I had originally planned to post this between season two and three, but due to scheduling issues at work and some illness, I have had to re-arrange my posting schedule. I will resume my review of The Chase as soon as I can. Until then, here is a brief account of my history with Doctor Who.
I realized that I am now two seasons in to The Hartnell Era and haven’t even given you much indication of who I am or how I came to become a fan of Doctor Who. So, I’ll remedy that now.
I was born in 1980, and some of my earliest memories are of watching Doctor Who with my mom. This isn’t an exaggeration. Of the memories I have that pre-date the age of five, there is being chased by a humongous dog and watching Doctor Who. The dog was significantly less enjoyable.
I estimate that I was three or four, and as such, details are a bit sketchy. I arrive at this estimate primarily based on the images I remember. There was The Doctor, who wore a long scarf and eventually regenerated into a younger, less interesting character. I remember Daleks with red and yellow tubes strapped to them (which I remember as bombs). There was a giant robot, which I attempted to draw in my old copy of The Doctor Who Technical Manual (which I still have, amazingly). The drawing consists of a pair of legs that stretches to the top of the page. I also drew a TARDIS and a Dalek. I remember Davros covered in cob-webs. It wasn’t until years later that I found episode titles and plot synopses to go with these memories. However, the most vivid memory, the one that gave me more details to work with, was The Five Doctors. This one was my favorite because it had every Doctor. My young mind was also convinced the one with the scarf was on the show, although I now know that to be false. When my local PBS affiliate stopped airing Doctor Who, it was a VHS tape of The Five Doctors/The Kings Demons that reintroduced me to the show. I would like to say this hooked me, but it didn’t. I found it hard to believe that this cheap and cheesy, slightly dull story sparked my attention when I was so young. I thought I was finished.
While visiting a friend one weekend, we went to the local shopping mall to look for a movie to watch. I found a Doctor Who tape and thought he would appreciate it since he had a love of robots. So I purchased The Sontaran Experiement/Genesis of the Daleks. The was a much better reintroduction. I was hooked. Not only that, I hooked one of my college roommates. Tom Baker’s eccentricity and the double act of Davros and Nyder illustrated the greatness this show could achieve. I didn’t even mind the giant clam. From this point on I was hooked as only an American college student with too much disposable income and a tendency to obsess could be. I went after New Adventures novels and tried my hardest to find VHS copies, a difficult thing living in Springfield, Missouri. Outpost Gallifrey became a haven, although I didn’t really do much with the forums as forums were scary things to me.
Every fan usually has two questions to answer: Who was your first Doctor and Who is your favorite Doctor? My first Doctor, as you could probably guess, was Tom Baker. However, it may have been Jon Pertwee as some of my memories are from Pertwee episodes. My three year old mind was unable to differentiate between Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, a fact that I find rather amusing now. My favorite Doctor has become Patrick Troughton. To me, he took the part that William Hartnell created and breathed dynamic new life into it in a way that ensured its longevity. I love his quirkiness. I love his ability to change from fun to menacing in a split second. Finally, I love how he always seems to be one step ahead of everyone, the buffoon act being nothing more than an act. This isn’t to downplay William Hartnell in any way. To me, all performances of The Doctor must, in some way, have an aspect of Hartnell and Troughton. I feel they are the essence of the character, and while I think every Doctor has something to enjoy and has some cracking stories, I do not believe every actor has nailed the part.
For many Americans, the reason Doctor Who works is because of the “Britishness” of the show. While I am a fan of much British television, Doctor Who is more about transporting me back to those magical years of innocence where I would sit with my mom and watch a funny man fighting aliens with his robot dog. The sound of the Tom Baker era theme, and the Peter Howell theme in particular, still make me feel like a child and I can almost close my eyes and be transported back to those times when I didn’t have to worry about bills or car repairs or house payments. As an adult, I have learned to appreciate the stories and the concepts that the show dealt with, often with more subtlety than American television seems capable of. Perhaps that is the difference, for me, between American television and British television: the subtlety, the lack of spectacle. The classic series of Who couldn’t rely on special effects spectacle due to budgetary concerns (although I believe that they would have used every effect they could afford, given the chance). Acting and storytelling had to be of utmost importance, and given the show began during an era where television operated as recorded theatre, storytelling became a huge factor. No, the show hasn’t always been successful on these fronts, but the guiding hands of Verity Lambert, David Whitaker, and Dennis Spooner really set the show on the track to where it is now. In many ways the show has gone far from where it began, and I have felt that the new series occasionally delves too much into spectacle and big events (if I want that, I can watch the shows my own nation produces), but there are many moments where it pushes and challenges and still tries to tell thrilling adventures in time and space. One day I hope to pass this show along to my own child. I think I’ll start him on the Troughton era.