I don’t have a “my Doctor.”
Talk to almost any long-time DOCTOR WHO fan long enough and eventually you’ll hear that phrase escape their lips. It’s usually, from my experience, said when defending a story, a Companion, or even a Doctor from outside criticism. “Yeah,” they might say, “you’re probably right that EARTHSHOCK isn’t as good as TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN, but Peter Davison is my Doctor and that was my first Cybermen story.”
And there’s the rub. A “my Doctor” is almost always tied to the Doctor you first watched, or the Doctor that first brought you into the world of DOCTOR WHO. It’s the Doctor that made you a fan and that helps to define you to other WHO fans because it informs them of your operating system. Having a “my Doctor” serves as an easy identification for other fans, marking out your preferences and long-term investment.
If, for instance, Patrick Troughton is your “my Doctor,” then you probably appreciate a little impishness in your Time Lord. (Plus, you’re old.) If Tom Baker is your “my Doctor,” then you’re likely to see a lack of versatility of story and acting in other Time Lords as a major drawback. If it’s David Tennant that serves as your “my Doctor,” then you probably like your Doctor to run fast and feel deep.
None of this is written in stone, of course. Sylvester McCoy might be your “my Doctor,” but over the years you’ve come to like the charm of Jon Pertwee and the ideological battles between the Third Doctor and the Brigadier. The status of Colin Baker as “my Doctor” doesn’t necessarily mean you think the best Companions are those that always want to run back to the TARDIS. The positioning of Paul McGann or Chris Eccleston as “my Doctor” might be a more honorific title signifying their position as a “gateway Doctor,” having stepped into the role at the right time for you to tune in for the first time after the show had been away on a long hiatus, but not having enough stories under their belt for you to cling to them as tightly as someone who grew up watching Tom Baker year after year after year.
I don’t have a “my Doctor.”
Prior to the 2005 relaunch, if you’d asked me who my mind conjured up when you said, “Doctor Who,” an image of Tom Baker would’ve kicked up, but it would have been a fuzzy, non-specific image. If you were to ask me now … it’d be none of them and all of them. I wouldn’t think of Tom Baker or David Tennant any more than I’d think of Sylvester McCoy or Matt Smith.
Over the past year, I’ve watched every available DOCTOR WHO DVD from the start of the Third Doctor to the end of the Seventh Doctor through Netflix, and the lack of “my Doctor” was painfully obvious the more people I talked to, and the more people I heard talk, about DOCTOR WHO. There was no era of DOCTOR WHO that was mine, that felt like this was the way things should be done.
Historically, Tom Baker should be “my Doctor.” A child of the ’70s, I do remember watching the occasional Fourth Doctor serial on PBS. I just don’t remember the details. As I made my way through 70-odd serials, the moments that felt familiar were few and far between. What I did remember was the Fourth Doctor’s scarf, the face of Sarah Jane Smith, and, more than anything, the opening and closing titles.
When I was a teenager and listening to lots of classic rock for the first time, one of my initial thoughts on Pink Floyd was that these must’ve been the guys who did the theme music for DOCTOR WHO. That long, neverending, swirling grey tunnel was the backdrop for the music – the pounding low rhythm and trippy keyboard soaring over the top was the best Pink Floyd song I’d ever heard.
Even though I remembered that music, that scarf, and that face, the stories didn’t really ever click. I knew who most of these characters were, but I knew them from the accumulated knowledge of more than three decades spent as a science-fiction fan who was also a bigger sports fan, who was also more inclined to read something new than something “TV.” I had no interest in reading tie-ins and novelizations.
The stories that felt most recognizable to me were the Pertwee stories, but I don’t ever remember watching them as a kid. The Baker stories felt familiar but they weren’t known.
Sorta like Yes. I don’t own any Yes albums. I don’t know the names of any Yes songs other than “Owner of a Loney Heart,” and that was because of the video and those creepy white guys standing on the roof. I spent more time looking at Yes album covers than I did listening to Yes songs, but that might have been fifteen minutes to twelve minutes. Still, I’m guessing if I heard a Yes song I could identify it as a Yes song – it would be familiar even though I don’t know it.
The Peter Davison and Colin Baker Doctor stories were completely new, even though the Davison Doctor wasn’t wholly unfamiliar. But Baker II? Other than the coat, it was all new. Sylvester McCoy? I didn’t even know what he sounded like until watching a special features doc on one of the Baker 2 DVDs about clothing. I remember when FOX was promoting the Eighth Doctor’s movie, and I thought that it was something I wanted to watch, and that this was something I should watch, but I didn’t.
