Anime Reporter goes somewhat off-animation topic now to tell you precisely why, how, when and, to an extent, where I became a fan of Doctor Who.
It’s odd, really, that it took me so long, because I’ve never really shied away from science fiction or fantasy genres, but up until the age of 24, my impression of Doctor Who (as I would have mistakenly called the Doctor), was that he was a man with a glorious head of curly hair and a rather long, colourful scarf, though I was moderately aware that they had revamped it somewhat. I had also noticed from ads and posters that they’d apparently gone through quite a few lead actors since restarting, which only suggested to me that it was a series with a lot of serious on-set problems. What a pillock I was.
Then, just under two years ago, I went back to university to do an MA in Writing in Galway, Ireland. Up to taking this course, I was a little bit apprehensive that I might well be walking into a den of literary elitists who would immediately look down their monocles at me for not being on my third re-read of some of Tolstoy’s lesser known works. What I actually encountered was a group of some the funniest, most charming and most brilliant people I’ve had the fortune to encounter. I could write at length about this group and precisely why I’ve come to see them as something of a second family, but I won’t, I’ll just tell you about the three wonderful people who recommended Doctor Who so strongly that I really felt there was no choice. Sean is a wonderfully tall Texan with a profoundly calm exterior and a strong awareness of and appreciation for British television. Sean is a man who picks his words very carefully, which is perhaps why his love of puns and wordplay is so delightful. He’s not a man to embellish, and, despite his clearly impressive intellect, he tends to value a good chuckle above most elements of a story so his warm and definite recommendation was not one to overlook.
Sarah is another American, and more than capable of expressing an opinion or two. Her penchant for description is so strong that more than one of our class was made to feel slightly nauseous as she gleefully read out her account of a surgical procedure she had the privilege of witnessing as a medical student. She’s also someone who knows exactly what she likes and what she doesn’t, with an intimidating knowledge of television and movies. Sarah’s love of all things Whedon immediately endeared here to quite a few other fans in our class and her opinion on television shows, (at least those that I’d also seen), was rarely very far from my own, or if different, wasn’t so different as to cast any doubt that her recommendations were something I should listen to.
Thirdly, there was Meabh. “Meabh”, for those of you not from Ireland, is a name pronounced ‘Mayv’. Meabh is probably the person in the class whose love of fantasy, science-fiction and horror genres was closest to my own. She’s also a very strong-willed advocate for equality and thinks very carefully about a lot of angles before she’s willing to sign off on a story or piece of television. While Meabh wasn’t about to suggest that Doctor Who was by any means perfect, (she may have a few bones to pick with a certain man called Moffat), she swore by the era of the tenth iteration of the Doctor and overall, had mostly positive things to say about the show.
Now, while all three of these people had opinions that I had come to respect and listen closely to, by far the most impressive thing was that all three of them agreed, from their own quite diverse perspectives, that Doctor Who was a show that deserved a shot and then some. I was curious, having learned that the various actors to play the lead were not in fact, different people trying to play the same man, but different actors, play different people who were the same person. I also asked if there was any great need to go back to day one of Doctor one and I was told that the new series, starting with Nine, was as good a place as any to start off.
Episode one of that series, “Rose”, was not as impressive as I’d hoped. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve rewatched it since then and come to greatly appreciate its significance, but at the time, trying to be sold on something I’d inexplicably decided wasn’t for me for years, it felt a little underwhelming. It was quite silly, with some fairly cheap looking effects and I wasn’t entirely sold on the cast at that point, (though I did concede that there was something very intriguing about Christopher Eccleston’s portrayal of the Doctor. He was eccentric and goofy, but also clearly haunted and so much more than he appeared. By the time the first series came to an end and Nine became Ten, I was heartbroken to see him go. Within a couple of episodes, I was totally charmed by David Tennant’s charismatic take on the character and when, inevitably, he too passed on the torch, I was actually in tears at his farewell. While I had binge-watched both of these Doctors in a very short time, I felt like I was saying goodbye to old friends and each time I was sure that they couldn’t possibly be replaced.
This is where things get divisive, even for me individually. When Eleven burst onto the screen, I was willing to forgive him the daunting crime of strutting onto screen just as Ten had left a gaping emotional scar and his opening scene in his first episode, trying to stomach all sorts of food because he can’t quite work out what his new body actually likes to eat, was superb. Unlike when I first watched Ten, I had no feeling of nervousness about how this new fellow was going to do… In a way, I was right. In another, more accurate way, I was still being a pillock.
Matt Smith, who played the eleventh Doctor, was great. He was superb, he was a force to be reckoned with. Was he David Tennant good? I’m not so sure about that. Well, I guess my gut response is “No, he wasn’t”, and I might as well stick with that, but there are a couple of things clouding my opinion here. Stephen Moffat wrote some of the best episodes of David Tennant’s run on the series. ‘Blink’, the episode to introduce the Weeping Angels, was probably the episode that created the most suspense in my fragile little mind, but when he took over as the showrunner, it’s possible that he went slightly mad with power. His consequent Weeping Angel episodes were of a quality to make me slap the fork/microphone/abacus out of a person’s hand and loudly scream “It would have been great if they’d ever made a second Weeping Angels episode. But that NEVER EVER happened” and bury those memories in the part of my mind where I keep the Matrix sequels. Now, I’m not about to swear off Moffat entirely, but I do feel that the transition from writer to effective “God of the show” may have led to him taking a few unfortunate liberties with nobody to reign him in. As such, the Eleventh doctor’s tenure became somewhat laboured and weighed down with implausible and increasingly weak twists for me and I really slowed down my viewing pace. It was actually something of a relief when I caught up to the present and then, at Christmas, got to see his Doctor regenerate. I hadn’t even realised I could be relieved to see the end of a Doctor Who era, but the time had come.
Now, one series down, I feel that Peter Capaldi’s Twelve is really back on track, (even his companion, Clara, has become a more fully developed character in this one season) and I’m truly excited to see what the next series has to offer. I’m also increasingly interested in the monumental task of watching what I can from the original eight doctors and then even tackling the audio books and mountain of other materials available.
People often talk about “their” Doctor. The Doctor that they love the most, the one that perhaps they identify with. I’m not sure who my Doctor is. Perhaps, if Eccleston had stuck around a while longer, it would have been him, but his single season is overshadowed by the relatively massive runs of his successors. Ten was phenomenal and, without a doubt, his series’ are what I remember most fondly from my time thus far with the series. While I can’t express too much love for Eleven’s storylines, I sometimes can’t help but feel that he is the Doctor I would have loved most dearly if I’d been watching the show as an excited eight-year old boy. In some ways, that’s quite a dear compliment coming from me and I’m only truly sorry that I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy his episodes more. Twelve, as with Nine, has just had the one series so far, so it’s too early for me to quite claim him as “my” doctor. That said, I absolutely love his grumpy, unlikeable and unsocial version of the timelord and for the first time since I caught up to the series, I’m waiting, excitedly, without apprehension, for the next instalment.
Then I just have to look back over decades of what’s come before. And I will, with pleasure, because Doctor Who isn’t just about mad aliens and makey-uppy sci-fi. It’s about a loveable ancient bastard in a blue box, a cowboy through time and space and it’s about his hearts, the fact that this heroic madman calls himself the Doctor, because that’s about as far as he could find from “soldier”. It’s about the adventure of seeing everything that could be possibly be imagined and it’s about a man who finds human existence and day-to-day life to be occasionally as amazing as all the other worlds he’s witnessed. Doctor Who is a most spectacular, wonderful, adventure. You just have to bear with it a little at first.