The Doctor and I
The first time I watched Doctor Who was … well, I don’t remember the first time I watched Doctor Who. What I can say with some confidence is that it was probably a happenstance, some otherwise irrelevant day back around 1980 or so where somehow the TV got left on PBS, which as far as I knew at the time was the exclusive domain of shows like 321 Contact, The Electric Company and Sesame Street. And, the exposure was almost certainly accidental, but there it would have been in all its grainy, campy bombast.
I’m pretty sure the first time the TARDIS made its iconic TARDISy sound -- which I'm willing to bet you are most likely now hearing in your head -- or the Doctor comically offered someone a Jelly Baby, I was hooked for life. And, while I don’t recall the first time I watched the show, I do remember countless viewings since, and now here some thirty years later it’s still my old friend on the television.
Even now, watching the trials, travels and travails of the Doctor and his misfit band of colleagues, compatriots and companions makes me feel strangely and unexpectedly like a child. Granted, it’s apparently a child that has an unnatural penchant for alliteration, but a child all the same. The same way that the right concoction of aromas can send you spiraling across a rift in time to your grandmother's kitchen, so too do the notes of the theme song and the stories of the Lord of Time effect the same within me.
And I guess I know, at least in part, what that means. Doctor Who is my all time favorite television show.
News of Mary Tamm’s recent death, along with the passing of Elizabeth Sladen earlier in the year, both of whom played companions to the Doctor in the early 80s, has been sadder for me than the death of other celebrities who were in the twilight of their careers. Usually I hear news of some relatively famous actor’s death, think, ‘oh he or she was good in that one movie,’ and then don’t remember they died again until the In Memorium segment of the Oscars. But, somehow Ms. Sladon’s death keeps coming up to me in one context or another, and each time there is a wave of melancholy and loss.
Sarah Jane Smith, Harry, Leela, Romana -- versions one and two -- K-9, hell even Nyssa and Adric, are more familiar and relatable to me than most of my second cousins. Tom Baker, the fourth to play the Doctor, was my Doctor for a very long time, I suppose because he himself was the Doctor for so long. And, he came along at a hard part of my childhood, at a time where I didn’t feel like I had a lot of friends and what I was looking for was safe harbor in a universe that welcomed me. A lot of people have or had imaginary friends, and in a way the Doctor was mine.
I remember attending some kind of Doctor Who event held at a local library when I was around ten, a small gathering mini-convention with people wearing ridiculous scarfs, booths selling books and figurines, and even a group episode viewing. Genesis of the Daleks, I think. There were no celebrities there, no representatives of the show, no official backing that I can recall all these years later, but this was one of my first experiences of feeling part of a shared community and how powerful a feeling that can be. It was validation that the show could be important to me, because it was important to a lot of people.
Now, the show comfortably retains and even grows its status as a phenomenon, and I love it as much as I ever have. I love its blatant flaws, its idealistic optimism, its plot holes, its fearlessness and all the quirks that define the ultimate quirky show. The rules that apply to all other forms of television for me, the constraints and demands that chart a course to Quality Television (in capital letters), are irrelevant and thrown out the window for the stories of the Doctor. I am able to enjoy things with Doctor Who that I can’t fathom enjoying in other shows. I don’t know if that’s because it has a special charm that shields it from the things that drag other shows down, or whether I just have a soft spot that blinds me. And, honestly, I don’t care either way. I’m just glad the story exists.
There is no grand point to be made here. It would be true enough to say this article could be reduced down to “Hey, I really like Doctor Who.” That is, after all, a true statement. But, there’s a reason this show has been on the air now for almost a half century. It is a show that, for a variety of reasons, ends up meaning something bigger to people. To some it speaks to us at a core level, provides some quality that we need. It’s a kind of television that doesn’t come around often, like Star Trek or Firefly, a tale that speaks to people in a very specific, oddly personal way.
I am comfortable taking a moment to celebrate that, because there are so many distractions, so many transitory media experiences that don’t come close, it’s worth pointing out those that do. So, as the latest trailer for the latest season makes its way around the internet, and my mind spins its annual web of anticipation, I guess I just wanted to take a moment and say: Hey, I really like Doctor Who.