I started watching “Doctor Who” as a replacement for “Game of Thrones.” After the agony of the third season ending, I was looking for a show to fill the void and decided that “Doctor Who” was at least worth checking out. I knew nothing except what I could glean from GIF-sets and one liners lurking around the corners of the Internet. The TARDIS, “don’t blink” when you see a Weeping Angel, the involvement of someone named River Song—that’s about it. I assumed it was just a kid’s show with bad special effects and an easy to follow story. But then I started watching it.
When you mention being a “Doctor Who fan”—or a Whovian if you speak Tumblr—there are two reactions you can get. The first is excitement, because the person you are speaking to is also a fan. The second, more common reaction is a look of surprise and incredulity that says, “Seriously?” I used to give the latter reaction, but only because I didn’t know any better. Now, as an evangelical “Who” fan, I’d like to speak to those who have yet to be won over (because it is only a matter of time, sweetie).
Let me give you a brief background: “Doctor Who” is a BBC show that began in 1963 and ended in 1989. Following a special in 1996, the series was rebooted in 2005 and has run ever since, gaining a huge international following. The titular character is The Doctor, a 1,000-plus year old Time Lord who fled his home planet of Gallifrey during the Time War, which eventually resulted in the destruction of his people. The Doctor regenerates into a new body when faced with fatal injury, which is how the plot has continued for 50 years and why different actors have been able to play the role. He travels through space and time in his TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space), which is stuck looking like a Police Call Box due to a broken chameleon circuit. He is accompanied by a human companion, most often a woman though occasionally men as well, who assist in saving Earth and the universe.
Those are, more or less, the essentials.
Now on to the good stuff and the reasons why you should immediately queue up the show on Netflix.
I understand your hesitation to tune in to a sci-fi show with a recurring race of villains that look like overturned garbage cans with plungers attached. Really, I was where you are now. The brilliance of the series, and what keeps you hooked, is not the occasionally-too-fast solutions to whatever danger is threatening mankind. The great thing about having a show run for 50 years is that you have plenty of time to develop a character so complex, he becomes uncomfortably human, even if he is a Time Lord.
The Doctor and his companions are truly fascinating. The women who join The Doctor on his adventures are best described as normal—a shopgirl, a temp, a student, a kiss-a-gram. There is nothing terribly remarkable about them, even when they are incredibly sassy, when they first meet the madman in a blue box. And yet, they overcome fear and self-doubt to save planets, species, and the universe. The Doctor said it best when he told Winston Churchill, “My friends have always been the best of me.” When they are left behind or leave by choice, stepping away from all of time and space, they do great things. They help build research organizations like Torchwood, or go out on their own to investigate the unknown and irregular, or they make the mistake of blinking and end up in being thrown backwards in history. Admit it—you want to know what that last one means.
But the constant in the show is The Doctor. Companions come and go, haunting the TARDIS as memories but always being replaced by the next. It’s The Doctor who wins the imagination and heart, and then breaks your heart and confuses who you imagined him to be. Before watching, I imagined The Doctor as a cartoon character, obnoxiously animated like a Manic Pixie Time Lord.
The Doctor is so much more. He is brilliant and active and a fast talker, but he is also gentle and kind and capable of incredible forgiveness. He wants to help so badly, to give second chances and assist in making the universe better. He rejects weapons like guns, using instead intellect and logic to win. His unwavering belief in the goodness of man stands as a challenge that makes you wonder if humanity could ever live up to his expectations. It’s never asked if mankind is even worth saving.
But there is a darkness in him. The Doctor will bring you to tears, with the weight of his loss and his potential for cruelty. For centuries he has flown through time and space, watching as those he cares about are lost to him forever. Random comments provide brief glances back at his time on Gallifrey, suggesting he had a family, was a father, and spent time with his grandchildren. He had a life before the TARDIS, but he lost it when he fled centuries ago. He shows his age in the moments when he looks at a companion knowing it will be the last time he does so. It’s a cycle he knows too well—to depend on and love someone only to have them leave or be left or be lost. The relatability of those moments, when he’s spending his final minutes before regeneration saying goodbye to his closest loved ones, or he is unable to let go of the first faces his face saw, makes your heart break for him. No matter who joins him in the TARDIS, he will always eventually be alone among the stars.
The loneliness of The Doctor can and often does manifest as anger. The self-styled savior of mankind, he is capable of rage so terrifying it disquiets the viewer. When he yells at his companion, or comes too close to purposeful destruction, or makes his great love break her own wrist the result is the uncomfortable confrontation of a demi-God acting too human. He has driven those who care for him to become weapons themselves, willing to sacrifice their lives in order to follow the Time Lord. He is imperfect, and he is running from his own imperfection, and we watch as he struggles to keep his past hidden. When he is alone for too long, without an awestruck human to careen through the cosmos with, he becomes a truly tragic figure. The last of his kind, always running from the past and occasionally from the future, trying to keep the demons at bay.
And then, from those moments of darkness spring the next great adventure or a new companion or the miraculous realization that saves the planet just in time. The viewer is launched back into the whirlwind of The Doctor’s charm, all hair and limbs and facial expressions, whisked carefully away from the edge of a dark abyss.
That is the beauty of “Doctor Who.” A charming stranger with a time machine, an enthralled companion seeing the inside of the TARDIS for the first time, the sorrow of parting ways. Often funny, with plenty of Easter eggs and mysteries waiting for the attentive viewer, the show’s highs and lows keep you coming back through plots that don’t land quite right. And as the show approaches its 50th anniversary, now is the best time to catch up and get on the bandwagon. In other words: Allons-y![divider] [/divider]
Do you watch Doctor Who? Tweet us @litdarling
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