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'Doctor Who' Comes Alive

I am a geek. Also, arguably, a nerd. If you take a look at the articles I’ve written for this fine website, you will probably notice a preponderance of reviews of terrible science fiction shows. And I stand by my praise of The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne, too: that show was nothing but fun. Fun with an airship! What I’m saying is that I like science fiction shows, and I traditionally don’t mind if the special effects budget is a little thin. Or, indeed, completely nonexistent.

And yet, I’ve never been into Doctor Who. I’ve even poked gentle fun (or, depending on your definition, “viciously mocked”) those who revere the venerable BBC series. I think the main reason is that I never got to see it during my vulnerable childhood years, when my standards were even lower than they are now. So I’d hear about this legendary show called Doctor Who, but my local PBS station (note to youngsters: this was when “cable television” meant you had access to an amazing twenty or so stations) had a fairly limited BBC lineup: just Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, and perhaps a bit of Blake’s Seven and Are You Being Served?

So I didn’t get to see Doctor Who until relatively late in life. It was just something that resulted in a lot of books at the end of the local bookstore’s Science Fiction section, plus maybe somebody at the San Diego Comic Con would show up in a weird costume. Except the Comic Con is in the middle of summer, so it was pretty rare for anyone to actually commit to the great big scarf. The point is that it only existed as a rumor. Somewhere out there was something called Doctor Who, and it was supposed to be absolutely essential.

Then I saw a few minutes of it. That’s a Dalek? This is classic science fiction television? You’re kidding, right? Look at the sets! Look at the “amazing” way things disappear because they stopped the camera for a second. This is terrible! I didn’t understand how even people raised on the original Star Trek — hell, people raised on Tom Corbett, Space Cadet — could buy this show, let alone consider it a classic.

And that brings us up to the present, or at least a month or two ago, when I started watching the new Doctor Who episodes. It hasn’t officially aired in the United States yet, but it turns out that Seattle cable television includes CBC, which originates in Canada. So I got to see it well after it aired in the UK, but still probably before it shows up in the US proper. And I like it. I like it a lot!

The good news is that while they’ve upgraded the special effects, they don’t seem to have monkeyed with the basic concepts: The Doctor (incidentally, one of the things that still bugs me is that it’s a show called Doctor Who with a main character called “The Doctor” — and I’m not supposed to call him “Doctor Who”. Is this one of things that fans use to keep outsiders out?) has a police box that’s bigger on the inside than the outside, he travels through time a bit, and so on. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they were just looting the concept for a whole new “reimagined” show, but they’ve even brought in Daleks. And made them scary! That’s practically impossible!

I also enjoy the performance of Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor. He’s a jerk! And I mean a real jerk. I approve of shows where the lead character is actively unpleasant to people (like in House except that I keep imagining Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster, which makes it harder to take him seriously as a genius). And I think it’s interesting that the Doctor has been played by nine different people. And that they really are extremely different.

Because I’m not entirely familiar with the Doctor Who mythos, I’ve never really understood the whole multiple-Doctor thing. I know that occasionally the actor is replaced (like how Eccleston is leaving and David Tennant is taking over next season), but to what degree is it the same character? In order to answer this question, I got one of my friends (who’s really into Doctor Who) to loan me a few DVDs. The only one I’ve watched so far is “The Three Doctors”, in which the first three men to play the Doctor interact. I approve of complicated time travel tricks.

Unfortunately, for a guy with a time machine, the Doctor doesn’t do near as much time traveling as I’d hoped. He seems to mostly use the Tardis to show up at the plot and to leave at the end of the story. But that’s somewhat off the subject of “The Three Doctors”, I guess. Tell you what: pretend this paragraph is a visitor from a different time, where it fits in much better.

“The Three Doctors” is formally from the era of the Third Doctor — it seems like in all the shows where a Doctor meets his other selves, he meets previous incarnations; it’s probably too much work to have him meet somebody who’s going to play the Doctor a few years later — and when the Second Doctor shows up, it looks like they don’t recognize or like each other at all. So I guess when the Doctor dies, he regenerates a new body who’s the same person, except that he doesn’t have continuity of memory, personality, or body. This is weird, complicated, and almost impossible to either understand or justify, and I therefore strongly approve of it. It ain’t science fiction if it all makes sense.

I enjoyed “The Three Doctors”, although apparently the gentleman who played the First Doctor was too sick to show up on the same set as the other two, which was disappointing. Also disappointing: the terrible, terrible special effects. Yes, I know it was a million years ago (1973) but… man. However, since I enjoyed the parts of the show that weren’t monsters or special effects, I think I’ll probably at least watch a few shows from the Tom Baker era.

Yes, I’m basically doing homework on thirty-year-old sci-fi shows so that I can better understand a new sci-fi show that’s not even being aired in this country. I told you I was a geek.


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