When the 2005 relaunch came around, I tuned in as much because I liked Chris Eccleston as I did because I was intrigued by a new DOCTOR WHO, but whatever night Sci-Fi was playing it was a night when I was out of the apartment and so I ended up only watching it in bits and pieces. Same with the switch to Tennant; I’d watch it in starts and stops (the Martha Jones year was the only year I tried to watch every episode in a timely manner) and by the end of his run I didn’t even have cable anymore so I ended up watching other people’s copies or buying it off iTunes. None of the Matt Smith year was watched during its actual broadcast, but all of them were watched within a week or two of their original American airing.
I don’t have a “my Doctor.”
I liked Eccleston and Tennant and it was during their runs that I started to want to uncover the past, but there was no one Doctor that made me a WHO fan.
Honestly, the characters who get the most credit for turning me on to this universe at a level where I wanted to track everything down were Rose and Martha Jones, but even they probably bow in comparison to the real attraction, which were the kinds of stories that Russell T. Davies and his staff were telling – stories of very real characters in a very big universe.
They were stories that could be fun and tragic, and they all revolved around a guy who had the coolest gig in the universe and yet was still very much alone.
Maybe that’s what did it. The relaunch started a couple years after I moved to Indiana. The loneliest night I can ever remember spending was a cold night in October 2003, when Aaron Boone hit a game-winning homer off Tim Wakefield and the Yankees beat the Red Sox to advance to the World Series. I had just gotten up from my couch and stepped out of eye-shot of the TV to throw some garbage away and heard the crack of the bat and lunged back in the room as the ball was soaring through the air. I was shocked and devastated and lay on the floor, completely gutted and alone. There were no other Sox fans here to commiserate with and it was too late to call back east and chat with everyone, but even if it had been earlier, it wouldn’t have mattered. I didn’t want to talk about the game, I just wanted to be miserable in a crowd of miserable people who were hurting for the exact same reason I was hurting. People who didn’t need to talk about what it meant to see that ball fall into the left field stands at the old Yankee Stadium because we just knew. We’d all lived through the misery of seeing the Red Sox come up eternally short. We just wanted, just once, to have it fall our way.
There was no way to know that our time was only a year away, that “wait ’til next year” was actually sound advice.
In 2004, when the Sox came back against the Yanks after being down 3-0, and then sweeping the Cardinals in four games to win their first World Series’ title in the lifetime of every single person I knew, I didn’t feel alone. People wanted to stay up to all hours of the night to talk about the win.
The hangover, however, was a different story.
Graduate school will put you into contact with some amazing people, but there’s always a question about whether you’re actually friends with someone, or just colleagues peacefully co-existing in the same circumstance.
There are times when you feel like an integral part of a real community and times when you feel completely isolated. Maybe that’s not grad school.
Maybe that’s just life.
I won’t cop to ever feeling like I had the coolest gig in the universe, though I do like the run-up to my chosen profession (and not just because I don’t have to put in eight-hour work days – I get to read and study cool things, I get to meet interesting people, and I get to travel all over the country to talk about books and the environment) but with all the moving around I’ve done – and with all the moving around my friends/colleagues have done – there are inevitably those moments where you end up sitting in your apartment feeling like the entire world is spinning without you.
Kinda like being alone in the TARDIS, sitting in your apartment with a whole range of experiences waiting for you outside and yet you’re contemplating getting take-out and flopping down in a comfy chair. You can whisper and chat and scream all you want, but no one’s going to answer (unless you yell loud enough for the cops to come).
Maybe that’s what I was subconsciously plugging into as the relaunched series evolved. I’m sure I’ve seen all the Rose episodes, but it wasn’t until she left and the hole of her departure was filled by Martha that I made a real point to watch DOCTOR WHO whenever I could.
Life can be transient, but it keeps going, keeps spinning, keeps jumping. You don’t like today? Wait ’til next year, next adventure, next tomorrow.
I won’t go so far as to say that I watch DOCTOR WHO because I can “identify” or “relate” to the character. My screwdriver doesn’t make cool noises, after all, my apartment actually is as small on the inside as it looks on the outside, and I’m not entirely sure I could have rejected Amy’s pre-wedding offer of a roll in the sack. I watch because it’s a great character who is often paired with cool characters and typically placed in interesting stories.
I don’t have a “my Doctor.”
What I do have is thirty-odd years of fantastic television.