I’ll begin with a question: What is comfort food for the soul?
Mine is captured in two words. Two simple words that catapult me into a world of adventure, running, sonic screwdrivers, police boxes, xenophobic pepper pots and eccentric geniuses.
Yep. Doctor Who. That mad, ridiculous, insane, wonderfully exciting show about a weird old/young (depending who you watch) man who runs through the universe righting wrongs and saving the day, disappearing into his wonderful machine before anyone can rope him into sticking around.
Magic.That special kind of magic that dresses itself up like science but really knows what it is. Beautiful, wonderful, nonsense magic.
I was first introduced to the Doctor when I was a wee lad of 5 (I think). PBS, bless its heart, was showing the 4th doctor. Imagine, a little version of me, watching this frizzy haired maniac, running around, saving people without regard to life and limb, doing what’s right and protecting the innocent from harm using his intellect before his fists. Now, to a little kid like me, who was painfully small, bright and always being picked on, the Doctor was an inspiration. Add to that the fact that he was always travelling, seeing the sights, discovering new things and seeing the fantastic wonders of the universe and well, I was hooked. Hooked good and proper. That half hour, watching that man run about, dragging that foolishly long scarf behind him and waving his magic wand (read: sonic screwdriver), was the greatest point in my week. I lived for that time. The week between Saturdays for a new story was brutal. But the time in between parts of a single story? Impossible. Painful. A nightmare. Worth the wait, always, but terrible.
And so I fell in love with this world, this bit of escapism that allowed me, for 30 short minutes, to escape the confines of being the middle child, sandwiched between an inspiring but impossible to live up to older brother and an Asperger’s afflicted younger brother. For 30 minutes, I could sit and be taken away from a world that didn’t seem to notice me and didn’t seem to understand what I needed. For 30 minutes, it was just me and the Doctor, running through time and space. And somehow, the show was everything I wanted and needed. It seemed to know everything that I wanted to explore, all the creative ideas, all the wondrous places I never knew were coming true in front of me and filling me with new ideas, showing me that the ideas I had were just the surface and that pushing them even further would bring me to this place that lived inside my Saturday evening TV. And it was everything to me. It was the time that I needed to feel safe and understood. The Doctor was my hero. Different and defiant. Brilliant, pacifist, eccentric. Inspiration.
And then he died.
I think my heart broke that day. I was confused and lost. This man that I knew was an alien and of course was beholden to rules other than my own but… he died. And I never wanted him to. I needed him, you see? I was a little boy in a dysfunctional family (who wasn’t? well, perhaps the little girls weren’t… they were girls, after all) and the Doctor saved me from that, once a week, every week. He couldn’t just die, could he? But then, he didn’t. He changed. Regenerated. He became someone else. Different body. Different build. Different brain. Different mind. Different personality. Different everything. Different but the same. He was still the Doctor. He still ran through the universe, boundless energy and dedication to exploration, information and liberation. He still saved the day. He still saved everyone.
He didn’t save Adric. And that was lovely. Not because I wanted Adric to die. I couldn’t stand the brat. He was annoying, irritating, frustrating–but I didn’t want him to die. He didn’t deserve that. And that was the point, really. The Doctor had failed someone. This new face, running about the universe wasn’t so perfect. He made mistakes; people lost their lives–lots. And that was somehow okay… and that taught me much… and I loved him for it. This pleasant, open-faced cricketer wasn’t perfect and that was great. He couldn’t always pilot the TARDIS. He made enemies far beyond his ability to overcome. He didn’t pick perfect friends. He let people down. He was the first human Doctor, I think. This magical man, with his two hearts, his by-passable respiratory system, his broken (and somehow irreparable) sonic screwdriver was the most human alien I’d ever seen. If it was okay for the Doctor to be fallible, then why couldn’t I? He taught me that. And I loved him for it.
And then he died.
And was reborn as something unloveable at that point. My Saturdays were different, then. Gone were the fallible moments–at least the ones that he took responsibility for. This Doctor was brash. Rude. Aggressive. A bully. Frankly, he upset me. He was everything I hated about my life. People like him were picking on me all the time. Shouting at me in school. Yelling at me in the halls. I hated the way he yelled at Peri. It made me wince every time. He was like an abusive boyfriend that tells you that he loves you while he belittles you. And long before I ever knew what that meant, I knew that wasn’t the way you treated your friends. And that’s what I learned from Six. Who not to be. Ever. That and how not to dress.
