fever when you're on the verge of a NyQuil coma can lead to strange and unusual experiences.
This was one of them.
The first episode of New Doctor Who, that I ever encountered was... The Doctor Dances.
I was immediately sucked in by Christopher Eccleston. (Brief digression: I've watched everything I could find him in since I saw Shallow Grave. Remarkable stillness and that voice... Shurrup.)

So, I caught the tail end of a BBC America Mini Marathon in a state of near-delirium and those two episodes changed my life.

Eventually, I caught a few more episodes on Sci-Fi (now SyFy because someone in marketing is an idiot, but really good at selling ideas,) and grew to love David Tennant's Doctor as well. Fact: I did not see the first 3 series in contiguous form until BBCA started re-airing.

Viewed as a whole, the newest incarnation of what was once merely a cheesy and ridiculous pop culture artifact, is far better than most American attempts at science fiction on television. We tend to focus on science fiction as background noise to: action, horror, romance, drama. Doctor Who is far more a series with science fiction as metaphor. Although conceived as a way to impart a bit of science and history to children, back in the 60's, this iteration is far more about holding a mirror up to society. A reflection of human faults, heroism and the choices we make. The science and history are still there, too.

I'm now a few sloppy paragraphs into what should be an epic dissection/love letter to Doctor Who, and I'm not really covering either point. (Bad writer, bad. *smacks with rolled-up newspaper* *whimper, cringe*)

Why, precisely, did I learn to love the Doctor?

I'm getting there.

My point, is that there are many ways of looking at the Doctor. Some people like the romantic tension with his companions, some like the monsters, some like the continuity of a childhood favorite.

Me, I love it all. I love that we can go from 51st century earth, to Volcano Day on Pompeii. I love that the Doctor can have dinner with a Slitheen in Cardiff, or snog Madame Du Pompadour. I love that the lines of race and gender and sexuality begin to disappear. (Although I draw the line at Gods Love and Monsters with the implied fellatio by a head in a block of paving. That's just icky.)
I love the stoicism/bemusement of the 9th Doctor, the childlike glee/ferocity/sadness of the 10th, and while I'm still undecided about the 11th Doctor, I'm sure I'll watch anyway.

There's heart in this show, there's a moral center and it's quite funny.

It's also terrifying.
Dalek, Blink, Silence in the Library, and of course, the creepy image of a small boy with a gas mask-head asking, "Are you my mummy?" All of which have imprinted indelibly on my memory.

Then again, there are also utterly brilliant moments of absurdity: " You're my favourite, you are, you are the best! Do you know why? 'Cause you're so THICKYou're Mister Thick Thick Thickity Thick Face from Thicktown, Thickania.
And so's your dad."

You kinda can't beat that. 
Especially in context. 
Go watch. 

I'm also pretty sure I've never seen that much double-entendre packed into the word, "Dance," as in, "The Doctor Dances," episode. The varying pronunciations and inflections are a choreography unto themselves. 

I've rarely found television that carries its own mythos, let alone survives more than 40 years of near-continuous production, the way that Doctor Who does. It's always been something of a magnet for people who are idealists and dreamers, artists and activists, humanitarians and humanists. I suspect it will continue to draw that sort of viewer for years to come. There are endless controversies over canon and accuracy, the interpretation of each regeneration...

The Doctor may not have a name, but he is a part of our collective consciousness and culture. 
Yes,  "The angels have the phone box." Yes we're, "All sonic-ed up."  Yes, "Bananas are good."
As philosophies go, we could all do worse than asking, " What would the Doctor Do?"
This is merely a window into how, when and why I learned to love the Doctor. 
Go get your own. 


  1. "Love and Monsters," dear. "Love," not "Gods". :-)

  2. And that episode has the most badly written, unclear synopsis I've ever seen on IMDb. And that is saying something.

  3. She's right. I ALWAYS screw up the title of that episode. It does have some good points, but the denouement is grotesque.