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.

Comments

ianunderhill wrote:
Nathaniel wrote:

- The theme music had a Theremin.

Does it? To my recollection, Delia Derbyshire's original recording of Ron Grainer's theme was made on extremely primitive monophonic synth equipment at BBC's Radiophonic Workshop and painstakingly assembled via tape loops (which is why the tempo on everything's a little out of sync on the original - no sequencers!).

Subsequent versions were put together similarly with whatever slightly better gear could be had, up through the end of the original run. There's not any version I remember that sounds especially theremin-y - that is, nothing with the very sine-wavey or square-wavey tones and glissando effects typical of most theremins in the lead melody.

If there is, and I've missed it, let me know which version to check out. I'm an half-assed enthusiast who routinely threatens to get one (a real one, mind you not that optical garbage).

I may very well no be wrong. I admit my only evidence was a small comment in

http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/The...

which may be wrong. In fact, the music had all the cool qualities of the theremin, and few of the drawbacks.

Nine year old me was feverish on a Saturday night and incapable of sleep. My father sat me down in front of the TV and turned on PBS because they would run old Flash Gordon serials which he thought would cheer me up and take my mind off being uncomfortable. After Flash sent Ming the Merciless packing, this weird music started up and there was a kalideoscope show, and then there was this wierdly dressed man trying to fix a robot dog while a woman kept walking in and out of the room looking like a different person each time.

I kept watching. Danger Mouse had instilled a love of British accents in me and anything is better with robots. After about 20 minutes a wall exploded and a Dalek came careening onto the screen and that was it. I have been hooked ever since. Destiny of the Daleks isn't the best Doctor Who story, but it is still special to me.

I watched religously. There are moldering boxes of rotting VHS tape on which I had recorded all but 5 of the available stories from the Lionheart days. Today, in additon to the new seasons I have 75 stories of the classic series on DVD (4 away from the full Tom Baker run.) I've enjoyed each Doctor for their own reasons and when people ask me who's my favorite Who, I have a hard time deciding because it's usually whoever I saw most recently.

There are some clunker stories, some embarrasing use of holiday tinsel as advanced machinery, some rather wooden performances by extras who didn't know when exactly they were supposed to be shot and die but, warts and all, I love this show.

Started watching it during Matt Smith's run, have gone back and caught up on everything he's done Dr. Who-wise, and have seen enough of the Tenant episodes to know that I'm happy knowing that I prefer the 11th.

trueheart78 wrote:

Started watching it during Matt Smith's run, have gone back and caught up on everything he's done Dr. Who-wise, and have seen enough of the Tenant episodes to know that I'm happy knowing that I prefer the 11th.

Hurrah, another one of us!

No tagging for front page articles?

This one needs the TV tag.

I don't understand Doctor Who, every now and then I catch an episode on TV, but I usually don't even make the end before getting distracted, I just don't understand what's going on and I find it too cheesy to make myself watch multiple episodes.

I imagine someone sitting down to a Season 3 episode of Lost would feel the same.

The cheesiness is a large part of the charm, but it's not for everyone, I guess.
I think it differs significantly from Lost in that it's much more episodic/less serial. Sure there are references to earlier things and plot lines that stretch out over multiple episodes, but by the end of an episode things are often pretty much where they were when that episode began.