Though, to be fair, I actually love Six… just not in the show. The show didn’t give enough Six enough room to grow and, before he could develop, they cancelled the show. Understandably, really. Six, however, was a great Doctor that I only understand NOW. But then, that past that I’m throwing my mind back to, didn’t know… didn’t understand and couldn’t. But check out Big Finish. You’ll be pleased if you do. You’ll see a Doctor who is self-assured and brash but ferociously protective of what is right. He was a Doctor who was shouting at the world because, at his core, he was a little afraid of it and afraid of himself. And, faced with his fears made flesh (seriously, what IS a Valleyard?) he realized that his fears were justified…
And then he—no. He didn’t.
The Sixth Doctor didn’t die. It was worse… it went on hiatus. I don’t think I realized this, back then… but it was put on hold for many complex reasons—none of which bear discussing right now. But then, luckily, something miraculous happened.
A cold open, a faked regeneration (McMoy has the dubious honour of playing two doctors), flashy new titles and my hero had returned. Doctor Who was back on the air.
Seven was different. Short (yay!). Clever. Manipulative. Calculating. Proactive. Seven made the Doctor my hero again and is the Doctor I always call “MY Doctor.” He was the one who didn’t wait for things to go wrong but went in search of wrongs to right. He was the one that pushed his friends to be more than they were. Seven encouraged them to become everything they could be. He encouraged them to help. He was my inspiration (and not just because he was short). He out thought, out planned, out manipulated everyone he ever fought and did so in a silly hat! How can you beat that?!
And then the show… ended.
Long before its time—and way past the point it should have—the show was cancelled and was plunged into darkness for such a long time… gone and not forgotten, it spawned (and spanned) books, comics, magazines, websites, fanzines, fan fic, terrible video games, audio books, Big Finish full cast audio drama and collected serials on DVD. It lived even though it had died.
And then, it almost came back.
I’m going to skip out on the TV movie… I only saw it in 2004 and it was rubbish. Damn you, Fox! The Doctor was excellent, mind you, but the movie–the story–was rubbish. But, once again, Big Finish saves the day and the stories with Eight are fantastic.
And then, in 2005, it came back! For real!
The Doctor was back and I was thrilled! He was back and I was ready to love that mad man all over again. Only now he was dark, angry, bitter… A Doctor who’d seen too much, made too many hard choices and went on out of spite… the light was gone. Sure, there was glimmers and echoes of that beautiful, impossible man that saved my weeks but he was broken… hurt… lost. He was exactly the Doctor I needed. For all his manic, alien mannerisms, this Doctor was human… probably the most human of all his incarnations… but not for being flawed or imperfect but for feeling loss. This Doctor felt loss on a grand and intimate scale, felt alone, felt the fragility of the universe and questioned his place in it. This Doctor needed saving.
And that’s where I’ll stop. Well, sort of. I’m not here to write about the show… not exactly. I’m here to talk about what the show means to me. Simply put, it’s my comfort blanket. When I need to relax, to feel safe, to smile, I throw on an episode of the show and I drift off into the past. The turmoil of the world fades away into the background and I’m safe. Home. Because of the Doctor, I’m not scared of change and I’ve learned not to cling too tightly to anything. I know to love what can and should be loved, to love it fiercely while you have it but to let it go when it’s time… and more than that, I’ve learned that it’s okay to change. To not be what I once was and to become someone new when this me has died. Because in the end, who I am at my core doesn’t ever really go away. The parts of me that are me stay no matter what else changes… I still love the world. Still want to see more. Still want to learn more. Still want to help in any way that I can. Still want to run. It’s been said that the Doctor makes people want to impress him and I’d say that’s not true. The Doctor makes you want to impress yourself—to shed the skin that you’re wearing in favour of a better and brighter you. I could spend more time talking about how he does that but I won’t. I’m going to stop and go watch some. And then I’m going to sit down and talk about it with my friends. I hope you’ll join us in the conversation.
I know that I left out One, Two and Three but I did that deliberately. I didn’t grow up with them. When I discovered the history of the show, I looked back and explored its past, watching what I could wherever I could. They don’t click the buttons of my past the way that the others do… I also left out Ten & Eleven. I expect you’ll be hearing us talk about them at length soon… no need to give away too many spoilers just now.