A note from future Adam… I started writing this article several weeks ago before the onslaught of “Doctor Who’s new season is almost here!” articles started hitting the web. Sometimes timing works out since this article folds in nicely to BBC’s #newtowho campaign on twitter, even if it’s a bit more long form than they intended. Now, back to my original timeline…
Lately I’ve been trying to fill a gaping hole in my geek/nerd background. I have never really watched Doctor Who. I didn’t have a reason for it… it just kinda happened. A while ago I do remember seeing the “Eric Roberts as The Master” made for TV movie. Maybe that kinda tainted the whole universe for me.
Anywho, I digress… I fired up the Netflix app on my Tivo and jumped in. I had been blissfully ignorant about specifics of the Doctor Who universe so I got to start out on the ground floor. All I knew was he is something called a Time Lord and he travels in time having adventures. That, and there is something that shouts EXTERMINATE in a robotic sounding voice. I’m sure that won’t end up being important, right?
Without getting spoilery about important content, here is what this not-yet-Whovian has discovered. The show lets you learn about who The Doctor is without an abundance of exposition. I’m always against blatant exposition, except for Saturday night SyFy movies. For some reason, I let them get away with anything they want.
The Doctor travels with a companion and you learn most of what is happening from their interaction, with just enough extra non-companion knowledge thrown in to let you know when she is about to get into trouble. I say she because thus far the companions are always female. No one ever said The Doctor was a dummy.
By now the astute reader has noticed that I keep calling the main character The Doctor. “Yeah, but doctor who?”, you ask. I say, “Exactly, Doctor Who.” And I cut off the conversation there so neither of us get a cease and desist order from the Abbot and Costello estates. You kind of get the idea though, we aren’t really supposed to know his name other than, The Doctor. We’ll see what happens with that in later seasons.
The show is a lot of fun, but the nitpicker in me pulled back. I’m like many Star Trek fans who like to complain when a TV show breaks its own laws of physics. Doctor Who does not give you that chance, not by a long shot. So, you want to go to another planet do ya? Well, just dance around this console, give this hand crank a couple twists and push this big lit up button, and off you go. Need to go back in time do the same thing but maybe add in a couple lever pulls like you are Doctor Frankenstein in a thunderstorm and you’re all set. Did I mention not a single of these controls is labeled. And they are inside a British police box from the 1900’s. A police box that is waaayyyyyy larger on the inside.
Alright, it’s not really a police box, it’s a TARDIS, “Time And Relative Dimension In Space”. Ooh, acronyms are good, maybe they are getting me back in. Sometimes The Doctor does give an explanation of how things are working, but it sounds more like “If I put tab A in Slot B the TARDIS ends up in Ancient Rome.” and less like, “Dilithium crystals regulate a matter/anti-matter reaction in a warp core allowing a warp field to be generated allowing the ship to travel faster than the speed of light.” Sure they are both fiction, but I like more sciency sounding fiction.
I thought this lack of technical sounding technobabble would have me out of the show by the fifth episode but I plunged along and started to notice something. The Doctor is a fun character. He is the quintessential explorer who, luckily, is always put in a situation where he needs to quickly find out some important mysterious information to save the day. Sometimes he needs to figure this out to save a couple peoples lives, other times it would be the end of time and space as we know it. You know what, he goes about both of those ‘missions’ with the same amount of enthusiasm. Every little life is sacred to this man, and every mystery is a glorious thing to unravel and put right.
This would be an easy thing to take too far and become overly cheesy, but they pull it off. It’s the sense of wonder that The Doctor has for every situation and everyone he meets that is, in the ninth (first after the reboot) doctor’s words, fantastic.
Follow up, by present day Adam: Like I mentioned at the top of the article, I started this weeks ago. I intended to only cover an introduction to the restart of the show and watch maybe the first season. Like many geeks, I dove in whole hog and caught up on almost all episodes. Thank you Netflix. Now I’m trying to best judge when to watch the final few episodes left before the premier of series seven which was just announced to happen September first. (Side note to the follow up, if you pull a full geek like I did and watch all the episodes straight through via Netflix there are quite a few episodes that do not have a corresponding season but are available on Netflix if you search around. If you look here, all the episodes from 2009 and 2010 fall between seasons 4 and 5. Watch them all, specifically the one pictured below, otherwise you you’ll be confused as hell.)
I found it necessary to get caught up as quickly as possible both because it is an entertaining show, and now that I had any Doctor Who knowledge I noticed how many references to it infected the intertubes. Pinterest is the worst for spoilers! I only complain because it is so entertaining I wanted to discover the show for myself.
Later seasons took a decidedly more intense and dramatic turn. They slowly transitioned that way, so it wasn’t jarring, but the difference is obvious. It was probably for the best since the show had to develop and grow to keep from getting boring. Every so often there is still a maguffin style fix to their problem, but if you have stuck with the show you come to accept it and it’s just fine.
This will be my first season watching along with the show in real time. I’m not sure I’ll be able to handle not having that next show ready to go in my queue.