Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on humanity for taking so long to tell me how preposterously awesome Doctor Who is.
A few years back, bored on my day off, I decided to watch an episode of “some British show” called Doctor Who on Netflix. I was already aware of the fantastic realm of programs produced by the BBC – full-length Pride and Prejudice, MI-5, Ab-Fab and loads of discombobulated comedies, dramas and period pieces. Doctor Who, on the other hand, was just some show whose only American equivalent, to my knowledge, was Sharktopus on Sy-Fy or replays of The Scorpion King on TNT. The latter was clearly not an option; I had already caught the full effect the first 587 times. With nothing else to cure my restlessness, I reluctantly picked up the remote and aimed it at the television:
On-Demand. Select Shows: All. Browse.
Dog the Bounty Hunter…
Select. Play Episode.
This sequence should have ended: “Stare in awe and amazement while David Tennant floats across the screen in all his slender, Scottish glory.” Instead, it ended thusly, with a one-word finale of ubiquitous grace:
The only prior knowledge I had of David Tennant was his portrayal of Barty Crouch Jr. in the Harry Potter movies, and his apparent ability to bug his eyes out real big. At the time, neither talent was alluring enough to keep my attention. As I turned off the show three-quarters of the way through, I realized I had no idea what it was about or why this odd-looking man was running about with a tiny tire-pressure gauge in his hand, shining a laser pointer into people’s eyeballs and shouting utter nonsense about a “TARDIS”, which I assumed was slang for some archetypal ancient turtle. What’s worse, the whole 37 minutes I had spent half glued to the screen had been like some weird cacophony of robots and saliva, manic looks and a seemingly unnecessary amount of evil laughter. I clicked “back” on the remote and shut off the television, flustered and a bit irritated.
If you can’t relate to what I’m talking about, think of it in these terms: have you ever had sushi? The first time someone tells you about sushi, you imagine razor-thin cuts of the freshest fish or seafood, sticky, aromatic white rice all rolled up into some sort of heavenly bite-sized morsel; people tell you how “great” it is to eat such “natural, clean food” and how “amazing” you feel after you eat it. Then, when you finally get a taste of this wonder food, wasabi and soy sauce and all the fixings, you’re like, “What is this, RAW FISH?!?”
This is how Doctor Who began for me. I went into it thinking, “Okay, so some guy wrote a show about a time-traveling ‘Doctor’ who saves people and he’s very scientific in all his rows and twiddles” and came out of it thinking, “Okay, so some guy wrote a show about a TIME TRAVELER who calls himself ‘The Doctor’ and thinks he’s so brainy and scientific, when really he’s just some nutter with hyperactivity problems. What is this, science fiction?!”
As famous disgusting-food-eater Andrew Zimmern has admitted, “I never say ‘no’ to a second [taste of something], because the second time you eat it, it might be different.” As with a particular dish that may not suit your fancy the first time around, giving something one more try before shunning it forever might just be the best decision you ever make: a few months after my initial attempt at Whovianism, I relented and allowed The Doctor one more chance to impress. Luckily for me, iTunes has much better taste than mine in television programming and allowed me to download an episode of the then-current Series 6 with (the ingenious) Matt Smith in the title role.
This time around, I knew I had to approach the subject with an openness that had been notably absent the first time, and as the episode “The Impossible Astronaut” progressed, I found something unusual and unfamiliar beginning to occur. The coy wording and intricate phrasing of the dialogue and the storyline, the cleverness of the Doctor and the witty backhanded remarks from supporting Companions all began to coagulate and make sense. Doctor Who wasn’t A Beautiful Mind or Bridesmaids. It couldn’t quite be categorized under any genre, and it was definitely unique in its approach to entertaining an audience.
That’s the thing about Doctor Who that veteran fans of the show already discovered ages ago: it can’t be pushed into the sci-fi, sitcom or dramatic series genre. It has to live on its own, breathe on its own. You can’t try to figure it out, it figures YOU out. There is a duality about the show that proves, time and again, how complex our tastes are and how hard-wired we are to think that we can control our own snap judgments. The Doctor is quirky and hilarious and sympathetic and ridiculous in every way, but that’s what gets you; the sudden sucker-punch of an underlying theme of sadness and loneliness, masked by an air of confidence, grabs you by the nape of the neck and throws you to the ground.
These days, as a well-established “Whovian”, I’ve found that there aren’t many shows anymore that stack up (aside from, you know…Sherlock. Damn you, Moffat). It’s an addicting pattern, but a wry and canny one at that. I’ve even managed to get friends and family hooked on the show: after introducing my sister to the eerie and creepifying episode “Blink”, she promptly called me and exclaimed breathlessly, “I am OBSESSED. All I want to do is watch Doctor Who. All day. What have you done?!”
I still laugh unintentionally at the Cybermen, the man-sized espresso machines (Daleks) and the runaway Fat-Babies; it’s silly and sometimes a fabulous caricature of a geeky space-flick, but there’s something wanting in the other TV shows out there that Doctor Who hits square in the jaw. It’s heartfelt and emotional in a tangible and candid way. It’s real. It proves, to anyone who thinks little of themselves, that even the smallest people can be the most important people in the whole wide universe.
For anyone who grew up a geek or just became one with the realization of adulthood, Doctor Who fulfills our illogical desire for real heart, spirit, and being true to who you are… and nobody puts Baby The Doctor in a corner.
To see new episodes of Doctor Who, tune into BBC America on Saturdays at 8PM/7C