Now that I have a readership (all lovely two of you), I don’t know, I suppose I’m interested in maintaining this weblog again. It was only mean to serve as an electronic and, thereby, semi-permanent version of my falling-apart little black idea book. I only ever plan to use it as such, but I’m ravenous for Who-stuff again and trying to figure out why. I figure W will have an idea of what I’m thinking since we’ve the same shared Who-history. E, coming at this fresh, will have a better idea of why this silly little television show means so much to me if I do some out-loud thinking.
The other night, E and I let a History Channel faux-docu about Star Trek run in the background. I love Trek, I do, but I took slight affront to Armin Shimmerman (or maybe it was Takei– doesn’t matter) claiming that no other show had gone 40 years this present summer. Granted, Trek has a global fan-base and a far larger merchandise catalog, but the BBC put out a little show-that-could called Doctor Who 45 years ago and without the twenty-year gap in television production that Trek suffered.
Doctor Who has been treated by the BBC as a children’s show since its inception (there’s something special about a country when as intelligent a show as Who can be thought of as toddler fodder) and its writing, science and special effects are very much in line with that. Strangely enough, though, Who is the number one adult show on the BBC flagship channel with millions tuning in every week. Grown men such as myself and W continue to care about the characters years despite our introduction to them as children and we reminisce about our favorite episodes with the clarity of our own past birthdays. And merchandise? Doctor Who has long been first in the British heart and wallet.
If pressed, I’d have to say that my favorite thing about The Doctor (as he’s referred to throughout the show) is not his unwavering dedication to humanity, but his intelligence. He’s not one for weapons, using his charm and intellect to outmaneuver his opponents at every turn. One favorite memory of The Doctor has an artificially aged-Doctor knock a captor unconscious by showing him a written mathematical equation. Is it funny? You bet. But it wasn’t played for laughs. This character’s brain is so deadly that it’s often far more effective than any judo chop (not to say I don’t love the Kirk’s vast judo repertoire) could ever hope to be. The Doctor had an incredible impact on me as a young boy. Brain = Awesome.
He’s also the most vocal proponent of Humanity’s greatest trait: our insatiable need for knowledge and our complete disregard for danger in order to cross the next horizon. Despite his personality, whether he begrudgingly admires us as Colin Baker was wont to do or “whiz-bang!” as David Tennant can be, he admires what I admire most in people. I don’t doubt that he’s why I admire it, too. He’s a wicked critic of our species, too, as disappointed in us as he is impressed but I’m getting off track (not to mention making him out a little more Christ-like than I’m comfortable with). He’s a literal and metaphorical “doctor.” It is his role, his function in the universe. In the way that some people are Artists or Explorers or Leaders, he is a Doctor.
So, ’round about 1991, after a series of catastrophic budget cuts and an insufferable actor playing the role (for E: one of the genius gimmicks of the show is that The Doctor has the ability to regenerate his physical form after great injury, allowing a new actor to step into the role whenever needed. Because of the trauma of the process, The Doctor’s personality shifts as well, allowing for an evolving dynamic between he and his friends and enemies), Doctor Who was canceled. Three years ago, the series was renewed, continuing to build on the previously established canon. While excited that one of my favorite television programs had returned, I was very disappointed with the product. What was scary and exciting as a child, only now seemed predictable and safe. Christopher Eccleston was an excellent Doctor, but the writing was… blech. I assumed that I was looking back on my memories of The Doctor more fondly than they deserved (as I’ve come to discover with GI Joe, Transformers and the Spider Friends) but decided to stick with it anyway; enjoy what I could and ignore the rest. And so the first two seasons went. A new actor, the previously mentioned David Tennant, stepped into the role, but the show never seemed to improve or make that step back to the quality that I remembered the previous series having.
Until now, this third new season. After dumping companion Billie Piper (E: most of the time, The Doctor, in order to stave off the loneliness of being first a renegade and now the last of his kind, travels with a companion, sometimes human, sometimes not), Freema Agyeman came aboard, providing a pleasant change from Piper’s blonde, starry-eyed gooeyness. Note: despite numerous attempts otherwise, The Doctor is no good at romance. While pleasant, Freeman’s first episode (the first of this season) was uninspired. The second, a trip to meet Shakespeare and to offer an explanation for a missing play Loves Labours Won (no fiction here, this is a legit mystery) was equally weak. The third episode, however, titled “Gridlock”, was the first step to this series’ salvation.
Now, it’s understandably difficult to write dangerous situations for a character as smart as The Doctor, situations that seem truly dire, but not impossible. Seventy years of Superman comics is proof positive of that. The mystery of this episode was a capital-M mystery. Many episodes these past two years have been a repeating pattern of evil makes it self known, Doctor knows exactly what’s going on and how to fix it, and the tension is instead whether or not he can do so in time. Fortunately, that’s not what makes this guy so appealing. Of course he’ll fix it in time. The mystery is the matter: how dangerous, how interesting, how hard to solve. Since the third episode, I feel like I’m solving the problem WITH The Doctor rather than he acting as a Deus Ex Machina for his own stories and stealing away any real sense of discovery his audience might experience. And more than that… despite being 900+ years old in the body of a thirty-year-old, he’s starting to feel the wear of his existence and of this unspoken role as Doctor for the universe. He’s lonely and the companions now seem more important than ever. Excellent episodes this season have dug into the pain that he carries being so old and traveled and suddenly the last of his race. Mystery is the only thing he has left. Tennant has done with the Doctor that no one since Peter Davison has been able to do: make me thankful for him, while making me feel guilty for needing him.
(I know that by not describing some of the episodes that really hit home, I’m making it more difficult to explain what I like and what I don’t like, but I’ve W’s own sense of mystery to consider.)
I feel similarly in that too much of the world is known to me. Lately, I’m less interested in realist fiction because there seems little mystery in it anymore. The only thing left is how people will react to how the world is rather than how the world can be. It’s become a sad repetition of emotional patterns. I need the fantastic at this point in my life because I need that mystery, I need to be forced to remember what potential is in fiction, what strange shit that I can just throw in because it interests me. While I should certainly limit myself to true, genuine reactions for my characters to have in the light of these worlds, I should not limit myself to the types of worlds they can react to.
But I also just love Doctor Who again, which I was afraid I was no longer capable of doing.
PS. He’s on a great number of occasions, saved the world while in his jimjams.