Doctor Who is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this Saturday, and if you somehow managed to avoid the historic television show these past fifty years, like myself, I’ll clue you in, it’s kind of a big deal. Three seasons of a show can sometimes feel overwhelming to jump into, but a show with fifty years behind it, from a different country, with numerous incarnations, many media cross overs including and not limited to, novels, audio dramas, and comics, can seem like a near impenetrable wall of knowledge to suddenly throw yourself at. It’s one hell of a commitment, and where do you even start? This is exactly where I was a mere few weeks ago, but there were two things that finally got me to jump right in. Working at a comic shop where the Wholigans purchasing the Doctor Who merchandise piqued my curiosity, and two friends not shy about their love for the Doctor. I have finally been swept up into the sci-fi bonanza that is Doctor Who. So perhaps, you already know all there is to know about the Doctor, his adventures, companions, regenerations, foes, writers, and actors. Well, then let me remind you what it was like when that large, ever expanding universe was fresh.
The first problem I realized, was that I was hung up on the history. Like comics, sometimes the character is more important than the characters’ history. Once the character is understood, all that matters is the immediate story, the history, while important, is ancillary to the main event and can be built upon in a casual order. Also, similar to comics, is that the history allows for some flexibility, if you compare a reboot to a regeneration. Not the same, but similar enough. So where to begin? Classic Who or New Who? Which Regeneration? Why not both? Which is exactly what I did, being the decisive adult that I am. It seemed to make sense to start New Who from 2005, when the series got new life after lying dormant since ’89, with the exception of a movie in ’96. As far as Classic Who, I figured I’d go with what seemed the most popular Doctor from that era. The fourth Doctor played by Tom Baker.
My first exposure to Doctor Who occurred while in high school. There was a comic shop not far from my school that I would frequent, and in the cheap back issues they had about 30 copies of the same Doctor Who comic. A magazine size comic, more pages than a standard comic, a card stock cover, but not quite thick enough to be a graphic novel…a graphic novella? Completely unfamiliar with Doctor Who I took a chance on it for a dollar. I remember an intelligent brightly dressed, curly haired man paired with a penguin, chasing after an elderly lunatic. I enjoyed the comic and thought the lunatic was hilarious. Unfortunately, all reading material inexplicably became part of the dormitory I stayed at, and would disappear, which it did. Doctor Who became a vague memory up until about eight years ago. Now I know the man was the sixth Doctor (Colin Baker), the penguin was his alien ally, everything else remains a mystery. I’ll keep watching and it should all tie together.
Netflix offers the New and Classic episodes, which allows for easy catching up, but only for New Who. Their Classic collection is limited. I was a few adventures into the fourth Doctor when I realized their selection is smaller on the inside. So far Daily Motion has been a useful alternative. I was warned before I started, that the 2005 series is good, but gets better when the tenth Doctor (David Tennant) shows up. I agree. I am now in the third season of New and the fourteenth season of Classic (started from twelve). In watching them concurrently, I’ve picked up a bit. Here is what I’ve learned.
The Doctor is a foppish, intelligent, eccentric alien that travels in space and time in a spaceship called the TARDIS (time and relative dimension in space) that appears to be a blue police box, usually accompanied by a pretty, young companion. Eventually, the Doctor gets pretty, and young, as well as less foppish. He doesn’t die, he regenerates (possibly the best excuse for a reboot yet). The formats are different. Classic adventures typically run four, twenty five minute episodes, New adventures run about forty five minutes, sometimes continuing into a double episode. The early episodes suffer a bit from a cheap budget and limited special effects, but only a bit. They are still largely charming, inventive and creative considering the time. The fourth Doctor gets accused of guilt almost as often as Sarah Jane gets captured, which is always. UNIT as well as TORCHWOOD are not all that effective. The fourth Doctor feigns ignorance ironically mocking his adversaries, way before Colbert started doing the same thing. Some of the old foes are creepier than the new ones, because of the limited budget. A screwdriver is boring, a sonic screwdriver is awesome. The Daleks are always headache inducing. If you don’t feel anything when Rose leaves the tenth Doctor, you are dead. It’s fun to watch English portrayals of Americans. Arrogance is a common trait among the Doctors. It’s mostly earned. The fourth Doctor tends to push people to question, while the ninth and tenth, not as much. My conception of Gallifrey and the Time Lords was much different than when I finally saw them. They are stuffy jerks, in bizarre outfits (which is saying something for this series) and the Doctor is more of a renegade Time Lord. Sometimes, the Doctor is a jerk too. It can be hammy, cheesy and corny, and still very enjoyable. K-9 is so goofy, I find it hard to consider him annoying, though I’ve heard many do. People die. I’m far more used to America facing intergalactic threats than England. There are Doctor Who spinoffs. I’ll be watching this show forever.
As the number of episodes for each current Doctor I’m viewing dwindle, I know I’ll miss them as I look forward to the promise of what the next Doctors might offer. That, is on the horizon for us all, no matter where you began as we await the newest regeneration next season. I’m a newbie and still learning. That too, is what the show is about. The fantastic sci-fi adventures are fun, but more than that, they inspire learning. Sure, it’s comic book science, but that’s not derogatory. Like other great works of science fiction, they inspire learning with an open mind. Introducing broad concepts and a zeal and interest into science and history. To utilize the facts surrounding us to think, dream and question the stars and make mistakes, as even a genius Doctor from another world can. This is why it can be shared by friends and families spanning generations. Craig Ferguson sang it best, when he said it’s about the “triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism”. It provides a relatable sense of wonder and enthusiasm greater than the modest category of a children’s fiction show.
Max Winters is a guest contributor to GeekCLE. Working at Cleveland Comics by day and aspiring comic creator by night, Max can arguably be considered an expert of comics and cartoons. He is constantly surrounded by all things pop culture and geek and wouldn’t have it any other way.