Latecomers to the “Doctor Who” Party

Christopher Eccleston, Doctor Who

…yes, we realize we’re running years behind the rest of the universe.

Last weekend marked the second time in my life I’ve ever sat through an episode of Doctor Who. After marathoning two seasons of Sherlock, three seasons of Downton Abbey, three seasons of Luther, and all the Chopped we could find On Demand, we were in talks for a while about our next mutual binge-watching quality-time subject. Lo and behold: she discovered all seven modern seasons of the world-famous Doctor Who are temporarily available On Demand as part of the big 50th-anniversary celebration.

Our new goal for this holiday season: see how many episodes we can barrel through before the end of the year.

Not every geek knows, watches, reads, or listens to every possible fandom ever. Every geek has their knowledge gaps, their oversights, their aversions, and their deep-rooted antipathies. We can’t possibly consume or participate in everything. In my case, one of the long-standing omissions in my life now seems to have a larger following than ever, and a lot of people whose opinions we trust keep telling us it’s not a terrible show. Sometimes when that happens, we listen. (Not always, mind you. See: Big Bang Theory.)

My family didn’t watch PBS when I was a kid. By the time I was old enough to own and control my own TV set, and consequently turn to PBS anytime I wanted, I still didn’t see anything appealing in all those photos of past aging Doctors, antique sci-fi sets, or zero-budget aliens. I considered it another dated relic like Space 1999 with British accents, or Little House on the Prairie with fewer character deaths. So that’s one phenomenon that passed me by. My wife saw a few random episodes here and there in her own youth, but they tended to be “Part 5 of 12” or whatever, so she never got a sense of context, continuity, or clarity. And in those halcyon days before cable TV, she had plenty of other channels to entertain her — all five or six of them.

The first time I sat through a Doctor Who episode was at a sci-fi convention. Don’t ask me which Doctor it was, because I couldn’t tell you. To the Doctor’s detriment, and as part of the convention’s Mystery Science Theater 3000 theme, this was a special late-night event at which four guys sat in front of the projection screen and heckled the episode while we watched. The episode was, I think, part 17 of 85 or something, and was unintelligible in and of itself without knowing the character or what had gone before. The worst parts were the guys’ subpar quote-unquote “jokes” that were meant to draw pleasure from pain. Instead they were salt in the wound. After the third or fourth use of “WAZZUUUUUUUUUUP?” as a punchline, I tuned those guys out, retreated to a special viewing room inside my head, and enjoyed making my own silent jokes at the show’s expense for an audience of one.

In sum: Doctor Who and I have spent four decades playing a game of Wrong Place Wrong Time.

Fast-forward to the last decade: Doctor Who is now a thing. We like things. Not all things. The snippets of articles I’ve read, friends’ discussions I’ve overheard, and all that merchandise we trip over at conventions seemed, when we took them into consideration, altogether components of a not-horrible creation. If nothing else, I appreciated from afar that the new series has been an extension of the original continuity rather than a ground-zero reboot that began by atomizing all previous stories. In my mind, that meant that proper appreciation would require an extensive knowledge of the previous 40+ years of Whoville. So I skipped it.

Now here we are, seven seasons in, giving it a shot anyway. We’re currently four episodes into season 1, and we’ve just postponed this Saturday’s original plans so we can have one day’s oasis of relaxation before the holiday season overwhelms our schedule. And by “oasis of relaxation” I mean “Doctor Who marathon”. (Sorry for the delay, Catching Fire. Here’s hoping you’ll still be in theaters for us next weekend. If it flops and goes straight to Redbox on Tuesday, I will be so upset with myself.)

I’m not sure how much interest there’d be here in my doing specific reviews of eight-year-old TV episodes, but the capsule version is: we seem to be hooked. So far it’s the liveliest I’ve ever seen Christopher Eccleston in a role. I’m sure it goes without saying that neither Thor: the Dark World nor G.I. Joe: the Rise of Cobra did him an iota of justice. Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler seems believable as a young lady whose life stands to lose very little if she goes gallivanting around the continuum. And frankly, it’s invigorating to see a current-era science fiction production in a mode other than grim-and-gritty. If subsequent episodes have surprises in store for us anywhere near as fanciful as the new Autons, the Last Human, or Simon Callow’s Charles Dickens, then I wager we’re in for quite a ride.

Best of all, encyclopedic knowledge isn’t mandatory. I’m sure we’ll miss some clever references and fail to recognize a revived old villain or three. I realize spoilers will be an issue, as I already know minor things and keep hearing about the upcoming Day of the Doctor special that has everyone in my circles pacing back and forth while awaiting. I’m aware that John Hurt is now in the mix, and I even watched the new “Night of the Doctor” short because I was curious about the buzz. As such things go, that’s not normal behavior for me. Such is the extent to which the show has now stoked my level of interest.

(Related note: it was bizarre to see Paul McGann in Luther first, and then to see him in that short. I may be the world’s first human to have attempted this.)

So: all of you are years ahead of us and excited about this Saturday, right? I trust she and I are among an extreme minority who’ll have to defer the special for several months until we’re ready for it. Are we correct in hoping that the best is yet to come in our marathon? Are the other Doctors that much better than this Eccleston one-season wonder? Or should we walk away after season one and switch to NCIS: Los Angeles instead? What do YOU, the Viewers at Home, think?

2 responses

    • Cannot and would not argue with that choice. Regardless of anything Doctor Who has done right so far, Sherlock is in a different class altogether. My wife and I are really looking forward to its Stateside return in January.

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