Today is the day that, forty-five years ago, Doctor Who first appeared on television screens. First appearing at 5:15pm GMT (a few minutes late due to news broadcasts of the death of JFK), Doctor Who transformed the youth of Great Britain.
It's more than just a television show, to many, it's a cultural phenomenon. Before this day, there were no sonic screwdrivers, no Daleks, no Sontarans, no glowing green maggots, and blue police boxes were just blue police telephone boxes.
To hear about how Doctor Who transformed the world, I highly recommend the BBC production of More Than Thirty Years In The TARDIS, which is probably one of the most fun television documentaries out there. I have a copy on VHS and I will most certainly be watching it today.
Since this is such a momentous day, I figured I'd share a little bit of what Doctor Who means to me. Why does it matter what a 24-year-old American thinks about a 45-year-old British Sci-Fi show? This is the internet; I leave it up to you to decide.
When I was about 9, I was verymuch into The X-Files, as were a lot of my classmates at school. If the internet was prevalent around 1995 for youngsters, I imagine that I would've been one of those young-kids-in-a-grownups'-fandom you run into every now and again. My mother, who loved the show as well, ended up talking online with a man in the UK named Mike, who would send us copies of the first and second season of The X-Files (as we came in late during the third season) in return for my mother sending him taped copies of Nowhere Man. It was a fun exchange, and occasionally my mother would send him a random copy of Strange Luck or something else that caught her attention. They exchanged a lot and we got a lot of interesting British shows in return, like Blake's 7, The Prisoner, and Red Dwarf.
Eventually, Mike sent my mom an email letting her know that one of his favorite television shows was going to be airing a movie on the Fox network. Something called Doctor Who and he was impossibly excited. I vaguely remember watching it in my youth and being really confused but thinking that the Master with his bright green eyes was really cool. My mother, always one to try to distract me from my ongoing obsessions by giving me new ones, found out that our local public television station aired the classic series (then just called "The Series") on Saturday nights at midnight, during MPT's "Brit Night". Pretty late for a kid my age, but I was always a good student and hell, I could sleep in on Sundays.
We made some nachos and settled in for a girls' night. The first episode? Arc of Infinity. We didn't understand all of the context, but my mom loved the tempo of the show and I thought Nyssa was totally awesome. Every Saturday we'd sit down and continue to watch, usually warming the couch around 10 and sitting through a few random comedies, then Monty Python's Flying Circus, Red Dwarf, and finally Doctor Who. I don't think I was fully hooked into the show until Caves of Androzani, when my pretty, nice Doctor turned into this strange, eccentric man. I remember I cried that night, and in doing so showed my first real emotional connection to this silly British Sci-Fi show.
My mom and I researched a little online about the show, I printed out a list of all of the existing episodes, and we settled in for the long haul. Every week I'd check off another episode, going through all of Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy in only a matter of months. We discovered our local Suncoast (RIP Marley Station Mall Suncoast) had a wide variety of episodes on tape, and we massed a collection to rival my Disney tapes of my childhood.
Now, being a kid is bad enough when you're in your early teens. I was also overweight, redheaded, OCD, and had a stupid crush on the school jock, so I was fairly hopeless to begin with. Then throw in the fact that my favorite TV show was a cancelled, campy, British sci-fi show. Needless to say, this obsession was a secret for a very, very long time. I grew up writing bad fanfiction and keeping it hidden on my computers , buying "zines" to share fanfic with other authors, and drawing TARDISes in the margins of my schoolwork. My father, who disapproved of the show, built my brother and I a wooden playhouse in the back yard which both of us painted blue and called the TARDIS (much to his dismay). Even in my older teen years, I would still sit in that faded blue house and imagine magical voyages through space and time (and, of course, playing Romana in a new series should some station decide to pick it up again!) I never stopped loving Doctor Who, and even when all the existing canon was watched, I would go back and re-watch the episodes I loved best to try to bring back the high of watching them the first time.
Then, in 2005, my mother called me to tell me that my younger brother's Doctor Who Magazine said that a new series would be starting back up in the UK, starring people I'd never heard of and written by the guy who created the UK version of Queer as Folk. My dreams of being Romana squashed, I still set aside my House MD obsession, squeed like the fangirl I was, and ran online to learn more. Now, almost five years later, I'm as hooked into the new series as I was into the classic one. The writing is still brilliant, the morals are still solid, and the monsters are still delightfully campy. The only difference is now I'm not afraid of my fandom. I have a photo of William Hartnell on my desk and a TARDIS charm on my phone and if someone asks what they mean, they get a good long story about an awesome sci-fi show that's superdooperpopular in Britain right now.
What is it about Doctor Who that drew me in? On days where I'm looking at my bank account and wondering if those $300 plane tickets to L.A. for Gallifrey One were really worth it, I often ask myself this question.
A lot of people who watch the show say that they could identify with the Doctor's outsiderness. In the classic series especially, the Doctor wasn't a "lonely god" or "the last of" anything.
In an interview segment just prior to the airing of "Rose" in 2005, there were some men who said that Doctor Who drew in a wide range of homosexuals because of the feelings of outsiderness. The Doctor didn't belong and so therefore they could belong with the Doctor. Traveling time and space and never having to fit in.
He was an exile from his own planet, different than everyone else. I think the current series' Doctor sees his world with rose-tinted glasses and fails to remember how much he, like much of his fanbase, didn't belong.
"Do you know what it's like to be wanderers in the fourth dimension? To be exiles? Susan and I are cut off from our own planet without friends or protection. But we shall get back. Yes, one day. One day…" -An Unearthly Child
"I'm a pariah, cast out of Time Lord society." -"The Two Doctors"
"You're going to go on the run from your own people, in a rickety old TARDIS?"
"Why not? After all, that's how it all started…" -"The Five Doctors"
I think that might've been part of it for me. I've never quite fit in, and the Doctor showed the that that's all right. Dressing eccentrically and running around like a loon may make the less important people scratch their heads, but they don't matter.
I think a big chunk of my love for the show might've also been the feeling of freedom. I was always a rather sheltered child, and I wanted to travel but with my handicapped younger brother, holidays weren't really all that common. I wanted to see the world, see things out there that were bigger than me and my town. The Doctor and his companions went everywhere and did anything and I loved that. I wanted to have a piece of that.
And, most importantly, every companion the Doctor had, from Susan to Ace (and every one in between!) was loved. He would've died for them and they for him. It didn't matter how much Tegan and the Doctor fought, he still offered up all of his regenerations for her and Nyssa in Terminus. Donna may have been an absolute pain in the ass in The Runaway Bride, but he still wouldn't run away from the fire and the water until her hand was in his. He loves his companions and no matter where they come from or where they go, he will always love them.
I think every fan, old or young, BNF or n00b, wanky or quiet, would love to be cared about the way that the Doctor cares about his companions.
Now that I'm 24, an accountant, more socially accepted and successful, what is it that still keeps me watching? In a sassy moment, I'd say something about David Tennant's tight suit, I'm sure. But in reality, I think that watching that friendship, that freedom, and that self-acceptance is something that keeps me coming back every year to my computer screen on Saturday nights and running to my FYE (ewwww FYE) to buy the new stuff as it comes out on DVD. And even as DT leaves next year, I'll keep watching because the core of the show never changed, not from the first time Ian circled the TARDIS to the day that Martha ran around it, both proclaiming "But it's just a police box!"
Nope, kids, it's not just a police box, and it's not just a Saturday night kid's show. It's bigger on the inside, literally and figuratively, and I'll never stop watching.